Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Ryan the Star Wars Kid - Christmas 2008

Happy Holidays!

Christmas came and for once I was not exhausted, lethargic, emotional, over worked, resentful, disgusted, fearful, etc. … all the emotions of working the holiday season in retail. Since I did the majority of my shopping on “Black Friday” I felt I missed a little of the Christmas rush and did a spot of shopping on Christmas Eve just to “feel” the holiday season a bit more. It was quiet odd that this holiday season, even with the present economic uncertainty, seemed to be unrushed and, in fact, calm.

I even got up early Christmas morning and drove to Ryan’s house about 9 a.m. to wallow in the joy of watching the kids on Christmas morning. A few waves of visitors and my other brother showed up with his cute kids and the third wave of opening presents commenced. I brought two cameras with me (one digital and one film) and snapped a few hundred shots of the kids ripping through gift wrap or playing together peacefully. We even got a family photo, the first with all twelve of us (so far + one dumb mutt).

These people are what I am thankful for.

The Whole Clan:

Ryan using his light saber to protect Xmas from the evil Sith Lords:

Aiden wondering what the heck I'm doing:

Molly more interested the in the toy oven than anything else:

Grace in a bag (no, we are not trying to regift her):

And little Sarah who was more outgoing and less shy this time around.

Happy Holidays to all!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

End of the year books...

Like everywhere else, the economic tsunami is also hitting the book industry hard. At a time when different sources are publishing their Best of 2008 lists (like The NYTimes and and NPR ), dire news has been coming from all levels of the book business (NYT). Many of the big name publishers announced staff cuts (including last week, nice timing) and booksellers announced the lowest sales for the holiday period, ever. A few publishers also announced they were not accepting new manuscripts at the present time (!) which hopefully appears to be a temporary thing - you can’t make money without new product.

In fact, sales have been so bad that an informal group of authors and celebrities have been pushing books as an inexpensive, and lifelong, gift. Read what Salman Rushdie and Fred Armisen and others recommend here.

One other issue the publishing houses have rumbling about within all the economic bad news is the practice of publisher returns. Publisher returns means that when books are sent out to a bookseller, the bookseller can return unsold copies en mass for a full refund. Ironically enough this was started in the Great Depression to convince booksellers to take chances on lesser known authors. Currently, publishers take back about 40% of their books and either pulp them or resell them as remainders. 40% of a run of thousands of books is a lot of waste and expense and the way the most of the big publishing houses are talking about it means that it will soon change.

I was going to write my list of my top books of 2008, but as I only saw a few newer titles and read or reread a lot of my older titles from my own library (why my cataloging took so long) I felt I am a little out of sync with some newer titles. I will however give you my list of the best book I read (and in some cases RE-read) this year:

Farewell My Lovely – Raymond Chandler. The second Philip Marlowe novel, peppered with lines like: "He looked as inconspicuous as a tarantula on a slice of angel food cake."

Over by the River and other stories – William Maxwell. Incomparable short stories by the master of the form and author of my favorite novel, So Long See You Tomorrow.

Novel in Three Lines – Félix Fénéon. A collection of a thousand three line reports Fénéon wrote for Le Matin in 1906 with wit and economy and a sense of the absurd.

In Cold Blood – Truman Capote. One of those books I am embarrassed to say I never read till now, after being prompted by the films Capote and Infamous and a similar home invasion/murder in a nearby sleepy town.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly – Jean-Dominique Bauby. See my review a few posts back.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao - Junot Díaz. Winner of the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and well worth it!

Netherland – Joseph O’Neill, about cricket and a post 9/11 world.

But the best book I read last year was E. Annie Proulx’s The Shipping News, Winner of the 1994 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. A wonderful stylist on Newfoundland, the sea, winter, knots etc etc etc. Just made me shake my head in wonder on how well it was written. Here's a favorite bit:

"Suddenly, he could see his father, see the trail of ground cherry husks leading from the garden around the edge of the lawn where he walked while he ate them. The man had a passion for fruit. Quoyle remembered purple-brown seckle pears the size and shape of figs, his father taking the meat off with pecking bites, the smell of fruit in their house, litter of cores and peels in the ashtrays, the grape cluster skeletons, peach stones like hens' brains on the windowsill, the glove of banana peel on the car dashboard."

Friday, December 19, 2008


A big snow storm barreled in today, quickly dumping a pile of snow on us. As is typical of New Englanders, all the local news channels quickly became weather howler monkeys, hooting incessantly on any aspect of this storm they could find to yatter on about for 5 minutes. While we expect to get 5-10 inches (12-25 centimeters for my metric friends) plus across the state (with "embedded thundersnow" no less), I took some time to walk out in it a bit and enjoy the sight of snow falling everywhere. I also slipped and fell on my @$$. So much for winter's beauty.

The view out my window:


1 p.m.

2 p.m.

3 p.m.

4 p.m.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Christmas Tree O Christmas Tree, can't you put up your own branches....

Yes, still alive. My cold continued past the date of my last posting and when I upped my arsenal against it by going to medicine of the pseudoephedrine family, I spent three nights watching the clock ticking the night away. Thank you side effects.

In any case, I had this debate about when to put up my Christmas tree and decorations. As this is “The Non-Retail Year”, I’ve fought putting it up too early and settled on December 13th - St. Lucy’s Day in Scandinavian countries. That gives me just shy of two weeks of full on Christmas decorations. In the past, if the tree didn’t go up right after Thanksgiving, it ain’t going up at all. I was too exhausted and too Christmased out by that point. (Remember: I’ve stated how on the 6th busiest day before one Christmas, I logged in 7 miles just running around in my store.)

As I was too out of it from the cold and the cold medicine to clean first, my tree has yet to go up. I was starting to wonder if by delaying it, I was somehow missing something or was behind in the season somehow. Most everyone I know has put his or hers up, if not Thanksgiving weekend, then by the first week in December. But in that fog of congestion I was fighting, I caught several versions of The Christmas Carol. In each one, according to Victorian tradition, the tree and decorations went up on Christmas Eve.

The joke in my retail days was just how earlier and earlier each year the holiday merchandise would arrive. Last year we had Christmas books arrive in store in July. Often I was physically exhausted from work that I would often see Christmas Day as a chance to sleep in late. One Christmas Eve, I actually fell asleep on my couch with my coat on when I was due at a party. As much as I love the season, it was work and commerce. This year I plan to celebrate the holiday season and enjoy it like Scrooge finally does. The damned tree will go up in it’s own time!

Some photos:

Christmas Lights on Saks 5th Avenue, NYC

The Christmas Tree in Rockefeller Center

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Body Betrays Me

Sorry for the gap but I was sick as a dog all last week. I brought chocolate cherry trifle to my brother’s house and left with his in-law’s flu from D.C. - I got gypped on the deal. I thought that considering I wasn’t in retail this winter I would be spared the run of the cold & flu season where I am usually the first or last to contract it.

After little sleep, I got up at 5:30 a.m. to hit the stores on “Black Friday” something I have never done before. Usually I was working and passing snide remarks on those that did get up far to early to shop. Being on the other side of the counter for this was quite the experience. I drove to Wal-Mart armed with an annotated shopping list and some HOT black tea, and saw the parking lots for the nearby Kohl’s (opened at 4 a.m.), Target (opening at 6 a.m.) and Wal-Mart (opened at 5 a.m.) were all full to capacity.

Inside, Wal-Mart was just a few gunshots shy of a riot. I had gone for one specific unmentionable item, for certain readers of this blog, but there was a huge line to get that item and my arms were already full with extra bargains I discovered along my way. Most of the lines were for the HD TVs and Wii and Xbox stuff (or so it seemed, I know nothing about electronic games and wasn’t buying any) but since I wasn’t buying that stuff I was in and out pretty fast. I then stopped at Target where I ran into a very tired Nonnie. By then it was 7:30 a.m. and I realized quite happily that my Christmas shopping was about 95% done! I got some great stuff for the kiddies and spent about 1/3rd the money I would normally have spent so all in all it was worth the little sleep.

Later that day I picked up Ryan and took him to the other brother’s “after Thanksgiving brunch” with said trifle and said D.C. flu. The food was very good and the affair was loud and fun. There were about 13 kids, all 5 years old and under and all in various states of running, toddling, crawling around. The trifle was a hit, of course, although everyone kept calling it "Death by Chocolate".

It took a few days for the cold to waylay me and left me alternately drowning in my own fluids or too zoned out to do almost anything but crawl from couch to bed to medicine cabinet and back again. I reread one of my favorite books, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby and finished watching the excellent film adaptation by painter Julian Schnabel. At age 42, Bauby who was the editor of French Elle, suffered a massive stroke that left him speechless and paralyzed, except for his left eye. He literally blinked his dictation for this memoir letter by letter, relating being locked in his body (the diving bell) but having his mind unaffected and free to take “flight like a butterfly”. With its upbeat and life affirming elegant tone, and the fact that it is fairly short, I used to recommend this great book to people looking for a book club read or high school students who needed a quick biography subject for a report.

The film is also an amazing achievement. Aside from being a visually beautiful, poetic film, Schnabel was able to capture the first person viewpoint of a prisoner in a dead body whose mind was free to roam the world of his imagination and memory. Both highly recommended.

Lastly, I started adding little snippets of videos to my Youtube account. Take a gander and let me know what you think.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Bloated and content...

Oh, sweet tryptophan!

Hope your Thanksgiving was grand. Mine was.

Ate lots. Then waddled home to make the trifle for tomorrow. Not too bad. Bit too much chocolate pudding and I could only find regular and chocolate loaves of pound cake. Polish black cherry jam dripped everywhere in the kitchen. The cocoa on top looks more like a muddy road than a "dusting" but it'll do. It may not be Nigella pretty but I am proud of my ugly child.

Here's the baby:

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Chocolate Covered Gluttony

Thanksgiving crept up on me, thanks to not being worked to death with holiday prep. For the first time both parents are in Ireland instead of just my dad, and I am spending Thanksgiving at my sister in law Andrea's family, just around the corner from me. My sister in law's mother is an awesome cook as is Andrea who is cooking the turkey this year. I've offered to bring food but was told just to show up and eat. I feel bloated already.

The other brother called me up out of the blue and invited me to his house for brunch on Friday. I am bringing my version of an incredible dessert from my one of my favorite chefs Nigella Lawson from her cookbook Feasts. Chocolate Cherry Trifle. Nigella writes "Let people fall upon it with greed and gratitude. They will go home happy."

She ain't kiddin'. I made this last year for work and got these amazed and blissful thank yous from my coworkers. Here is her recipe:

Chocolate Cherry Trifle:

2 (approximately 12 ounces each) chocolate pound cakes
1/2 cup black cherry jam
1/2 cup cherry brandy
2 cups drained bottled sour cherries (recommended: Morello)

4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, minimum 70 percent cocoa solids, chopped
1 1/3 cups plus 1 tablespoon milk
1 1/3 cups plus 1 tablespoon heavy cream
8 egg yolks
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
1/3 cup cocoa

3 cups heavy cream
1-ounce bittersweet chocolate
Special Equipment: Large wide trifle bowl

Slice the chocolate pound cake and make jam sandwiches with the cherry jam, and layer the bottom of a large wide trifle bowl. Pour over the cherry brandy so that the cake soaks it up, and then top with the drained cherries. Cover with cling wrap and leave to macerate while you make the custard.

Melt the chocolate on low to medium heat in the microwave, checking after 2 minutes, though it will probably need 4 minutes. Or you can place it in a bowl over a pan of simmering water. Once the chocolate is melted, ser aside while you get on with the custard.

In a saucepan warm the milk and cream. Whisk the egg yolks, sugar, and cocoa in a large bowl. Pour the warm milk and cream into the bowl whisking it into the yolks and sugar mixture. Stir in the melted chocolate, scraping the sides well with a rubber spatula to get all of it in, and pour the custard back into the rinsed saucepan. Cook over a medium heat until the custard thickens, stirring all the time. Make sure it doesn't boil, as it will split and curdle. Keep a sink full of cold water so that if you get scared you can plunge the bottom of the custard pan into the cold water and whisk like mad, which will avert possible crisis.

The custard will get darker as it cooks and the flecks of chocolate will melt once the custard has thickened. And you do need this thick, so don't panic so much that you stop cooking while it is still runny. Admittedly, it continues to thicken as it cools and also when it's chilling in the refrigerator. Once it is ready, pour into a bowl to cool and cover the top of the custard with cling wrap to prevent a skin from forming.

When the custard is cold, pour and spread it over the chocolate cake layer in the trifle bowl, and leave in the refrigerator to set, covered in cling wrap overnight.

When you are ready to decorate, softly whip the cream for the topping and spread it gently over the layer of custard. Grate the chocolate over the top. Let people fall upon it with greed and gratitude. They will go home happy.

You can substitute chocolate cake for chocolate pound cake to make it lighter, and good chocolate pudding for custard. I add Hershey's Cherry Cordial Kisses for decoration.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Meteor over Edmonton

I saw this and yelled "ohhhhh NEATO!" I really did.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Scary Movie

When I was a kid, WPIX Channel 11 from New York would run Chiller Theatre from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Saturday nights, playing sci-fi and horror movies. I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed this mix of schlocky 60s Japanese monster movies and the bloodier baroque horrors coming from Europe.

WPIX would always show a trailer at 10 p.m. right before the nightly news for a horror movie opening that weekend. I can distinctly remembering being absolutely scared out of my socks by the trailer for Dario Argento’s 1977 horror movie Suspiria. Evidently I could only stand to watch the first 20 seconds, probably running to hide under my bed once the woman brushing her hair turns around to the camera, as THAT is the only part I remember at all.

For some reason, I never did get to see the film. It had a reputation for being another of those misogynistic slasher films that is more about half naked women trying to escape some slow walking maniac with a knife than anything with intelligence. But last weekend Turner Movie Classics showed Suspiria on its TCM Underground program and I stayed up to the wee hours watching it and found myself actually enjoying it.

Aside from the gory, elaborate colorful deaths (this was the last film made using the Technicolor process) there is a fairy tale aspect to this story of a young dancer being sent to a ballet school run by a coven of evil witches. Think The Red Shoes by way of The Omen. It has a wild soundtrack by the group Goblin, gorgeous set design and some pretty horrific scenes, like a woman falling into a room filled with razor wire. The film ends up on a lot of best of lists and while I would not compare it to more dramatically tighter horror films like The Exorcist or Rosemary’s Baby, it has a certain loud originality and charm that cannot be overlooked.

Susan: this is not a film for you.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Two deaths and a Red Rabbit

Michael Crichton died on Nov. 4th and I did not mention it (bad Bookkook, bad!). Crichton was one of the world’s most popular, tallest and richest authors and if he did not invent the science thriller, he certainly was the master of it. I recommend Jurassic Park, The Lost World, most of Sphere, all of Prey and The Andromeda Strain. I also very highly recommend the medical thriller Coma, one of the several films he directed. About 10 years ago I met Crichton at a book signing I did at one of the local colleges. At 6’9” (2.06 meters) he quite literally stood out in the crowd, easily head, shoulders, armpit and chest above anyone else in the room. He was very guarded during the informal Q&A and after he complained how difficult writing a novel was, someone asked him why does he do it (this was after the huge success of Jurassic Park) he gave a 10 minute answer that came down to: “so my grandkids don’t have to work.”

Peruvian chanteuse Yma Sumac died Nov. 1st but I only just heard about it. Born Zoila Augusta Emperatriz Chávarri del Castillo in Peru in 1922, Sumac had a five octave range singing voice and became a cult sensation in the 1950s with her “Incan” flavored lounge music. Her albums are a lot of campy fun so fire up the lava lamp, put on your best leopard print suit and have a few hi balls and zen out the groovy song songstress, Yma Sumac.

Someone who is not dead (last I heard) is my friend Pahl Hluchan. Pahl is a painter, filmmaker, sculptor – a general Renaissance man – who has made some interesting films about a bratty Red Rabbit and eggs. Barney by way of Freud. I'll have to find some of his paintings to post.

Years ago, Pahl took a tune I made up and added some lyrics and made a stop motion animated short using it. After putting the brain of a chicken into a toaster oven, some mutants broke out singing my tune like a post apocalyptic Busby Berkeley number. Fun little film which gave me a music credit in a film and had talking cheese.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Before and After

All politics aside, America - you did a very great thing last night.

You once again proved to the world that indeed your democracy works by showing how your government is ultimately answerable to its people and how that government can be changed by the articulation of the will of your people.

You also showed, indeed, “that all men are created equal” – one of the tenets of your very birth - and that which makes us different from one another does not define us alone nor does it limit us.

I am an American by choice and I have always loved you my adopted country. I have defended you to people who forgot how truly wonderful an Idea you are. I have also expressed my criticism of you when you needed it and when your actions were incongruous with your ideals.

But tonight you did something great, not only for yourself, but for the whole world. Today millions of African Americans descended from those you once enslaved are weeping with joy to see that the last barrier for them broken and that your promise of equality that took so long to get here, is true and alive. And your example shines across this world as it has often done again and again.

Our problems are not solved completely. We have not put behind us ages of bigotry and hatred. But after yesterday, no child born in America can say “I cannot do this” or I cannot be that” anymore.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Call me Kreskin, here's my prediction.

Going with the New York TImes interactive map and a host of polling sites, I'm calling swing states North Carolina, Florida and Ohio to Obama, Missouri and Indiana to McCain.

353 electoral votes to Obama, 185 to McCain.

Popular vote: 50% Obama, 43% McCain and I'm being conservative.



just found this link. Amazon posted a link of books the candidates say they have recommended or recently been seen reading:


Interesting that both are reading For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway

Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween! Samhain go Maith!

It’s been spooky around home lately. It could just be Halloween season and too many horror movies before bed or it could be the cold weather making the house creak, but I swear I’ve been hearing odd noises in the middle of the night. Noises things make moving around blindly in the dark. You know the ones where you get out of bed stumbling for the light while your left brain tries to rationalize everything away but the right brain is convinced there something creeping around your house in the dark and waits for you…

Tuesday night I was about to watch It’s The Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown when I saw that the fire department was in my parking lot and there were flames in one of the windows of the apartment building across from me. Everyone was okay, but it was rather nerve wracking for a while.

Here's a link to some very short spooky stories. Check out Neil Gaiman's short.

Books to read:
The Dark Descent - ed. David G. Hartwel. A thick brick of book. A horror anthology spanning the literary traditions of ghost stories from literary fiction to modern horror traditions.
The Haunting of Hill House – Shirley Jackson. Probably THE greatest haunted house novel, ever.
Clive Barker's A to Z of Horror – Clive Barker. Based on his television show for British TV, Barker examines the history of horror from American Psycho to Zombie in this thoughtful companion book.

The Haunting (1963) based on Shirley Jackson’s book.
Any of the old Universal Horror movies for the 1930s: Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy etc
The original Wicker Man from 1973 with it’s nasty little ending
Werner Herzog’s dreamy remake Nosferatu the Vampyre
Invasion of the Body Snatchers, both the 1956 film and the clever 1978 remake
John Carpenter's brilliant Halloween
Hitchcock’s The Birds, Psycho, Vertigo
Les Diaboliques from French director Henri-Georges Clouzot about a wife and her husband’s mistress concoct a plan to bump off the abusive husband, but his body won’t stay put
A lot of films by Mario Bava (Black Sunday), George A. Romero (Dawn of the Dead) and producer Val Lewton (Cat People).

In the meantime, here are two goblins from last year.

Have a save & Happy Halloween!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

A list of moments of beauty and delight

I keep a journal. Kept one since March 19, 1981, which is about 2/3rds of my life – wow, that astounds me. It’s roughly over 2,500 pages of description, opinion, lament, self-examination and rant. There’s a lot of rant in it. Well, I was 15 when I started.

I know this sounds self-absorbed but periodically I will sit down and reread portions of it. Sometimes I meet my former self across a page or take some pride in a line well written. Mostly I relive a moment in time I temporarily forgot. A day out with friends. A particularly good meal. Seeing something funny or ironic, poignant or pungent that I alone experienced. After that Fire in 2000 that upended my life, I was so traumatized and so grateful to be alive that I recorded long lists of moments of beauty and delight I kept catching in the off moments. It was as if something had to prove to me just how wonderful and worthwhile the world truly was.

Here’s the list:
• Stopped at a light and watching a flock of wind borne leaves flow, stop, turn and fly off like a gang of ducklings chasing each other across the street
• The taste of tender fresh mango slices at a Korean deli
• Walking outside in what first appeared to be large snowflakes but were actually large glops of sleet clumped together
• Finding random poems that instantly spoke to me of my situation (John Donne’s A Burt Ship, William Blake’s “Terror in the house does roar/But Pity stands before the door.”)
• Fog on a road so thick that when I stopped at a double light, it looked like a solid mass – a big monstrous thing with two green eyes set to swallow my car whole
• The glimpse of a large beautiful doe by the roadside fearlessly eyeing me drive by
• Tripping over coincidence after coincidence after coincidence
• Drifts of rime ice piled on cars making them look like they were covered in cotton balls
• Rediscovering a poem I wrote years before on a bookmark in Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair.
• The taste of tender chicken
• The pleasure of watching The Third Man and The Passion of Joan of Arc on dvd.
• On a cold night, watching TV in bed, dressed in sweats, wrapped in blankets and not caring if I fell asleep at 8:30 p.m. or not. (I did)
• Biting into a lemon slice and feeling it spray
• A woman with amazing grey colored eyes
• How on a clear night the snow covered landscape made the world look like it was made of white moonlight
• The tracks left in the soft powdery snow by our ancient cat food stealing possum.
• Wrapping Christmas presents and letting myself enjoy the holiday season.
• Good wine on New Years Eve.
• My mother, father and I laughing ourselves into hysterics over some stupid joke
• The softness of my mother’s hair
• My father’s laugh
• How good an 8 hour sleep felt after a 5 day about of insomnia
• Standing at dusk on a street corner in NYC and seeing a pink cloud, reminding me of the Crab Nebula, slide behind a skyscraper as David Sylvian sang on my headphones.
• How my godson Colin always dives into the books I bring him
• How Emmy Lou Harris’s album Red Dirt Girl grew on me
• How happy I get when I hear David Gray’s Babylon or U2’s It’s A Beautiful Day on the musak at work.
• Accidentally getting Van Morrison’s joyous Domino on the car radio when I needed to relax
• Reading Diane’s ever inappropriate boob joke from an email
• Being surprised by finding the things I bought after the Fire and forgot and stored in the garage.
• The first breeze of spring blowing on the hairs of my bare arms.
• Memory of a forgotten dance and a kiss by candlelight
• Liking the people I work with at my new job
• Hearing that I was missed at my old job
• A meal of salmon with capers, mashed potatoes and garlic broccoli at a new restaurant I discovered
• Crepes on Shrove Tuesday
• Remembering I still owned a favorite book
• Re-reading the reissued Land of Laughs by Jonathan Carroll
• How silent the house was when everyone was gone
• Seeing the moon and Venus together so unusually close in the sky that they looked to be heading for a collision

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Ghosts of elections past & Postscript

I was rereading my journal (more on that another time) and came across this entry for December 11th, 2000.

“Oh %$#@! Al Gore gave his concession speech earlier tonight and that twittering idiot frat boy will be president. Gore’s speech was rather dignified and “statesmanlike” a high moment for someone who could have and should have sounded more like that during the campaign. Bush gave a simple speech, nice, attempting to be non-partisan. Nice man but NOT a deep thinker. He’s going to gut social security like a fish, pack the Supreme Court with ultra conservative judges and will mess up the economy so bad…Well, like Andrew Jackson in the election of 1824, Gore will be back in 2004.”

In light of seeming so prescient on Bush (sadly not on Gore), I confess a lot of my opinion on him came from reading Molly Ivins’ Shrub: The Short But Happy Political Life of George W. Bush right before the election. Ivins was a syndicated reporter from Texas whose very funny writing frequently got her in trouble. She famously said on US Representative James M. Collins, "If his IQ slips any lower we'll have to water him twice a day."

Shrub is not one of those political books exposing scandals and personal misdeeds. Instead, Ivins follows the plucky political fortunes of W from his time as a failed oilman to governor of Texas and how his past record of behavior followed him in every position.

It’s all there: Bush’s lack of verbal grace and his informal charm; his ability to stay on (uncomplicated) message; Karl Rove’s dirty tricks campaign at every step; Bush friendly to big “Bidness” in Texas; how his second in command (the lt. governor) had more power than he did; how he turned Texas’ budget surplus into a billion dollar deficit; how he pushed for tort reform protecting corporations from law suits; how he gave government money to oil companies while cutting services to the poor; how he claimed to be pro-environment and scuttled environmental regulations and left Texas a more polluted state than when he entered office; and how he appointed ineffectual wealthy friends to important positions in the government.

Aside from being devastatingly funny, Ivins’ book shows that if anything, Bush was consistent in his character, an unfortunate fact for the country. Every policy mishap that occurred over the past two terms of his presidency (and let’s face it, they were legion) sent me running back and quoting Shrub. She does have some positive things to say about Bush on education and some nice things to say about McCain during the 2000 republican campaign, especially in light of how nasty the Rove led campaign was on McCain.

Ivins died of breast cancer in 2007. I wish she were still around and commenting on this campaign. She would have been devastatingly funny. God knows, she would have a lot of material with which to work.

I found this quotation John McCain made in Lynchburg VA in 2000 which ended his presidential run.
"The politics of division and slander are not our values. They are corrupting influences on religion and politics, and those who practice them in the name of religion or in the name of the Republican Party or in the name of America shame our faith, our party and our country."

How come THAT John McCain wasn't running this year?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Words to live by from Walt Whitman

“This is what you shall do:
Love the earth and sun and the animals,
despise riches,
give alms to everyone that asks,
stand up for the stupid and crazy,
devote your income and labor to others,
hate tyrants,
argue not concerning God,
have patience and indulgence toward the people,
take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men,
go freely with powerful uneducated persons
and with the young and with the mothers of families,
read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life,
re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book,
dismiss whatever insults your own soul;
and your very flesh shall be a great poem,
and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips
and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body.......
The poet shall not spend his time in unneeded work.”

-Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass

* This is altered to make each thought a separate line. I have this posted where I see it every day.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Enemies, foreign and domestic..

The last week I called my mom. It went like this.

“Hi mom, it’s me.”

“Oh hi, how are you?”

“I have a question.”

“Okay…” Jeopardy was on, I knew I had to make it quick.

“Do we live in the “Pro-America” part of the country?” Then followed a perplexed sound from my mother and my retelling of Sarah Palin’s comments on October 17th.

Usually, I don’t like to get political on folks. To me, someone’s politics are as personal and idiosyncratic as are his views on religion and romance. My standard for all three has always been that you can believe in whatever you want to believe so long as it’s not forced on me. But when it affects me I have to act.

And so, I do.

I am one of the many personally offended by Sarah Palin’s remarks. Her insinuation, along with a lot of right wing Republican politicians like Michele (witch hunt) Bachmann, is by questioning one’s government or disagreeing with one party’s platform is somehow “un-American” and that the liberal states are somehow conspiring with our enemies. Her comments were regionalist, prejudicial, and certainly not American. I echo Jon Stewart’s remarks to Palin that “You know, New York City was good enough for &@#$ing Osama bin Laden, it better be good enough for you.”

Those of you who know me, know that I am an immigrant and a naturalized American citizen. When I was 11, my parents and I, finally and excitedly and proudly became American citizens. Here is the Oath of Citizenship we took:

“I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.”

Does my taking of that Oath make me more American than a person born in here? Does my choice to becoming a citizen make me more Pro-American than say Sarah Palin who did not choose to be American? It certainly makes me more American than Joe Vogler.

There is a vicious, anti-urban, anti-intellectual, isolationist bent loose in the Republican Party that comments like Palin’s and Bachmann’s feed into. While I would not call myself a John McCain supporter, I have an appreciation for any politician who votes on his conscience not his party line. By essentially recasting himself since 2006 as part of the vicious group in order to get elected president, McCain has given voters a diet of name-calling, innuendo, divisiveness and fear. What young person growing up today could ever be inspired by "pro-America" comments or calling your opponent “socialist”?

Here is what a president should sound like – inspiring and hopeful and confident:

Obama was not my first choice, but compared with McCain he is the best choice if for his temperament alone.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Ryan is 5

Last Friday was my nephew Ryan’s fifth birthday. Hard to believe my little buddy was born a half a decade ago. He’s evolved from a cute little bread loaf sized cooing baby to this impossibly tall and smart little man. His encyclopedic knowledge of animals two years ago became this encyclopedic knowledge of dinosaurs this past year and recently, and sadly, this encyclopedic knowledge of Pokémon.

I’m sure there are some good things about the Pokémon phenomenon, I just don’t see them. There are dozens of characters with points and powers who battle each other and then transmogrify into other characters with different points and powers so you just can’t buy the cards or the action figures or the video games etc. of one, you have to get them all. Very insidious and profitable. Until Ryan’s conversion to Pokémon obsessive, my experience this franchise was trying to steer kid away from the Pokémon chapter books and towards something better when they came into my store.

But Pikachu be damned! I’ve known for a long time now what I was getting Ryan. First was one of my very favorite books when I was a kid, The D’Aulaires Book of Greek Myths by Ingri and Edgar Parin d'Aulaire. I can remember reading and rereading and re-rereading this book and just loving its sweet (and G rated) telling of the stories of the Greek gods and heroes with these wonderful and evocative illustrations by the D’Aulaires. I’ve handsold this book to many a preteen kid, who was a bit too young for Harry Potter but who wanted some tales of magic and wonder. It would suit Ryan with its friendly tales of monsters and people being constantly turned into animals.

Second was the dvd of My Neighbor Totoro directed by Hayao Miyazaki, Japan’s answer to Disney and director of Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, Howl's Moving Castle etc. – all wonderful films in their own right. I remembered a rave review of Totoro by Roger Ebert when the film came out in the 1980s but hadn’t seen it till this year when I rented it then had to buy a copy. It has all the elements of the best of younger kids fiction: a sense of fun and mystery, and a lesson learned within the safe confines of family and friends – the friend being a very large "keeper of the forest" who looks like a rabbit who swallowed a Thanksgiving Day Parade Float.

I got a couple of other books and I knew I would face tough competition from everyone else bringing toys. Ryan opened my presents, allowed me explain them and then turned his attention more towards the toy boxed shaped presents. I don’t fault him; that’s what kids do. A few days later when I was babysitting, Ryan told me he watched the whole video of Totoro and liked it a lot and had read a few stories from the Greek Myths with his parents. I even got to read him the story of the monsters Typhon and Echidna and their brood of monster children, which really got his attention.

His party was a lot of chaotic fun as the twelve kids, most under eight, ran around the house juiced up on sugar and playing wildly. Happily no fights or injuries occurred. Aside from Ryan and his sister Grace, my three other neice-phews (someone has got to coin a collective noun for nieces and nephews) Aiden, Molly and Sarah where also there and we tried to wrangle them into one spot for a photo with mixed results.

I am biased, but they are cute.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

And so...

And so I stopped the blog over a year and a half ago because my heart just wasn’t in it. I was a little heart broken over the closing of my store and some of the things that happened before, during and after the close and suddenly I was faced with the prospect of being out of world of books I so loved.

And so it took me a while not to get emotional for feeling so disconnected walking into a bookstore and not knowing the new titles or the new trends or the status of hot books. Often, I had to stop myself from the pavlovian response of straightening shelves and reworking displays and finding books for customers asking unknowing staff.

And so by June, as my emotions settling to level, shopping in a bookstore buying some books for my birthday didn’t feel quite so morose. I realized that I have always loved books, even before I worked in a bookstore, and can love them even if my life takes me to another place. I don’t need to work in a bookstore to be a book kook.

And so my mourning is over. Some friends have asked if I would write this blog again (thanks guys) and I will. I am going to make it a little more personal and a little more relevant (hopefully) but still keep books as the main, but not singular, inspiration.

And so, and so, and so - I begin again.

In the interim, I’ve been slowly cataloging my own books with a computer program called Delicious Library. The cool thing about this program is that it handles DVDs and CDs and video games as well as books and uses my iMac cam as a scanning device to read barcodes. It uses as a database which is useful for finding the older out of print titles I’ve accumulated.

As I said it’s slow going. I have a lot of books that survived the Fire I suffered in 2000 and although I’ve cleaned them several times, I stop to clean them yet again or deal with the problems of bugs and mold. According to The Care of Fine Books by Yale Librarian Jane Greenfield, you wrap them in parchment paper and tuck them in the freezer for a few days. I kept waiting for someone to ask for some ice and see books in the freezer and wonder if I have really gone off the deep end.

It got emotional to comb through the collection. I cheer to find old gems I forgot I owned, and saddened by the condition of some irreplaceable titles, signed first editions etc.

I pulled out a lot of sales receipts, some with their tops smoke gray from where they stuck out from the book during the Fire. When I bought a book I would often leave the receipt inside it to tell me when and where I bought it. I’ve gathered together 20 years worth of receipts and put them in a rectangular Cadbury’s biscuit tin that fits the size just right. The scary thing is how much heft the tin has now just from little scraps of paper. Yikes!

I’ve hit the 1,800 mark in the Library with a bookcase in the second bedroom left to do, and the books in the living room and in the kitchen and yes, the bathroom. I figure I’ll have close to 2,000 when I’m done cataloging and will never ever want to move again.

Hey, some people have drugs or cigarettes or booze. I have books.


is coming....

I promise.