Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Things You Probably Already Knew

Stephen King needs an editor. Bag of Bones is a pretty good book, but really just way too long in some places. He can't resist a thought full of clever word play that might cross the narrator's mind, relevant or not, credible or not. This man is thinking of clever puns while being scared out of his mind. Really, it's any appearance of cleverness at all that he can't bear to cut. It reminds me of William Goldman's truism, for screenwriting but probably for all writing--you must kill your darlings. Sometimes your best work is the part you have to cut. C'mon, Stephen. Be merciless.

Okay, so maybe you didn't know that. Maybe you're like that smug librarian in my hometown library who used to remark on every book you were checking out, often unfavorably. She wrinkled her nose whenever I checked out Stephen King, which I never did till after high school. But then again, I got to feel smug when she said she couldn't understand Like Water for Chocolate, which I actually enjoyed a lot.

You also probably knew that the 50s was a lousy decade to be gay in America. I knew that, too. This fellow, Martin Duberman, has seriously internalized a great deal of psychoanalytic theory, to the point where even when he's refuting things, he speaks their language. This has led me to do some thinking about the word "pretentious." It occurs to me that genuine highfalutinness is not actually pretention--if you're a world-renowned academic, you're not pretending to anything when you talk like a world-renowned academic. It's only when you're a freshman, or just plain ignorant, that you can call it pretentious.

I grant him that--he's not pretentious--though I still don't much like it.

I guess this entry wasn't mostly about things you probably already knew. Except the Stephen King thing. So, Thing You Probably Already Knew.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Eaten by a Bear, and Other Comforts

Despite a fairly significant amount of downtime over the weekend, I don't feel like I've made forward progress in my goals. Sadly, when I think about why I feel that way, I realize that my goal is to get all these books read. You know, the ones I'm planning to read. Now, somehow that doesn't seem very life-affirming; get it done, cross them off the list, and everything will be fine.

I spent most of the weekend rereading. A little of Expecting Adam, which really had an impact on me the first time I read it, but which a more skeptical second reading is revealing as more of a good read than maybe the gospel I took it for. I feel a little gullible for buying wholesale into th whole thing; not that I disbelieve it, but a healthy skepticism makes you evaluate how well everything ties together, and whether you REALLY had those thoughts before those other things happened. Anyway, it's still well written, and I'm sorry to lose my excited first reaction, but I have.

Mostly, though, I was reading The Clan of the Cave Bear. Linden and I used to sit around and talk about what we thought would happen in the next sequel to come out. What basic element of civilization would she discover next? She's tamed animals--will she domesticate crops? She invented the sewing needle. Next? Discover the wheel, perhaps? Anyway, it was really soothing to read. I'm kind of skimming--there are a lot of descriptive passages that I've enjoyed in the past, but this time I'm just skimming through the story. It's so soothing and reassuring. A childhood favorite, despite, you know, the sex.

Now that I'm back to the commute, though, I'm reading my Commute Book, which is currently Cures. This is a memoir of a gay man who spent the fifties alternately cruising bars and bath houses and in therapy trying to get "cured" of his homosexuality. It's told in a very matter-of-fact manner, very like sitting down and having someone outline his life for you, going into detail when necessary to make the point. It also does a good job of evoking the social environment of the time--not just the facts, but the sense that not only is heterosexuality the norm, so is monogomy, and that this is a big part of the problem.

But I sort of feel like he does his story a disservice when he discusses some of these topics. He presents very clearly the objective and subjective facts of his life at the time, but he doesn't do much tempering of the subjective part through a modern lens.

I might be misreading my own reasons for being thrown off, but I think it's because he doesn't sort out some of the jumbled mixed-messages there were in the fifties. He equates the perceived wrongness of homosexuality and the perceived wrongness of promiscuity together. And of course, at the time, for him, they were all mixed up. But I think, whether or not both of them had equal validity, in modern times it's worth trying to work out how they were separate things.

I'm working through about seven library books right now. Wish me luck.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Who's a Wannabe?

Queen Bees and Wannabes, which folks may have noticed was cited as the "based on" book for the movie Mean Girls, is a lot better described by its subtitle, Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends & Other Realities of Adolescence. (Note that the lack of the last serial comma is not house style here where I work, but to each publishing house its own.)

This book is really a self-help book. It's very much about how to talk to your daughter, prevent her from rolling her eyes at you, and help her make good decisions, instead of locking her up for five years. I'm not fully convinced it's possible to prevent the eye-rolling, but the message of respect and letting go was good.

There were way fewer personal flashback moments than I would have expected. I think I managed to dodge much of the later-adolescence stuff in my own life. The boys, drugs, sex, partying parts were very interesting, but in a much more anthropological way. Also in a "crap, I'm going to have to rear children one day and deal with this mess" kind of way. But the middle school, cliques, best friend swapping, girl cruelty parts at the beginning of the book were really fascinating. It's an incredibly complex society these kids have, mostly because they're smart enough to think and plan and machinate, but not mature enough intellectually to analyze what they're doing and control themselves.

Upcoming: books I'm planning to read.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Do You Think I'm Crazy?

So the library's updated website indicates that you can "log in before clicking Add To My List to retain titles in the list for 90 days."

The 90 day limit was pretty upsetting, since I keep all my books to read in that list, and sometimes I don't read them for months. So I clicked the "Give us your feedback" link and gave it: while I understand that there are space constraints, that limit makes me sad.

Within the hour, I received a reply stating that the entire list is retained, and only deleted after 90 days of inactivity. I have no worries there--I'm in there all the time. Hooray!

Now, when I told this to Mike, he seemed to think the salient point of the story is that I'm someone who calls the library to ask how long it keeps my list. Now, I think that since they had a big BUTTON asking for my advice, there was nothing presumptuous about me offering it. But I'd like to know if I'm alone in thinking that there's nothing obsessive about this.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Long Weekend

So we went to Mike's cousin Matt's wedding this weekend, in upstate Michigan. It was chilly, rainy Saturday morning, but ended up gorgeous for the wedding itself. But travelling to upstate Michigan takes a long time. Especially when you misread your itinerary and get to the airport three hours early.

From 10:30 am until 9:30 pm (or so) we were travelling on Friday. Sunday, it was 9:30 am till 7:30 pm. Saturday was pretty much spent at the hotel, due to being exhausted. And then in the evening, the wedding. There was a live Motown band, called the KGB, which was really cool. I'm a little weddinged out, sadly; I get tired much earlier than I used to.

But the long plane trips made for a ton of reading. I finished The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, which is the third Narnia book and is getting a little boring in its blatant moralism. It's a series of lessons, and just as the characters are about to go irrevocably awry, Aslan appears and shows them how to be right. And then he explains that in our world he's called Jesus and you should really listen to him. It's pretty much that blatant, though he doesn't use the name "Jesus" directly.

Anyway, I don't know if I'll go any further in that series. I also finished Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson. This was excellent, even better than Gilead, I think. It definitely worked more tightly as a novel, though it was still full of very well-expressed thoughts on belonging, and sorrow, and inevitable sadness. There is no lasting happiness, certainly not in the cold northern town of Fingerbone, and not in the whole world she inhabits. Not just the character, I mean, but the author. There's little even of the transient joy she allows for--sparkly shoes, huckleberries. It's a very sad story.

And now I'm reading Queen Bees and Wannabes, which is inflicting fewer painful middle school flashbacks than I might have expected. It's interesting, though dense. I'm curious how well these methods would really work for communicating with a teenager. First, self-reporting is a notoriously unreliable way of getting information from anyone, especially kids (not the most self-aware creatures to begin with). Secondly, it's hard to reconcile her reliance on affirmation as a method of staying close with the real need to stop certain behaviors. Anyway, I think it's a great book for someone who actually has a teen, but it only reads as moderately interesting for the rest of us.

I have 11 library books out now. We'll see how the rest of them wind up.

Thursday, August 18, 2005


...I didn't finish. But the epilogue looked boring, and I can read it later when book club swings around. So I think I'll take credit for The Devil in the White City.

All Signs Point to Yes

It looks like I'll make it! It seems like I can read 15 pages between now and when I go return it at the end of the day.

The question is, when I go to return it, will I be able to restrain myself? I still have 5 books from the library, and I'm picking up one for Mike. His book is upstairs, quite close to a couple of books I want--Queen Bees & Wannabes, which was the basis of the movie Mean Girls, for example.

So will I be taking more than five library books to Michigan this weekend?

See entry title.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Race Against Time!

The library book is due tomorrow, and I can't renew it because there's a wait list! I'm 90 pages from the end, and I have to get ready for the next wedding trip tonight! Can I do it???

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Time Crunch

I went on a five day vacation and read hardly a word.

I finished rereading In This House of Brede, which was a beautiful book and which I'm so glad I got for Christmas. I won't go on about nuns again except to say that good nun books are very pleasing to me. I got through maybe ten more pages of The Devil in the White City, and started The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, which is short, being a kids' book, so I'll probably get through it soon. Still, I'm disappointed in myself, especially since White City has to go back to the library on Thursday and I would really like to finish it. But I guess a good vacation is more rare and valuable than getting some reading done. I'll let it go.

White City does seem to have put Colombian Exposition Fever in my blood, though. The book is a little limiting, in that it's about the architects--which is fascinating--but doesn't get into the nitty gritty as much as I'd like. It gives examples of logistic problems, but doesn't detail how they're solved. Not that I want a pedantic list of these things, but it'd be nice to learn a little more about architecture. I got Fair Weather, a Richard Peck children's book about a girl who goes to the fair, when I went to the library, just because I feel like I want to know a little more about the sensational parts of the fair, which are breezed by in favor of the truly astounding engineering feats--the first Ferris Wheel!

This weekend will involve a plane trip--there will be much reading.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Nuns Revisited

Well, I think I've given up on Our Lady of the Forest. I was always a little doubtful, but I tried it anyway, and I don't hate it, but I really really just don't like it. It has a few of my pet peeves, including lots of dialog without quotation marks, as well as characters who cross the line on some of my own personal hygene pet peeves. Let's preserve the family-friendly nature of this blog and leave it at that; it's sufficient to say I just am not enjoying it at all.

Surprisingly, the same is not the case for Orlando: A Biography, by Virginia Woolf. I'm not sure how she's going to pull off the things that the back cover says she'll do, but I'm enjoying the trip so far. It looks like it's going to be a magical realism--emphasis on "magical"--type of story. So far, it's just about a romantically flaky courtier. But I'm caught up, which I've never been able to say about a Virginia Woolf novel before.

The Devil in the White City is pretty enjoyable, too. I don't necessarily feel that the two stories--the mass murderer and the architect--really fit together, and I have my suspicions that they might never really come together. But the juxtaposition isn't hurting either of them. My one hope is that all the architectural problems they've been teasing me with get wrapped up. I suspect that they present these specific issues more as background color, and that they're not going to resolve them to my satisfaction. For example, the level of Lake Michigan changes by as much as 4 feet over the course of the year. How can the landscape architect manage the flora so that there is neither a bare 4 feet of ground, nor a bunch of drowned plants?

And finally, I've started re-reading In This House of Brede, by Rumer Godden. I asked for and got this for Christmas, after reading it at the library last year. It's just such a good book. I think one of the reasons I like behind the scenes nun stories is that I just like behind the scenes stories. Just the day-to-day that you would never have guessed. Kitchen Confidential was good like that, though I prefer nuns to trash-talking ex-cons. But rarely do you get books in which not much happens that don't come out boring. In This House of Brede is right up there with The Nun's Story, and I rather wish there were more.

I'm on vacation for the second half of this week, so it will be next week before I'm back. In case, you know, anyone's reading this.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

My Childhood Crush on Michael J. Fox

It was only a little crush, and I suppose it was really on Alex P. Keaton, though I've always enjoyed Fox's work. His book was pretty good, too. His childhood was only minorly interesting, mostly because it was so typical, but the entire story of his acting career was quite interesting, and his account of living with Parkinson's Disease is quite fascinating. I had sort of wondered why he let himself be typecast for so long; it was because felt he needed to work on as many moneymaking products as fast as he could, to ensure his family had enough money when he couldn't work any more. He speaks so well of his wife, you know she must have SOME flaws. He loves his kids. Etc.

That's the one thing about the book, actually; he's telling the story of the parts of his life he really kind of screwed up, and he's trying to be pretty sincere, but he's also trying to be balanced, and you can see the balance tipping in his favor in some places. In telling the story of a fight with his brother right after the death of his father, he acknowledges that his renown caused stress to his family in that time (of course not his fault) and that he made a remark that was funny in his head but not out loud (happens to all of us), but he sidesteps the part where, you know, probably part of it was that fame actually HAD kind of gone to your head. He admits his own flaws, but in a very carefully screened and structured way.

I listened to it on tape, too. Fox (it's weird to call him that; that's how you talk about authors, not actors) read chapter 1 himself, and an actor read the rest. Fox's reading was quite good, though you could tell it wasn't terribly easy for him. Knowing he was sick, you could hear how words were sometimes swallowed and cut short. But his reading was much better than that of the actor--who overacted in some places, and hit a lot of words too hard.

Anyway, that's a lot to devote to that one book. In other news: I'm reading The Devil in the White City, which is really pushing the line between colorful nonfiction and fictionalized scenes, and doing it well. Also, I kind of wish I wasn't saving money for a wedding and a house and had the option of really pursuing this librarian thing. I don't know if I actually would, but right now quitting my job is not remotely an option (how do people who DON'T make large salaries buy houses anywhere NEAR this city?), so I just have to keep dreaming.