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.