Friday, April 30, 2010

Hipee’s Bankee

Lots of children have favorite things that they love and from which they are comforted. Security objects may be a blanket, stuffed animal, or pacifier. Just Me loved a yellow flannel baby blanket with a print of roses on it. She also had several much loved stuffed animals, like Mary the bear and Junior the cat. Wonder Boy also had a baby blanket that he preferred, although he didn’t have the same long term attachment to his as Just Me did for her yellow blanket. I recall PB loved a blue blanket as much as Just Me loved her yellow blanket. They both loved their respective blankets until they were in shreds and there were only little scraps of them left. As previously discussed, Whiy feel in love with MY blanket with the blue roses, but between a 7 yr old and a baby, the baby wins the blanket. Hipee, however, fell in love with the strangest comfort object.

We called it her “bankee” but there was nothing blanket-like about it. She’s going to object to this story, but, sweetie, the facts are the facts, no matter how sad or odd. We all know that Hipee fell in love with and was comforted by a clump of unraveled carpet. Yup. She’d unravel a wad of carpet, hold it up against her cheek, and sucked her thumb. (She was a thumb sucker too.) I can still clearly picture her sucking her thumb, clutching her scratchy carpet yarn, rubbing it on her cheek and working it in her little hands. If she lost a wad of her bankee, she could always go unravel more.

But she didn’t just rub it on her cheek. She also rubbed it under her nose. Sometimes she’d grab clumps of her hair and rub that and her bankee under her nose while sucking her thumb. She must have been sniffing it, although I can’t imagine it smelled good. Perhaps it was the texture that appealed to her. I know it had a lot of texture. It was scratchy, at least partially, because it was unraveled from a carpet and had bits of backing that came off with it. Perhaps it was a combination of scratchy and smooth. After all, she also grabbed her hair and rubbed it on her cheek and under her nose.

As I recall, Whiy and PB were both thumb suckers too, along with holding their blankets. Now some experts say that comfort objects stand for mother - the comfort object reminds the child of their mother. In this respect, I understand the thumb sucking as being comforting, but the unraveled carpet yarn is still mystifying. It was not soft like a blanket. If it reminded Hipee of our mom, it means Hipee felt our mother was a bit rough and scratchy but somewhat soft. Whoa – the psychologically implications there are interesting.

I’m not even sure how Hipee first found unraveled carpet yarn, started collecting it, or knew where to get it. Once she discovered her supply source, she knew where to get her bankee if she lost the current clump of carpet. Furthermore, we moved at least three times during her prolonged blankee stage, so she had to be sharp, stay alert, and know where to get a new supply if needed.

I don’t remember when Hipee finally gave up the clump of carpet blankee. I do know that when we were both in college I ran across this carpet that was unraveling at my school. I harvested a clump to give to Hipee as a gift. She was not amused.

bad reviews

I am allowed, on my own blog, to have an opinion. My blog, my thoughts. End of discussion. (edited)

I Feel Earthquakes More Often than They Happen

I Feel Earthquakes More Often than They Happen: Coming to California in the Age of Schwarzenegger
by Amy Wilentz
Hardcover, 322 pages
Simon and Schuster, 2006
ISBN-13: 9780743264396

From Publishers Weekly:
For those living outside the Golden State, it's easy to forget that somewhere "out west" there is a land of sunshine and Schwarzenegger that may be a bigger force in shaping America's idea of itself than any self-respecting New Yorker would admit. Into this California-"the New World's new world, America's America" as Wilentz describes it-plunges the former Jerusalem correspondent for the New Yorker and lifelong East Coaster. Her book is both social criticism and the memoir of a self-described "catastrophist," who fled New York not long after 9/11 (having first bought an inflatable boat to escape her Upper West Side apartment in case of emergency). With pessimistic wit that is pure East Coast, Wilentz regards California, and Los Angeles in particular, as the same kind of strange and dark-hearted place it was for Nathanael West. Through Wilentz's Gulliveresque chronicles of the gubernatorial recall, natural disasters and Hollywood, there surfaces a clear affinity for the "showmanship" and "blowhardism" upon which California is founded. It is, Wilentz writes, America's "sunny coast of the imagination"-a dreamworld with all the confusion and awesomeness that implies. (Aug.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
My Thoughts:

Although I was mildly interested in the whole book and agreed with Wilentz occasionally, I Feel Earthquakes More Often is essentially the thoughts of a wealthy east coast transplant on why she doesn't like the west coast, specifically L.A. First, it should be noted that California is much more than just L.A. To be honest, the whole east coast versus the west coast attitude can get very tiresome for the rest of us. (There are places in the United States besides the coasts.) In some ways it felt like the only reason this book was published was to give east coast intellectuals another anti-west coast book. The trouble is that it's a very incomplete book to fulfill that purpose. She never mentions illegal immigration or homelessness, both huge issues. I also hope someone points out to Wilentz that people in other places besides California also prepare for disasters. I know there are families who take measures to be prepared for hurricane season or storm season or even harsh winter storms.

Having lived for several years within walking distance from the California border, I've seen and experienced plenty of California bashing first hand. Sometimes the detractors have a point. Many of the Californian's who moved to Northern Nevada did have a superior attitude. (Of course, many of the native Nevadan's had an attitude too.) I did learn to dislike most California drivers. They did follow too close while driving too fast. Additionally, I always felt that the attitude toward water usage was... odd. Yes, they have water available and talk about water all the time, but should they be using it so carelessly and thoughtlessly? Really, homeowners associations requiring grass lawns when you are living in a desert climate is irresponsible. Even keeping and watering large expanses of grass is wasteful. I don't even like to water the lawn when living in a climate that gets plenty of rain. (I'll have to admit that the whole water issue gets me going and I could go on and on so it's best to end that topic - but not before I mention that we paid less for water while living in Nevada than we paid any place else.)

This is one of those books that I'm glad I read but I can't do more than give it a simple recommendation only to those who think they might already be interested in reading it. Recommended


All along 58, a lesser road, the desert rolled out around me like a faded rug, shaken for cleaning, twisted and contorted, it's design, if it had one, indistinguishable. It was another planet out here: that's how it feels, when the land takes over....You begin to go blank in these conditions, counting miles, zoning out, hoping the big rigs don't run out of control on the downhills and ram you off the road. pg. 2

In L.A., you keep your car or cars outside, because the garage is often not a garage, it's an office or a playroom or a pool house, or a studio, or a guest room. pg. 20

Knowledge does play a part in controlling fear, although too much knowledge can exacerbate tension. It's best not to know how many moving parts are involved in lowering the landing gear, for example. pg. 27

I've now become like my friend who was so deranged after September 11 that he became a virtual survivalist. But the major difference between me and him is this: most of my friends in California have similar supplies. This is a state of the disaster-ready.Now that I too am prepared, I await my earthquake with something like interested, even eager, anticipation. In fact, I feel earthquakes more often than they happen. pg. 28

People here talk as if they are on extended leave or on assignment or on sabbatical from real life. They're all doing field work. pg. 29

I hope one day to be able to feel the seduction of the forest again; California has a tormented relationship with nature, and now I'm suffering from the syndrome. pg. 55

There was, as is common with movie stars, little concern about whether you were interested in what he was saying. Of course you were interested. pg. 57

This water also comes down to me from Northern California and means that I can have grass - a great water consumer - growing in my backyard. It means that my neighborhood can be green and lush even in a place that would normally be sagebrush, pine, and cactus. pg. 114

As anyone knows who has seen the movie Chinatown, water is traditionally California's most controversial commodity, because it is - simply put - the basis for everything, and yet there is not enough of it to support both the state's growing population and the state's growing agriculture. Since the beginning of it's modern development, there hasn't been enough water in California, and hence major fortunes in the state have famously (and infamously) been made on water rights, water infrastructure, water banks, and water control. pg. 125

It's not easy to notice much when you're driving on a freeway in L.A., other than how closely Californians follow each other, and at what high speeds. I am always dropping back and allowing space in front of me, which someone always switches lanes to fill. pg. 231

Monday, April 26, 2010

By the Light of the Moon

By the Light of the Moon by Dean Koontz
Mass market paperback, 460 pages
Bantam Books, 2002
ISBN-13: 9780553582765
Highly Recommended

Synopsis from cover:
On the road, on a hot Arizona night, Dylan O'Conner is overpowered by a stranger who injects him with an unknown substance. All he's told is that he's the "carrier," not of a disease but of something wondrous that will transform his life in remarkable ways - if it doesn't kill him in the next twenty-four hours.
Now Dylan, his autistic brother, Shep, and another "carrier," a young woman, are swept into a desperate search for the shattering truth of what they are and what they might become. But first they must elude those sent to destroy them.
Their only chance to survive is to discover the meaning of the messages that Shep, with precious time running out, begins to repeat, about a man who does his work by the light of the moon.
My Thoughts:

I really enjoyed this Koontz novel. I haven't read him for several years and I had forgotten how much I enjoyed him. The writing is descriptive, and quite humorous at times. I must say I also enjoyed his vocabulary. Any author who can write the following sentence has me hooked: "He smiled at Mrs. Claus and thanked her, lest otherwise he ensure an anthracite Christmas." (see quotes below) I also appreciated the characterization of Shep (Shepherd), Dylan's autistic brother, and how deftly Koontz handled his dialogue and mannerisms. There was plenty of suspense. This is not a horror novel - it is more suspense with a bit of science fiction thrown into the mix. It was interesting to see what the injection does to the characters and how that evolved. I was surprised at the abruptness of the ending, but it still was a satisfactory conclusion.
Highly Recommended


Shortly before being knocked unconscious and bound to a chair, before being injected with an unknown substance against his will, and before discovering that the world was deeply mysterious in ways he'd never before imagined, Dylan O'Conner left his motel room and walked across the highway to a brightly lighted fast-food franchise to buy cheeseburgers, French fries, pocket pies with apple filling, and a vanilla milkshake. opening

He withheld his antitoad opinion also because lately he had begun to realize that he was allowing himself to be annoyed by too many inconsequential things. If he didn't mellow out, he would sour into a world-class curmudgeon by the age of thirty-five. He smiled at Mrs. Claus and thanked her, lest otherwise he ensure an anthracite Christmas. pg 3-4

In the parking lot, in the Coupe DeVille, as Jilly ate a chicken sandwich and French fries, she and Fred listened to her favorite radio talk show, which focused on such things as UFO sightings, evil extraterrestrials eager to breed with human women, Big Foot (plus his recently sighted offspring, Little Big Foot), and time travelers from the far future who had built the pyramids for unknown malevolent purposes. This evening, the smoky-voiced host - Parish Lantern - and his callers were exploring the dire threat posed by brain leeches purported to be traveling to our world from an alternate reality. pg. 11

He didn't like movies in which evisceration and decapitation were the primary themes; if nothing else, they were certainly popcorn spoilers. pg. 15

"They'll be here in half an hour, maybe less," Doc warned. "I'm going to make a run for it, but there's no point kidding myself. The bastards will probably get me. And when they find even just one empty syringe, they'll seal off this town and test everybody in it, one by one, till they learn who's carrying the stuff. Which is you. You're the carrier." pg. 25

So you're driving to an arts festival in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where in previous years you've sold enough paintings to pay expenses and to bank a profit, and you stop for the night at a clean and respectable motel, subsequent to which you purchase a bagged dinner of such high caloric content that it will knock you into sleep as effectively as an overdose of Nembutal, because all you want is to spend a quiet evening putting your brain cells at risk watching the usual idiotic TV programs in the company of your puzzle-working brother, and then spend a restful night disturbed by as little cheeseburger-induced flatulence as possible, but the modern world has fallen apart to such an extent that you wind up taped to a chair, gagged, injected with God knows what hideous disease,targeted by unknown assassins.... And yet your friends wonder why you're becoming a young curmudgeon. pg. 26-27

She had practiced bulimia for two miserable days, when she was thirteen, before deciding that daily volitional vomiting was worse than living two thirds of your life in stretchable ski pants, with a quiet fear of narrow doorways. Now she pinned all her hopes on dry toast for breakfast and wizardly advances in plastic surgery. pg. 33

Nevertheless, although she understood the danger when she'd been in the motel room shy of two seconds, she couldn't react fast enough to save herself from the salesman. He came from behind her, locking one arm around her neck, pressing a rag over her face. pg. 36

Movie Dude Weekend: I am Legend marathon

This last week for Movie Dude Weekend we watched film adaptations of Richard Matheson's science-fiction novel I Am Legend:

The Last Man on Earth, 1964

a.k.a. The Damned Walk at Midnight, The Night Creatures, Vento di Morte, L'Ultimo Uomo della Terra
Director: Ubaldo Ragona, Sidney Salkow
Cast: V
incent Price, Franca Bettoja, Tony Cerevi, Emma Danieli

Omega Man, 1971

: Boris Sagal
Cast: Ch
arlton Heston, Anthony Zerbe, Rosalind Cash, Paul Koslo

I Am Legend, 2007

Director: Francis Lawrence
Cast: Will Smith, Alice Braga, Charlie Tahan, Salli Richardson-Whitfield

Movie Dude and Just Me both felt that Omega Man was the best movie of the three, but they are rather partial to Charlton Heston.

Just Me: What would I wear if I were the last person on earth?
Movie Dude: I'd go naked.
Just Me: I wouldn't
Movie Dude: I know, I'd wear my Sith robe!
Just me: Oh! Good idea!

Sorry Movie Dude Weekend's have been scarce for several weeks. We're trying to pack to move. Movies watched on the 10th included the last two Indiana Jones movies, The Last Crusade (1989) and The Crystal Skull (2008). The next weekend, the 16th, was viewers choice. Just Me picked Terminator Two: Judgement Day (1991) and Movie Dude picked Jaws (1975).

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant

Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant by Anne Tyler
Mass Market Paperback, 310 pages
Berkley Books, 1982
reread - very highly recommended

Synopsis from cover:
Meet the Tull family... Jenny, the daughter; high-spirited and determined. She was nurturing to strangers but distant to those she loved... Cody, the oldest son. He was wild and incorrigible, possessed by the lure of power and money... Ezra, the gentle son. He was his mother's favorite, living out the dream of a perfect family that could never be his own... gathering around the memories of Pearl, their mother, whose final act of life affirms their own.
My thoughts:

Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, has always been among my favorite Anne Tyler novels. The novel spans several decades in the life of the Tull family of Baltimore, Maryland. It begins with 85-year-old Pearl Tull, blind and on her deathbed, looking back at her life and that of her three grown children - Cody, Jenny, and Ezra. Told from alternating points of view, Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant is ultimately about how growing up in an unconventional, dysfunctional family affected the three siblings in very different ways. It can be a heartbreakingly sad story, as the Tulls repeatedly try to accomplish the impossible: complete a family meal together.

Anne Tyler is a truly gifted writer. Her character development and attention to detail is exquisite as she explores complex interpersonal relationships in the Tull family. Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant won the PEN/Faulkner Award for fiction and was nominated for a National Book Critics Circle award and the 1983 Pulitzer Prize. I'm enjoying my rereads of favorite novels. If you haven't read Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, you really should
Very Highly Recommended - reread

While Pearl Tull was dying, a funny thought occurred to her. It twitched her lips and rustled her breath, and she felt her son lean forward from where he kept watch by her bed. "Get..." she told him. "You should have got..."
You should have got an extra mother, was what she meant to say, the way we started extra children after the first child fell so ill. opening

But it wasn't as simple as she had supposed. The second child was Ezra, so sweet and clumsy it could break your heart. She was more endangered than ever. It would have been best to stop at Cody. She still hadn't learned, though. After Ezra came Jenny, the girl - such fun to dress, to fix her hair in different styles. Girls were a luxury, Pearl felt. But she couldn't give Jenny up, either. What she had now was not one loss to fear but three. pg. 2

One Sunday night in 1944, he said he didn't want to stay married. They were sending him to Norfolk, he said; but he thought it best if he went alone. Pearl felt she was sinking in at the center, like someone given a stomach punch. Yet part of her experienced an alert form of interest, as if this were happening in a story. pg. 7

All she wanted was to be allowed to get on with what mattered: calk the windows; weatherstrip the door. With tools she was her true self, capable and strong. pg. 15

Oh, she'd been an angry sort of mother. She'd been continually on edge; she'd felt too burdened, too much alone. After Beck left, she'd been so preoccupied with paying the rent and juggling the budget and keeping those great, clod-footed children in new shoes. It was she who called the doctor at two a.m. when Jenny got appendicitis; it was she who marched downstairs with a baseball bat the night they heard that scary noise. She'd kept the furnace stoked with coal, confronted the neighborhood bully when Ezra got beaten up, hosed the roof during Mrs. Simmon's chimney fire. pg. 18

She wondered if her children blamed her for something. Sitting close at family gatherings (with the spouses and offspring slightly apart, nonmembers forever), they tended to recall only poverty and loneliness - toys she couldn't afford for them, parties where they weren't invited. Cody, in particular, referred continually to Pearl's short temper, displaying it against a background of stunned, childish faces so sad and bewildered that Pearl herself hardly recognized them. Honestly, she thought, wasn't there some statute of limitations here? When was he going to absolve her? He was middle-aged. He had no business holding her responsible any more. pg. 21

"Ezra's going to have him a place where people come just like to a family dinner," Josiah said. "He'll cook them one thing special each day and dish it out on their plates and everything will be solid and wholesome, really homelike." pg. 75

Monday, April 19, 2010

Helter Skelter

Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi, with Curt Gentry
Mass Market Paperback, 676 pages
Bantam Books edition, 1975
reread, very highly recommended

Synopsis from cover
It began August 9 and 10, 1969, when seven people were shot, stabbed, and bludgeoned to death in Los Angeles. It ended when a nation watched in fascinated horror as the killers were tried and convicted. But the real questions went unanswered. How did Manson make his "family" kill for him? How could these young men and women kill and kill again and again without human feelings of any kind? Did the murders go on even after Manson was in jail?
My Thoughts:

This is another reread. When doing research for some paper in high school, I can clearly remember coming across news articles about the Manson murders. Then I started to look into the murders because at the time they occurred I didn't recall hearing anything about them. (It was probably kept away from me.) Once I learned there was a book, well, I got my copy of Helter Skelter shortly after it first came out in paperback. It is still a horrific true crime novel. The Tate/La Bianca murders were among the most gruesome in US history and the trial was the longest, most grueling trial the country had seen to date. Bugliosi includes many details and much information in this account. It is graphic at times and not for the faint hearted, especially since it begins with the murders. My book included 64 pages of photos and footnotes at the bottom of the page.
Very Highly Recommended


It was so quiet, one of the killers would later say, you could almost hear the sound of ice rattling in cocktail shakers in the homes way down the canyon.
The canyons above Hollywood and Beverly Hills play tricks with sounds. A noise clearly audible a mile away may be indistinguishable at a few hundred feet. opening

All things considered, it's surprising that more people didn't hear something.
But then it was late, just after midnight, and 10050 Cielo Drive was secluded.
Being secluded, it was also 3

There appeared to be blood on the trunks, on the floor next to them, and on two towels in the entryway. She couldn't see the entire living room - a long couch cut off the area in front of the fireplace - but everywhere she could see she saw the red splashes. The front door was ajar. Looking out, she saw several pools of blood on the flagstone porch. And, farther on, on the lawn, she saw a body.
Screaming, she turned and ran back through the house, leaving the same way she had come in but, on running down the driveway, changing her course so as to reach the gate-control button. In so doing, she passed on the opposite side of the white Rambler, seeing for the first time that there was a body inside the car too.
Once outside the gate, she ran down the hill to the first house, 10070, ringing the bell and pounding on the door. When the Kotts didn't answer, she ran to the next house, 10090, banging on that door and screaming, "Murder, death, bodies, blood!" pg. 6-7

Altobelli had rented the main residence to Roman Polanski, the movie director, and his wife. The Polanskis had gone to Europe, however, in March, and while they were away, two of their friends, Abigail Folger and Voytek Frykowski, had moved in. Mrs. Polanski had returned less than a month ago, and Frykowski and Folger were staying on with her until her husband returned. Mrs. Polanski was a movie actress. Her name was Sharon Tate. pg 8

Printed in what appeared to be blood were three letters: PIG. pg. 10

In literature a murder scene is often likened to a picture puzzle. If one is patient and keeps trying, eventually all pieces will fit into place.
Veteran policemen know otherwise. A much better analogy would be two picture puzzles, or three, or more, no one of which is in itself complete. Even after a solution emerges - if one does - there will be leftover pieces, evidence that just doesn't fit. And some pieces will always be missing. pg 24

There is writing, in what appeared to be blood, in three places in the residence. High up on the north wall in the living room, above several paintings, were printed the words DEATH TO PIGS. On the south wall, to the left of the front door, even higher up, was the single word RISE. There were two words on the refrigerator door in the kitchen, the first of which was misspelled. They read HEALTER SKELTER. pg. 56

If it could happen in places as widely separated as Los Feliz and Bel Air, to people as disparate as movie colony celebrities and a grocery market owner and his wife, it meant it could happen anywhere, to anyone. pg. 59

Friday, April 16, 2010

An Article and Opinion

Michelle Kern has another great Book Examiner Article:

The 50 best author vs. author put-downs of all time
Part 1
Part 2

Here is a sample:

1. Ernest Hemingway, according to Vladimir Navokov (1972)
As to Hemingway, I read him for the first time in the early 'forties, something about bells, balls and bulls, and loathed it.

2. Miguel Cervantes' Don Quixote, according to Martin Amis (1986)
Reading Don Quixote can be compared to an indefinite visit from your most impossible senior relative, with all his pranks, dirty habits, unstoppable reminiscences, and terrible cronies. When the experience is over, and the old boy checks out at last (on page 846 -- the prose wedged tight, with no breaks for dialogue), you will shed tears all right; not tears of relief or regret but tears of pride. You made it, despite all that 'Don Quixote' could do.

Jackie of Farmlane Books had an interesting discussion this week about the difference between bloggers from the USA and UK.

UK v US Book Bloggers
Comments are closed now and some people were offended, but I thought Jackie had a few valid points even though it was all a bit too generalized.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Going Postal

Hipee called me the other day while she was at the post office. I could hear all the post office noise in the background. It reminded me of how much I used to be scared of the post office. Really. This was long before the term “going postal” entered the lexicon and people had a reason to be cautious around postal workers. I’m not sure exactly why I didn’t like post offices. There was never a bad experience at one; I just blindly loathed them all with an equal intensity.

The fear came out when I was old enough to be sent running into places on errands by my mother. She’d send us into all sorts of stores or businesses to do things like drop off a utility payment, pick up groceries… or get stamps. Once we were driving, it was worse. She’d send Hipee and me off on errands. We’d go to the grocery store with her list and a signed, blank check. (You could do that in a small town back in those days.) I can remember us looking at her list, seeing a word that looked like a swear word, giggling over it, and then puzzling out what mom could have wanted that looked like _____ but was surely something else.

Running to the store or doing other errands for mom was annoying, but not like running into the post office. She knew I hated it. She knew I couldn’t explain why I hated the post office. Maybe it was the lobby, or the lines, or…? I have no explanation. I just know I hated the place and really had to gird my loins, so to speak, to go inside and do my business. If it was even remotely possible, I’d argue that Hipee should be the one to go in, or even Whiy.

Now that I’ve been in so many different post offices across the country, the fear is gone. There might be a wee little remnant of it stored in some dark corner of my mind. It tries to peek out when the lines are too long, there is only one employee helping customers, and I have multiple things to mail. Maybe when younger I had some sort of foresight and could sense that some of the employees had the capacity to go postal. I do know that going paperless is very attractive to me. I am also a huge fan of the Forever stamps. When I have to go to the post office today, I load up on those babies.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

In Cold Blood

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
Mass Market Paperback, 384 pages
Signet, 1965
(my cover not pictured)
reread, very highly recommended

On November 15, 1959, in the small town of Holcomb, Kansas, four members of the Clutter family were savagely murdered by blasts from a shotgun held a few inches from their faces. There was no apparent motive for the crime, and there were almost no clues.

As Truman Capote reconstructs the murder and the investigation that led to the capture, trial, and execution of the killers, he generates both mesmerizing suspense and astonishing empathy. In Cold Bl
ood is a work that transcends its moment, yielding poignant insights into the nature of American violence.

My Thoughts:

Truman Capote's In Cold Blood is a classic and introduced a new genre, the true crime novel. Originally, the New Yorker sent Capote and his research assistant, Nell Harper Lee, to Holcomb to investigate the murders for an article. After the article was completed, they remained and continued investigating and interviewed the killers Perry Smith and Dick Hickock after they were caught and sentenced. The subject matter is brutal, but the writing is exquisite.

In this reread, I was curious if In Cold Blood would stand the test of time. It does, beautifully, and this is due to Capote's writing. He sets the stage; his descriptions capture what life was like in the late 50's. He approaches his subject matter as a reporter, remains unbiased, captures the facts, and sets the scene. He does not glamorize the killers. He carefully describes all the people and places involved and develops them as one would develop a scene or character in a work of fiction.
Very highly recommended


The village of Holcomb stands on the high wheat plains of western Kansas, a lonesome area that other Kansans call "out there." Some seventy miles east of the Colorado border, the countryside, with its hard blue skies and desert-clear air, has an atmosphere that is rather more Far West than Middle West. The local accent is barbed with a prairie twang, a ranch-hand nasalness, and the men, many of them, wear narrow frontier trousers, Stetsons, and high-heeled boots with pointed toes. The land is flat, and the views are awesomely extensive; horses, herds of cattle, a white cluster of grain elevators rising as gracefully as Greek temples are visible long before a traveler reaches them. opening

Until one morning in mid-November of 1959, few Americans--in fact, few Kansans--had ever heard of Holcomb. Like the waters of the river, like the motorists on the highway, and like the yellow trains streaking down the Santa Fe tracks, drama, in the shape of exceptional happenings, had never stopped there. pg 15

At the time not a soul in sleeping Holcomb heard them--four shotgun blasts that, all told, ended six human lives. But afterward the townspeople, theretofore sufficiently unfearful of each other to seldom trouble to lock their doors, found fantasy re-creating them over and again--those somber explosions that stimulated fires of mistrust in the glare of which many old neighbors viewed each other strangely, and as strangers. pg. 15

Like Mr. Clutter, the young man breakfasting in a cafe called the Little Jewel never drank coffee. He preferred root beer. Three aspirin, cold root beer, and a chain of Pall Mall cigarettes - that was his notion of a proper "chow down." pg. 24

...his own face enthralled him. Each angle of it induced a different impression. It was a changeling's face, and mirror-guided experiments had taught him how to ring the changes, how to look now ominous, now impish, now soulful; a tilt of the head, a twist of the lips, and the corrupt gypsy became the gentle romantic. pg. 26

"Why do I keep smelling smoke? Honestly, I think I'm losing my mind..." pg. 33

"One day she told the class, 'Nancy Clutter is always in a hurry, but she always has time. And that's one definition of a lady.' " pg. 36

A bookmark lay between its pages, a stiff piece of watered silk upon which an admonition had been embroidered: "Take ye heed, watch and pray: for ye know not when the time is." pg. 42

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Tenants Rights

word verification

Sorry... I've had to add word verification to the comments because of spam.
Someone keeps repeatedly trying to comment with embedded links to porn.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Pincher Martin

Pincher Martin by William Golding
Trade Paperback, 208 pages
Farber and Farber, 1956
ISBN: 9780571192519
(the cover of my copy is not pictured)
highly recommended

From the Publisher
The sole survivor of a torpedoed destroyer is miraculously cast up on a huge, barren rock in mid-Atlantic. Pitted against him are the sea, the sun, the night cold, and the terror of his isolation. At the core of this raging tale of physical and psychological violence lies Christopher Martin’s will to live as the sum total of his life.
My thoughts:

Wow. This is an incredibly odd book, but at the same time - incredible. Golding is an excellent writer and Pincher Martin uses every ounce of his skill as a wordsmith in this character study of a man facing an extreme struggle for survival, physically and mentally, after washing up on a rock in the mid-Atlantic. The psychological aspects of the situation are as dire as the physical circumstances, but Pincher Martin is a difficult character to sympathize with. Golding is continuing his exploration of the fallen nature of man. There is a surprise ending that will force you to reconsider what Golding was trying to convey. I think Pincher Martin requires more than one reading to more fully comprehend the final messages on the nature of man and perception of reality. Highly Recommended, but not for a casual reader.


He was struggling in every direction, he was the centre of the writing and kicking knot of his own body. There was no up or down, no light and no air. He felt his mouth open of itself and the shrieked word burst out.
"help!" opening

With the realization of the lifebelt a flood of connected images came back - the varnished board on which the instructions were displayed, pictures of the lifebelt itself with the tube and metal tit threaded through the tapes. Suddenly he knew who he was and where he was. pg 9-10

He put his hand before his eyes and saw nothing. Immediately the terror of blindness added itself to the terror of isolation and drowning. He began to make vague climbing motions in the water. pg. 12

Brown tendrils slashed across his face, then with a destroying shock he hit solidity. It was utter difference, it was under his body, against his knees and face, he could close fingers on it, for an instance he could even hold on. pg. 21-22

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Lord of the Flies

Lord of the Flies by William Golding
Mass Market Paperback, 192 pages, including notes
G. P. Putnam Publishing, 1954
reread; very highly recommended

The classic tale of a group of English school boys who are left stranded on an unpopulated island, and who must confront not only the defects of their society but the defects of their own natures.
My Thoughts:

Lord of the Flies is a reread. (I'm packing up books and have a whole little stack of books I've decided to reread during our packing and moving.) In the notes section of my book William Golding is quoted: "The theme is an attempt to trace the defects of society back to the defects of human nature. The moral is that the shape of a society must depend on the ethical nature of the individual and not on any political system however apparently logical or respectable. The whole book is symbolic in nature except .... in the end..." The Lord of the Flies is just as relevant today as it was when it was first published. Alas, human nature has not changed in the intervening years. Children are viewed as innocent. Golding use of children as the symbolic characters representing human nature is brilliant. We all have the capacity for good - and evil. (I love the cover of my copy of the book, which is pictured.) Very highly recommended


The boy with the fair hair lowered himself down the last few feet of rock and began to pick his way toward the lagoon. Though he had taken off his school sweater and trailed it now from one hand, his grey shirt stuck to him and his hair was plastered to his forehead. All round him the long scar smashed into the jungle was a bath of heat. He was clambering heavily among the creepers and broken trunks when a bird, a vision of red and yellow, flashed upwards with a witchlike cry; and this cry was echoed by another. opening

"Aren't there any grownups at all?"

"I don't think so." pg. 6

He was old enough, twelve years and a few months, to have lost the prominent tummy of childhood and not yet old enough for adolescence to have made him awkward. You could see now that he might make a boxer, as far as width and heaviness of shoulders went, but there was a mildness about his mouth and eyes that proclaimed no devil. pg. 8

His ordinary voice sounded like a whisper after the harsh note of the conch. He laid the conch against his lips, took a deep breath and blew once more. The note boomed again: and then at his firmer pressure, the note, fluking up an octave, became a strident blare more penetrating than before. Piggy was shouting something, his face pleased, his glasses flashing. pg. 14

This toy of voting was almost as pleasing as the conch. Jack started to protest but the clamor changed from the general wish for a chief to an election by acclaim of Ralph himself. None of the boys could have found good reason for this; what intelligence had been shown was traceable to Piggy while the most obvious leader was Jack. But there was a stillness about Ralph as he sat that marked him out: there was his size, and attractive appearance; and most obscurely, yet most powerfully, there was the conch. The being that had blown that, had sat waiting for them on the platform with the delicate thing balanced on his knees, was set apart. pg. 19

They knew very well why he hadn't: because of the enormity of the knife descending and cutting into living flesh; because of the blood. pg. 27

"We're on an island. We've been on the mountain top and seen water all around. We saw no houses, no smoke, no footprints, no boats, no people. We're on an uninhabited island with no other people on it." pg. 28

Monday, April 5, 2010


Disobedience by Jane Hamilton
Trade Paperback, 273 pages
Anchor Books, 2000
ISBN-13: 9780385720465

From the Publisher
From Jane Hamilton, author of the beloved New York Times bestsellers A Map of the World and The Book of Ruth, comes a warmly humorous, poignant novel about a young man, his mother's e-mail, and the often surprising path of infidelity.
Henry Shaw, a high school senior, is about as comfortable with his family as any seventeen-year-old can be. His father, Kevin, teaches history with a decidedly socialist tinge .... His mother, Beth, who plays the piano in a group specializing in antique music, is a loving, attentive wife and parent. Henry even accepts the offbeat behavior of his thirteen-year-old sister, Elvira, who is obsessed with Civil War reenactments and insists on dressing in handmade Union uniforms at inopportune times.
When he stumbles on his mother's e-mail account, however, Henry realizes that all is not as it seems. There, under the name Liza38, a name that Henry innocently established for her, is undeniable evidence that his mother is having an affair with one Richard Polloco, a violin maker and unlikely paramour ....
Against his better judgment, Henry charts the progress of his mother's infatuation, her feelings of euphoria, of guilt, and of profound, touching confusion....Over the course of his final year of high school, Henry observes each member of the family, trying to anticipate when they will find out about the infidelity and what the knowledge will mean to each of them.
Henry's observations, set down ten years after that fateful year, are much more than the "old story" of adultery his mother deemed her affair to be. With her inimitable grace and compassion, Jane Hamilton has created a novel full of gentle humor and rich insights into the nature of love and the deep, mysterious bonds that hold families together.
My Thoughts:

Told by son Henry, ten years after the fact, Disobedience covers a year in the Shaw family during which time his mother is having an affair and his sister is entrench with being a Civil War re-enactor. Jane Hamilton is an excellent writer. It is a novel rich in character development as it observes the complexities of a family's dynamics and interpersonal relationships. But it's not all teenage angst and gloom. It is even humorous at times as it covers insightful events in the life of the Shaw family during that year. While Henry is perhaps a bit too obsessed with his mother, the point of the novel was him looking back and recounting the events of that year. Disobedience concludes that seemingly happy families are not always what they appear to be. People are disobedient. Highly recommended


Reading someone else's e-mail is a quiet, clean enterprise. There is no pitter-pattering around the room, no opening and closing the desk drawers, no percussive creasing as you draw the paper from the envelope and unfold it. There is no sound but the melody of the dial-up, the purity of the following Gregorian tones, and the sweet nihilistic measure of static. The brief elemental vibration that means contact. And then nothing. No smudge of ink, no greasy thumbprint left behind. In and out of the files, no trace. It could be the work of a ghost, this electronic eavesdropping. opening

But through most of the time I was living at home she was scornful of technology, stuck, as she was, in 1862 with her Civil War infantry regiment, the 11th Illinois. At a young age, much to my mother's sorrow, Elvira became a hardcore Civil War reenactor. pg.1

I can't say for certain what the first message revealed, or even whom she had written. Because it was not only messages from Richard Polloco and messages meant for Richard Polloco that I read during that time, but others too, e-mails that my mother wrote to her friend Jane, hundreds, thousands of words, to explain, to justify, to excuse herself. pg. 3

This is how our family was back then, not so long ago, less than a decade ago: Elvira Shaw, thirteen; myself, Henry Shaw, seventeen; Beth Gardener Shaw, thirty-eight; Kevin Shaw, forty-three. We had moved from a small town in Vermont to Chicago when I was fourteen. My parents seemed to feel that the upheaval, the trauma, of moving from one culture to another, from Mercury to Pluto, in effect, was worth it for all of our educations. I still ask myself regularly what it was, actually, that they were thinking. pg. 4

I was taken from Vermont before I could think to want to leave it myself, and so for me Wellington is the ideal, my old backyard there my deepest sense of home. pg. 6

My mother could never have homeschooled Elvira without losing her mind or harming her child, but she did recognize that her daughter would not fit the mold of a public school kindergartner. pg. 21

I knew when I was small that our worldly home was composed of the sun and the moon, the planets and the Shaws, the four of us holding together with a force that would not fail, would never cease. That knowledge was something so deep within myself it was usually unknown to me, doing its independent and vital work, much like the steady ticking of a heart. It is questionable, I think, whether it's better in the long run for a young person to have that kind of faith. pg. 23

"Elvira's developing a passion," he'd explain, "and it seems to me that it's probably immaterial what the passion is. All the while she's learning how to tackle an interest, she's learning how to find information she needs, and she's weaving that knowledge into her life in a way that feels useful to her." pg. 25

It is no secret, I don't think, that book clubs are formed so that women can quickly dismiss the novels they have sworn to read, moving on then into their real subjects, inexhaustible topics such as their midlife crises, their incipient menopause, motherhood, their own repressive mothers, and finally settling down to their favorite agenda item, marriage and men. pg. 30-31

There is probably very little either of my parents can add to the story except their own brand of confusion. They would ruin it with their perspective, their middle-aged wisdom. pg. 49

Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Magician's Assistant

The Magician's Assistant by Ann Patchett
Trade Paperback, 357 pages
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1997
ISBN-13: 9780156006217
highly recommended

Synopsis from the cover:
When Parsifal, a handsome and charming magician, dies suddenly, his widow Sabine - who was also his faithful assistant for twenty years - learns that the family he claimed to have lost in a tragic accident is very much alive and well. Sabine is left to unravel his secrets, and the adventure she embarks upon, from sunny Los Angeles to the bitter windswept plains of Nebraska, will work its own magic on her.
My Thoughts:

Sabine is assistant and friend to Parsifal the magician for over twenty years, and his widow for a year. Parsifal marries Sabine to ensure her security after his partner, Phan, dies. Then Parsifal dies suddenly of a brain aneurysm and Sabine discovers that Parsifal was really named Guy Fetters and the family he said died in Connecticut is actually alive and living in Nebraska. Parsifal's mother and sister come to L.A. to learn something about the son/brother they haven't seen for many years and Sabine later travels to Nebraska, learning family secrets and something about herself. Along the way, Sabine's dreams about Phan, and later Parsifal, help her not only mourn the loss of her friend (and husband in name only), but lead her to self discovery.

Patchett is a talented writer and has a way of telling a story that really appeals to me. Her dialogue seems simple, but is cunningly realistic. Her characters have flaws, although in The Magician's Assistant, the deceased Parsifal and Phan are rather idealized. Patchett's writing shows respect for the complexities and nuances in her imperfect characters. We feel empathy as Sabine grieves and tries to learn about Parsifal's family. The ending wasn't entirely satisfactory, but it does make sense in the context of the whole novel. Highly Recommended


PARSIFAL IS DEAD. That is the end of the story. opening

Wasn't suffering exactly the thing she had been afraid of? That he would go like Phan, lingering in so many different kinds of pain, his body failing him in unimaginable ways--hadn't she hoped for something better for Parsifal? If he couldn't have held on to his life, then couldn't he at least have had some ease in his death? That was what had happened. Parsifal's death had been easy. pg 4

The night Phan died, Sabine had thought the tragedy was knowing that Parsifal would die, too, that there was only a limited amount of time. But now Sabine knew the tragedy was living, that there would be years and years to be alone. pg. 6

"I do love you." Parsifal said he wanted Sabine to be his widow. And Sabine deserved to be married. she had been in love with Parsifal since she was nineteen, since that first night at the Magic Hat.... She had been a waitress at the Hat, but on that night she became his assistant.... pg. 10

After the funeral Sabine moved downstairs to Phan and Parsifal's room. She slept in their bed. She pushed her head beneath their feather pillows. pg. 14

"Parsifal's name wasn't Petrie. It was Guy Fetters. Guy Fetters has a mother and two sisters in Nebraska. As far as I can tell the father is out of the picture - either dead or gone, I'm not sure which." ..... "There was a letter in his will. He wanted me to tell his family about his death. He's set up a trust fund for them, the mother and the sisters. You're not going to miss the money. The bulk of the estate is yours." pg. 23

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Movie Dude- Emo Arnold Edition

Terminator 3 - Rise of the Machines, 2003

Director: Jonathan Mostow

Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Nick Stahl, Claire Danes, Kristanna Loken

They L
ive, 1988

Director: John Carpenter

Cast: Roddy Piper, Keith David, Meg Foster, George "Buck" Flower


Movie Dude: Arnold's gone emo.

Just Me: I bet he sits alone in his room and writes sad poetry.

Arnold in T-3: "Anger is more useful than despair."

Just Me: Take that to heart, Emo Arnold.

Arnold in T-3: "If you were to die, I will become useless. There will be no reason for me to exist."

Just Me: Arnold's being all emo again.


From They Live: "Life's a bitch and she's back in heat."

Later, speaking of hairy men, and more specifically Sean Connery:

Movie Dude: And then he says, "Shave me down my butlers." And then he gets all naked....

Movie Dude: That's right, Just Me - all your fantasies will come true.

Just Me: What fantasies?

Movie Dude: I don't know your fantasies.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Likeness

The Likeness by Tana French
Trade Paperback, 466 pages
Penguin, 2008
Synopsis from cover:
Six months after a particularly nasty case, Detective Cassie Maddox has transferred out of Dublin's Murder squad and has no plans to go back. That is, until an urgent telephone call summons her to a grisly crime scene.
It's only when she sees the body that Cassie understands the hurry. The victim, a young woman, is Cassie's double and carries ID identifying herself as Alexandra Madison, an alias Cassie once used on an undercover job. Suddenly, Cassie must discover not only who killed this girl but, more importantly, who is this girl? And as reality and fantasy become desperately tangled, Cassie moves dangerously close to losing herself forever.
My Thoughts:

While French is an excellent writer there were just too many implausible things happening in The Likeness that you had to accept in order to make the novel work. The biggest and first unconvincing event being that an undercover officer not only looks like a murder victim, but looks like her enough that she can actually pass as her while with a group of intimate friends who all live together. It would be different if she was trying to pass as the victim among acquaintances. As the novel continues there are other occurrences that also simply defy belief. If you can overlook all the unbelievable elements and plod through the slow parts, The Likeness is suspenseful. The ending is certainly more satisfying than In the Woods. I'm torn on this one. I enjoyed it, but while reading it I kept thinking the premise was too improbable.
Highly recommended - if you can overlook the implausible


Some nights, if I'm sleeping on my own, I still dream about Whitethorn House. In the dream it's always spring, cool fine light with a late-afternoon haze. opening

This is Lexie Madison's story, not mine. I'd love to tell you one without getting into the other, but it doesn't work that way. I used to think I sewed us together at the edges with my own hands, pulled the stitches tight and I could unpick them any time I wanted. Now I think it always ran deeper than that and farther underground; out of sight and way beyond my control. pg. 3

In every way that mattered, we lost and we lost big. Some people are little Chernobyls, shimmering with silent, spreading poison: get anywhere near them and every breath you take will wreck you from the inside out. Some cases - ask any cop - are malignant and incurable, devouring everything they touch. pg. 9

For a second I was confused - Sam lied? - because I knew her from somewhere. I'd seen that face a million times before. Then I took a step forwards, so I could get a proper look and the whole world went silent, frozen, darkness roaring in from the edges and only the girl's face blazing white at the center; because it was me. pg. 18

"We've got the chance," he said, taking his time, "we've got the chance to place an experienced undercover officer smack in the middle of a murder victim's life." pg. 25

I found out early that you can throw yourself away, missing what you've lost. pg. 34

Students and very young people can rent with no damage to their intellectual freedom, because it puts them under no threat: they have nothing, yet, to lose.... It's because they're here so lightly: they haven't yet accumulated loves and responsibilities and commitments and all the things that tie us securely to this world.... But as you get older, you begin to find things that are worth holding onto, forever. All of a sudden you're playing for keeps, as children say, and it changes the very fabric of you. pg. 339