Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Known World

The Known World by Edward P. Jones was originally published in 2003. My hardcover copy has 388 pages. The first thing I noticed about The Known World was the beautiful, expressive writing. As I continued reading I realized that The Know World is character driven, so the reader has to take the time and care to keep track of all the characters Jones introduces, and the cast of characters is quite large. You also need to know that the chronology is not linear. Edward P Jones is telling us the history of a county and its people during a specific time period and he's presenting this information like a story teller would, with some past history along with some information from the future. In the end, all the lives of the people in Manchester County, Virginia are entangled and their decisions and lives are profoundly affected by slavery. The Known World is heartbreakingly beautiful.
Edward P. Jones won the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, 2003 National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction and was a finalist for the 2003 National Book Award for Fiction for The Known World.
Very Highly Recommended

Synopsis from the publisher:
The Known World tells the story of Henry Townsend, a black farmer and former slave who falls under the tutelage of William Robbins, the most powerful man in Manchester County, Virginia. Making certain he never circumvents the law, Townsend runs his affairs with unusual discipline. But when death takes him unexpectedly, his widow, Caldonia, can't uphold the estate's order, and chaos ensues. Jones has woven a footnote of history into an epic that takes an unflinching look at slavery in all its moral complexities.

"The evening his master died he worked again well after he ended the day for the other adults, his own wife among them, and sent them back with hunger and tiredness to their cabins. The young ones, his son among them, had been sent out of the fields an hour or so before the adults, to prepare the late supper and, if there was time enough, to play in the few minutes of sun that were left. When he, Moses, finally freed himself of the ancient and brittle harness that connected him to the oldest mule his master owned, all that was left of the sun was a five-inch-long memory of red orange laid out in still waves across the horizon between two mountains on the left and one on the right." opening, pg. 1

"This was July, and July dirt tasted even more like sweetened metal than the dirt of June or May. Something in the growing crops unleashed a metallic life that only began to dissipate in mid-August, and by harvest time that life would be gone altogether, replaced by a sour moldiness he associated with the coming of fall and winter, the end of a relationship he had begun with the first taste of dirt back in March, before the first hard spring rain." pg. 2

Moses walked out of the forest and into still more darkness toward the quarters, needing no moon to light his way. He was thirty-five years old and for every moment of those years he had been someone's slave, a white man's slave and then another white man's slave and now, for nearly ten years, the overseer slave for a black master." pg. 4

"Henry Townsend - a black man of thirty-one years with thirty-three slaves and more than fifty acres of land that sat him high above many others, white and black, in Manchester County, Virginia - sat up in bed for most of his dying days, eating a watery porridge and looking out his window at land his wife, Caldonia, kept telling him he would walk and ride over again." pg. 5

"He tried always to live humbly and obediently in the shadow of God, but he was afraid that at twenty-six years old he was falling short. He yearned for earthy things, to begin with, and he rendered far more unto Caesar than he knew God would have liked. I am imperfect, he said to God each morning he rose from hid bed. I am imperfect, but I am still clay in your hands, ever walking the way you want me to. Mold me and help me to be perfect in your eyes, O Lord." pg. 29

"The child now took more steps, passing her own room, and came to a partly opened door. She could see John Skiffington's father on his knees praying in a corner of his room. Fully dressed with his hat on, the old man, who would find another wife in Philadelphia, had been on his knees for nearly two hours: God gave so much and yet asked for so little in return." pg. 36

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Barbies, Ken, and GI Joe

When I was a young girl I loved playing with Barbies. I probably played with Barbies longer than most other girls of my age. I understand all the bla-bla-bla concerning Barbie’s figure and a young girl’s self esteem, but I have to tell you, it wasn’t an issue with me and my Barbies. We were all tough girls and didn’t let our great figures or love of accessories hold us back. My collection of Barbies only had one Ken, but we were all good with that. Who, really, let’s be honest now, needed more than one male on a normal day-to-day basis?

Sometimes, though, ED (My older brother, El Dictator) would be bored out of his mind and unable to talk me into playing with something other than my Barbies. On those very rare occasions, if he really wanted to play with me, he would have to swallow his pride, get out a GI Joe and all his accessories, er, weapons, and play Barbies with me. Playing Barbies with me wasn’t all that bad. I was still the same sister who played Killer Tricycle and Flood! with ED. And besides, as I mentioned, my Barbies might have enjoyed their accessories, heels, and some nice formal wear, but they also were tough babes whose favorite game with the one Ken was Amazon Women. Yeah. If Ken dared to come to our island kingdom we captured him and tied him up good. If ED decided to play Barbies with me, it could still be akin to playing with GI Joes, only with an army of Amazon warriors.

Any scenario we decided on for our games could not entail Barbie versus GI Joe. I had enough Barbies that they could easily swarm GI Joe, disarm him, and tie him to the hood of the Barbie car, all before breakfast. It really wouldn’t be a fair fight. I’m not sure where the poor Ken stood in all the action. He was handsome, but he didn’t have the weapons GI Joe did, and, lets face reality here, he was pretty subservient to the Barbies’ whims. Even if ED had Ken join GI Joe in an effort to repel the Barbie hordes, Ken was pretty much guaranteed to be the first to fall in any skirmish. Really, the guy was always smiling and had no scars, gear, or camo.

Hipee (my younger sister, High Powered Executive) was definitely my preferred Barbie-playing companion, and she brought her own collection of Barbies, along with a Truly Scrumptious in 1968, into the game. What ED contributed was a few large vehicles, like a dump truck for a troop transport or camper, and a large red sports car that the Barbies could sort of ride on, perched on the hood. Hipee and I would liberate his trucks and the sports car from time to time for our own Barbie games. Since ED was not good with Amazon Women, we had to play something different, normally some sort of adventure. I can’t for the life of me recall what we played, only that we did play Barbies together.

While ED was a reluctant Barbie-playing companion, play he did. ED, of course, would probably deny the fact that he ever played Barbies with me and would plead no memory of any such event ever taking place. Since he is getting on in years, I’ll extend him the grace to not insist he remember playing Barbies with me, but it is at times like this that I wish memories could be replayed like movies so I could provide actual footage of ED played with Barbies. That would make for a glorious family movie night.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Lost Night

The Lost Night: A Daughter's Search for the Truth of Her Father's Murder by Rachel Howard was originally published in 2005. My paperback copy has 273 pages. The Lost Night is a memoir of Howard's life, not a true crime account, although the murder of Howard's father obviously plays a pivotal role in her life. Howard's early life already had step-parent issues before her father was murdered when she was ten. Obviously the murder affected her life even though she could only remember vague details, and those details were through the eyes of a child. This is a compelling look at how the child of a murder victim manages to cope. If you enjoy memoirs, you will appreciate Howard's book. If you are looking for a true crime novel, this may not be to your tastes. The murder is never solved. The focus of the book, even when Howard is researching her father's murder, is Howard's personal growth.
Very Highly Recommended

From Publishers Weekly
In 1986, when the author was 10, her father was stabbed while sleeping next to his third wife; his murder remains unsolved. After years of pretending the memories of that night haven't affected her, and about to get married and enter a new phase of life, Howard sets out to untangle what she and her family can recall of her father's life and death. This book is not an attempt at vengeance but rather a profoundly personal account of a California Central Valley childhood defined by chaotic family life. Howard's parents divorced when she was very young, and both subsequently remarried, with Howard repeatedly pulled into new versions of "family" that replaced—but never explained the demise of—the old ones. It's a testament to her strength that she was finally able to extract herself from this turmoil and make a life of her own (she now writes for the San Francisco Chronicle). Howard's desire to understand her past (particularly the murder) will leave readers sympathetic and understanding of the story's sometimes wandering nature. This is a poignant account of the lifelong effects violence and tragedy can have on an individual and a family. Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

"I saw my father clutching his throat, trying to speak.
That image taunted me as I walked into the Merced County Sheriff's Department one sweltering August day. I'd come to meet with the detectives assigned to my father's murder, though discussing his death with anyone, let alone the authorities, still made my throat constrict and my right eye twitch. Whenever anyone asked about my father, I replied, in a flat, neutral voice, "My father was murdered." I hoped to stop the conversation cold, and usually I succeeded. But sometimes the questions persisted. How old were you? I was ten. God, I'm sorry, can I ask what happened?" pg. 1

"The only facts I held with certainty were these: At about three thirty a.m. on June 22, 1986, someone entered, through an unlocked sliding-glass door, my father's house on the outskirts of the central California farming town where he had grown up. The intruder took a knife from the kitchen and stabbed my father as he lay sleeping next to his third wife. He was pronounced dead at the hospital an hour later. He was thirty-two years old, a handsome, laid-back guy who had loved weight lifting and the Three Stooges and Rod Stewart songs, and who seemed to have no enemies. No one was ever charged with the crime." pg. 2

"The story of my father's death was half complete, because I'd been too afraid of what I might remember, and because I hadn't lived the end of it. Now I was ready, and I had a guess as to why....
I wrote in an ecstatic scrawl in my journal the next day, 'I've entered a new era. One in which the murder is past - or almost.' Was I ready to face my father's murder because I was getting married, or was I ready to get married because I'd begun to examine the murder? I only knew the two were connected, and that the need to learn all that I could about my father's death now felt urgent." pg. 2-3

"It takes a few seconds for my eyes to adjust to the moonlight pouring through the living room window. I make out our powder-blue curtains first, slate gray against the darkness, and as the rest of the view falls into place, I see the house is empty and still. Then I look down the hallway, and what I find there sears itself upon my brain: huge, dark pools in the carpet, like giant grape Kool-Aid spills. Bigger around than basketballs, sticky wet and black in the colorless night. As I stare at them and remember Bobby's nonsensical words about shaving, I know at once that they are pools of blood.
The blood is a flash, a Polaroid snapshot of a shadowy moment, and the next ten minutes come in flashes too, murky images captured and set aside to develop in slow motion. In a flash, I'm at the open door of Dad's bedroom. Dad is standing bare-chested, deathly white, holding his throat, looking into my eyes and mouthing something I can't understand. In a flash, the door slams in my face, and I hear Sherrie shout 'I'm calling 911.'
It feels like I stare at that closed door a long time. I don't know if I try the handle, but if I do, it's locked. I don't know how I step around the blood, how I decide to go back into my bedroom, how it is that I eventually walk into the living room and quietly take a seat on the couch next to Bobby. I don't know who turned the lamp on, but the light is throwing just enough illumination around the room to make the shadows look that much deeper. And I don't know how it is that Bobby and I are both now fully dressed. The biggest mystery of all, though, is how Bobby knows someone has tried to kill my father." pg. 7-8

Monday, April 27, 2009


Summerland by Michael Chabon was originally published in 2002. My hardcover copy has 500 pages. This is a novel where baseball is a prominent feature. Since I don't really care for baseball, I wasn't sure if Summerland would pass the 50 page test, but it easily did. It may feature baseball, but it's also about fairies, new inventions, and Native American myths and legends, among other things. While classified as a young adult novel, Barnes & Noble puts the age range at 12 and up while Amazon has the reading level at ages 9-12, I can't imagine many in that age range fully appreciating Summerland. Actually the young target audience may need some introduction to Native American legends in order to understand parts of Summerland. The thing is, since Chabon wrote Summerland, the characters are well developed, and the descriptions can be exquisite. There is a considerable amount of wit and humor in the story. All in all, I think adults may end up enjoying Summerland more than children, although I'm going to wait a few years and then see if my soccer-playing nephew, currently 9, would like to give it a try. Right now I think the size of the book would intimidate him. highly recommended

Synopsis from the Publisher
Summerland is the story of a young hero on a quest through the strange world of the American Faery. This is a fantasy for readers of all ages, set against the background of the American myth. The Clam Island fairies are in grave peril. War is coming, another battle in an ancient conflict. When the band sends for a champion, they get an 11 year-old boy named Ethan Feld. He hates baseball and wants to quit his losing team, but Jennifer T. Rideout loves baseball and won't let him quit. The two find themselves on a journey that includes zeppelins, werefoxes, Indian mythology, sasquatches, wendigos, and the haunted 161 year old husk of George Armstrong Custer. Finally Ethan becomes who he is: a changeling, a hero, and even a man.

" Ethan said, 'I hate baseball.' " first sentence

"The car's name was Skidbladnir, but usually they just called her Skid. She was oranger than anything else within a five-hundred-mile radius of Clam Island, including traffic cones, U-Haul trailers, and a fair number of actual oranges. She was so old that, as she went along, she made squeaking and rattling noises that sounded more like the sounds of a horse buggy than of an automobile." pg. 3

"Mr. Feld was a large, stout man with a short but unruly beard like tangled black wool. He was both a recent widower and a designer of lighter-than-air dirigibles, neither a class of person known for paying a lot of attention to clothes." pg. 4

"It was agreed by nearly everyone who watched him take the field that Ethan Feld was the least gifted ball player that Clam Island had ever seen. It was hard to decide, really, why this should be so. Ethan was a boy of average height, a little stocky, you might have said, but healthy and alert. He was not a terrible klutz, and he could run pretty well, if something worth running from, such as a bee, was after him." pg. 9

" 'You better be ready, kid,' said a voice just behind him. 'Pretty soon now you going to get the call.' " pg. 21

" 'You're saying you can scamper from one world to another?'
'No, I can leap. And take you with me in the bargain,' said the werefox. 'And the name of this world is the Summerlands.' " pg. 42

"...'Now as I was saying, they are not very grand. In fact they are quite literally Little People.'
'Little people?' Ethan said, 'Wait. Okay. The Neighbors. They are. Aren't they? They're fair-'
'Fair Folk!' Cutbelly cut him off. 'Yes, indeed, that is an old name for them. Ferishers is the name they give themselves, or rather the name they'll consent to have you call them.' " pg. 43

"You came in through the living room, where there were three immense reclining chairs, so large that they left barely enough room for a small television set. One chair was red plaid, one was green plaid, and one was white leather. They vibrated when you pushed a certain button. The old ladies sat around vibrating and reading romance novels. They were big ladies and needed big chairs. They had a collection of over seven thousand five hundred romance novels. They had every novel Barbara Cartland ever wrote, all of the Harlequin romances, all the Silhouette and Zebra and HeartQuest books. The paperbacks were piled in stacks that reached almost to the ceiling. They blocked windows and killed houseplants and regularly collapsed on visitors. Island people who knew of the Rideout girl's taste in fiction would come by in the dead of night and dump grocery bags and liquor boxes full of romances in the driveway." pg. 115-116

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Doris Day movie night

Do Not Disturb 1965
Cast: Doris Day, Rod Taylor, Hermione Baddeley, Sergio Fantoni Director: Ralph Levy

The Thrill of It All! 1963
Cast: Doris Day, James Garner, Arlene Francis, Edward Andrews Director: Norman Jewison

I love Doris Day movies.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Truth and Consequences

Truth and Consequences by Alison Lurie was originally published in 2005. My paperback copy has 232 pages. This is an easy read. The plot is basic, fairly formulaic; the characters are rather unlikable caricatures rather than fleshed out. There were some insightful moments but all in all this was just a pleasant, bland time filler. (The Publisher's Weekly review below is spot-on for me.) Lurie is technically an excellent writer but new readers might want to read her Pulitzer Prize winning novel, Foreign Affairs. Also my distaste for romance novels is well known so perhaps I'm not the last word on Truth and Consequences. Recommended for readers of romance novels; So-so for the rest of us.

From Publishers Weekly
Lurie's various academic romances, set against the backdrop of a thinly veiled Cornell University, point in a straight line to tragicomic double-think relationship writers like Lorrie Moore. This latest foray begins promisingly: Jane MacKenzie fails to recognize her own husband, Alan, as he approaches their house from a distance, so bent and changed is he by his aching back. He's an architecture professor (expert on Victoriana); she's a university administrator. When visiting poet Delia Delaney takes up residence, it's Jane who has to attend to her diva-like demands, while simultaneously trying to cope with an incapacitated Alan. Once he's up and around, though, sexy and selfish Delia toys with, then seduces him. The affair gives Alan a midlife lift, and, on discovery, gives Jane a reason to leave him, perhaps for Henry, Delia's ombudsman husband and Jane's highly organized mirror-image. The problem is that Lurie, whose Pulitzer Prize–winning Foreign Affairs is everything this isn't, doesn't seem much interested in fleshing out her characters' romps. Remedial repetitions of basic facts, character descriptions and plot points throughout give the proceedings a strangely clinical feel, as if her characters' reactions were too base to engage with fully: they are reported almost dutifully, though not without offhand flashes of crackly brilliance. Copyright © Reed Business Information

"On a hot midsummer morning, after over sixteen years of marriage, Jane Mackenzie saw her husband fifty feet away and did not recognize him." opening sentence

"It occurred to Jane for the first time that there was a pattern here. Lately, Alan usually refused any offer of assistance at first, but soon corrected himself, asking for various objects and services. On other occasions he would wait longer, until she was somewhere else in the house and in the middle of some other activity, and then he would call for help." pg. 3

"In a way we're not really husband and wife anymore. We're more housekeeper and employer. Or maybe, in the language of a blandly instructive pamphlet she had read while waiting for Alan in some doctor's office, caregiver and caregetter." pg. 5

"For months Jane had been wonderful to Alan, and Alan had been grateful. But now she was tired of being wonderful, and Alan, she suspected, was tired of being grateful." pg. 15

"Alan knew he was difficult and impossible, and he was becoming more and more so. He also knew that as time went on his pain and self-absorption, his depression and anxiety, were driving his wife further and further from him. she never said this, never hinted it, but he assumed that she was angry and full of despair, just as he was angry and full of despair." pg. 17

"Nobody wanted to hear bad news, he had discovered, except for certain ghouls who feed on the misery of others." pg. 21

" 'To an American, a Canadian is something like - like this cabbage.' He lifted it from the basket.'Organic, healthy, solid, reliable, boring.' " pg. 83

Story Time with ED

It was a horrifying story. ED swore it was true. I was in the second grade. ED was a mature, world-weary 4th grader. He knew things. He had bike privileges that were wide ranging, extending for blocks away from home. He was a man with multiple contacts out in the real world. Hipee, bless her hyperactive heart, may not remember this story time with ED due to some serious personal problems that were forefront in her world - naptime issues at kindergarten. The woman, or victim, only lived a few blocks east of us.

As ED told it, there was this old lady, Mrs. “Brown”. He told me her name. She and her husband lived a couple streets over to the east, just a little north of the rock park. He named the street. I knew where it was. I could even picture the house in which it must have happened. It had to be that barn red house that sat separate from the other houses on the street. That house was scary. Her husband found the body and made the gruesome discovery. Then he had to run for his life. Well, it seems that the woman had an actual nest of Black Widow spiders living in her hair! And they bit her until she died! And then they all came running out of her hair! Could there even be a more frightening tale? ED didn’t know if the guy escaped or where the spiders went. They could have even made it as far as our house! After hearing it I scratched my scalp raw in several spots. Even thinking about it today makes me want to itch. It made an already present phobia just that much worse.

Yes, in the 60’s Ed passed on the black widows in the hair urban legend to me as a factual story thus causing a life long spider phobia. Thanks, ED, and Happy Birthday.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


Axis by Robert Charles Wilson was originally published in 2007. My paperback copy has 355 pages. This is the sequel to Spin and takes place thirty years later. Again, Wilson has written a fine character driven science fiction novel that makes a nice follow up to Spin. Apparently there is going to be a third book in this series. Hopefully, if that is true, Wilson will answer some questions, and tie up some loose ends. Since I have a natural preference for hard science fiction, I don't want to fault Wilson for doing what he does best, place well developed characters into a science fiction setting. Recommended.

Synopsis from cover:
Engineered by the mysterious Hypotheticals to support human life, it's connected to Earth by way of the Arch that towers hundreds of miles over the Indian Ocean. Humans are colonizing this new world - and, predictably, exploiting its resources, chiefly large deposits of oil in the western deserts of the continent of Equatoria.

Lise Adams is a young woman attempting to uncover the mystery of her father's disappearance ten years earlier. Turk Findley is an ex-sailor and sometime drifter. They come together when an infall of cometary dust seeds the planet with tiny remnant Hypothetical machines.

Now Lise, Turk, a Martian woman, and a boy who has been engineered to communicate with the Hypotheticals, are drawn to a place in the desert where this seemingly hospitable world has become suddenly very alien indeed - and the nature of time is being once again twisted by entities unknown.

"In the summer of his twelfth year - the summer the stars began to fall from the sky - the boy Isaac discovered that he could tell east from west with his eyes closed." first sentence

" 'They used to ask me a lot of questions - how I felt, and what ideas I had, and what things in books meant. But they didn't like my answers.' Eventually they had stopped asking, just as they had stopped giving him blood tests, psychological tests, perception tests." pg. 9

"Each night he discovered himself aligned almost perfectly with the W on the face of the compass.
Then he did it again. And again. And again." pg. 10

"She reminded herself to focus on the work. On the real reason she was here. The unexplained loss that had opened a chasm in her life twelve years ago." pg. 19

"Why turn the western half of the continent into a no-fly zone?" pg. 25

"It looked to Lise like something was actually falling out there - not meteors but bright dots that hung in the air like flares..." pg. 28

"But, in a way, that was exactly typical. The New World had a habit of reminding you it wasn't Earth. Things happened differently here. It ain't Kansas, as people liked to say, and they probably said the same thing in a dozen different languages. It ain't the Steppes. It ain't Kandahar. It ain't Mombassa." pg.29

"Gray and powdery. Tyrell's description was on the money. Turk has never seen volcanic ash, but he imagined this was what it might look like. It sifted down over the wooden slats and boards of the patio and drifted against the window glass." pg. 32


Idlewild by Nick Sagan was originally published in 2003. According to other reviews it is a "cyberpunk thriller set in a prestigious high-tech school where the students spend most of their time immersed in virtual reality". I have to say it became quite clear from the beginning that I am not Sagan's target audience and quite honestly his writing style drove me crazy. I'm sorry to say that it did not pass the 50 page test and I did not finish reading Idlewild.

Synopsis from cover:
Idlewild is stylish and clever fiction set in the day after tomorrow. It opens with a young man awaking with amnesia; the only thing he knows is that his memory loss has been caused by an attempt to kill him. Unsure who he can trust, he is reacquainted with eight companions, all of whom are being trained at a special school, run by an enigmatic man named Maestro. As he tries to uncover the identity of the person who has tried to murder him, he will quickly begin to unravel a series of truths, making it clear that there is much more than his life at stake.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Forbidden Fruit

From 1966 to 1971 there was a gothic soap opera on TV called Dark Shadows. It featured vampires, werewolves, ghosts, witches etc. After hearing about it from neighborhood friends and wanting to watch it, we learned we were not allowed to see the show. It was forbidden. For awhile this made it one of the most attractive shows on television. ED (older brother, El Dictator), Hipee (my younger sister, High Powered Executive), and I would try to covertly watch it when we thought we could get away with it.

If we were careful and kept the volume low, our only chance to watch Dark Shadows on the sly during the summer was on the small black and white TV in the basement, in ED’s room. ED really didn’t have a room downstairs, per se, so much as his bed and dresser were in the far corner of what would have been the family room - if we were using it as a family room. Instead a corner of the room became ED’s bedroom, but the laundry room and a bathroom were right off of it (as was the doorway to the large Killer Tricycle arena) and the stairs from the main level of that house led directly into this large room. The laundry room presented the greatest threat to our illicit Dark Shadows viewing. At any moment our mother could come down the stairs to put a load in the washer.

The second threat to our watching Dark Shadows on the sly was our youngest sister. Yes, ED, Hipee, and I had a younger sister during this time. She wasn’t part of our gang. She was too whiney, wimpy, and young. We’ll call her Whiy. Because she was so much younger, our mother was often busy with her or doing housework. We kept the TV volume low so we could hear if Mom was on the stairs, or if Whiy was coming, as she might see what we were watching, get scared, and tattle.

After successfully watching several episodes of Dark Shadows, I really can’t remember feeling any particular attraction to the show, other than the scary subject matter that, as far as I can remember, didn’t scare us. Trying to watch it soon lost its appeal unless there was a lot of neighborhood buzz concerning some especially exciting or gruesome upcoming episode. Dark Shadows viewing became an occasional occurrence, done on the sly and easily forgotten.

A few months ago I was flipping through the channels checking out what was on TV, and noticed they were playing an old Dark Shadows movie. My first reaction was, “It was a movie too?” Then I decided that I’d watch it to see if it sparked any memories or if I could recall what all the hype was about. After about the first five minutes, I switched channels. It was really rather silly. Perhaps it would have been more exciting if I still felt it was forbidden. Hmmm… There must be a lesson of biblical proportions in there somewhere.

Monday, April 20, 2009


Spin by Robert Charles Wilson was originally published in 2005. My paperback copy is 454 pages. Spin was a Hugo Award winner. While Spin opens up at a fast clip that compels you to keep reading, it soon becomes rather slow and plodding in places. This is a character driven science fiction novel, so there is a whole lot more character development than science and I guess it's the science and those concepts that kept me reading more than the characters. All in all, it was a satisfying book and I'm continuing on with the story in Axis. (I wish Wilson had kept track of some of his character information better, for example the twins were 14 on pg. 28 and suddenly one, Jason, was referred to as being 15 on pg. 29. Sometimes small errors like that drive me crazy.) I've been in a weird mood lately so likely any book I'm reading is going to suffer, but Spin is Recommended

Synopsis from back cover:
"The time is the day after tomorrow, and three adolescents - Diane and Jason Lawton, twins, and their best friend, Tyler Dupree - are out stargazing. Thus they witness the erection of a planet-spanning shield around the globe, blocking out the universe. Spin chronicles the next 30-odd years in the lives of the trio, during which 300 billion years will pass outside the shield, thanks to an engineered time discontinuity. Jason, a genius, will invest his celibate life in unraveling cosmological mysteries. Tyler will become a doctor and act as our narrator and as Jason's confidante, while nursing his unrequited love for Diane, who in turn plunges into religious fanaticism. Along the way human-descended Martians will appear, bringing a drug that can elevate humans to the Fourth State, ‘an adulthood beyond adulthood.’ But will even this miracle be enough to save Earth?” --The Washington Post

"Everybody falls and we all land somewhere." opening sentence

"I was twelve and the twins were thirteen, the night the starts disappeared from the sky." pg. 5

"People often say that, people who saw it happen. It wasn't much. It really wasn't, and I speak as a witness: I had been watching the sky while Diane and Jason bickered. There was nothing but a moment of odd glare that left an afterimage of the stars imprinted on my eyes in cool green phosphorescence." pg. 11

"English-language media called it 'the October Event' (it wasn't 'the Spin' until a few years later), and its first and most obvious effect was the wholesale destruction of the multibillion dollar orbital satellite industry." pg. 19

"The sun wasn't the sun; but it went on shining, counterfeit or not, and as the days passed, days layered and stacked on days, the bewilderment deepened but the sense of public urgency ebbed." pg. 24

"Time was passing differently outside the barrier.
Or, to turn the equation around, time on Earth was passing more slowly than in the universe at large." pg. 44

"It had been five years and a couple months since the October Event. Outside the barrier, that translates into a little over five hundred million years." pg. 46

"I imagined I felt the Martian drug working in my body, making fresh assaults and negotiating temporary truces with my immune system, establishing cellular beachheads, sequestering hostile chromosomal sequences." pg. 51

Saturday, April 18, 2009

The Day of the Triffids

The Day of the Triffids (1981)

Starring: John Duttine, Emma Relph
Director: Ken Hannam

This 1981 BBC six-part series presentation of The Day of the Triffids is the best adaptation of the book. We first saw this in the USA around 1986 on PBS and have been waiting for our own copy ever since.

We will likely watch The Day of the Triffids (1963) starring Howard Keel and Nicole Maurey tonight.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Well Enough Alone

Well Enough Alone by Jennifer Traig was originally published in 2008. My hardcover copy is 257 pages. In Well Enough Alone Traig, who wrote about her OCD in Devil in the Details , now tackles her hypochondria, as well as the history of hypochondria in general. I found it hysterically funny in places and almost wish Traig was still battling OCD and imaginary diseases (although some of the medical issues she discusses were actually real problems and not imaginary) so she would write another book about her experiences. Devil in the Details might be slightly better in comparison to Well Enough Alone but certainly both of her memoirs are very funny and well worth reading.
Very Highly Recommended

Synopsis from cover:
The good news is Jennifer Traig does not have lupus, multiple sclerosis, Huntington's disease, Crohn's disease, or muscular dystrophy. She discovers that she does not have SUDS, the mysterious disorder that claims healthy young Asian men in their sleep, nor does she have Foreign Accent Syndrome, the bizarre but real neurological condition that transforms native West Virginians into Eliza Doolittle overnight. What she does have is hypochondria.

Well Enough Alone, Traig's inquiry into her ailment, is not only an uproariously funny account but also a literary tour of hypochondria, past and present: the implied hypochondria of the Talmud, the flatulence-obsessed eighteenth century, and the malady's current unfortunate lack of a celebrity spokesperson. At the same time, Traig provides an intimate look at the complement of minor conditions that have concealed her essential health and driven her persistent self-diagnosis: the eczema, the shaky hands, and, worst of all, the bad hair. To her surprise, she ends her journey more knowledgeable than she was when she started out, a little less neurotic, and-one might say-healthier.

"I had my first heart attack when I was eighteen." first sentence

" 'I'm having a myocardial infarction,' I gasped, when I was finally ushered into an exam room. 'Heart attack.' I added, when this failed to produce a crash cart.
'I know what a myocardial infarction is,' the nurse said, casually taking my vitals. 'You're not having one.' She pressed a stethoscope to my chest.
'Well, it could be a stroke,' I conceded.
'You're not having a stroke.'
'I think we should run some tests.'
'Haven't we seen you in here before?'
'Once or twice.' " pg. 1-2

"What I did have was hypochondria, which meant that every other disease was inevitable. I might have escaped the heart attack and the Hodgkin's, but surely something serious was only a matter of time. I could not leave well enough alone, and one dengue fever was ruled out I would return with malaria." pg. 2

"I had relatives who couldn't breathe, and others who couldn't swallow, and a number who suffered from vague, lingering conditions that required me to forfeit control of the television when they came to visit and to please not wear the loud shoes." pg. 4

"They [hypochondriacs] are also outrageously expensive. It's estimated that they cost health-care providers billions of dollars in unnecessary tests, care, and procedures." pg. 6

"To qualify as a cyberchondriac, you have to visit a health site six times a month, a number I can easily hit during the commercial break of Trauma: Life in the E.R." pg. 8

"Because it rarely features reality shows about desperate tramps competing for a bachelor, I don't often watch the History Channel, but I'd find my way there if they ever aired a history of hypochondria." pg. 19

"The well-known seventeenth-century Jesuit poet Tommaso Strozzi claimed, in a poem, to have been cured of his hypochondria through prayer, and suggested that chocolate might do the trick for others. After much personal experimentation with fun-sized candy bars, I can report that this is ineffective, but all in all not a bad way to spend a morning." pg. 21-22

"Naturally, my family is embarrassed by nudism, the deliberate kind of nudity that implies an effort was made. It's fine if you're just too lazy to put on pants - we've all been there - but if you've artfully accessorized with a sun visor, a fanny pack, and a thorough basting of sunblock, well, that's just weird." pg. 38

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Game Control

Game Control by Lionel Shriver was originally published in 1994 but the first paperback edition in the USA was published in 2007. My paperback copy has 277 pages. This is a novel about demography and population growth that is told with the help of two memorable characters who are aid workers in Africa, specifically Eleanor, who is in family planning, and Calvin, who was previously the leader of USAID's population division. The two are polar opposites in personality but maybe not quite so opposite when it comes to - secretly or openly - blaming the poor for their own plight. They begin to speculate if the world would be better if all the poor people were gone. Shriver is a intelligent, skillful writer but I know that this book will be appreciated much more by fans of her writing. Recommended, highly for fans

Synopsis from cover:
Eleanor Merritt, a do-gooding American family-planning worker, was drawn to Kenya to improve the lot of the poor. Unnervingly, she finds herself falling in love with the beguiling Calvin Piper despite, or perhaps because of, his misanthropic theories about population control and the future of the human race. Surely, Calvin whispers seductively in Eleanor's ear, if the poor are a responsibility they are also an imposition.

Set against the vivid backdrop of shambolic modern-day Africa—a continent now primarily populated with wildlife of the two-legged sort—Lionel Shriver's Game Control is a wry, grimly comic tale of bad ideas and good intentions. With a deft, droll touch, Shriver highlights the hypocrisy of lofty intellectuals who would "save" humanity but who don't like people.

" 'Not on the list,' the askari declared grandly." opening sentence

"Having assumed the leadership of USAID's Population Division six long, fatiguing years before, surely by now he might be spared the pawing deference the Director Emeritus still, confound the man, inspired in him. He reminded himself that much of his own work that five years had been repairing the damage Piper had done to the reputation of population assistance worldwide. pg. 2

"Along with the encrusted, sun-scorched backpackers who lay knackered on curbs, Eleanor wondered how the tourists could bear their own cliche', though there was surely some trite niche into which she herself fitted all too neatly. The well-meaning aid worker on a junket." pg. 5

"She could hardly remember being a shrew; not because she was gracious but because she was a coward. Eleanor vented her temper exclusively on objects - pens that wouldn't write, cars that wouldn't start, the telephone-cum-doorstops that littered any Third World posting. The more peaceable her relations with people, the more the inanimate teemed with malevolence." pg. 8

"Because the holocaust of the population explosion is a myth. That we are all dropping into a fetid cesspool is a myth. Life on earth, historically speaking, has done nothing but improve. And the profusion of our species is not a horror but a triumph....There is no crisis of 'carrying capacity' - since the Second World War, the species has only been better fed. Per capita calorie production continues to rise. Incidence of famine over the last few hundred years has plummeted. Arable land is on the increase. Pollution levels are declining. Resources are getting cheaper. The only over-population I uncovered was in organizations like the one I worked for, which were a scandal." pg. 52

"Sitting at an angle with her cigarette coiling from an extended arm, she spread a calf on her other knee as if posed perpetually for a shutter she had failed to hear click twenty years ago. Such miracles of taxidermy might have cautioned Eleanor to age with more grace, but she herself had never felt dazzling, and perhaps this was the compensation: that in later years, at least she would not delude herself she had retained powers she never thought she wielded in the first place." pg. 58

"In Dar es Salaam, I lived for two years without a mirror. It's queer, not seeing your own reflection. You become like anyone else you haven't met for a long time - you forget what you look like. Though there's something right about that. The all-looking-out. I've wondered if you were ever meant to look into your own eyes." pg. 67

Monday, April 13, 2009

Jesus Land

Jesus Land by Julia Scheeres was originally published in 2005. My paperback copy has 363 pages, including an interview with Scheeres. Julia Scheeres has a website that you can visit for more information. Jesus Land is about Julia growing up in her Calvinist Christian family in Indiana in the 70s and 80s, and about the relationship she had with her adopted African-American brother, David. They were the two youngest children in the family. The first part of the memoir discusses Julia and David's experiences in an abusive home, and the second part their stay at Escuela Caribe, a Christian reform school in the Dominican Republic. This is a painful, disturbing, engrossing, and deeply troubling memoir. I don't even know where to begin. I'm feeling heart broken and out of sorts after reading her memoir because the Christians Julia and David Scheeres encountered in their childhood weren't really Christians. For those of you who don't want to read some of my thoughts about Scheeres' book, let me tell you it is recommended, but with a caution that it is disturbing.

I'm about ten years older than the Scheeres, grew up in the Midwest (although not in Indiana), and I don't remember any of the blatant racism David experienced. However, part of my childhood was spent in cities, part in small towns. I remember African-American teachers in my schools and not giving it a second thought - they were Mr. or Mrs._____ and that's it. Since I hated moving to a small town, basically for my high school years, I understand the weirdness of a small town versus a city and the difficulty moving to a rural community. Small towns can be rather ingrown and inbreed. But, it would be a horrible mistake to label all Midwesterners who are Christians with the broad brush of "fanatic-Christian-racists". We aren't. Some are, but not all of us. While the Scheeres household was fanatic, it was also abusive with indifferent and violent parents. I really think even Scheeres herself (from reading her interview in my copy of Jesus Land) would encourage readers to not hate all Christians. I actually prefer the UK release title, Another Hour on Sunday Morning, because Jesus had nothing to do with what happened to Julia and David Sheeres.

On the other hand, perhaps many people don't realize that they carry with them some racist attitudes. A comment on a blog recently had me pondering this. It was meant to be a throwaway silly comment about kids playing "cowboys and Indians." But see, there's the rub... We have good, dear friends who are Native Americans and live on the Rez. The whole kids playing "cowboys and Indians" comment would never come into my mind, let alone out of my mouth or put into words on a blog. Do I think the blog writer is racist? I don't know. Did I find the comment hurtful? Well... yes.

Also, from my memories, I think David certainly could have reported the abuse and would have been taken seriously in many places in the Midwest at that time. I was a young adult in the late 70's and early 80's and reports of child abuse were consequential by that time. I can't speak with any certainty about Lafayette, Indiana, but any reported abuse would have been taken quite seriously in many other small towns and communities in the Midwest. Edited to add that now I'm wondering if this memoir is slightly exaggerated, and part of the perceived racism was dealing with bullies.

Synopsis from cover:
Julia Scheeres and her adopted brother, David, are sixteen years old. Julia is white. David is black. It's the mid-1980s and their family has just moved to rural Indiana, a landscape of cottonwood trees and trailer parks, and an all-encompassing racism. At home are a distant mother - more involved with her church's missionaries than with her own children - and a violent father. In this riveting memoir Julia Scheeres takes us from the Midwest to a place beyond our imagining: surrounded by natural beauty, the Escuela Caribe - a religious reform school in the Dominican Republic - is characterized by a disciplinary regime that extracts repentance from its students by any means necessary. Julia and David strive to make it through these ordeals and their tale is relayed here with startling immediacy, extreme candor, and wry humor.

"It's just after three o'clock when we hit County Road 50. The temperature has swelled past ninety and the sun scorches our backs as we swerve our bikes around pools of bubbling tar." opening

"So much for the famous 'Hoosier hospitality.' When we moved to our new house, no one stopped by with strawberry rhubarb pie or warm wishes. Our neighbors must have taken one look at David and Jerome and locked their doors - and minds - against us." pg. 8

"Neither of us uttered a word about what happened. We never do. But I can't smudge it from my mind. The farm boys' sneering red faces. The runt shaking the fence. The brown lump of spit tobacco. The anguish in David's eyes. They don't know the first thing about us; they just hate us because we're black." pg. 13

"Mother's got romantic notions about toiling the land - or mostly, about her children toiling the land. And with fifteen acres, there's always something that needs toiling with." pg. 23

"Seems we can never just be brother and sister like in other families. Our whole lives, people have felt an urge to make up special names for what we are. at Lafayette Christian, we were the 'Oreo twins' or 'Kimberly and Arnold' after the characters on Diff'rent Strokes. And while those nicknames bugged us, they were certainly preferable to what they call us at Harrison." pg. 55

"As we paint each other's nails Cinnamon Vixen, I consider telling her how bad things are at home. After she and Dan and Laura left for college, everything got worse. Mother's mood swings, Dad's violence, the name-calling at school." pg. 70

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Daughters of the North

Daughters of the North by Sarah Hall was originally published in 2007. My paperback copy has 207 pages. I wanted to read Daughters of the North because it was on the short list for the Booker and has received many good reviews. I can't say I enjoyed it as much as other reviewers. Daughters of the North is divided up into seven "files" rather than chapters. Basically, it is an interesting novel, but the conclusion was poorly handled, feels cut short, and left me feeling disgruntled. In the end, although it is a very intriguing story about a future dystopian society, I would recommend reading Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale as a better dystopian novel that handles some of the same societal issues. Recommended

Synopsis from cover:
In her stunning novel, Hall imagines a new dystopia set in the not-too-distant future. England is in a state of environmental crisis and economic collapse. There has been a census, and all citizens have been herded into urban centers. Reproduction has become a lottery, with contraceptive coils fitted to every female of childbearing age. A girl who will become known only as "Sister" escapes the confines of her repressive marriage to find an isolated group of women living as "un-officials" in Carhullan, a remote northern farm, where she must find out whether she has it in herself to become a rebel fighter. Provocative and timely, Daughters of the North poses questions about the lengths women will go to resist their oppressors, and under what circumstances might an ordinary person become a terrorist.

"My name is Sister.
This is the name that was given to me three years ago. It is what the others call me. It is what I call myself. Before that, my name was unimportant." opening

"For years I had not been out of Rith. No civilian had, unless they were being transported to a detention centre. The zones did not allow for transference. The original register bound people to their areas at the time of the collapse." pg.9

"Whatever you're doing, or think you are, you've got the wrong idea. I don't know. You better be careful of that lot, eh." pg. 17

"There were other choice words, no doubt, perched on his tongue, sitting behind his stubby decaying teeth, and I had heard them all before. Cult. Faction. Coven. I thought maybe he would spill his vitriol; reiterate all the worst rumors about Carhullan from the time before, when there was a media to be curious and to condemn the place." pg. 19

"back then he had seemed unafraid, undaunted by the gravity of approaching disaster, even when the market crashed, businesses began to go bust, and jobs were lost, even as the country began to stagger towards collapse." pg. 25

"The awful truth was upon us; things were breaking down, completely, irreparably; all the freedoms we had known were being revoked, and nothing could be done to stop it." pg. 26

Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Experiment

The Experiment by John Darnton was originally published in 1999. My hardcover copy has 422 pages. Darnton is a skilled writer, which I'm sure helped facilitate my enjoyment of The Experiment even though the main storyline held no real surprises. There were a few plot twists and more than enough character development to hold my attention. Darnton provided enough information interspersed with action to make this a highly recommended novel. I will be looking for more of Darnton's novels. Highly Recommended

Synopsis from cover
New York, at century's end; A mutilated body has been found, its face and fingerprints removed, a coin-sized circle carved into its upper thigh. On a remote island off the Southeast coast, a young man is running from a place he cannot survive, toward a world he cannot comprehend. And in the echoing canyons of Manhattan, another young man - a journalist - is moving closer to the truth about his own past, and to an encounter that will alter everything he has ever believed about himself.

For thirty years a colony with its own laws, values, and complex living systems has been growing. Covertly supplied with the latest technology and DNA materials, its leaders carefully monitor their human trials and conceal the inhabitants from the outside world. Now someone has escaped. When Jude finds him cowering in the shadows of his apartment hallway, he will understand why this ragged stranger who calls himself Skyler is so frightened.

They share the same face.

Now Jude and Skyler are running together - bound by a new, secret science - hunted by unknown pursuers as they search for the mystery of their birth. Aided by a doctor with her own dangerous secret, they flee across the country, drawing nearer to a conspiracy at the very heart of America's power structure...survivors of an experiment that has gone tragically, irreversibly wrong.

"Skyler and Julia crept to the basement door of the Big House and looked around to make sure they weren't being watched." opening sentence

""They had no plan, really, other than to break into the Records Room and search for clues to explain what had happened to Patrick." pg. 1

"The chest was gone. In it's place was a cavity, sliced open, neat as a gutted fish." pg. 4

" 'Patrick's not the first to die.... and he's not the first to be called in for a special physical. Why don't they ever discover something during the regular physical?'
'I don't know. Sometimes they do.'
'But not always. And that makes it seem like they know something's wrong beforehand - don't you see?' " pg. 5

"Jimminies, the children were called, though where the word came from or what it signified, they were never told. They were all about the same age, a year or two different, no more. So they were especially close.
Growing up in the Lab, they felt secure and content. Neither Skyler nor any of the others had ever really questioned not having parents, even though they knew that children on the mainland - 'the other side,' it was called - possessed them." pg. 6

" 'He stuck a knife in at an angle and spun it in a circle, like extracting an oyster.'
Jude wished he would dispense with the culinary metaphors.
'Maybe there was a birthmark there, or a scar, or some identifying feature.' " pg. 39

Wednesday, April 8, 2009


After we experienced the real thing, our favorite childhood sandbox game became Flood! Usually this game was played with my older brother, El Dictator or ED, but sometimes my sister, the High Powered Executive or Hipee, joined the fun. Our parents disliked Flood! and often banned it for limited periods of time, but we still managed to sneak in a game or promised we would just have a limited Flood! rather than a Total Apocalyptic Deluge. See the problem our parents had with Flood! was not so much that we were playing it as much as the fact that the sandbox was right next to the house and if we got carried away water would run into the basement.

Flood! was a rather time consuming game. First we had to build a landscape with dams, canyons, mountains, roads, and a city out of sand. This could take hours. We populated our city with Matchbox cars. Once we had the entire sandbox fashioned into some heavily populated area, we turned on the water and slowly introduced the means of their devastation, the hose. ED, naturally, was in charge of the hose. I got to make up a story to go with the natural disaster and help various groups to escape in their Matchbox cars. Not everyone made it out alive.

After the water destroyed everything we faced our time of reckoning. We could stop, and thus complete a limited game of Flood! which would be pleasing to our parents and ensure that we could play a future game of Flood! much sooner. Or we could take the road of perdition and make Flood! into the huge natural disaster that we wanted it to be. This required running the water until the whole sandbox was flooded and water was running out into the yard. Matchbox car would be floating away or buried in the sand. Our mother would notice the water had been running for an awfully long time and she’d start yelling at us to, “turn off the water” and asking, “did we want to flood the basement?” and mentioning that we should, “just wait until your father got home.” Choices….choices….

It is with great trepidation that I admit we usually chose wrong. I blame ED.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009


Reaper by Ben Mezrich was originally published in 1998. My hardcover copy has 342 pages. The premise, that a biological virus is about to be spread through TVs or computers has been tackled before - and with better results. Although there were a few exciting moments, all in all the characters were under developed and the plot implausible and full of holes. If this premise had been tackled by a better writer and the plot and characters fully developed and details researched, it would have been much better.
A so-so book - don't bother.

Synopsis from the cover:
In Boston, nine lawyers on a conference call suddenly convulse with pain, turn chalk white, and die. In Vermont, a young woman watching her favorite sitcom meets the same grisly fate, as does a group of sewer workers in Washington, D.C. Whatever has killed these people is spreading fast, and the task of eradicating it falls to young virologist Samantha Craig and paramedic Nick Barnes, whose brilliant surgical career was ruined by a crippling hand injury.

When Nick and Samantha discover that the virus, named Reaper, is spread through TVs and PCs, they realize that the information superhighway will become a killing field, with tens of millions dead, unless they can root Reaper out. Their search employs a dazzling array of real-life wizardry, from Mylar body paint to Stealth helicopters to CIA-bred swarms of insects. At the core of Reaper's madness, they find a suavely megalomaniacal, up-from-the-slums, high-tech billionaire; an icily ingenious hacker; and a high-powered cabal that will do anything to save the world from technology, even if that means annihilating the world.

"Mitch shifted his eyes back toward the television screen. The blue light started flickering; and moment Client 297 would appear. The anticipation was intense, and Mitch noticed that his heart was really racing. He took a deep breath, trying to calm himself - and felt a sudden, tearing pain under his rib cage." pg. 3

"Pulse jockeys. That was what they called themselves: the hard-core paramedics, the EMTs, the emergency specialists who lived for the adrenaline, the vein-popping surge they got when the pavement was flashing by and the sirens were screaming in their ears." pg. 14

"He moved his gaze from chair to chair, corpse to corpse. They were all the same. Ivory-white skin. Bulging eyes. Contorted spines. Jaw-clenched grimaces." pg. 24

"As you know, if we are talking about a virus, there could be a dormant form, mutations - with viruses, anything could happen. But there is no evidence that this is viral. It could have been some sort of chemical contamination, or perhaps bacteriological." pg. 32

Monday, April 6, 2009

Killer Tricycle

That was the name of the game. We called it a game, but it was really a death match played with my older brother, El Dictator, and my younger sister, High Powered Executive. (Let’s shorten that to ED and Hipee.) This was during our bottle collecting days. Let me try to explain how Killer Tricycle was played.

Killer tricycle requires a closed arena atmosphere. If an arena is not available, you can use a large basement area with either cement or hard surface floors. You need, naturally, a tricycle, along with boxes or various kinds of obstacles that contestants/runners can jump up on for a safe area in the arena. We were lucky in this regard, as our family tended to move frequently with our dad’s job, so we had plenty of filled boxes stored down in a large unfinished basement area that we could use. The boxes are set up as islands, so to speak, all over the room. Between the boxes there is enough room for the tricycle to easily maneuver and for the runners to run away from the tricycle.

Once the course is made, the game is simple: run and jump out of the way of the tricycle, powered by ED, or die. ED was always the killer tricycle driver. I think he really wanted to eliminate us, but societal rules and the fear of parental retribution stayed his hand. However, if he could take his aggression combined with disgust at having younger sisters and channel it into a game, then it was more acceptable. This necessitated the birth of Killer Tricycle and it was played with abandon… frequently.

Now ED was always a big boy, and I mean big as in tall, not fat, and he was strong. If this brings to mind the picture of a tall kid trying to pedal a little tricycle, think again. ED used the tricycle simply as a scooter. He had one leg on the tricycle and one leg for power. ED could make that baby fly, from 3 wheels to two on corners, as he zoomed around the boxes trying to chase down, run over, and maim Hipee and me. Our part in Killer Tricycle was to run away from him and jump up on the boxes to get out of his way. And we had to be able to move. If we couldn’t run and jump out of his way, he would crash into us. Frequently he crashed into the boxes we jumped up on to escape him.

I don’t remember ever being hit by ED and the tricycle. I vaguely remember some crying and tears from Hipee on at least one occasion. Hipee could yell. (She had some lungs on her. Still does.) I do wonder now why we were allowed to play this game. I have a feeling that our parents didn’t really know exactly what Killer Tricycle entailed. We probably said that we just ran around in the maze of boxes and jumped on them to stay away from ED on the tricycle. All true, but it doesn’t quite describe the reality of the frantic game called Killer Tricycle.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Praise the Human Season

Praise the Human Season by Don Robertson was originally published in 1974 by Arthur Fields Books. My hardcover copy has 495 pages. Praise the Human Season is no longer in print and because of this the world is missing a truly great novel. Hopefully interested readers will be able to find a copy in their libraries (assuming that the library copies have been checked out enough that they have kept them). Robertson is the author of The Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread. The good news is that some of Robertson's books are being reprinted or due out this summer. I will be able to continue the adventures of Morris Bird III in The Sum and Total of Now, due out Aug. 4, 2009, and The Greatest Thing That Almost Happened, due out Sept. 1, 2009.

Praise the Human Season is a love story of a life time between Howard and Anne Amberson. Knowing that they are both nearing the end of their lives, Howard Amberson decides they need to take a road trip with no destination in mind. At the same time Howard is secretly writing down his memories and recording past incidents in their lives. Not only is this a touching, heart breaking novel, it is also very humorous. The story of their adventure is interspersed with Howard's written memories from the past.
Very Highly Recommended- one of the best

Synopsis from the cover:
If ever there was a human book, this is it. A shining tribute to the human spirit, this is the delightful story of Howard and Anne Amberson, who in their seventies decide to take off, footloose and fancy-free on an aimless auto trip to find "the meaning of the apparatus."

Off they go on a rollicking, heart tugging, inevitably overwhelming voyage of self discovery. By day the Ambersons drive through the fall Ohio countryside. At night, when Anne is asleep, Howard, a retired English teacher and track coach, secretly scribbles in a ledger, re-creating in his precise hand past lives, past loves, a vast panorama of departed family and friends, After all, the Ambersons have lived a total of 146 years and the names on tombstones reel endlessly through their travels. But far from being lugubrious, Don Robertson's novel is an exultant celebration of the joys of life, the quirkiness of married love. It is a very funny novel.

As Howard peers nearsightedly over the wheel, he and Anne reminisce about their long life together and bravely discuss their fear of death, until Howard concludes that next to their love for each other, what does the apparatus matter?Don Robertson has written an transcendent love story of two people in the autumn of their lives, a hymn of praise to the human season.

"In the spring of 1971, when it became apparent to Howard W. Amberson that neither he nor his wife had much time remaining, he walked to Woolworth's and purchased a large ledger, bound in red and gray. He also purchased a dozen of those throwaway Japanese felt pens. He returned home, seated himself at the kitchen table and began to write....Amberson worked on the ledger in secret, usually late at night after his wife had fallen asleep." opening sentences

"The ledger... or journal... became obsessive with Amberson. It gave him enormous pain, but he kept at it. By the autumn of 1971, he had written several hundred pages, and his obsession led to another obsession that was even less reasonable. He decided it was imperative that he take his wife on a motor trip. He was seventyfour, and his wife (her name was Anne) was seventytwo, and she carried a large scar where her right breast should have been." pg. 4

"Amberson managed a sort of smile. 'I have been working at the idea for some months now,' he said. 'There is an apparatus we do not understand, and Anne and I have the right to investigate it. We are not stupid, and perhaps we shall discover something.'
'Howard, you are talking absolute crap.'
'I am talking nothing of the sort. I have given it all a great deal of thought.'
'You'll take her away from her home when she is dying, when you are dying?' " pg. 6

" A movie camera will enable me to photograph changing leaves," said Amberson. "And relics in museums. And sunsets. And Indians weaving rugs. And then I'll splice all the film together and give illustrated lectures in church basements. I'll call them 'Footloose with the Ambersons.' " pg. 7

"There was rancor in our family (there is rancor in all families, even the happy ones, and never mind what Tolstoy says), but most of the time it was successfully suppressed. We believed that existence was hard enough, which meant we believed that it was foolish to bring troublous things into the open." pg. 10

"We weren't lazy, were we? We worked hard. We had energy. Why then does it come down now to all this silence? How can a person live most of his life one way, with the energy and all, and then end it another way, with all the pooping around, with all the groaning and all the complaining and all the scars and all the pain? Where's the mercy in it? How come it isn't neat? Sometimes I can taste the silence. It is like dust. I kiss the old pictures, and then I close my eyes, and then I see the boys, and I...well, I...just..." pg. 41

"See it this way, Amberson: Acknowledge yourself to be an honest man but at the same time moderate and thoughtful and not afraid of sentiment, not afraid to embrace it here near the end of your life as your days leak away." pg. 69

" 'I won't ever see this place again, will I?'
They were standing in the front hall, and Amberson had been about to open the door. He turned and said: 'That's not so. We're just going on a little trip.
'I knew that was what you would say.' " pg. 74