Friday, January 23, 2009


A few weeks ago I started thinking about a book I read when I was a teenager (barely) and had been first let lose in the adult stacks in the public library. I can remember best the feeling the book left me with--I checked it out several times. It was by a New Zealand writer named Sylvia Ashton-Warner. (Someone asked me if I meant Sylvia Townsend Warner, but the book I am thinking of was Greenstone, by Ashton Warner.) I can't describe the plot of the book, which is based on Ashton-Warner's own childhood, romanticized. But I remember specifics from it quite well, including it's use of a nursery rhyme:

By the side of a murmuring stream
An elegant gentleman sat.
On top of his head was his wig.
On top of his wig was his hat.
On top of his wig was his hat hat hat.
On top of his wig was his hat.

The father was an Englishman who had married badly for love, and was now crippled by arthritis. The mother was a teacher. The family was poor and huge.

The book was not very long. I remember it as evocative and exotic, but full of domesticity and troubled marriage happening just slightly off the page. I remember feeling it offered a glimpse into something adult that I might not quite be getting.

So I ordered a copy, used. Now it has come and I wonder how it will compare to my memories. If it will, in fact, be any good at all.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Wanna See a Picture of My Kid?

One of Adam's friends, Phil Sierzega, does photo retouching as a hobby. This is a photo he took and retouched of Adam. I don't know what's retouched, 'cause it looks like Adam, but not only is it a good likeness, but the color is just gorgeous. I asked him if I could have a copy.

So just pretend I have whipped out my wallet and am thrusting a picture of my kid on you. Isn't he handsome? And he's smart, too.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

When the World is Absurd

When the world is absurd, be absurd back. This from Christopher Barzak's Meditations in an Emergency. This is the Playmobile Security Checkpoint Set. The product description from the manufacturer: The woman traveler stops by the security checkpoint. After placing her luggage on the screening machine, the airport employee checks her baggage. The traveler hands her spare change and watch to the security guard and proceeds through the metal detector. With no time to spare, she picks up her luggage and hurries to board her flight!

Sounds like fun!

But what genuinely warms the heart is the comments on the Amazon Page.

"I was a little disappointed when I first bought this item, because the functionality is limited. My 5 year old son pointed out that the passenger's shoes cannot be removed. Then, we placed a deadly fingernail file underneath the passenger's scarf, and neither the detector doorway nor the security wand picked it up. My son said "that's the worst security ever!". But it turned out to be okay, because when the passenger got on the Playmobil B757 and tried to hijack it, she was mobbed by a couple of other heroic passengers, who only sustained minor injuries in the scuffle, which were treated at the Playmobil Hospital."

That's not the best. Remarkably sane responses to an insane world, I think.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Young People Books

I just finished reading Couch, by Benjamin Parzybok, which, I have to say, I thoroughly enjoyed. For people who haven't read it, it's an epic journey across two continents, a quest, in fact, to get a big orange couch to an elder council who will know what to do with it. Although ironic and at times absurd, it is never silly. And it's also touching. Along the way, the three young men who are moving the couch come to grips, in one way or another, with who they are, and even if they haven't actually solved the problem of who they are going to be, one gets the sense they can see it from here.

It's a young person's book. A hip, witty, enjoyable young person's book. Not a young adult book, although I can see myself really liking it when I was a young adult. But a book who's themes revolve around figuring out what's ahead. A book where parents matter only in the most peripheral way, significant others are part of the future, and friends matter most of all.

I don't know why I felt that so strongly when I read this book. I didn't try to impose my concerns on it so much as feel how strongly I couldn't find myself in it. While it's not the kind of book that excludes women readers (just the opposite, it's thoughtful and self-aware in a way that invites both genders, I think) it was none the less a deeply guy book. It's about guys in the company of guys. There was a thing floating around for awhile about the difference between 'men' and 'guys'. John Wayne was a man. Tom Hanks is a guy. In that particular parsing, the three main characters in this novel are clearly 'guys.' Nice guys. Good guys (well Eric can be less than a good guy.)

I tried to think about novels that aren't Young Person novels. James Joyce wrote one of the definitive young person novels--Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, which, for the record, I hated. And also wrote one of the definitive novels that are about middle-aged angst, Ulysses (which I loved, but that may be partly because I knew I had to love it or I wasn't smart.) When I was in college, there was a kind of genre in the canon of books about men--Mickelson's Ghost, Henderson the Rain King, the Rabbit books. I felt myself at arm's length from these books (not surprising for a 20 year old white girl.)

There are, of course, lots of books that I read and don't feel so distanced from. Lots of those books have absolutely nothing to do with my sensibilities or age. One of the joys of Karen Joy Fowler's books for me has been that I often felt that they were aimed at me. Even if I wasn't really a Jane Austin lover. (I liked Jane Austin, but not the passionate way so many people do.) A lot of those books are written by women, but a lot of them, The Crossing, by Cormac McCarthy, or Motherless Brooklyn, by Jonathan Lethem, are, like Couch, books about guys, young guys, finding a way.

It's a funny reaction to a good book. If I have anything to really say about it, it's ignore my nattering. Good read.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Wanna Be in LA

For much of my life, if I heard a weird but good song that wasn't in rotation on my radio station, I was pretty much screwed. We all were. Somebody would play a song at a party and that was it, I wouldn't hear it for another five years. But now, between shazam and google and Youtube, if I hear a song and miss the name of the band, hell, I can just plug the refrain in our even hold Bob's phone up to the speaker and there it is. The video is no great shakes but the song is fun.

Kids these days, they don't know how easy they've got it.

Anyway, this song had me cruisin' at 75 miles an hour tonight, gliding around traffic and basically driving like someone who was begging for ticket.

I do not, however, have any desire to be in LA.