Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Book Business

As mentioned, I have the following books available for giveaway:

  • Tepper Isn't Going Out by Calvin Trillin. Trade paperback. A very dryly funny slim novel about a man's search for parking in New York City.
  • Her First American by Lore Segal. Mass-market paperback. An excellent if somewhat elliptical novel about a young Jewish woman who falls in love with an unreliable older black man.
  • Into Love and Out Again by Elinor Lipman. Combining my critiques of both of the previous novels: A collection of short stories that are often too elliptical to be totally emotionally (read: romantically) satisfying, but which are nonetheless dryly funny and insightful and unfailingly well-written.
  • Ariel by Grace Tiffany. Advanced Reader's Edition. A reimagining of The Tempest in novel form, with special focus on that pitiless force of the imagination Ariel.
  • Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata. Hardcover. This year's Newbery winner, about two Japanese sisters growing up in Iowa and the Deep South.
  • Dixieland Sushi by Cara Lockwood. Trade paperback. Along similar lines, though much more buoyant in plot and tone, a fun chick-lit novel about growing up Japanese-American, deep Southern cooking, stupid crushes, and Mr. Miyagi.
  • I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak. Hardcover. A smart, funny young adult novel with an ending that will either please you with its cleverness and heart or anger you with the author's own pleasure at his cleverness and heart.
  • South Beach by Aimee Friedman. Paperback. Two teenage girls have the spring break of their lives in South Beach. Excellent guilty-pleasure reading; written by a friend of mine at Scholastic.
  • Twilight by Stephenie Meyer. Advanced Reader's Edition. A girl falls in love with a vampire.
  • Day of Tears by Julius Lester. Advanced Reader's Edition. A novel in dialogue about the biggest slave auction in American history; a hugely powerful, even painful evocation of the experience of being a slave.

Leave me a comment if you'd like to claim one of these and I'll happily get it out to you -- first come, first served.


While cleaning my shelves yesterday, I realized that I don't know the present location of my copies of The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass (that is, Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy). This was a little distressing, as not only do I love the books madly, they're all signed (The Amber Spyglass a signed first edition). So I sort of want to keep them on the radar. If I've lent them to one of you and forgotten about it, will you please let me know? Thanks.

Also, if you follow the link above, don't miss this brilliant essay on literature, politics, and moral education. Beyond its crystal-sharp writing and general wisdom, it has provided me with a new goal in life: "to shine with superior Lustre and Effect, and inform private circles with Sentiment, Taste, and Manners." Mr. Pullman quotes this particular epitaph again in this enjoyable conversation with Tamora Pierce and Christopher Paolini on fantasy fiction.

And that is all for tonight. It's May 31, the day after Memorial Day. Welcome to the summer! Huzzah!

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Spring Cleaning

Today I am engaging in the happy-sad process of spring cleaning: happy, in that my apartment is achieving a soothing neatness and coherence it hasn't had for at least the last month; sad, in that I am an inveterate pack rat and I'm throwing things out. These include a collection of single socks I kept in hopes their mates would miraculously materialize from under my bed or somewhere; MoonPies almost a year past their expiration date -- a horrible waste, but the taste isn't worth the calories at this point, and it's my own fault for not treating myself to them more often; a purse with a broken handle I've always meant to resew, but then I don't love the purse enough to bother; books* I'm never going to read, let's be honest, or don't like enough to justify the space on my shelves; and so on and so forth. And then sweeping, and hanging up summer clothes, and putting sweaters in bags to take to the dry cleaner, and organizing things to send to friends . . . My apartment now has the almost painful cleanliness of a new haircut or freshly clipped fingernails; I have to adapt to suit this new perfection.

But for now, I'm done, and running out to play in the Brooklyn sunshine. Enjoy the weekend, everyone!

* When I have more time I'll try to list these in case one of you would like to adopt them.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Sithing Ducks

I went to see "Revenge of the Sith" on Friday. As much as it pains me to deviate from Anthony Lane's opinion, he got it wrong here, and for a most unusual reason for him: He missed the emotional core of the movie, the dark bind that twists Anakin Skywalker into Darth Vader. And most surprisingly for George Lucas, who thus far has seemed to be interested only in the coldly soulless and mechanical, that bind is love. Anakin loves Padme; he has visions of her dying in childbirth; the Dark Side promises to teach him to protect her and their unborn child(ren) from death -- and a little moral wrestling and many lightsaber battles later, the saturnine Darth Vader rises and takes that first sucking, ominous breath.

While this may sound obvious and programmatic on the page, it went a long way toward redeeming the first two prequels for me: I finally understood why George Lucas included all that godawful emotionally telling dialogue in "Phantom Menace" and "Attack of the Clones" -- he had to set up Anakin's love for his mother and Padme and obsession with loss, and the only way he knew how to do that was by having Anakin say it right out in some of the worst dialogue ever typed. (No matter how good Lucas's ideas are, he still has no excuse for not getting an intelligent scriptwriter to convert the ideas into speakable English.) Still, here at last was the emotional and moral complication that has been missing from the enterprise thus far, and I was surprised and impressed.

There are other pleasures in "Revenge of the Sith" beyond this sudden growth of complexity: the lightsaber battles (especially any involving Yoda); some breathtakingly gorgeous land- and starscapes on the various planets of the Republic; the John Williams score; watching Sidious/Palpatine, Vader, Obi-Wan, Yoda, Luke, Leia, and R2-D2 and C-3PO move into their assigned positions on the stage for Episode IV, feeling them click into place with what we already know will happen. I was surprised again by how immediately Anakin and Obi-Wan darting among the Sith ships in their star cruisers took me back to the excitement I felt when I was six years old watching similar scenes in the original trilogy. And the editing was terrific, particularly in the climactic sequence where Luke and Leia's birth is contrasted with Vader's.

There are other annoyances, too, beyond the dialogue: Natalie Portman is given nothing to do but literally sit around and look pretty as she swells with child; Anakin's final capitulation to the Dark Side happens a little too quickly for all the agonizing that has come before it; the acting seems to be almost deliberately wooden, as if Lucas wanted to mute Ewan McGregor's natural charisma and deny Hayden Christiansen any expression besides "brood"; and the Jedis, the Sith, the clones, the Republic, the Empire, the Senate, the proto-Storm Troopers, the Wookiees, the droids -- I found it impossible to sort out their aims, leaders, or alliances, or to care. But on the whole, I recommend "Revenge of the Sith." May the Force be with you.

(And if you like organic food or can't get enough Star Wars, check this out: Grocery Store Wars.)

Monday, May 23, 2005

Buenos Noches from Belton

I am at home in Missouri right now, in the room I spent my college summers and holidays in, in the house I tumbled through all my adolescent joys and agonies in, in the state where I passed the first twenty-two years of my existence, more or less. My family is wonderful. The food is good (and oh-my-lord plentiful). Rest is nice, and so is open space and driving and barbeque.

But it is always odd to be home because I essentially become the high school version of myself again, 1990s!Cheryl, except with no homework or extracurricular activities to do and even less of a social life. I go to church; I unload the dishwasher; I watch TV with my family; I'm the last one up reading. Tomorrow will offer two shocks to this system: I'm seeing baby Phoebe Amelia Blair, the month-old daughter of one of my best high school friends, and my mom is having a retirement party to mark the end of her twenty-five years with the Raymore Peculiar School District. Time does go on. Still, beyond my family I feel unconnected here, floating, ghostly; it is comforting to follow all the rituals of my former life, but even more comforting to know I get to escape them.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

An Eyeful

Katy Beebe made Art, courtesy of an unknown sculpture and me. Taken at MoMA, December 18, 2004. Posted by Hello


Having a bad day? You need to pop some bubble wrap.

My sweet Anthony has reviewed Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. Truly I don't feel this is one of his better efforts this spring, as apparently there's just so much he can expend his wit upon that he cannot vary his tone or restrain himself in the slightest; this review amounts to one long sneer. (Nor is there anything to match his immortal line from the Episode I review on Anakin's seemingly virgin birth: "I believe we are in the presence of a Religious Parallel.") Still, he gets some good shots in, so it's worth a read, especially if you hate George Lucas.

Jeremiah, Meredith and I went to a Scholastic preview of "Madagascar" tonight -- more of the typical Dreamworks Animation reference-, celebrity-, and stereotype-driven hooey, though it does have some funny penguins. Bad movies, bah. And then we watched the season finale of "Gilmore Girls," which had infinitely more depth, heart, suspense, and characterization but of course leaves us waiting till next September for the answer to the last line of dialogue. Spy Mommy is back on "Alias" this week, so I'll watch even though I haven't seen the last five or so episodes.

(Speaking of "Alias," I will happily accept this shirt for my eight-month birthday in four days. Also this one or this one, thank you very much, and this -- The Complete Calvin and Hobbes, my lord -- if you're feeling really wonderful and generous.)

I finally finished my edit notes on The Tenth Power today and sent them to Kate, plus I reviewed the book blues for Stanford Wong Flunks Big-Time -- so I got a MoonPie. Also I made this not-bad chicken with blue cheese sauce last night, and I have started, really this time, The Brothers Karamazov. Plus I have taken the comforter off my bed, dragged out my summer clothes and sandals, and registered for a playing field for the New York Carleton Club's July picnic and Ultimate Frisbee event, so summer is on its way.

And that is my life du jour. I am going to post a picture now and go to bed.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

In Living Color!

I downloaded Picasa and Hello today, and as a result -- pictures! These were taken at the Hofbrauhaus in Munich, a fabulous barnlike drinking hall where my group enjoyed sausages, potatoes, sauerkraut, pretzels, pigs' knuckles (only one of us), the sight of men in lederhosen, the music of the in-house oom-pah band, and of course beer. I had doubts I could down an entire liter mug, but as the pictures attest, I rose to the challenge.

I shall try not to abuse these programs and deluge this blog with pictures, but they make it so easy that you may end up seeing my entire catalogue. (I took 212 pictures in Germany alone! Aren't you so excited?)

Hurrah! Or as one says in German with a large beer in hand -- prost!*

* pronounced "proast"; actual spelling may vary from that given here, and actual pronunciation with the size of the beer. :-)

Before . . .  Posted by Hello

and after. Note that the hair is considerably less restrained. :-) Posted by Hello

Saturday, May 14, 2005


I have to finish my editorial notes for The Tenth Power or suffer the wrath of a production editor, so I am at work on a sunny Saturday. And thus I am wasting time and making a quick post in rebellion. Ha! Work! I laugh in the face of work!

And then work crushes me, which is what I get for laughing at it.

A terrific and surprisingly sweet article from the Onion: Cupid Shooting Spree Leaves Dozens Infatuated. "Amateur video shot at the scene shows the apple-cheeked cherub firing bolt after heart-tipped bolt into the crowd. Those hit reacted immediately by clasping their hands between their knees, casting their eyes downward, and digging their toes sheepishly in the dirt. In some cases, the victims hid their eyes altogether and grinned vacuously at absolutely nothing. "

My dear friend Melissa is going to go to Edinburgh and interview J. K. Rowling on the weekend of July 16th! (That is, the weekend of the release of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, for those few of you who do not regard it as a virtual Holy Day of Obligation.) No one deserves to do this more, and she'll be brilliant. Yay, Melissa! And my newly graduated cousin Hans is also newly engaged, to the lovely Megan! Yay, Hans and Megan!

All right, 12:30. I am going to work now. Bah. I will try to say more interesting things the next time I'm procrastinating.

Friday, May 13, 2005

And no one in Park Slope either

Nobody Dies in the Spring

Nobody dies in the spring
on the Upper West Side:
nobody dies.

On the Upper West Side
we're holding hands with strangers
on the Number 5 bus,
and we're singing the sweet
graffiti on the subway,
and kids are skipping patterns through
the bright haze of incinerators,
and beagles and poodles are making a happy
ruin of the sidewalks,
and hot-dog men are racing
their pushcarts down Riverside Drive,
and Con Ed is tearing up Broadway
from Times Square to the Bronx,
and the world is a morning miracle
of sirens and horns and jackhammers
and Baskin-Robbins' 31 kinds of litter
and sausages at Zabar's floating
overhead like blimps--oh,
it is no place for dying, not
on the Upper West Side, in springtime.

There will be a time
for the smell of burning leaves at Barnard,
for milkweed winging silky over Grant's Tomb,
for apples falling to grass in Needle Park;
but not in all this fresh new golden
smog: now there is something
breaking loose in people's chests,
something that makes butchers and busboys
and our neighborhood narcs and muggers
go whistling in the streets--now
there is something with goat feet out there, not
waiting for the WALK light, piping
life into West End window-boxes,
pollinating weeds around
condemned residential hotels,
and prancing along at the head
of every elbowing crowd on the West Side,

Follow me-- it's spring--
and nobody dies.

-- Philip Appleman
Courtesy of "The Writer's Almanac"

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Hurrah for Hans! & Listserv Mania

Because I am a bad cousin and have not yet sent a graduation card, a quick hurrah here for my cousin Hans, who graduated from Iowa State University on Saturday with a degree in Landscape Architecture. Rumor has it he will shortly be bound for this coast to work in preservation, so watch out, Eastern Seaboard: The blond Kleins are taking over. Yay Hans!


This has nothing whatsoever to do with Hans, but I am subscribed to six listservs (between work and home) that give me a daily dose of news, beauty, insight, and humor, and might be of interest to others:

  • A.Word.A.Day -- the original and best; a word and quotation per day.
  • The Writer's Almanac -- from Minnesota Public Radio, a daily poem (usually contemporary, which has introduced me to wonderful poets like Stephen Dunn and William Stafford) and "this day in literary history." May 9 was J. M. Barrie's birthday, for the record.
  • Weeknight Kitchen from The Splendid Table -- also from MPR, a weekly e-mail with great recipes. Some of them are more complicated than others (the Balthazar macaroni and cheese requires four different types of cheese, for example), but they always sound delicious, and those I've actually made have unfailingly proven to be so.
  • child_lit -- for anyone interested in contemporary children's literature and related topics, which in the recent past have included book banning, religious conservatism, libraries, theatre, the Gates, sports mascots, and stamp collecting. Philip Pullman is a member, and it's always a pleasure and shock when he posts: like having God suddenly speak in the middle of a church service (inappropriate as that simile may be for him).
  • Unshelved -- I get weekly digests of these cartoons about life in a public library. So-so art, but terrific writing and a very funny cast.
  • FoxTrot -- Bill Amend may be only the second-most-brilliant comic-strip creator named Bill, but *he's* still around, and no one's better at parodying present pop culture (especially geekwise).

Friday, May 06, 2005

The Happy List, Germany edition

If you've already heard me talk about the trip or gotten a postcard from me, much of this will be familiar, but here goes:

  • On my first night in Germany, a bath in a gorgeously deep, long European bathtub, with my Henning Mankell mystery novel and towels heating on a towel-warmer. Afterward I put on my pajamas, snuggled under my duvet, watched MTV2Pop and the BBC, read more of the Mankell, and wrote in my journal: the perfect ending to a day that began with an eight-hour international flight, and more significantly, what felt like the first time I'd relaxed in nearly four months.
  • Smart cars and many Minis
  • Eating "seemans labskaus" for dinner in Hamburg -- that is, "seaman's lobscouse," a dish Jack and Stephen eat in Patrick O'Brian (which of course is why I ordered it). It consisted of pureed beef, potatoes, and beetroot, if I remember rightly, with two fried eggs on top. As a dinner it lacked variety, but I could see how it would be the perfect sailors' meal: easy to make in large quantities, heavy, warming, and pure protein.
  • Shooting south from Hamburg to Stuttgart and later Stuttgart to Munich on those brilliant European bullet trains: comfortable, warm, fast, quiet, good onboard cafes with real china and silverware -- the very antithesis of Amtrak.
  • Those marvelous timetable-announcement signs clicking as they flipped from one destination to another
  • Beating the editor of the Horn Book at Scrabble, thanks to BEAVERS, JO, OX, ZIP, and most significantly BURQA on a triple. It was a really good game -- I would have been happy even if I lost (though less happy, I admit). And we played on his Palm Pilot, which has me thinking I need to get a Palm Pilot . . .
  • Many wonderful dinners spent discussing publishing, books, politics, sights to see, and other topics with nice German editors and foreign rights people. One of the best of these was at the Unicorn pub in Esslingen, which had been there since, I think, 1671.
  • The fine Stuttgart and Munich public transportation systems, especially the Munich trams
  • Stopping by G. W. F. Hegel's house in Stuttgart. All the displays were in German, and nothing in the house was original except the structure, so it didn't do me much good knowledgewise; but the very act of visiting pleased my Quiz Bowler's soul.
  • Getting to know the many smart, booky people on the tour with me -- not least Roger Sutton, the aforementioned editor of the Horn Book, who I ended up liking very much.
  • The uncanny: Hearing a cover of the Garth Brooks song "If Tomorrow Never Comes" in a taxi in Stuttgart; seeing commands in German on the same kind of office copier we use at Scholastic; the sweeter taste of "Coca-Cola Light" (Diet Coke)
  • Visiting the Hofbrauhaus, a large barnlike structure in the heart of Munich, filled with tourists and Munich residents alike drinking one-liter glasses of beer, eating various kinds of sausage and potatoes, and occasionally singing along with the in-house polka band. I polished off an entire one-liter myself -- definitely the most beer I've ever drunk at one sitting -- and enjoyed it enormously.
  • Purchasing a "disco shirt" -- a black tank top with a large rhinestone butterfly fluttering across the front, hotcha hotcha -- at a store called "The New Yorker"
  • Dancing in two very different Munich nightclubs
  • Getting hit on twice (once per nightclub) -- neither was my type (or spoke English, for that matter), but a little admiration never hurts
  • The long walk along the canal to Nymphenborg Palace, and later another long walk through the almost too perfectly manicured palace grounds.
  • Radler -- this delightful combination of beer and lemonade; especially delicious when sipped outside at a sidewalk cafe
  • Ludwig II's castles. Linderhof and Neuschwanstein. The poor man obviously had to create fantasy worlds for himself because he didn't have any real friends, but what fantasy worlds they were -- especially the Byzantine throne room and the Wagner-inspired interiors at Neuschwanstein.
  • The Maypole and May Day folk dancers in the village below Neuschwanstein
  • Men in lederhosen and women in dirndls
  • The Alps -- beautiful peaks and valleys dusted with bright yellow dandelions and edged with tall white birches; hills practically alive with the Sound of Music
  • Drinking at the Chinescher Turm beergarden with a nice young Canadian I met on the castle tour. We need more beergardens in the United States, I've decided: outdoor cafes in parks where people can sit outside on a summer night and enjoy cold drinks and good conversation.
  • The African drumming circle in the Englischer Garden on Sunday evening, which reminded me fondly of the African drumming circle in Prospect Park on Sunday afternoons
  • Reading the International Herald Tribune over a gigantic continental breakfast: muesli, yogurt, cheese, salami, rolls, chocolate pudding, croissants with European Nutella, orange juice, and tea
  • Sitting at the fourth-floor window of my charmingly shabby pension in Munich, the Hotel Jedermann, and writing postcards
  • Coming home hugely satisfied from an interesting and productive trip