One nice thing about being so behind in reading my New Yorker magazines is that I can talk about something that everyone else was talking about so long ago that it seems new again! This laugh-out-loud funny piece by Simon Rich appeared in the March 26 issue:
A Conversation at the Grownup Table, as Imagined at the Kids’ Table
MOM: Pass the wine, please. I want to become crazy.
GRANDMOTHER: Did you see the politics? It made me angry.
DAD: Me, too. When it was over, I had sex.
UNCLE: I’m having sex right now.
DAD: We all are.
MOM: Let’s talk about which kid I like the best.
DAD: (laughing) You know, but you won’t tell.
MOM: If they ask me again, I might tell.
FRIEND FROM WORK: Hey, guess what! My voice is pretty loud!
DAD: (laughing) There are actual monsters in the world, but when my kids ask I pretend like there aren’t.
MOM: I’m angry! I’m angry all of a sudden!
DAD: I’m angry, too! We’re angry at each other!
MOM: Now everything is fine.
DAD: We just saw the PG-13 movie. It was so good.
MOM: There was a big sex.
FRIEND FROM WORK: I am the loudest! I am the loudest!
MOM: I had a lot of wine, and now I’m crazy!
GRANDFATHER: Hey, do you guys know what God looks like?
GRANDFATHER: Don’t tell the kids.
Yesterday I finally took the bull by the horns and went to the laundromat. Many friends and relatives have offered me access to their laundry rooms, but I had 4 oversize trash bags filled with dirty clothes, so I decided it made more sense to use several machines at once rather than do one load at a time.
I went to the same place where I had left my sheets last week, but I didn't want someone else handling my clothing (and the employee on duty yesterday was a man, so that settled that), so I stuck around this time. Because I used multiple machines, the whole thing took me just over an hour.
It has been many years since I've done coin-up laundry, so I guess I shouldn't have been too stunned at the price increase. Last I remember (c. 1993), it was 75¢/load to wash or dry. So imagine my surprise to find that a regular load (a washer somewhat smaller than my piece-of-shit Maytag) was $2.25! I decided instead to go for the triple-capacity washer, which was a whopping $4.50/load! I fired up four of them all at once, then transferred them to four dryers, which cost 25¢/5 minutes, so all in all I spent $18 on the washers and about $6 on the dryers. It was worth every penny to see all those clean clothes.
Last night was the folding party; cocktails were served.
Cracked magazine has a very funny series of "Thoughts of the Average American." I've presented only a few items; check out the links for the full lists—they're hilarious, particularly the last page.
Thoughts of the Average American Television Viewer (As Imagined By Network Executives)
“I can't wait to see this overweight middle aged comic and his disproportionately attractive wife deal with their adolescent children in a humorously unorthodox, though ultimately conservative manner.”
“I was going to change the channel until the network reminded me, halfway through the first commercial break, that the program would ‘be right back.' I had previously been under the impression that the program was lost and would never return.”
“I'm glad this rock band has a limited repertoire of similarly progressing power chords. If their songs were more creative, it would confuse me, and I would not buy their album.”
“That beautiful and scantily clad young woman, whose name escapes me at the moment, is my favorite musical artist of all time.”
“I am upset that I work full time and still fall below the poverty line. I blame queers and people of another race.”
“If we give free health care to poor people by taxing the super-rich, the economy, and quite possibly the universe, will collapse.”
“That recognizable athlete scores all those points because of his brand-name sports beverage, right?”
“After hearing rap music on their commercial, I can now trust this giant white-owned corporation to fulfill all my consumer needs. It no longer bothers me that the CEO eliminated all employee benefits to build his own country club.”
Premiere magazine has come up with their list of the 100 Greatest Movie Lines. (Unfortunately, it's presented in slide show format, so I can't just copy and paste the list here, and there's no way I'm typing them all out.) Pretty much all of the usual suspects are there ("I'll be back" and "You can't handle the truth" and "Show me the money" and "You're gonna need a bigger boat" and "I love the smell of napalm in the morning" etc.), although it's inconceivable to me that they omitted "Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die." (Mandy Patinkin in "The Princess Bride.") Surely there aren't two people on the planet who would come up with the same list, but that one seems like a no-brainer to me.
I would have probably also added "Who are those guys?" (Robert Redford in "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"), and "I won't be ignored, Dan!" (Glenn Close in "Fatal Attraction"), and "Luca Brasi sleeps with the fishes." (Richard Castellano in "The Godfather"), and surely something from Monty Python (although how to pick just one or two or even three lines?). Other lines that I love are probably not as universally embraced; you see, Andy and I have been known to speak almost entirely in movie quotes. It seems we rarely have a conversation that doesn't incorporate at least one or two choice lines, and I don't think we even realize when we do it anymore. There are obscure quotes from obscure movies that we've plucked out and incorporated into our daily lives, to the point that if you were to overhear one of our normal yet private conversations, you would probably start to back away slowly toward the door, wide-eyed in horror.
Get up, stand up!
1. Turn your head to the right -- what do you see?
Pete and Josh having a burping festival.
2. Stand-up -- do you like how tall you are?
I'm pretty short (not quite 5'3"), but I don't mind.
3. Do you believe in heaven or hell?
No, or at least not how they've been presented in popular culture.
4. What is your favorite piece of jewelry?
For purely sentimental reasons, my wedding band. There's nothing special about it in and of itself.
5. What is the last thing you took from someone else?
With almost teary-eyed gratitude: 2 king-size fitted sheets, 2 king-size flat sheets, 6 twin-size fitted sheets, 6 twin-size flat sheets, 4 king-size pillowcases, and 14 standard-size pillowcases, from the strange little woman at the laundromat who washed, dried, and folded them for me for $28.35. How did she fold them so perfectly? They look like I just slipped them out of their original plastic packages. (For those who are following along at home: The missing Maytag part arrived today, but the soonest their guy can get here is next Thursday afternoon.)
I didn't post anything here when Kurt Vonnegut died a few weeks ago. I was saddened, and I thought about him and his work all that day, but so many more eloquent and incisive things were being said all over the blogosphere that I just didn't bother.
Today, though, I want to point you to two lists of things Vonnegut himself said. One, which I'm sure everyone has seen, is his 8 rules for short-story writers. Two, the A.V. Club's list of "15 Things Kurt Vonnegut Said Better Than Anyone Else Ever Has Or Will."
So it goes.
Appetizer: How fast can you type?
What's the fastest thing you can think of? I type like lightning and correct most errors on the fly.
Soup: What is your favorite online game?
Hands down, it's SET. It's the very first thing I do every morning when I open up my MacBook Pro.
Salad: On a scale of 1 to 10 (with 10 as highest), how intelligent do you think you are?
What, this thing doesn't go to 11? And are we talking about my intelligence when compared to the general public, or am I up against Einstein and his ilk? Well, I'll give myself an 8.
Main Course: Name three of your best teachers from your school years.
Miss Chesis, 2nd grade; Mrs. Carter, sophomore English; Mr. James, senior AP English
Dessert: What are your plans for this upcoming weekend?
For me, the main goal of the weekend will be to try to find some friends and relatives who aren't yet sick of me schlepping my dirty laundry into their houses! Beyond that: Tonight we are going to temple because Pete's class is being honored for having completed their aleph-bet. Weather permitting, tomorrow Julie has a soccer game, and Sunday Pete has a baseball game.
Special! Today only! Now with opening lyrics!
1. Pride and Joy (live) - Stevie Ray Vaughan
Well you've heard about love givin' sight to the blind
My baby's lovin' cause the sun to shine
She's my sweet little thang
She's my pride and joy
She's my sweet little baby
I'm her little lover boy
2. Let Your Soul Be Your Pilot - Sting
Let your soul be your pilot
Let your soul guide you
He'll guide you well
3. Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes - Paul Simon
She's a rich girl
She don't try to hide it
Diamonds on the soles of her shoes
He's a poor boy
Empty as a pocket
Empty as a pocket with nothing to lose
4. Possum (live) - Phish
I come from atop the mountain, baby
Where the people come to pray
There ain't no truth in action
Unless you believe it anyway
5. Ol' 55 - Tom Waits
Well, my time went so quickly,
I went lickety-splity, out to my old '55
As I drove away slowly, feeling so holy,
God knows, I was feeling alive
6. Man Out of Time - Elvis Costello
So this is where he came to hide
When he ran from you
In a private detective's overcoat
And dirty dead man's shoes
7. Where Is My Love - Cat Power
Where is my love?
Where is my love?
Bring him to me
8. Say Goodbye (live) - Dave Matthews & Tim Reynolds
So here we are tonight, you and me together
The storm outside, the fire is bright
And in your eyes I see what's on my mind
You've got me wild, turned around inside
9. Woodstock - Martin Sexton & Assembly of Dust
Well, I came upon a child of God
He was walking along the road
And I asked him, I said, where are you going?
And this he told me
Said I'm going on down to Yasgur's farm
To join in a rock 'n' roll band
I'm going to camp out on the land
And set my soul free
10. Rudie Can't Fail (live) - Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros
On the route of the 19 bus
Hear them sayin'
How you get so rude and a-reckless?
Don't you be so crude and a-feckless
You been drinking brew for breakfast
Rudie can't fail
"Stage Beauty" - Billy Crudup is just yummy in this tale of the end of an era in Shakespearean theatre: He plays one of the last men to play women's roles, and Claire Danes plays one of the first women to be allowed to act on stage. Crudup's character specializes in Desdemona (happily for me, since "Othello" is my favorite Shakespeare play), but he can't quite nail the death scene. Danes plays his dresser, but she aspires to act (and has the hots for Crudup too); together they explore what it means to be a man or a woman or to act as a man or a woman. I liked this a lot, and the fact that it's at least partly based on real characters made it even more enjoyable for me.
"The Last King of Scotland" - You know that I've complained before about actors playing famous people—what's the line between someone who does a great impersonation of a celebrity and an actor? (This was a big problem for me with Jamie Foxx in "Ray.") Well, in this case, I will say that Forest Whittaker was Idi Amin in this. By the end of the movie, I couldn't even picture the real Amin in my brain anymore. The fictional character of Amin's personal physician, Nicholas Garrigan, allows us to see what it might have been like to meet Amin when he was on his best behavior, to be fooled by him, and then to discover what a horror-show he really was. Whittaker presents a man you could imagine being charming and bright and fun—while all the time you are trying to ignore the mounting evidence that he's in fact a dangerous lunatic. There were some really upsetting scenes during the last third or so of the movie, so be forewarned.
"Head in the Clouds" was atrocious, unwatchable. It would be hard to say what was the worst part: the script? the acting? the high-school-quality sets? Charlize Theron underwhelmed, and I really couldn't stand another minute by the time Penelope Cruz came on the scene (I had pushed this up in my queue after loving Cruz so much in "Volver" and wanting to see more of her), so I turned it off and didn't even give her a chance. The movie was boring, boring, boring, and then every now and then there were these incongruously graphic sex scenes. Even those weren't worth watching, in the end.
I'm older than Rolling Stone magazine. Sigh.
Somehow I've been getting a free subscription all year (I think it was from becoming a Salon.com premium member, but I can't recall), and the one that arrived today is the 40th anniversary special issue. In addition to all the usual stuff, it features inteviews with 20 celebrities who reflect on the past 40 years in terms of culture, politics, world events, and so on. It's a great line-up: Bob Dylan, Jimmy Carter, Bob Weir, Martin Scorsese, Bill Moyers, Mick Jagger, and so on. You can read and hear some snippets of the interviews here; the selection will change daily.
Then there's a special foldout section of the 40 Songs that Changed the World, beginning with Elvis and ending up with the White Stripes. The full list is here, and you can even vote for your own candidates. In the print mag, for each song they tell us "Why the world needed it" and "Why it matters" and "Without this song, no...." I have to admit that there was a song by a band I'd never even heard of, "TV Party" by Black Flag (1981).
There really aren't any sufficient words left that I can use to express my rage toward Maytag. (If you're just joining us, read this and then this.) The parts that had to be ordered finally arrived on Friday, so I called for an appointment and scheduled it for today, sometime between 1:00 and 5:00. The guy just showed up (not the same guy as before, either—that would make too much sense, wouldn't it?) and soon discovered that there's an additional part that should have been ordered. Wasn't.
Do you know how much laundry a family of five generates every single fucking day?
Is there a worse company than Maytag? No. I didn't think so.
Time to learn something!
1. Go to Wikipedia.
2. Click on "Random article" in the left-hand sidebar box.
3. Post it!
Here's what I got:
In his company she made her first appearance in 1699, in tragedy, in which she was at her best, although she also played a long list of comedy parts. When her friends, Mrs Barry, Mrs Bracegirdle and Mrs Oldfield, had retired from the stage, she was left its undisputed queen.
This is very coincidental, because last night we watched the first half of "Stage Beauty," in which the yummy Billy Crudup stars as a Shakespearean actor who specializes in playing Desdemona at Betterton's theatre.
Many months ago, Pam suggested I do a quiz to see how my readership compares to me in terms of interests, opinions, tastes, etc. Well, after much agonizing, I have finally come up with something I'm ready to present. Remember, the key is not to guess how I would answer (in most cases, it should be painfully obvious to anyone who's read verbatim for even a week) but to answer for yourself and see how much like me you are. Ready, set, go!
1. Which do you prefer?
a. red wine
b. white wine
2. Which do you prefer?
3. Which do you prefer?
4. Which do you prefer?
a. dark chocolate
b. milk chocolate
5. Which do you prefer?
6. Which do you prefer?
7. Which do you prefer?
8. Which do you prefer?
9. Which do you prefer?
a. mall shopping
b. online shopping
10. Which do you prefer?
a. haute couture
b. Lands’ End
11. Which statement comes closest to your own opinion?
a. I’m very particular about spelling, grammar, and word usage and am bothered when people misuse the language.
b. I care about language, but I don’t see any reason to go overboard about it.
c. Oh, for heaven’s sake, give it a rest.
12. Which statement comes closest to your own opinion?
a. I am a conservative and nearly always vote Republican.
b. I am conservative on some issues and liberal on others; I vote all over the map.
c. I am a liberal and nearly always vote Democrat.
13. Which statement comes closest to your own opinion?
a. I love to exercise and work up a good sweat. I hate to miss out on my workout of choice.
b. I like to exercise but don’t let it take over my life.
c. Exercise is a dreaded chore.
14. Which statement comes closest to your own opinion?
a. I’ll just watch whatever comes on TV; I can always find something worthwhile.
b. I like to watch certain TV shows, but everything else seems to be junk.
c. I don’t watch any TV if I can help it.
15. Which statement comes closest to your own opinion?
a. I’m always in the middle of at least one book, sometimes more.
b. I read occasionally, but I don’t always have a book going.
c. I don’t read much at all.
16. Which statement comes closest to your own opinion?
a. I love to cook and try new recipes and ingredients.
b. I don’t mind cooking, but it’s certainly not my favorite activity.
c. I have no interest in cooking.
17. Which statement comes closest to your own opinion?
a. I love everything about watching movies—just the whole “movieness” of a movie is often enough for me.
b. I like to see only certain types of movies or movies with certain actors.
c. I’m not too keen on movies at all.
18. Which statement comes closest to your own opinion?
a. I love all kinds of music—there’s something to be found in every genre for me to appreciate and get excited about.
b. I have a wide range of musical interests, but there are certain genres I just don’t “get.”
c. I have a pretty limited repertoire of music I enjoy.
19. Which statement comes closest to your own opinion?
a. I will eat anything. Food is an adventure!
b. I eat lots of things, but there are also lots of things I absolutely hate or won’t even try.
c. I am extremely picky about what I eat.
20. Which statement comes closest to your own opinion?
a. I am online for a good part of each day, emailing, web-surfing, reading blogs, chatting, etc. I really depend on it.
b. I do email nearly every day and frequently look at certain web sites, but it’s not a huge part of my life.
c. Days can go by and I don’t even get online.
Give yourself one point for each of the following answers; zero for all others.
16–20: You are so totally verbatim! Are you sure you’re not me?
11–15: You are quite verbatim; chances are we would get along swimmingly.
6–10: You are only somewhat verbatim, but maybe we can still make this thing work.
0–5: You are only the teensiest bit verbatim, so let’s just agree to disagree, OK?
The only slight disappointment on my birthday was the entree I chose for Andy to prepare. I'd been wanting to try Alton Brown's Mighty Duck, but it turned out underwhelming. The skin wasn't quite crisp enough, and the meat just didn't have a whole lot of flavor. (The chard was great, though!) Don't get me wrong, we ate every last morsel on the platter, but we'll never make it again. We've done many other better duck recipes.
The movie was also a mixed bag. "Notes on a Scandal" features truly outstanding performances from both Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett. Dench plays the self-proclaimed "old battle axe" of a teacher at a rough London school. We don't know the details, but we learn that her relationship with a former pretty young teacher ended poorly; she now has her sights set on Cate Blanchett, the new art teacher. The story works well enough, except for one huge problem: Andrew Simpson, who plays the 15-year-old student with whom Blanchett has an affair (and which Dench finds out about and hangs over Blanchett's head). This kid looks like just about the last person Blanchett (or anyone) might consider losing her job and marriage over. He looked about 12 and was way too goofy and ordinary. They should have cast someone who looked about 18 and was cool and a little dangerous-looking and definitely handsome. (I don't know who any of the hot young British actors are these days, but maybe one of you can come up with a suggestion for the role.) The believability of the whole thing was shot because of him. Bill Nighy, on the other hand, was excellent as Blanchett's husband.
Highlights of my birthday yesterday:
1. Andy brought my flowers on Friday, so I could enjoy them for my whole birthday weekend.
2. Andy convinced the kids to hold off until 8:45 before bringing me breakfast in bed, complete with the NYT Book Review and Sunday Magazine.
3. The kids made me about 50 bazillion cards. No big surprise, since there had been a flurry of paper, scissors, tape, glue, markers, and stickers all week. (Julie kept saying, "How do you spell Happy Birthday? But don't look at this!")
4. The kids also made me a bunch of beaded bracelets and necklaces, which I had to pretend I didn't remember seeing when I was tying the knots in them all week.
5. Andy managed to get the kids to leave the bedroom (the cats were permitted to stay, of course), brought me my MacBook, and took off with the kids! Go Andy! Go me!
6. When I finally hauled my lazy ass out of bed, I saw that it was a magnificent day! Sunny and warm and breezy!
7. Andy got me some gorgeous earrings.
8. Barbara & Jerry got me a travel Scrabble game. (Anyone wanna take me on?)
9. I got to have my favorite deep, dark chocolate cake from Quebrada.
10. Pete got a few nice hits at his first Little League game of the season, despite having had only one practice because of all the rain.
11. I received a CD via iTunes that came with liner notes!
12. I got a ton of warm wishes via email, snail mail, chat, ecards, discussion board, blog comments, and telephone.
To sum up: I'm a lucky (if old) gal! Thanks, everyone.
Some months ago, I saw an offer for 25! Free! Songs! from eMusic. I learned that their music was all DRM-free and could be re-downloaded at any time (take that, Steve Jobs!). But I couldn't figure out how to browse their catalog, and I didn't want to sign up unless I knew whether they offered any music I'd like. (What happens is, you join and agree to pay $10/month for 30 downloads, but if you cancel within the initial 14-day trial period, you owe nothing—and still get to keep those 25 free tunes!) So then I kind of forgot about it, until Mark mentioned that he'd seen an offer for not 25, but 50! Free! Songs! and he also told me how to browse the catalog. Here's what you do: Click here for the offer page, and when you get there, click "About Us" at the bottom and then click "Browse" at the top of the next page you get to. Then you can see everything—and while they don't have quite as much to offer as iTunes, they have a lot, and again, it's all DRM-free.
Then came the moment I knew I'd have to face: Can I download a whole album and live without the liner notes? No list of who's in the band and what instrument(s) they play, no photos, no blurbs about each song, no lyrics, no acknowledgments, no nothin'? Turns out, no, I can't. Particularly for a new (to me) band, I need that stuff. For instance, I've been wanting to get a CD from the Duhks, but I don't know anything about them yet, so that's out. And even though I already have one Old Crow Medicine Show CD, they're such cute boys that I'd want to look at the photos on another.
But I decided to explore a little bit anyhow. The first thing I found was an exclusive Martin Sexton live CD, "Live at Gathering of the Vibes 2004"! That was an easy decision. Then I found another exclusive live CD, "Chris Smither Live at McCabe's Guitar Shop," so that was also a no-brainer. I have all the other CDs by both those guys, so I guess I can live without the liner notes on these, plus the lure of the not-available-anywhere-else was irresistible. So that took care of 33 songs, leaving me with 17 more to go.
Next I turned to the search feature, which works really well. You can search for an artist and find not only all their own CDs, but also any CDs that they appear on—oh, and you also get to listen to samples of every track. So, for instance, I searched for Martin Sexton and found a version of my favorite song of his, "Freedom of the Road," performed live on Austin City Limits. Similarly, I found one-offs from John Prine, Loudon Wainwright, and more. It didn't take me long to find 17 songs that way.
It's unlikely I'll go for the paid membership, almost entirely because of my resistance to downloading entire albums without liner notes. They certainly offer enough music I like; that's not a problem. If they offered downloadable PDFs of the liner notes, I'd be sold on it, so I sent them an email to that effect. (You never know.) In the meantime, I urge you to take advantage of this great deal while it lasts.
1. I'm Tore Down - Eric Clapton
2. Your Latest Trick - Dire Straits
3. Whoopee Ti Yi Yo - David Bromberg
4. Hands Off...She's Mine - English Beat
5. What Do You Want the Girl to Do? (live) - Allen Toussaint
6. Easy to Slip - Little Feat
7. Studying Stones - Ani DiFranco
8. Hand It Over - Keb' Mo'
9. Sittin' on Top of the World - Chris Smither
10. Wrapped in the Arms of Another (live) - Susan Tedeschi
Esquire magazine has a list of "60 Things Worth Shortening Your Life For."
“The following risky activities, decadent foods, and otherwise foolhardy indulgences are detrimental to your health. You will, however, not perish in vain.”
Here are my 5 favorites:
1. Danger dogs. The Tijuana delicacy -- a hot dog wrapped in bacon, fried, and topped with mayo -- has made its way to San Diego and Los Angeles, sold from carts outside stadiums, clubs, and wherever hungry drunks congregate.
This sounds a little bit like heaven.
4. Giving a buddy a kidney. You only need one. Hopefully.
Well, I wouldn’t necessarily consider a buddy, but maybe a relative. My Grandma (yes, the one who will be 101 in a few weeks!) gave a kidney to her son more than 50 years ago, and she's obviously still going strong. (My uncle was not so lucky, sadly enough.)
27. The dark-chocolate-and-peanut-butter gelato from Il Laboratorio del Gelato in New York.
I’m a little skeptical about the peanut butter part, but I’ll try it and get back to you.
35. Duck-fat potatoes.
These are already a mainstay in our house. I will never give them up. Never, I say!
Have you asked Ms. Dewey (Janina Gavankar from The L Word) a question yet? So far I got her to dance, pour a glass of wine, and take out her, um, whip (that was a surprising response to "Do you like cats?"). Go ahead, try her out, but be forewarned: If you take too long to ask something, she'll get impatient, and I can't be held responsible for what happens.
Barbara and Jerry got Pete a "My First" Swiss Army Knife when they were on their ski trip in Switzerland! He feels very cool and proud of it. Note the rounded knife blade (although the saw is still pretty gnarly). And don't worry, he was told in no uncertain terms that he may never bring it to school, that it is neither a toy nor a weapon, etc.
Get out the griddle—Pete requested pancakes and bacon for his birthday dinner! Mmm, bacon. My kind of guy.
Time to learn something!
1. Go to Wikipedia.
2. Click on "Random article" in the left-hand sidebar box.
3. Post it!
I think someone had their fingers in the wrong keyboard position for this one:
His father, Aedh mac Eogan Ua Conchobair, was killed in battle at Coill an Clochain by Aed Breifnech Ua Conchobair. His place was taken by Ruaidri mac Cathal Ua Conchobair who nevertheless ruled for less than a year; the annals laconically note in 1310 that Felim, the son of Hugh, son of Owen O'Conor, assumed the place of his father.
Felim was killed at the Second Battle of Athenry at the head of a massive Irish army thought to comprise at least two and a half thousand men, mainly from Connacht, with allies from the midlands and Ulster. A son, Aedh mac Felim Ua Conchobair, would later become King of Connacht, as would his grandson, Tairdelbach mac Aedh Ua Conchobair.
Easy for you to say.
This just in:
Couples in their 20s had their heart rates and brains monitored whilst they first melted chocolate in their mouths and then kissed.
Chocolate caused a more intense and longer lasting "buzz" than kissing, and doubled volunteers' heart rates.
The research was carried out by Dr David Lewis, formerly of the University of Sussex, and now of the Mind Lab.
Dr Lewis said: "There is no doubt that chocolate beats kissing hands down when it comes to providing a long-lasting body and brain buzz.
"A buzz that, in many cases, lasted four times as long as the most passionate kiss."
I think this warrants further study; I promise to report back with my findings.
It turns out there is something better than receiving a free book in the mail: Receiving a free book in the mail along with a surprise gift! Di not only sent the book I won for her BAFAB contest, but she also enclosed a pack of these clever die-cut notecards. The red cards have !!! , the blue have ??? , the green have " " , and the yellow have :) . They're right up my alley, considering my passion for all things editorial and typographic, and they elicited a sunny grin from me on this dreary, rainy-yet-again day.
Update 9/6/07: For some reason, this post attracts more spambots than usual, so I'm closing off comments. Feel free to email me if you want to make a (legitimate!) comment to this post.
Say what you will about Tony Bourdain (arrogant, full of himself, trying too hard to convince everyone that he really is such an asshole, etc.), but don't say he holds back. Don't say he has no real opinions to share. And don't ask him what he thinks of the Food Network if there are any minors around.
In case you don't read Michael Ruhlman's wonderful blog, you are missing out on lots of great food writing, as well as Bourdain's irregular installments, which are always laugh-out-loud funny, profane, and right on the money. Today he riffs, big-time, on the Food Network Awards, which was apparently televised last night. Oh. My. God. While you're there, check out the recent post where he clouded up and rained all over the James Beard Foundation Honors.
Still chipping away at the pile of CDs that need to be reviewed.
First, two disappointments from "masters":
David Bromberg's first studio album in 17 years, "Try Me One More Time," just falls flat for me, as much as it pains me to say this. It's a collection of old roots tunes, right up my alley, but his trademark awe-inspiring guitar skills are really showcased in only one song, "Buck Dancer's Choice" (and that's a lovely one). Perhaps not coincidentally, that's one of the only tracks without vocals, and I hate to also break the news that his voice sounds horrible to me in all the other songs. I was reading the review at Amazon, and they're saying he sounds great, but they're wrong. I'm glad he's back to making music, but this collection was a bummer.
J. J. Cale and Eric Clapton finally teamed up on "The Road to Escondido"—I say finally because it's sort of surprisingly they never did before, no? To be sure, there's nothing not to like on this CD, but there's something just, well, "lite" about it. There's nothing new or exciting going on here. I really expected much more from these guys. Maybe it's because I'm more of a Clapton fan than a Cale fan, and this is more of a Cale effort. Or maybe they're just coasting. Sorry fellas, I calls 'em as I sees 'em.
OK, bad news out of the way, moving on to two discs I'm digging big-time:
I've alway loved Elvis Costello, and I've always admired (even if I didn't always "get") the different tangents his musical interests have taken. He's now teamed up with New Orleans R&B maestro Allen Toussaint on "The River in Reverse," and I can't get enough of it. Once you learn that it's a post-Katrina thing (full of disappointment and rage), you'll understand better why it sounds so real, but you don't need to think of it that way. In fact, you don't come away from these songs feeling angry or depressed, and some of them are downright catchy. All the reviews keep talking about how soulful the overall sound is, so I was trying to think of a different word, but there it is: soulful. The songs are so rich and full of life. And who'da thunk that Elvis's voice (which has never sounded better, in my opinion) would pair so beautifully with Toussaint's signature jazzy piano style? To say it works is an understatement: This CD is a winner.
Hat tip to James for introducing me to Crooked Still, a Boston-based "alt-bluegrass" band. Their new CD, "Shaken by a Low Sound," is all old traditional roots/blues stuff, but it's got a whole new feel to it. The vocalist, Aoife O'Donovan, has a voice that definitely reminds me of Alison Krauss, but it's sexy rather than angelic-sounded. Go to Amazon and listen to the snippet of "Come On in My Kitchen" (my favorite track on this CD) and you'll see what I mean. Her accompaniment consists of only a banjo, a cello (first time I ever heard a cello flat-picked!), and a double bass. No guitar, no percussion. And guess what? It works. I can't stop listening to this CD, and I've added their debut release, "Hop High," to my Wish List.
Today is Grandpa's birthday, so yesterday while I worked, Andy and the kids made him a cake. The kids love to bake, but I always obsess about every details ("Let's see, if half an egg went onto the floor and half into the bowl, how do I adjust for that?"). I'm always torn between wanting them to be able to do everything and wanting it to turn out right! But Andy doesn't fret so much, and it always turns out good enough. The frosting on this one was a little, um, crunchy, but Grandpas are famously gracious about such things.
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/4 cups sugar
3 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup milk
Preheat oven to 350°. Grease and flour two 8" round cake pans.
In medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt. In large bowl, with mixer at medium speed, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla. Reduce speed to low; add flour mixture alternately with milk, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Beat just until smooth, frequently scraping bowl with rubber spatula.
Divide batter between prepared pans; spread evenly. Bake until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Run thin knife around layers to loosen from sides of pans; invert onto racks to cool competely before frosting.
Chocolate Butter Frosting
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups confectioners' sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
4 oz. semisweet chocolate, melted and cooled
2 oz. unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled
In large bowl, with mixer at low speed, beat butter, confectioners' sugar, and vanilla until almost combined. Add both chocolates. Increase speed to high; beat frosting until light and fluffy, about 1 minute.
I wasn't there, so I don't know why it came out gritty, but hopefully yours won't.
One day each year we Bostonians need to not have torrential downpours and gale-force winds. Just one day. We prefer to have nice weather for Opening Day, for July 4, and so on, but we really really really need Patriots Day to be nice, because that's the day of the Boston Marathon. And by nice, I don't mean warm and sunny, because we all know that marathoners don't want the sun and heat. We want a slightly cool, overcast day; a faint mist never hurt anyone either. Today we will instead have 40-mph winds and driving rain. All day. All 26.2 miles. Those poor Kenyans aren't going to know what hit them.*
The news is full of people who have decided not to run—after all that training and finally qualifying and still more training. There's been talk of how to avoid injuries, and I think a new word for blister will have to be invented to describe what these poor people will end up with.
I don't run, of course. I get tired driving 26.2 miles. But I do walk down the street every Patriots Day to watch the Marathon and cheer on all those deranged runners. Today, however, I will not go. I always make a point to stay home whenever the weather forecast features all of the following phrases in red letters: Flood Warning, Flood Watch, Hazardous Weather Outlook, and Wind Advisory. And that makes me feel bad for the runners, who always say that the cheering crowds help spur them on. I mean, I feel bad, but not bad enough to go out there.
*I am just assuming that there isn't much rain in Kenya. That may not be the case. I can recall in past years when the weather was warm and sunny, the sports announcers said that benefited the Kenyans, who are more used to running in the heat. If I had to guess, I would say that the Kenyans will see more rain in Boston today than they get in a year in Kenya. Maybe I'm wrong.
Our city has a large kindergarten soccer program, and it's really nice and laid-back—not competitive or grueling, just a way for little kids to get used to the game. There's no goalies or anything, and most of the kids are just running around with some vague idea that there's a ball somewhere. In the spring they have a sub-league of incoming kindergarteners, which is even cuter and funnier to watch.
We got a brief respite from the rain rain rain yesterday, just in time for Julie's inaugural soccer game. She's on the Ducks (all the intimidating animal names were already used for the real kindergarteners), and Andy is her coach.
Here she is in all her multicolored glory, and no, she never goes anywhere without her flowered hat and striped gloves. I think she gets the hat thing from Daddy (there in the background in his ugly but beloved ripped wool hat):
In truth, they were probably the only ones there whose ears weren't freezing!
I never have to tell her to dress for the weather. Here she is on the way to school the other day, prepared for anything with a parka, scarf, hat, and sunglasses on top of her eyeglasses (and with the temple pieces over her hat):
This is weird. I definitely did the Friday Fiver, but I see now that it never appeared. I guess I did get some bad joss on Friday the Thirteenth after all. Well, better late than never:
1. What have you said lately that has gotten you into trouble?
In the middle of my Maytag woes last week, my father-in-law called and say, laughingly, mockingly, "How's your washing machine? Har har!" and I replied, "Fuck you." I'll be hearing about that one for a while....
2. When is the last time you censored yourself?
I censor myself all the time, but probably not often enough (see above).
3. Describe your last date.
Andy and I went to the awesome Martin Sexton show and then had a bite at Legal's. Doesn't get much better than that.
4. Go to the closest window -- what do you see?
Rain. And Andy's basketball hoop.
5. What's your favorite board game?
Oh, don't make me choose! I love Trouble and Sorry! and Scrabble and Boggle and all the others....
I have just finished one of the strangest and yet most enjoyable books I can recall reading in a long time. It's called Adverbs, and it's by Daniel Handler (AKA Lemony Snicket), who is yet another famous person who went to Wesleyan. (This reminds me that I've been meaning to write about all the people who went to Wesleyan and are now household names, but every time I start, I get depressed and decide to post photos of my cats instead.)
Right on the cover it says "A Novel," but it's not a novel in the way we think of a novel, with a bunch of characters following a plot. I mean, there are a bunch of characters, but they keep changing. Every chapter has some of the following people: Allison, Lila, Andrea, Steven, Tomas, Helena, Joe, Mike, Keith, etc., but they're slightly or completely different people every time around. (Or are they?) The individual chapters (all their titles are adverbs, of course) do not in any way intertwine to form a plot, linear or otherwise, although recurring themes and references run throughout, like magpies, fear of volcanoes, party drinks, a ripped purse, and so on. Those become sort of like inside jokes, once you get used to the rhythm of this thing.
And it's worth getting used to—although it's a little unsettling at first—because of the language. My God, this guy does things with language that just blew me away. And I don't mean fancy vocabulary or even clever metaphors or anything like that. Even though Dave Eggers goes a little too far (Really? Dave Eggers goes too far?) on the back-cover blurb when he says, "Anyone who lives to read gorgeous writing will want to lick this book and sleep with it between their legs," I agree with the part where he talks about Handler's "rapturous love of words, a quick and delicate wit, a lyrical elegance that makes every single sentence silly with pleasure." It's dizzying and funny and touching and very meta—and most definitely not for everyone. I was planning to cite some examples of passages that made me smile or gasp, but they just don't work taken out of context, so you will have to see for yourself.
Some of the chapters work better than others. I just started listing the ones I liked best, but the list got too long, so I guess I liked almost all 17 of them. There were just a couple that fell flat for me–and even those had enough funny or sweet or interesting lines that they were still worth reading. One thing is certain: They are all really, really funny; I even laughed out loud on several occasions—particularly in "Collectively"—which almost never happens. They also have sad and poignant parts; "Soundly" was the best and it just about broke my heart. And they're all about love. People find it and lose it and wish for it and wonder about it and think they know all about it, but it's always there.
1. At this point, it's almost getting funny. The Factory Authorized Maytag Repairman called yesterday, not to say that he was on his way over, but to say that he has no idea why they scheduled him so quickly because he hasn't even ordered the parts yet. Luckily some friends just left on vacation and have granted me free rein to use their laundry room all next week. I'm almost giddy at the prospect.
II. Speaking of "all next week," the kids are on vacation all next week, and as usual we have pretty much nothing planned. Time to embrace the glory of TV. And oh please oh please oh please let the weather get nice, finally.
C. I forgot to mention that in addition to the Dan Chaon book I was surprised with for BAFAB week, I also won two BAFAB contests! I'm getting Winner of the National Book Award by Jincy Willett from Di (chosen from my Wish List) and Memories of My Melancholy Whores by Gabriel Garcia Marquez from Cap'n Ganch (chosen from his Wish List—now there's a twist!). Go me!
1. Pete's Lovesick Blues - Peter Keane
2. Dehlia (live) - David Bromberg
3. Fields of Gold (live) - Eva Cassidy
4. (Dawning of a) New Era - The Specials
5. London Calling (live) - Bruce Springsteen/Elvis Costello/Steve Van Zandt/Dave Grohl/Pete Thomas/Tony Kanal
6. End of The Party - English Beat
7. Hard Day on the Planet - Loudon Wainwright III
8. She's No Lady - Lyle Lovett
9. Rocket in My Pocket (live) - Little Feat
10. Spring Wind (live) - Greg Brown
"Curse of the Golden Flower": I had high expectations for this one, since it's from the same director who did "Hero" and "House of Flying Daggers," both of which I loved. It was worth seeing for the following reasons:
1. Li Gong (or Gong Li?) is so breathtakingly beautiful that it's just a pleasure to see the screen filled with her face. I think she's a terrific actress too.
2. The costumes and scenery and cinematography are all magnificent.
3. There are a few cool ninja scenes.
That being said, however, the movie was mostly a disappointment. Perhaps if I'd known it wasn't going to have much in the way of cool martial arts stuff (and I don't just mean fighting), I would've had different expectations, but I just kept waiting for something to happen. The story is interesting, but it's mostly just about a dysfunctional family full of secrets—make that a beautiful dysfunctional family full of secrets and wearing gold robes and cool headdresses. Chow Yun Fat (or Yun Fat Chow?) was great as the heartless emperor. Some of you should see this movie, and you probably know who you are.
"Volver": I owe Penelope Cruz a huge apology. I can remember seeing her only once, in "Blow," and she was mostly just a slutty nobody in that. I figured she couldn't act. Turns out that she can act, really well, but she maybe just needs to be in Spanish movies. Her performance in this beautiful movie was really impressive. She plays a woman who's struggling to keep all the balls in the air—several part-time jobs, a no-good husband, a pre-adolescent daughter, a judgmental sister, a murder, and a dead mother who comes back for a visit (But it's not that kind of movie, really!). I can't say enough about this movie. It was a delight from start to finish, and I think it is surely the best I've seen from Pedro Almodovar.
"A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints": This is the crushingly depressing autobiography of writer/director Dito Montiel, starring the always-remarkable Robert Downey Jr. as the adult Montiel and Shia LaBeouf as his youthful self (also a terrific performance). It's set mostly in a series of flashbacks to the past, as the adult Montiel is coming back home from LA to Queens after an absence of 20 years, to see his aging mother (Dianne Wiest) and ailing father (Chazz Palminteri). The performances are all outstanding, but it was really just too upsetting. I also felt that the flashback scenes were a little bit dragged out; I would have preferred a little more of the current plot. I recommend this with the caveat that it is the polar opposite of a feel-good movie.
I love getting comments on this blog, and I take pleasure in replying to them. To me, that's part of the joy of blogging: I'm putting stuff out there, and you're responding, and the next thing you know, we're communicating! How great is that? I post my replies to the blog only when I think others might be interested in what I'm saying, or if I feel strongly that I need to clarify a point that was misinterpreted; otherwise I just reply via email.
Fortunately I seem to be spared most of the crackpots who troll other blogs—probably because I don't have a terribly large readership—but I do get my share of negative comments. I respond to these as well, although nearly every negative comment I've ever received has a phony email attached to it, so I can't continue the dialogue the commenter started. Every now and then, particularly during the '04 election and its aftermath, I have in fact engaged in a stimulating back-and-forth email discussion with someone who takes issue with something I've said. I can't often win someone over to my way of thinking—and I don't really expect to—but I welcome the opportunity to explore why we feel the way we do and to show that two people can agree to disagree and still coexist on this planet.
So yesterday I whined about my broken washing machine, focusing mainly on the crappy customer service I received from Maytag. I got several supportive comments and emails, commiserating with me about my annoying situation in particular and the state of customer service in general. Then, out of the blue, comes someone who suggests that I'm an ungrateful brat because I have the nerve to complain. Obviously most of my readers don't really "know" me, but I'd be surprised to learn that many (or even any) of them think I'm that type of person after reading my blog. Do I really come across as a spoiled bitch? God, I hope not. I am thankful every day for everything I have, I don't waste much time wishing for things I can't have, and I certainly don't take anything for granted or think I'm "entitled" to anything at all. Just because I'm lucky enough to be able to afford a washing machine, does that mean that I should waive any future rights to air a complaint? Sheesh.
So, if "Anonymous" had provided a valid email address, she would have read my response (which I also posted to the blog, in case she hadn't yet deleted my bookmark), and perhaps she would have replied, and so on, until she discovered that I'm not such a horrible person after all, and maybe we could have moved on to a lively discussion of grammar and syntax instead, since she said she's an editor too. Her loss.
I hereby proclaim that unless you are me or one of the Maytag customer service reps who had to deal with me today, you may not complain about your day today.
First, let's recap:
1. August 31, 2005: Purchased Maytag washer for $485.
2. December 20, 2006: Paid $60 for repairman to tell me that sound of airplane taking off was indeed coming from Maytag washer, but that it wasn't something that was worth fixing.
3. April 5, 2007: Paid $65 (hey, inflation!) for repairman to tell me that flood all over mudroom was indeed caused by Maytag washer but that it would cost just as much to fix it as to buy a new one, and it's a lousy machine anyhow.
4. April 7, 2007: Called Maytag people, who insisted I have a Factory Authorized Maytag Repairman check it out before I make any claims for replacement.
That catches us up; here's today's installment:
5. April 11, 2007: Paid $69 for Factory Authorized Maytag Repairman to tell me that it would cost $480 to repair this machine—and that mine was the loudest machine he'd ever heard and that he sees this problem every day and that even if I did get it fixed, the problem would happen again because it's such a piece of crap.
Called Maytag, and was told by a customer service rep that they will not replace the machine because it can be fixed! They only replace machines that can't be fixed! I said, "But it will cost the same amount to repair as to replace!" The customer service rep said, "Lalalalalala, I'm not listening to you! It's our policy!" I started screaming, "What if it was going to cost $10,000 to repair? What then?" The customer service rep said, "Don't scream at me!" I said, "I'm not even going to talk to you anymore. Transfer me to someone helpful."
After a few rounds of this, I got a customer service rep who claimed to feel my pain but still claimed she was powerless to help. I ranted and raved some more (hoping beyond hope that my call was being monitored or recorded for training and quality assurance purposes) and was put on hold numerous times—and was stunned each time that I was not deliberately disconnected. Finally she came back and said that they'd pay the $353 parts but not the $127 labor. "Nix!" I said. "I have already spent $200 having people tell me this machine is not worth fixing." On hold again; she came back again and said that they'd pay the $353 parts and the $127 labor. "Nix!" I said (for no really good reason other than that I was explosively angry by this time). "The Factory Authorized Maytag Repairman said that this problem will just happen again because it's such a poorly designed machine!" On hold again; she came back again and said that they'd pay the $353 parts and the $127 labor and give me a 1-year extended warranty that would cover anything. I wanted to say "Nix!" again but I did not. I said "OK." But I continued to grumble for a while longer.
So, tomorrow the Factory Authorized Maytag Repairman will come back, shake his head in disbelief, and fix this piece of crap machine, and I will get to wash all the filthy clothes that have been piling up. And when it has been 11 months and 29 days, I will call the Factory Authorized Maytag Repairman again and tell him to come out here and check whether it's about to let loose again.
And I will never in 10 billion years allow anyone I care about to purchase a Maytag product.
Time to learn something!
1. Go to Wikipedia.
2. Click on "Random article" in the left-hand sidebar box.
3. Post it!
I got a good one today:
The Roxburghe Club was formed in 1812 by leading bibliophiles when the library of the Duke of Roxburghe was auctioned. It took 24 days to sell the entire collection. The first edition of Boccaccio's Decameron was sold for 2,250 pounds, the highest price ever given for a book at that time. The person who bought it already had another copy, but lacking 5 of the pages. Thirty of the people who attended the auction decided to form a society. The Roxburghe Club is often claimed as the first book club. Certainly it was the model for many Folio Societies later in Britain and Europe. Each member undertook to sponsor the publication of a rare or curious volume. The scholarship and quality of binding was lavish, and no more than 100 copies were ever printed. The first president was the Earl Spencer.
We do something similar in my book group, except that instead of sponsoring publication of 100 copies of rare or curious volumes with lavish scholarship and quality of binding, we drink wine and eat chocolate.
Curse you, Peder Zane! How on earth can I list my Top Ten books of all time? I haven't slept in weeks.
After much (literal) teeth-gnashing and (figurative) hair-tearing-out, I finally whittled my not-so-very-short list down to ten and let it steep for a while. I initially felt pressure to include lots of Important Books as opposed to "lesser" books that, for whatever reasons, knocked my socks off. I ended up with a pretty good balance in that respect, and I still like my ten, but I reserve the right to make changes at any time. In fact, I might shriek in horror at the very instant I post this list—why didn't I include To Kill a Mockingbird? No Moby Dick? What was I smoking?
Then I had to make matters worse by forcing myself to write an explanation for each one. I should get college credit for this task.
But that's the nature of the beast. So, a disclaimer: On April 10, 2007, these were my Top Ten books of all time, listed in alphabetical order. Please join in the "fun" (if you think torture is fun) in the Comments.
1. Bel Canto by Ann Patchett: Never before, never since can I recall reading a book that unfolded so gracefully, chapter by chapter. I remember clearly that after I read Chapter 1, I put the book down, terrified to go on. How would she ever be able to maintain that kind of writing throughout the whole novel? She wouldn’t be able to, that’s how! I won’t go on, I won’t ruin it. But on I went, and I was rewarded right to the end. Each chapter introduces a new character until we get to know all of them, along with the way they interact with the other characters. Honestly, if you’d ever told me that I’d so adore a book about an opera singer and a Japanese businessman being held hostage by rebels somewhere in South America, I’d have snorted. But adore it I did, and it’s one of those books that I press into friends’ hands, begging them to read it so we can talk about it afterward.
2. The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger: I think this book would even have to be in my Top Five if some evil overlord forced me to do one of those. The simplest reason to give is that it was the first and only novel that I ever finished, put down, and then immediately picked up and reread. I must have been in high school (or perhaps middle school?), and I just didn’t know you could “do that” in a book–create a character that way, construct a story that way, just write that way. I wish I were more skilled at literary criticism (or, at the very least, less rusty than I was in my college days), because then I might be able to tell you exactly what it is about this book that makes me continue to reread it over the years. And how is it that it’s different every time? How did he do that?
3. Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh: I debated whether to include a young-adult book. But I had to include this one, because it was the first book that I ever read and reread and couldn’t get enough of. I think I must have even gotten myself a notebook and tried to be like Harriet, briefly (thankfully). I haven’t read it in decades, so I don’t know whether it would feel hopelessly dated, but I sure hope my kids will love this book too.
4. The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde: A play? Is she nuts? Well, what can I say, except that Oscar Wilde really has to have been the wittiest, cleverest, sharpest writer (and party guest, by all accounts) who ever picked up a pen. I mean, who reads a play and laughs out loud, again and again? Me, that’s who, when reading this one. I got to see a live production when I was in school in London, and it was (not surprisingly) laugh-out-loud funny, but I think the fact that I laughed while reading the thing is the kicker. (And if anyone has any clue why I would have chosen to write a semester-end paper on Wilde's long, bleak, not even remotely humorous poem "The Ballad of Reading Gaol," please speak up. Certainly my professor and I could never figure that one out.)
5. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez: I have trouble admitting to people that I never could make it through 100 Years of Solitude, and I do regret it. I just couldn’t keep track of all the characters, and it made me crazy. Someone once suggested I let go of trying to keep track and just roll with it, but I couldn’t. One of the reasons I want so badly to read it and love it is that I so adored Love in the Time of Cholera and was hoping to recreate that response. It’s an exploration of love in all its forms, but mostly the enduring, tortured, unrequited kind—although the comfortable, make-do, happy-enough marital kind certainly figures prominently too. Toss in some magical realism, and describe it all in gorgeous language (which I think must be a credit to Edith Grossman, the translator, as well as to the masterful author himself), and you’ve got a book I never reread but never forgot either. (And perhaps I’m due to reread it, come to think of it.)
6. Nine Stories by J. D. Salinger: Include two Salingers? Does she dare? Yes, she does. How many times have I read these stories? No one knows. I'm a big fan of short stories, and this collection may very well be the one that ignited that passion. My favorite has always been “For Esmé—with Love and Squalor,” although every time I reread this collection, my 1–9 list changes. “Pretty Mouth and Green My Eyes” always knocked me out too, as well as all the other usual suspects. I have a vivid memory of chatting with a guy in a bar in college and somehow discovering that we were both rereading Nine Stories at the time. What a spirited, exciting conversation we had! I’d never talked books over beer before.
7. Othello by William Shakespeare: At first I thought I had to include Shakespeare, just because it would make my list seem very Important and Credible. Then I decided I most definitely wouldn’t, because it would seem too forced. Then I remembered that Othello was both the first play and the first Shakespeare work that really got into my system. I read it junior year in high school, in a class called “Critical Thinking and Expository Writing,” and we really worked at each line, extracting every bit of meaning we could. We also listened to the recording—Who was in it? Richard Burton, maybe? Lawrence Olivier? “Oh, Desdemon! Dead Desdemon! Dead!” I can still hear him. In any event, there’s no question that it was Othello that hooked me on Shakespeare for good.
8. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver: Talk about an unlikely plot line for me to warm to: A family of missionaries goes to the Congo in 1959. We learn about all the horribly misguided things that happen when people try to force their religion on others, and when wealthy nations exploit the people of poor nations in the name of democratization. The big, worldly themes are gripping, but no less so are the smaller stories of the family members themselves. This very long novel was thoroughly engrossing and ultimately unforgettable. And to think I almost didn’t read it because I thought that the subject matter wouldn’t interest me! It just goes to show you. Something or other.
9. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen: I love nineteenth-century British novels, and this is by far my favorite of all. (Although, for the record, I am one of those people who think Sense and Sensibility is really almost as good. In fact, when Andy and I were first dating, his mom, a high school English teacher, was telling me that she was getting a little tired of doing P&P every year. I suggested she try S&S for a change, and she said it worked great. I also suggested she sub The Return of the Native for Tess of the D'Urbervilles once in a while, which also went over well. You can see why he had to marry me.) To me P&P is just a perfect love story: smart, funny, and romantic, all without ever getting sappy or boring. I just wish I could meet Elizabeth Bennet; I think we’d be great friends.
10. The World According to Garp by John Irving: I almost didn’t include this one either, because it didn’t seem Important enough, but if you like Irving, you never forget your first Irving novel. The zany characters, the spot-on descriptions of emotions and relationships, the playful language—it was all new to me. When Irving came to Wesleyan to speak and to read from his forthcoming novel (which turned out to be The Hotel New Hampshire), I was positively dazzled. I had brought along my dog-eared copy of Garp, planning to get his autograph and, more importantly, to say something so insightful and clever that he would surely ask me to become his personal assistant. When my turn came, I looked into that beautiful face and blurted out, “I think you’re great.” Then I went back to my dorm and shot myself.