Monday, January 03, 2011

A Ramble: Eastern Standard Time

When I glanced back over the 2010 posts on Brooklyn Arden, I felt a little depressed, because I blogged less often and about less-thoughtful things this past year than I have in any year since the blog’s inception in 2005. Not that I expect readers missed me much, by any means, but writing here is one of the ways I think, and the lack of blogging was a sign of how little I felt like writing, and how little time I had to think for pleasure, if that makes sense, in 2010. . . . I wrote a lot of speeches and editorial letters and other important things, many of which turned out well, I’m glad to say, and of course I did all the revising on my book; but that wasn’t restful thinking for me, talking out loud about things that interest me—which was how this blog started, as my one-sided continuation of a lost correspondence, and how I always love it most, when it gives me a chance to know what I think when I see what I say, to paraphrase E. M. Forster. So with this post, I hope to start a tradition of letting myself write for one hour every Sunday, to put down what’s been happening in my life and on my mind; and if you all find things in it that are useful for you, wonderful, and if not, well, you know what you’re in for with future posts. This one is more of a catch-up, newsy post than I hope most of those future posts will be.

  • Holidays! In the last ten days, I visited these cities in order:  New York; Belton, Missouri; Treynor, Iowa; Belton, Missouri; Hemet, California; Santa Barbara, California; Los Angeles, California; New York, and as much as I love all the people in all the other places mentioned, I am very glad to be home again. 
  • And in truly major news, James and I won the Frog again in team play! (The Frog, for those of you joining us just now, is the traveling trophy in my family's Killer Klein Croquet Tournament; and Killer Klein Croquet is basically croquet meets Calvinball, played with great enthusiasm and emotion and no skill whatsoever. See prior reports under the "Frog" label at right.) I thus become the winningest KKCT champion ever -- neener neener neener, family! -- at least until James and I have the chance to defend his Brooklyn sojourn in May.
  • (And I have now set an impressively high bar for maturity in these Rambles by actually saying "neener neener neener." Look for "I know you are, but what am I?" in future posts.)
  • True Grit contains probably my favorite scene from any film this year:  Mattie Ross’s negotiation with the horse trader, her calmly wearing him down till she gets exactly what she wants and a thank-you for it. Its well-written rat-a-tat dialogue between two equally matched opponents reminded me of one of my favorite film scenes of all time, the opening exchanges between James Bond and Vesper Lynd on the train in Casino Royale (“How was your lamb?” “Skewered. One sympathizes.”)—though True Grit was much less sexy, of course. Jeff Bridges and Hailee Steinfeld are getting all the awards buzz, as far as I can tell, but I loved Matt Damon for investing the at-first-foppish La Boeuf with real dignity and character. I would have liked a bit more emotional payoff at the end, I think, but so the Coen Brothers go.
  • Black Swan was a potentially fascinating movie about the quest for perfection in ballet and its mental cost, made risible (to use J. Hoberman’s word) by ham-handed horror-movie plotting, details, and filmmaking techniques. Also, Darren Aronofsky has apparently never met a close-up of a bloody [insert your own body part here] that he didn’t like. But other than that, it was beautifully shot, and it made me want to see Swan Lake, which I never have. . . .
  • One of the good things in 2010:  I fell in love with making homemade granola, inspired by the amazingly simple Mark Bittman recipe in How to Cook Everything Vegetarian (where he recommends toasting the oats and nuts first, which I endorse). The recipe is easy, tasty, and capable of endless variations; my version tonight has dried cherries, sunflower seeds, almonds, vanilla, and molasses as a sweetener (though the all-time best sweetener truly is maple syrup, I think). If you have suggestions for mix-ins, I’m happy to hear them.
  • Congratulations to Erin McCahan and I Now Pronounce You Someone Else for the book’s being named a Cybils YA finalist! I love, love, love romantic comedy, which is partly why I wanted to publish INPYSE; but it’s a category that doesn’t get recognized much come awards time, because the seeming lightness of the atmosphere and subject matter (and, perhaps, the fact that it’s a genre most often about, created by and consumed by women) make it easy to blow it off in the face of IMPORTANT books or movies about war or boxing or dystopias or whatall. But the real subject matter of all good romantic comedies are relationships and moral values; and the atmosphere in which those things are made coherent, consistent, realistic, and amusing, and in which they matter, even in the face of war or boxing or whatall, is in fact incredibly hard to create and sustain. Erin not only accomplishes that creation, she walks the line between the development of a relationship and the development of a self, and sharp wit and real pain, with truly impressive skill; and as an editor and romantic comedy fan, I wanted to say thank you to the Cybils judges for recognizing that accomplishment. 
  • If you have a blog or other publication and you'd be interested in reviewing my book, Second Sight:  An Editor's Talks on Writing, Revising, and Publishing Books for Children and Young Adults, please e-mail me at asterisk.bks at gmail dot com with your name, blog address, and any other pertinent information. Not all respondents will be sent copies of the book, but all interest is appreciated.  
  • Pleasure reading this holiday:  Jennifer Crusie’s Maybe This Time (devoured in 36 hours over the Christmas weekend) and George R. R. Martin’s A Clash of Kings. At a going-out-of-business sale, I bought a second copy of J-Crusie's Welcome to Temptation, probably my favorite contemporary romance novel ever; The Audacity to Win, David Plouffe’s memoir of managing the Obama campaign, for 2008 nostalgia in the face of 2011 House horror; and Story by Robert McKee, because I’ve always felt like a bit of fake for talking about McKeean principles (well, really Aristotelian ones) without ever having read his actual book, and now this shall be corrected. 
  • My New Year's Resolutions have always been less about specific behaviors I want to have than specific things I want to accomplish:  to run a 10K, to learn to knit, to try three new cuisines . . . all of which lead in turn to those specific behaviors, as I have to run regularly to be ready for a 10K, I have to develop a new skill with the knitting, I have to get out of the house more in order to find the cuisines. I haven’t created a proper list since 2006 or so, but this year I want to try it again, to help get myself back on track. So I want to run another half-marathon; finish the baby blanket I started knitting in, um, 2007 (and haven’t touched since then, for the record--this is not a monster blanket four years in the making); publish my book (which should go to print as soon as the designer and I hash out the final details on the cover); eat less sugar; finish reading War and Peace; and write these Rambles once a week. Best of luck with your new year and resolutions as well!


  1. I'm so glad you plan to blog more! I did miss your posts.

  2. I agree with Olivia. Your readers do miss you!

    Ps: I didn't know there was an XKCD book -- thanks for the heads up on that!

  3. I've been listening to Charles Portis's TRUE GRIT and enjoyed tremendously the scene between Mattie and the horse trader. Haven't seen the movie yet and will be interested to see how close to the original book the movie dialog is.

  4. Enjoy War and Peace! Despite the length, it has a nice YA feel about it (er, although I did skim a lot of the history bits...)

  5. Hemet???? What in the world brought you there lol??? I live in Temecula...Hemet is pretty darn close to me.

  6. Can't wait to read your book! And Welcome To Temptation is the book I retreat to when life is hard and sad. So funny, so sharp. So glad you like it, too--and Happy New Year!

  7. I love the movies with Bogey and Bacall for their snappy dialogue. The Big Sleep is a great example.

    And congratulations for winning the frog! Our family has a marathon rummy game and I came in dead last. Sigh.

    Happy 2011!

  8. Great post! I've fallen in love with home-made granola too. My favorite mix-ins are candied ginger, sesame seeds and coconut. Also I had some granola from Ikea once that had caraway seeds so I tried that and also some fennel seeds. Delicious!

  9. I love a good xkcd: volume 0 shoutout. We published it at breadpig -- and donated all of our publisher profits to Room to Read to promote literacy in the developig world!

    Just thought I'd drop a note about the book in case you wanted to feel extra good about your xkcd purchase. And here's the story & photos from our visit to the first school we built in Laos:

  10. I miss your posts too. Thanks for the granola recipe. I'm going to try it.

    Have you decided when your book will be published? I can't wait to read it.

  11. I'm picturing your "neener neener" and maybe a croquet game somehow inserted into Casino Royale... And now I really want to see True Grit!

  12. I would *love* to review your book! I'll send you an email shortly.

    I also love homemade granola. I put flax seeds, wheat bran, and wheat grain in mine. It's all good for you and you can't even taste it. Then, I also sweeten it up with a little honey.

  13. I loved that negotiation scene too. From that moment on I would have followed Mattie anywhere. And I agree about the ending too. I watched the original film with John Wayne right after I saw the new one at the movies, and I have to say I liked the original ending infinitely better. Much more closure.
    I can answer the Hemet question. You must have family there, because I don't think anyone happens upon Hemet easily. It's a stone's throw from me and I haven't been there in decades.

  14. Thank you for posting this. I was just considering why it was so important to me to write a letter I'd never send yesterday. By the time it was written, I no longer felt the need to package, post, and mail it. I believe your thoughts on the matter sum it up. Sometimes we need to write just for the sake of thinking and feeling.

  15. Thank you for introducing me the wonderful information.And .....Totally boring.!