Thursday, March 31, 2005

And now for something completely different!

A nice long news roundup. If you do not live in New York, you can skip #2 and #3; if you do not like music, you can skip #1 and 4; and if you do not like mail, then #5 is not for you. Or you can read everything. Your call.

1. My dear friend Miss Kathryne Beebe marked her 27th birthday Tuesday, and we celebrated by seeing a musical about unwashed peasants, flying cows, horned (and horny) knights, and snotty Frenchmen -- to wit, SPAMALOT. Katy is doing her doctorate in medieval history on monks and nuns, so her favorite part was the pas de deux between the putative Abelard and Heloise; but I preferred the song-and-dance number "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" and the quasi-inspirational ballad "Find Your Grail." (The program is great too.) It is, all in all, a very silly musical, but the silliness is expertly done, and we had a fantastic time, with dinner afterward at Bistro de Vent. Happy birthday, Katy!

2. A request for all my New York friends who read this (the easy one): If you would be so kind as to save your MetroCards for me, I am collecting them for a new ongoing art project. Thank you!

3. A request for all my New York friends who read this (the onerous one): On Saturday, April 16, the New York Carleton Club will be participating in New York Cares' annual Spring Clean-Up Day -- and you can join us EVEN IF you didn't go to Carleton! We'll be working at Inwood Hill Park up on the northern tip of Manhattan, helping to clean the drainage system that runs for miles throughout the park, which has gotten clogged with leaves over the last few months. As our site captain says, "It may not sound like the most glamorous assignment, but it’s a vital task that must be accomplished in order for the park to continue functioning – we will really be making a vast difference and improvement with just one day of work!!" This is a marvelous opportunity for all we cooped-up New Yorkers to get out and experience nature as spring comes creeping in, and a marvelous opportunity to give back to the city of New York, which gives so much to us all. The project starts at the park at 9:30 a.m., and I will bring doughnuts and coffee for everyone. I would LOVE to have all my WONDERFUL friends come out and join me in this EXTREMELY FUN day of good useful work. Yes, this means YOU, you New Yorker. You can e-mail me for more information. Thank you!

4. For those of you who are interested, I picked Modest Mouse's "Good News for People Who Like Bad News" as my last free CD from BMG. Modest Mouse beat out Al Green, Nina Simone, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Justin Timberlake, Wilco, U2, Beyonce, "A Little Night Music," a Best of Bollywood compilation, and the rest of the BMG catalogue on the basis of two factors: (1) I love "Float On" and (2) this CD is actual hip modern rock and therefore utterly unlike anything else in my collection. Though the fact that "Good News" has been out for a year now probably means it isn't hip anymore. And the fact that I use the word "hip" probably means I'm not either. Oh well, I try.

5. A few weeks from now, I'll be going on a trip to Germany with five other children's book editors. In keeping with my Resolution to send more mail, and because, hey, I like getting mail too, I'm making a limited-time-only, all-expenses-paid, operators-are-standing-by offer: If you post an interesting comment to the blog between now and April 15, I will send you a postcard from Germany! I cannot promise I will say anything of significance in the postcard, but hey! It will be mail from Germany! And how is that not cool? Please note that if I do not know you, you will need to leave your name and snail-mail address as well as a comment. (Actually, it's not a bad idea to leave those things even if I do know you.) And if you've left a comment prior to this, sorry, it doesn't count -- you have to say something new within the allotted time frame. Here, I will make a few inflammatory statements to get you started:

The Red Sox will never again win the World Series.

Jane Austen is the greatest writer the English language has ever produced.

"Ice Princess"? Best. Movie. Ever.

Post away!

Sunday, March 27, 2005


Certain events earlier this year caused me to think deeply about my relationship to my religion -- why I choose to practice the Christian faith as opposed to Buddhism, say, or Judaism, or simple old-fashioned atheism. My continued adherence to Christianity has been a question in my life for a while now, actually. . . . My college classes on the role of women in Christianity and on the historical roots of Christianity; the His Dark Materials trilogy; September 11 and the horrifyingly absolute religious certainty with which the terrorists drove the planes into the towers; my conservative Christian friend Hilary and her personal certainty regarding what God intends for her life (a certainty I've never been able to share): All of these things have led me to think much about whether God exists and whether Christianity is the way to approach Him. Then Heaven (ha) knows I don't want to be associated with the Christian right, who I almost invariably find insufferably self-righteous and way, way too prone to cast themselves as long-suffering victims of a secular world (she says with insufferable victimized-liberal self-righteousness). And perhaps most important of all, I do not feel a connection with God as often as I did in my more orthodox-Christian days, which grieves me, but which I do not make the effort to change.

Given all this, I've tended to described myself as a "Christian agnostic" the last few years rather than a plain straightforward Christian: I cannot and will not claim that the Bible is the absolute literal truth and the Christian God is the only God that should be worshiped, that Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation and everyone must be saved by him or be damned. I don't know or feel any of that enough to stake my identity on it. But I do believe in God; and as I thought about Christianity as a religion earlier this year, I realized that I believe fiercely in the values Jesus Christ represents as a symbol and a man: love for one's neighbor as for oneself; the humility that allowed him to sacrifice himself for others; forgiveness, which according to doctrine was the reason he died on the cross, so humankind could be cleansed of its sins; a desire for justice that reaches across all differences of race and gender and class; and all the fruits of the Spirit according to Paul: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, trustfulness, and self-control. I do not always manage to live by these things; indeed, sometimes I deliberately contravene them. But that is who I want to be and what I want my life to mean.

And, contrary to all conservatives, Christianity is the faith of radical change. Today is Easter, the day of Christ's resurrection. If you were raised in the church, as I was, this is such a commonplace fact that it's easy not to think about what it means: A man who was dead came back to life. What then shall be impossible? Love thy neighbor as thyself: If we all did this, who would go hungry? Love those that harm you, pray for those who persecute you: The mere act of looking beyond yourself is revolutionary. Easter means that all the old rules are gone: You can change your life; you can change the world. I want to live in that faith.

And that is why I am a Christian.


Usually on Easter Sunday, I attend church in the morning, then take the N/R to 59th Street to walk up through Central Park -- saying hello to nature again after the winter's cold. This year, however, I went to a most excellent late lunch at Jeremiah and 2.0's (which nicely complemented my equally excellent dinner last night with Melissa and Mike). We ate lamb, potatoes, and asparagus, and talked long over wine and coffee; and as I walked back to my apartment, I saw the trees getting nobbly with buds and the first daffodils dumbly lifting their heads in Prospect Park. Spring is coming at last, even to the city. Happy Easter, everyone!

Friday, March 25, 2005

Harass Hasbro!

Posting very very quickly from work to say that if you know and like, PLEASE call Hasbro's Consumer Affairs line at 1-888-836-7025 to register your opinion on the takedown of the site. I called this morning and told them 1) it was the best Scrabble site out there and therefore 2) it actually increased my devotion to the game of Scrabble because I was able to play all the time, even with friends who were far away, so 3) please, please let the site continue to exist (or else maintain it in some FREE form on Hasbro's site), and 4) don't punish Jared (the site maintainer) because he was only acting in the service of Scrabble players everywhere. (Naive, perhaps, but what the hell.) This is a free phone call and, if you like Scrabble or hate big corporations, worth two minutes of your time. Thank you!

Thursday, March 24, 2005

The Happy List, Part III

(Someday I will write the Annoyance List to balance out what could otherwise seem to be this rather painfully relentless cheeriness. Until then:)

  • Subway trains passing each other underground
  • My shiny red cordless phone
  • Architectural house plans
  • "Singin' in the Rain"
  • My New York hip-chick editor glasses
  • Copyediting
  • Art supply stores
  • Cadbury Fruit & Nut bars
  • The Chrysler Building, the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, and the Brooklyn Bridge (especially the Brooklyn Bridge)
  • Dialogue from screwball comedies and film noir
  • Dancing
  • Kissing
  • Bollywood movies (all 1.5 of them I've seen)
  • California rolls
  • Umbrellas
  • The New Yorker
  • the art of Henri Matisse
  • Fishnet stockings
  • Fractional birthdays
  • Being blonde
  • Snow

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

First Thing We Do, Let's Kill All the Lawyers.

First, Warner Brothers is putting the kibosh on "Wizard People, Dear Reader," an alternate soundtrack/narration to their merely competent film of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. I have never had the pleasure of seeing the performance, but I'm sure there's a lot that could be done with it, and it's too bad that it falls outside the limits of the corporation's sense of humor (as so many things associated with brands seem to do).

And then, what is much more distressing and in a small way life-altering to me: Hasbro is shutting down has been one of the delights of my life for the past two years, thanks to its clean, ad-free interface; e-mailed turns that let users play at their leisure; a chat log to leave comments or hold conversations; and of course the way it offers the opportunity to play Scrabble with friends or strangers halfway across the country or even the world. I haven't seen any other Scrabble site to compare, and now . . . sigh. Damn intellectual property rights.

The Harry Potter Personality Quiz

I came across these Harry Potter personality test questions while browsing HP websites at work, and they amused me enough that I thought I would post my answers here. If you've read the books and have the time, I'd love it if you'd put your own answers in a comment. Thanks!

Where would the Sorting Hat put you? Ravenclaw, though I'm pleased to say I'm becoming more of a Gryffindor as I grow older.
Who (or what) would you stuff into the nearest Vanishing Cabinet? George W. Bush and everyone associated with his Administration.
What form would your boggart take? A tornado or a huge insect (especially a spider).
Where do you shop most in Diagon Alley? Flourish and Blotts
What corporeal form does your Patronus take? Per Katy and Ted's analysis of my daemon, it ought to be a swan.
Describe your wand: Applewood, twelve inches, containing four drops of rose oil, a pinch of salt, and a slip of parchment bearing the letter A.
Aunt Petunia has been taken hostage by the Death Eaters. You're leading the OotP rescue party. Who are you taking along? Lupin, Tonks, and Mad-Eye Moody, for wisdom, humor, and fierceness respectively.
Can you see Thestrals? No, thank God.
Who is your favorite Professor (aside from Dumbledore)? Minerva McGonagall
You have a single, one-hour dose of Polyjuice Potion brewed. Whose hair will you be dropping into it? Well, Voldemort's loose in the Wizarding world, so I don't really want to be anyone from there for a while. If I could step into other fictional worlds, Harriet Vane, Emma Woodhouse, or Stephen Maturin (this last for the fun of walking a tall ship for an hour, and not Jack because I wouldn't want the responsibilities); or in the real world, George W. Bush, because I'm sure I could say or do enough horrible things in the allotted time to screw him and his party over for the rest of his life.
What kind of broom do you fly? Cleansweep Seven -- old but stylish.
And finally, who is the Half-Blood Prince? (your top 3 picks) I'll just let y'all imagine the exceedingly smug and self-satisfied smile I'm wearing at the moment, and leave it at that. :-)

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Wall to Wall till We Hit the Wall

A quick report on Wall to Wall: Stephen Sondheim yesterday: It was AMAZING. Elaine Stritch singing "The Ladies Who Lunch." Judy Kuhn and Michael Cerveris on "Loving You." Angela Lansbury (or as I kept referring to her in awe, "Angela 'Frickin' Lansbury!!!") performing "A Little Priest." Neil Patrick Harris (yes, the former Doogie Howser): "Finishing the Hat." Patti LuPone: "Being Alive." And the aforementioned panel with Joss Whedon, Frank Rich, and Mr. Sondheim! Ginny, Melissa, and I barely moved from our seats.

However, that could also be because of pure physical weakness, because we failed to take any food besides a single doughnut into this twelve-hour event. The first five or six hours weren't too bad, and we carefully rationed the doughnut among the three of us in one-sixth chunks; but when the doughnut was gone, round about 7 p.m., things started getting a little shaky, and by the end of the night, after Barbara Cook sang "In Buddy's Eyes" and Donna Murphy did "Losing My Mind" and all 75 candles had been blown out on Mr. Sondheim's cake, we were in a positive musical-theatre-bliss/lack-of-food delirium. We staggered from the theatre to a diner, where we could barely eat, and then home to Brooklyn and Staten Island; and I shall say only that the aftereffects of such starvation were very much like a hangover, with everything that implies. Today has been a good day, though, with lots of sleep and lots of food, and other than not having done nearly enough (or indeed any) work this weekend, I am ready to face tomorrow.

This has absolutely nothing to do with the previous topic, but here is the headline that has most delighted me this week, from World Ark magazine:

"Sometimes, Alpacas Do It Better."

Can't argue with that. :-)

Friday, March 18, 2005

Nanny nanny boo boo! I'm not working!

ARGH. I was writing a post with the title above and then Blogger ate it. Bad Blogger. Well, that gives you the tenor of my week, if you're interested: I feel like I am daring greatly by not reading/editing a manuscript in the evening -- and indeed, it's the first time this week I haven't done so. Instead I went to an art reception, then out for a St. Patrick's Day drink and potatoes with my friend Ben, and now I am sitting here posting to my blog. Yes, I defy thee, Gods of Work! I laugh in the face of thy manuscript piles! Ha!

In other news. The good Viacimo directed me to Overheard in New York, which is fantastic. Ginny and Melissa and maybe Ben and I are making plans for Wall-to-Wall Sondheim at Symphony Space on Saturday, which should be awesome -- Joss Whedon, Frank Rich, and Stephen Sondheim in one room! Squee! The presentations I was procrastinating on last week went well. I am going to Germany the last week in April with five other children's book editors. Recent reading: a book called Her First American, by Lore Segal, which I liked but didn't quite love. Katy and I have reservations to see the Before Sunrise / Before Sunset double feature that's part of the Reverse Shot Film Festival April 2-9, and everyone who reads this and lives in New York should come out and see it too.

I will have more to say of significance next time, I promise. Or else I'll post a really long poem by Bob Dylan. Or both.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005


That is my advice for the day to all of you: BEWARE THE IDES OF MARCH. So if you see an ide coming, run in the other direction.

Cool word of the day: undecennary, which means "a period of eleven years" or "an eleventh anniversary."This courtesy of A Word A Day, which I commend highly.

There are many, many things I want to write about here, but I am sleepy and too busy to think/write them out properly (one activity being how I do the other) and therefore not able to do any of them justice. But they include: the idiots behind and how they are symptomatic of the whole literalist divide in this country; thoughts on the role of the child protagonist in literature, inspired by John Updike's New Yorker review of my darling Jonathan's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close; a textbook example of why Anthony Lane is a fabulous reviewer; how the '90s retro club NerveAna is both like and unlike the middle-school dances I attended when my bangs were much bigger than they are now; "Bride and Prejudice," which is a good time but not nearly so good as it could have been if Mira Nair had directed it instead of the "Bend It Like Beckham" lady, who can't round out a scene to save her life, and if it hadn't had some guy who resembled a Ken doll and possessed the emotional range thereof cast as Mr. Darcy; and the pleasures of running. But as said, I am sleepy, so I am sorry to say you will be denied all these delights. Another time, perhaps.

I also wanted to announce that the Central Children's Room of the Donnell Library Center is currently displaying the original art for the Arthur A. Levine Books picture book The Red Bird, which was written by Astrid Lindgren, illustrated by Marit Tornqvist, translated by Patricia Crampton, and edited by Cheryl Klein. If you are in New York and around 53rd Street between 5th and 6th Avenues, you should stop in and look at it -- it is breathtakingly beautiful, and there until the end of the month.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Harry and the Potters

I am still here at work because I'm goofing off on the Web rather than -- guess what -- writing my last presentation, and I stumbled again on the Harry and the Potters website. This time I went ahead and listened to a few of their songs here, and I just adore the sweetness, humor, and earnestness of their music, combined with that awesome punk spirit -- not unlike Harry himself, now that I think of it. And the account of how their band got started is hilarious. If only *they* were listed on BMG.

How much do I not want to write my presentations due tomorrow?

Let me count the ways.

1. On Monday I returned from a fabulous trip to Florida, where I visited my dear friend Ted in the Everglades. We canoed through mangroves. We played Scrabble. We discussed our personal Desert Island Discs. We watched the sun rise over a lake with many birds. I took several close-ish pictures of smiling alligators. We saw an Indonesian dance performance. We drank excellent milkshakes. We went on a fruitless quest for MoonPies (though this did take us to a Winn-Dixie, which I have always wanted to visit, thanks to Kate DiCamillo's excellent novel Because of Winn-Dixie. The book is better than the grocery store.). And then we played more Scrabble. Other than the missing MoonPies, it is hard to imagine a better weekend. Thank you, Ted.

2. I also finished Permanent Rose, Hilary McKay's third novel about the Casson family (the previous two being Saffy's Angel and Indigo's Star). It's hard to describe Hilary McKay's writing: maybe the wit and sharpness of Jane Austen meets the absurdity of P. G. Wodehouse meets the domestic focus, quirkiness, and truth of The Slightly True Story of Cedar B. Hartley. That doesn't quite get it. It's mostly the magic of her characters, who are utterly individual and endearing even when they're exasperating; I have the same affection for the Cassons that I have for Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin and Harry, Ron, and Hermione, in that I would gladly read about them washing their underwear for two hundred pages for the mere pleasure of spending time with them. Anyway, Permanent Rose immediately leaped to the top of the sadly short list of books I've finished in 2005, right up there with Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. Ted also gave me Idoru and Invisible Cities, so maybe after I finish Atonement and The Golem's Eye . . . < casts longing look at book stack >

3. And speaking of Harry, Ron, and Hermione . . . the US & UK covers for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince have been released (click here for ours, here and here for the UK if you haven't seen them), and there has been much speculation about the significance of the basin on ours, the copy of Advanced Potion-Making on the UK adult, the presence of Dumbledore on both ours and the UK children's, and the ring of fire around Harry-with-pecs and Dumbledalf on the UK children's. My incredibly mature response to all this speculation: "Ha!" And also: "Hee hee!" Only 127 more days, HP fans . . .

4. Completely and totally overwhelmed at work these days. Yeah.

5. Think you know world literature? Take the Guardian Unlimited World Book Day quiz, which has questions about books from every continent, including Antarctica. I got 18 out of 29, and it told me "Not bad, but not quite worldly wise. You are proof, however, that some of the most exciting journeys can be undertaken from the comfort of your own sofa." (This link courtesy of Ben, whose birthday is Friday. Happy birthday, Ben!)

6. I am loving Gilmore Girls this season, especially Logan, who's a smug bastard but a damnably cute, charming, and intelligent smug bastard. And such Luke and Lorelei happiness! Also Alias seems to be improving now that they're remembering they had three seasons previous to this one.

7. I have one free CD left to get from BMG Music Service and then I can cancel my subscription forever. I have to buy it by the end of the month. I am thinking rock-ish: the newest Liz Phair or Mary Chapin Carpenter; more Patty Griffin; Postal Service; the new U2; the first Wilco album, if BMG will sell it to me as a single album. Any suggestions or picks among those? In general I tend toward music that's acoustic, soulful, and with good lyrics, but I know nothing about modern rock, really, so recommendations are very much appreciated.

8. I received a postcard today that said in white letters on a sky-blue background, "I believe none of us is qualified to judge the lives of others." The back was information/advertisement for Church! of Park Slope (the exclamation mark is intentional), a new nondenominational Christian church opening up on 8th Avenue. It sounds interesting, but the design -- the fonts, the lines, that exclamation point, everything -- looks very much like the format of McSweeney's, so I'm slightly suspicious. Also, I do feel qualified to judge the lives of others to some extent, as in killing/child molestation/torturing small animals = bad. So such generalizations annoy me, and anyway, I'm pretty happy at good old PSUMC.

9. I think that is actually all for now, which means I have to work instead. Shoot. Hrm. Well, have a good night, everyone!

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

The Happy List Continued

  • llamas
  • The Slightly True Story of Cedar B. Hartley (Who Planned to Live an Unusual Life) by Martine Murray
  • Playing Scrabble
  • Granny Smith apples
  • Peanut butter
  • Cinnamon-raisin anything, especially toasted and with peanut butter
  • Bellinis, Riesling, Sancerre, champagne, Chambord, Kir Royales, and well-made Purple Motherfuckers (the latter few and far between, sadly)
  • Shocking everyone when I say "Purple Motherfucker"
  • Wood floors
  • Nyanko cats (It is always dangerous to say that this is Japan at its very weirdest, but surely smiling kittycats wrapped in foodstuffs is approaching the limit?)
  • My running shoes, brown Danskos, tall black boots, and red slippers with phoenix beading
  • Empire-waist dresses
  • Earl Grey tea
  • Cherry Hill, Bethesda Terrace, and the Central Park Mall
  • Cookie dough, particularly chocolate chip
  • Subway maps
  • Making lists

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

CBK + JSF = Luv 4-Ever

Thanks to Sunday's profile in the New York Times Magazine, I now officially have a literary crush* on Jonathan Safran Foer. He's a bestselling novelist. He lives in Park Slope. Amplification: He owns his own townhouse in Park Slope. He has a Great Dane named George, who he walks in Prospect Park. He writes beautiful, thoughtful, funny, self-aware e-mails. He's close to his family. He's not only able but unafraid to write compellingly and without cliches about pure emotion, especially love. He's generous, he's smart, he's modest, he's rich (never hurts), and he wears glasses. The one flaw in his perfection is that he is, alas, married, but as ours is a literary love, destined to be consummated only in ink and paper and thought, we can ignore that.

Marry me, Jonathan.

* literary crush. n. An exceedingly silly but enjoyable state of mind where one falls in love with a person solely through the character evinced in his or her writings. See also Lane, Anthony.