I wrote down everything I read and began writing my own first novel...

This blog aimed to contrast what I was reading in in 1975-79 with the same month, week and day, 30 years later in 2005-2009. I'm leaving the blog up in archive mode, blogging in real time on Live Journal--and still writing novels.

Lynne Murray's Live Journal and Bride of the Dead Blog

Saturday, December 31, 2005

Dark books to read indoors in a warm room, with a new year in view

December 26 to 31, 1975

Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders (Paperback) Vincent Bugliosi, Curt Gentry
I didn't have the co-author, Gentry, listed when I first read the book. I found it riveting, but unlike some readers nothing about it frightened me. Separating the "hippie ideas" from the violence was pretty easy. Manson was (and is) a con man who dressed his mind control in the context of love, peace and presented himself as a kind of god or devil in a way that pushed a lot of people's buttons. The idea that a mind-controlling Manson could reach out through his sad followers and destroy people. Tragic, but not particularly new.

The Friends of Eddie Coyle, George V. Higgins
The hard-boiledest.

December 26 to 31, 2005

This Stephen King book was suggested by Landyn Parker in his blog
Now I'll have to see if the suggestion for unclogging drains works (the sisal for cat scratch posts I already knew).

On Writing, A Memoir of the Craft, Stephen King

I've read a lot of Stephen King books. He's good enough, and close enough to the bone with his writing, that I regret having read some of his books because they stuck with me in a nightmare way that I don't need.

I got upset when one of our cats died from a dog attack during the time I was I was reading Pet Sematary. My husband, Charlie, asked what the book was about, and I told him.

If you're not a King reader I'll just explain that the book is about standing on the edge of death when the one you love is on the other side—would you, could you bring them back? If you did, what would be the price? And would you do it anyway?

My husband said, "Just promise me you won't read any books called Husband Cemetery."

Charlie lived another seven years and my reading Stephen King had no known correlation with his lifespan. But I am now cautious before I read a scary book, I check to see whether they mesh badly with my own anxieties because I know the fear can stay with me even after a satisfactorily cathartic ending.

But I digress—this seems to be the night for it, sorry! On the subject of writers, storytellers and what makes such critters tick, Stephen King is always spot on.

On Writing is partly autobiography, including the devastating 1999 accident when King was hit by a van while walking down the road.

In even greater part, this is a practical manual for writers. King has such useful insights that I think, in future, when people ask about plotting, I'll direct them to this book. I love his insight of story as a fossil to be excavated. I also took the point from his description of his muse--wings, cigar, basement apartment with bowling trophies—gotta love that. He suggested that one's own muse (bowling trophies optional) will find it a lot easier to throw some magic on a writer who makes and keeps appointments with regularity.

Wishing you and yours a Happy New Year all!

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Ghosts of passions past & an entirely different sort of magic

This time of year 30 years ago I was enjoying an orgy of John D. MacDonald's Travis Magee books. I made a list in my orange notebook so I could read them all--even bought one when it first came out in hardcover—which was a tremendous (and expensive) declaration of love on my part.

That passion ran its course. Now it's like remembering someone you dated in your teens. The details have only faded a little but, as Joni Mitchell puts it, "I can't go back there anymore." I loved MacDonald then and studied him closely, despairing of ever being able to tell a tale so smoothly. But I can't read him now. I picked up Cape Fear a few years back and I wanted to smack the hero for the smug arrogance with which he treated his wife, and the adoring way she sucked up to him.… (Which probably echoes some of my teenage romances as well—eek! Not to mention ick!)

Heck, it's Christmas, I won't start. I've moved on and so has John D. MacDonald, who passed away. I'm still pretty fond of Leonard Nimoy and George Plimpton's Paris Review, but those were less intense passions. It's always interesting (if a little scary) to me what books seem dated and which ones don't.

December 15 to December 25, 1975

Intimate Behavior, Desmond Morris
I Am Not Spock, Leonard Nimoy
I just looked this up to see if it was still available, and found that Nimoy has now written a retrospective entitle I Am Spock. I'll have to check that one out.

The Dreadful Lemon Sky, John D. MacDonald
The Long Lavender Look, John D. MacDonald
A Deadly Shade of Gold, John D. MacDonald

Writers At Work, (Paris Review 2nd Series), George Plimpton (Ed.)
I loved how they had a page of annotated typescript from each author before the interview. Ah, the glamour of it all.

A Tan and Sandy Silence, John D. MacDonald

December 14 to 25, 2005

After a pre-Christmas visit from my fast-moving younger brother, and with the constant tranquil presence of the cats for an anchor, I celebrated the holidays with books on monsters.

Monsters, An Investigator's Guide to Magical Beings, John Michael Greer

This book was a happy surprise. It's amazingly clear on subjects that I could never quite grasp before. They're pretty ephemeral subjects, but Greer has some plausible theories that take into account history, current reportage, and how the scientific worldview shut out things that can't be measured and put under microscopes.

[A]n experience can be extremely common, and can affect many human lives, even though it has no place in our modern culture's view of reality, is ignored by education and the media, and does not even have a name. Monsters, p. 22

One reader on Amazon points out that the cover (black with creepy yellow monster eyes) seems too sensationalistic. But I think if it draws in a wider readership, it will have done what a book cover is supposed to do.

A Field Guide to Demons, Fairies, Fallen Angels, and Other Subversive Spirits, Carol K. Mack and Dinah Mack

This cover made the Monsters cover look positively conservative, by the way. A black woodcut style critter with lots of teeth, horns, staring eyes on a solid red background.

This book is more of a "dip into" reference rather than a "read straight through book." Partly because it is organized by geography, unlike the Monsters book above which groups these phenomena by behavior and the author's theory of structure.

Each entry explains the critter and the area where the stories of it arose, describes the Lore around it, and provides Disarming and Dispelling Techniques. There's more of a tongue-in-cheek attitude here—unlike the Monsters book where Greer gives serious instructions for would-be monster-hunters, including stakeout and bird-watching style warnings about what gear to bring and admonitions not to trespass and to exercise caution and ordinary common sense.

The Field Guide's takes the comparative mythology approach, but the capsule stories and illustrations are interesting. The quotes are great. Ralph Waldo Emerson--who knew?

…I think the numberless forms in which this superstition has reappeared in every time and in every people indicates the inextinguishableness of wonder in man; betrays his conviction that behind all your explanations is a vast and potent living Nature, inexhaustible and sublime, which you cannot explain. Essay on Demonology," 1875 Ralph Waldo Emerson

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Lost books, lost highwys

December 5 to 14, 1975

Admissions, Barbera
I have a vague recollection that this might have been a "doctor memoir" book, but it must be beyond out of print or I wrote the title wrong…

Anti-Social Register, William Hamilton
Possibly cartoons?

Lucy: The Bittersweet Life of Lucille Ball, Joe Morella
(I also have E.Z. Epstein as co-author, though amazon.com doesn't show that—the book has been out of print for awhile.) Good book though.

Ancient, My Enemy, Gordon R. Dickson
My note was "philosophical and anthropocentric"

You and I, Leonard Nimoy
Will I think of you, Leonard Nimoy
6XH, Robert Heinlein
Orbit 17, Damon Knight (ed)

December 5 to 14, 2005

White Teeth, Zadie Smith
A friend pointed out how impressed she was that Zadie Smith could have such a complex vision of life in her early 20s. I agree, and found White Teeth compelling, even though I often tend not to persevere with books that jump forward 5 or 20 years. I think it's because I get attached to the characters and resent having to start all over again with their offspring, whom I may or may not like! But Smith makes it work.

Murder At Morses Pond (Paperback)
by Linda Rosencrance
A true crime book, readable but a bit of a slog as the crime is described over and over. This is a "we're sure the husband did it, but will he get away with it?" type story, and it could have done with more revelations along the way. One commenter online mentioned that this was a court TV case. Maybe there were no more revelations.

Lost America: The Abandoned Roadside West, Troy Paiva (foreword Stan Ridgway)
I started with Paiva's web site at www.lostamerica.com where you can see his photographs taken at night of abandoned places. Drive-in movies, the decaying resort around the Salton Sea, ghosts of former military bases—photographed to bring out an eerie beauty. I immediately wanted the book as a gift for my road warrior, younger brother. Fortunately I could get a signed copy from the author. The stories Paiva writes of his adventures taking the pictures are as colorful and wild as the photos themselves

Route 66: The Highway and Its People,Susan Croce Kelly (Text), Quinta Scott (Photographer)
The Piava book sent me back to re-read this photo essay and history. I had originally bought it because I used some Route 66 locations in Large Target. But the book was a keeper. It's fascinating how that Chicago to Los Angeles highway was developed in the 1920s and '30s--the road the Joad family took out of the Dust Bowl in The Grapes of Wrath. It boomed and played a major part in our national history through the '70s until it was finally officially replaced by five interstates by 1985. My father and brother drove on it from Los Angeles to Chicago in the 1970s and even then it took some doing to find it in places.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Fear of a Minimum Wage Planet

Whew! Finally finished those essays, which now can be found on my website. Funny how they seemed much longer when I was printing them out and editing them. I immediately jumped back into reading, but I'll never be able to keep up with my 27-year-old self.

November 25 to December 4, 1975

The Occult: A History, Colin Wilson
Healing: A Doctor in Search of a Miracle, William A. Nolan, MD
An Unsuitable Job for a Woman, P.D. James
Adventures in Consciousness, Jane Roberts
Orbit 10, Damon Knight, Ed
Inheritors of Earth, Gordon Eklund & Poul Anderson
Shakespeare, a Biography, Peter Quennell (gave up at last, very simplistically done)
The Lively Dead, Peter Dickinson

November 25 to December 4, 2005

Nickel and Dimed, Barbara Ehrenreich
Ehrenreich goes "undercover" looking for entry level jobs and trying to live on the wages. This book was much scarier than the ghost book noted below. Scary because it's so real.

I worked that sort of minimum wage jobs Ehrenreich described throughout college (and that was an unusual number of undergraduate years)! But rents were cheaper then. I'm not so sure I could physically do what she did as a 50-something, stepping into housekeeping, waitressing and shelf stocking at Wal-mart. On the other hand, the life she describes returning to looks equally unimaginable to me.

The turning point for me out of minimum wage jobs was not finally finishing a college degree. It was learning word processing machines in 1974 (the noble IBM Magnetic Card Selectric Typewriter—may it rest in peace) that made a difference. That primitive proto-computer was difficult enough for many to masterk that know it allowed me to make a living and work unconventional hours so as to support a writing habit. One of my friends recently summed up my life in one sentence. "I get that you don't work well within the system." Some variation of that should go on my tombstone….except…

If, as a Buddhist, I would want a tombstone... Finishing those essays has brought out my inner Gracie Allen.

Ghost Walk, Heather Graham
Romantic suspense a la Phyllis Whitney, not quite Barbara Michaels. It was the ghost in the title, couldn't resist it. Set in New Orleans in pre-hurricane Katrina 2005, which gave it an unexpected patina of sadness.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Boldly going where most people had already gone

At this point in 1975, I believe I had just purchased a television set. My first. If I'd had one during the (many) years I was in college, I'd probably still be in college. So I was able to watch all the Star Trek re-runs for the first time. The books I checked out of the library reflects that. Well, except for the Jayne Mansfield bio, but I believe I already confessed to my celebrity bio weakness!

November 13 to 24, 1975

Jayne Mansfield and the American 50s, Martha Saxon

Bracknell's Law, E. W. Hildick (noted that this was a murder mystery)

The Trouble with Tribbles, David Gerrold

The World of Star Trek, David Gerrold

The Making of Star Trek, Stephen E. S Whitfield, Gene Roddenberry

November 13 to 24, 2005

Yikes! Still doing editing and scrambling away at web page essays. Reading the backs of cereal and soy milk cartons. I may be enjoying the essay writing about as much as I enjoyed the Star Trek reading 30 years ago. Hard to tell!

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Nutrition--physical and mental

November 4-12, 1975

Nutrition and Your Mind, George Watson

I found a neat quote from him online in a site discussing nutrition and alcohol abuse


I don't remember reading Nutrition and Your Mind, but alcohol was certainly relevant to my life in 1975--it was a major part of my rather questionable coping strategy.

Those were the days when my only cookbooks were the Adele (not Angela!) Davis's nutritional cookbook given to me by my health-food-freak grandmother, and whatever diet book I was trying to follow at the time. As I look him up on the net, some of Watson's ideas about nutrition and psychological functioning resonate. Other people have taken his ideas in a number of different directions since. Some of them have made a lot of money morphing them into diet books. I don't remember if I experimented with his ideas back then—probably.

The Doonesbury Chronicles, GB Trudeau

Fun, and mentally nutritious! Still going strong after 35 years, and now it's online—god, I love the internet!


November 4-12, 2005

The past week or so I've been editing business stuff for pay and starting to write the essays I keep threatening to put on my web site, so I didn't read any books during this period. I'm sure full-scale fiction withdrawal pains will strike at any moment.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

A little touch of Falstaff in the night & Fat Chicks Ruling

Thirty years ago I was having a great time reading plays and thrillers--this past week…ehhh, about fifty-fifty fun to irritation. I think it's cumulative. I concluded reading a whole banquet of books with Fat in the title, preparatory to writing a sort of round up review and "state of the F word." Even avoiding the obviously negative books, it was a mixed mood experience, as you'll see below.

October 27-November 4 1975

The Odd Couple, Neil Simon
The Subject Was Roses, Gilroy
Marathon Man, William Goldman
Black Sunday, Thomas Harris

October 27-November 4 2005

Fat Boys, A Slim Book, Sander Gilman

Is the title offensive? I asked a fat male friend and got no reply—so I guess that would be a "Yes." It's offensive, and on purpose. When a woman refers to herself as a "fat girl" or a Fat Chick" it can seem like taking control because pairing a frivolous word like Girl or Chick with the much-demonized "Fat" puts an aggressively flirtatious spin on it.

The word "boy" has a different history. First of all, Gilman is referring to others, not himself. This is not the "fat boy's guide to life." For all we know, Gilman is quite thin. As is frequently the case in academic works, he does not discuss himself at all. But he admits that "Fat Man" has a totally different resonance than "Fat Boy." To call a grown male a boy indicates a put-down.

On the one hand, Gilman wants to explore the most derogatory description possible. Yet he includes a wierd little explanation of why it might be okay, simply because fat males often refer to each other this way.

The phrase "fat boy" will serve as shorthand in this study for the obese male. Elmer Wheeler pointed out that his rather obtuse (and rotund) publisher initially objected to his title: "I straightened out the publisher. Fat boys, I told him, have a habit of calling to each other, 'Hey, fat boy!'" [Elmer Wheeler is or was, the author of The Fat Boys Diet Book in the 1940s]
Fat Boys, A Slim Book, p. 8

This anecdote "straightens out" nothing. Aside from the questionable wisdom of insulting one's publisher, the fact that men hurl insults at each other when they are bonding is well known (some women do this as well). However, men also hurl insults just before they violently attack each other, as in the expression "fighting words." I see no evidence of brotherly affection in the text of Gilman's book, or in old Elmer Wheeler's "explanation." We never hear from Wheeler again in Sander's text. Possibly his miffed publisher made sure the book never left the warehouse.

Gilman's reason for compiling centuries of the most derogatory statements about fat men (and women as well) is that these attitudes have persisted throughout history. Slavery, mass murder and child abuse have also persisted throughout history but that doesn't mean we should accept them as folk wisdom. The book is on the scholarly side, with almost as many pages devoted to footnotes as to text. I can't call it a Recovering Dissertation because evidently the author has published a few other scholarly type books earlier.

Perhaps if someone had paid me to read the entire book.... But no one did, so I didn't. Short as it was, I could only bear to skim most of it. For ordinary folks, I'd recommend keeping a fast acting, anti-depressant handy while reading it. (Is there such a thing? Never mind.)

As a fiction writer, what particularly offended me was Gilman's take on Falstaff. I've used the Falstaff archetype in my own fiction (don't ask where, but if you want to be notified when it sees print, I'll email you—it may be a few years!) My own creative experience with Falstaff, the Fat Rogue, was an amazing one. When I invoked him from the place where fictional characters live (in this case, Room #23 of the Boar's Head Tavern, in the Shakespeare Quarter of the Collective Unconscious), Falstaff was alive, exuberant, and energized. As a con man and bad boy, he radiated naughty energy and and he was ready to meet my characters and run with them. He had some ideas of where he wanted to go for starters. First stop the Big and Tall Store for clothes, next stop a tavern with ale and pork roast, etc.

I felt that Gilman's dissection of the meaning of Falstaff (diseased, aged, emasculated) combined an autopsy report and a social worker's report. All data and no juice. I strenuously disagree that Falstaff engendered contempt in audiences. Queen Elizabeth the First did not request a play be written "with Falstaff in love" because he was a diseased, impotent, old codger. She didn't think there was too much of him—she wanted more!

I really wanted to like Fat Boys, A Slim Book because there aren't that many books exploring maleness and fatness. If someone knows of any that really do, please tell me!

Fat Chicks Rule! Lara Frater

After Fat Boys, I was relieved to turn to this, a witty book with no pretensions and a totally positive and accessible tone.

In the interests of full disclosure, I should say that under Fat Chick Lit, Frater lists my Josephine Fuller mystery series, for which I am duly grateful.

The edge to Frater's book comes from her description of her own experience growing up fat.

When you begin to look into size acceptance you encounter so many "fat stories" and so much suffering. It reminds me of the phrase "Speak Bitterness." The women's movement of the 1970s borrowed this phrase from 1940s China, where women who had been literally enslaved, were liberated and encouraged to talk about their experiences being sold as concubines, battered and oppressed in ways unthinkable to us.

Sometimes it is very healing to speak the bitterness—to be allowed to say what happened, and to know that people will listen. I'm not going to go into this at great length here, but I gotta say reading a few dozen "fat stories" can depress the hell out of you for awhile. The ill-treatment doesn't extend to slavery, but there's no question that people with low self-esteem can be easily exploited.

Frater's Introduction devotes three pages to her own story as a fat person--which was the perfect amount for this kind of book. She discussed how she has coped, and while admittedly a work in progress, she is ready to offer up resources to help others. She says--

I want to help end the cycle of destruction that dieting and lack of self-esteem leads to, and help my fellow fat chicks accept two important things:

You are beautiful even if you don't measure up to the Hollywood standard of beauty.

There is no perfect number, perfect weight, perfect size or perfect body, except what you think is perfect for you.
Fat Chicks Rule! p. 13

Frater offers a wide range of strategies for fat chicks getting ready to rule. Some chapters include, Roll Models: Famous Fat Chicks, Entertainment, Seating Issues, Witty Comebacks, Fat and Fit are Just Fine, Tips on Looking Hot, Romance, Sex - including positions! The explanation of how "the same thing that makes us fat helps us to enjoy sex." was worth the price of admission.

I liked the crystal clear, totally positive tone of Fat Chicks Rule! I would definitely give it to a young woman struggling with body image issues, but I hope it finds its way into the hands of many, many women of all ages.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Our Obsessions, Ourselves

October 16-25, 1975

Busman's Honeymoon, Dorothy L. Sayers
(Read once more with pleasure)

Constant Reader, Dorothy Parker, New Yorker pieces 1927-33)

Mademoiselle Chanel, Pierre Galante: translated by Eileen Geist & Jessie Wood
Skimmed, I vaguely remember good photographs

Extreme Remedies, John Hejinian

Dolphins, Jacques Cousteau & Phillippe Diate

Homeward and Beyond, Poul Anderson

Lovecraft, Sprague de Campe

The Tomb and Other Tales of Horror, H.P. Lovecraft

Oct 16-25, 2005

I'm Not the New Me, a Memoir, Wendy McClure

A Fat Girl's Guide to Life, Wendy Shanker

Before I picked theses books up, I had Wendy McClure and Wendy Shanker mixed up. Well, actually I thought they were the same person, and at first I was confused that Shanker's website http://www.wendyshanker.com/
didn't have McClure's hilarious satire on Weight Watchers cards, which you can read at http://www.candyboots.com/ .

I gotta tell ya--reading the books together cleared that up in a hurry!

Wendy McClure writes for Television without Pity. She seems to be about 30.

Wendy Shanker has done stand up comedy on television as well as articles for many women's magazines. She seems perhaps in her mid-30s. Five years can make a difference in that decade of life! In my own defense against ditziness for getting the two confused, I'll say that the two books came out at the same time and were often reviewed together.

I'm Not the New Me, a Memoir, Wendy McClure

I started with this book because I had found her satire on the 1970s Weight Watchers cards so funny. Indeed at the end of the book, in the acknowledgements, she states: "Thank you, Weight Watchers, International, for influencing me in a way that certainly neither of us ever expected. And for not, you know, suing me." I am Not the New Me, p. 308.

Why should they sue her? Her book is a WW marketer's wet dream. (Hereafter I'm going to refer to it as "WW" because I don't care to waste keystrokes on them.)

Oh, McClure makes fun of 1970s WW recipe cards, but I'm not surprised that a publisher pounced on this one like a cat on a hot tinned mackerel.

Let's review" She's 30ish, writes for a popular-with-plugged-in-youth website, she's got her own "dieting progress" website with all kind of quirky, funny scenes from the life, and she's essentially endorsing female bonding through a venerable diet organization with a major marketing budget and a vested interest in attracting younger consumers…. Hmmm…. That's the kind of math publishers like to do.

McClure's charm notwithstanding, I had to stop reading for awhile. I felt a mixture of anger, sadness and queasiness. The writing may be appealing or amusing but the actual effect is saddening.

It's one thing when McClure free-associates over the lame, puke-in-Technicolor '70s recipe cards. I laughed. You can read it free at the candyboots.com site referenced above.

But when I realized that I had paid money for a book that was essentially a love affair with a national diet plan, I had to put the book down. I got nauseous for real.

Fortunately, I picked up--

Review of A Fat Girl’s Guide to Life by Wendy Shanker

Shanker's journalistic background and in-your-face feminist attitude cleared out some cobwebs immediately.

Plenty of research suggests that obesity—at least as it's classically defined—is not nearly the death sentence that most media outlets and weight-loss companies would have you believe. Half of have the battle is won when you start reading between the lines. You have to look for alternative opinions because they don't get a lot of publicity. NO ONE MAKES MONEY FROM TELLING YOU YOU'RE FINE THE WAY YOU ARE. The Fat Girl's Guide to Life, p. 113 [full caps from LM.]

Okay just one more quote, the nausea receding…feeling better now:


Shanker gets a bit bossy in her prescriptions for a healthy life as a "Fat Girl" (as opposed to a cringing lower case "fat girl"). But there are so many people trying to tell us what to do and eat and think, it's refreshing to find a bossy young woman telling us, "Think for yourself, goddamn it."

Eventually I did go back and finish I Am Not the New Me. McClure is a skillful and sensitive writer. I suppose what haunted me the most—possibly because I'm around the same age as McClure's mother—is the way that both mother and daughter justify the mother's TWO stomach stapling operations, and then blame the mother for regaining all the weight after each. McClure states:

My mom was getting fat again. The surgeries could only do so much; unlike the kinds of gastric surgeries that came later, there was no intestinal bypass….and it was possible to stretch the stomach over time. I Am Not the New Me, p. 144.

First of all this is classical blaming the victim. Second, gastric surgeons change techniques often—essentially experimenting on their paying clients. This also allows them to say, "Oh, those old operations were flawed." There is no proof whatsoever that the current crop of operations will have any different regain rates than the old. Weight loss surgery of any kind is essentially creates surgically enforced bulimia and anorexia--when they talk among themselves, bariatric surgeons admit as much. The effect is the same with both older and newer operations, and it does not make a naturally thin person out of a fat person.

McClure's mother sounds like a very gentle, long-suffering person, and I hated so much to see her blamed for regaining weight, or for eating ice cream because it was all she could keep down without vomiting. McClure asks her mother (who is a therapist) if she felt okay about having two gastric surgeries and then regaining all the weight each time. Her mother essentially tells her--

...she says she wished she hadn't, of course. She says it was goodjust to do it. There was a time she'd convinced herself that she was just too far gone, and the fact that her body had this potential to change, that despite everything it could follow the logic of science, that therefore she was still a part of the world, part of everything. I'm Not the New Me, p. 297


McClure certainly took risks, first in web journaling openly on the internet about intensely personal life, and now in exposing the same things in book form. Her honesty is engaging, but the way that she clings to weighing herself as a barometer of self-worth drives me totally up the wall.

Mainly I felt like handing McClure a copy of A Fat Girl's Guide to Life.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

As the Feng Shui-s

The "Re" line doesn't seem to have much to do with the books I read--or maybe it does.

I liked the way it sounded saying it out loud. [Ya know,"As the feng shways----never mind.]Written down—not so much!

Come to think of it, maybe it does have something to do with the books I read this past week. Both of which were by women who garner laughter when they read their pieces out loud, and who couldn't get a laugh out of me reading their books. I wanted to laugh...but no. As for what I was reading in 1975--mostly more serious, but not all!

October 10-18, 1975

The First Circle, Alexander Solzhenitsyn (hardly begun--never finished)

This may have been the point at which I realized I'm never in this life going to finish any of those long Solzhenitzyn books. I did read One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, but that was short.

Behind the Mask, Louisa May Alcott
American Gothic, Robert Bloch

Oct 10-18, 2005

Fat Girls and Lawn Chairs, Cheryl Peck

I admire Cheryl Peck's positive view about her own body and lifestyle enough that I feel bad about not laughing at anything in this book. Many readers found it hilarious. I also understand the author reads the pieces in various gatherings to appreciative audiences. I am always mystified when people laugh at things I read out loud--there definitely is a "presence factor" that can work in favor of a reader. Maybe Peck's personal magnetism when reading would lend these pieces something that I did not find on the plain black-and-white pages.

I wanted to enjoy this book because the author is a large, in-charge, middle-aged lesbian from Michigan. Those are all things I want to like. I applaud the attitude and I did enjoy some of the pieces, like her touching reminiscence of how her grandmother made all their dresses when she and her sisters were growing up. But I grew distinctly irritated at her sisters, whom she identified with nicknames like Wee One, UnWee—I can't go on. The nicknames in the book were gratuitously precious, and really annoying to me.

Maybe there is no easily discernable "why" one person finds something hilarious and another does not. Here's a sample from the title piece, just in case you may like it:

If you took a poll of fat girls, you would knock on a lot of unfriendly doors before you would find the jolly, fun-loving sport who would answer, "Heck, yes, I love to sit down in a lawn chair that breaks, dumps me on my ass in front of all my friends and leaves me to wonder, how am I ever going to get back up?" Kristin would not be one of those women.
Fat Girls and Lawn Chairs, p. 156

What took the humor right out of the title essay, and irked the hell out of me was how all Kristin's friends unmercifully teased her about this episode. Not amusing to me, and not the sort of friendship I find appealing.

Big Girl's Guide to Life, Bunkie Lynn

A forty-something, self-described Big Girl with attitude, Bunkie Lynn was raised in the American South, now living in Nashville, Tennessee. I have heard from many Southern women that "fat" is a particularly rude and obscene word to say right out there in front of everyone, so saying "Big Girl" makes sense.

The humor is heavy on sarcasm, and evidently she's a successful speaker who entertains her audience in person. Any amusement I might have taken from the author's strategies was heavily diluted by her underlying assumption that she (and every Big Girl by extension) really SHOULD diet, and dieting would "solve" the weight problem—if it wasn't such a major pain in the ass. She just won't and she's now accepted that.

Myself if something has NEVER worked for me, I am no longer so quick to blame myself, and begin to wonder whether that strategy wasn't flawed. But Bunkie has never come to this conclusion, and in the course of blaming herself and taking blame from others in her life, she spends a lot of time (and unforgivable "Big Girl" jokes, aka fat jokes) outlining the supposed binges that Big Girl indulge in, and anyone who tries to stop them should expect to be flattened by an enraged Big Girl. Sigh.

The incorrigible appetites of fat women are a myth, and I just don't find it funny. Your mileage may vary. Here's a sample:

…When it comes to the pain in my load-bearing joints, I have two choices: I could lose weight, which according to my orthopedist would reduce the stress on those puppies at a 4:1 ratio (but the process would cause me to become an axe murderer); or I can maintain my current weight and take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) as the good Lord intended, with an occasional pain pill thrown in for good measure.

Being the intelligent Big Girl that I am, I realize my limitations. If I succumbed to a weight loss program, I'm starin' down 15-25 in the slammer for chopping up everyone around me who is eating foods on my forbidden list. A much wiser choice is to keep those NSAIDs refilled and memorize my orthopedist's phone number. Don't you agree? Of course you do. The Big Girl's Guide to Life, p. 84

Bunkie Lynn doesn't mention, nor does her orthopedist seem aware that "losing weight to reduce stress" in 98% of the attempts, results in regaining—often more weight than was originally lost. How good is that for the joints, eh? Anyway, I'm glad she's decided to maintain the weight she has, rather than losing some that might come back with reinforcements! If the orthopedist is doing such a good job, hasn't he ever heard of physical therapy, or does he just prefer to blame the patient?

Monday, October 10, 2005

Going all over the map without leaving home

October 4-9, 1975

Burr, Gore Vidal
(Didn't finish) I like his short essays, but somehow his full-length novels never have held my interest.

October 4-9, 2005

Where Fat Girls Haven't Gone, Staci Backauskas,
I'm always on the look out for fiction with plus-sized protagonists. In this book, heroine, Giletta Montrose, a truly big beautiful actress with attitude takes on reality TV. The title refers to the name of the series wherein she gamely attempts various stunts that "fat girls never do" such as: kayaking in the Hudson River, parachuting from an airplane, dancing in a music video, and competing in a beauty pageant where all the other entrants are standard-beauty-contest-zero-sized.

The reality show format gives the book a "what next?" quality as Giletta constantly skates on the edge of humiliation and physical injury (in one scene on real ice skates!) She always manages to pull it off and look fabulous, with more than a little help from "gal Friday" production assistant, would-be screen writer Madison, who alternates narrating chapters. A full review of this book and fat fiction in general coming in a week or so to my web site.

Fat. The Anthropology of an Obsession, Don Kulick & Anne Meneley, Ed.

Fascinating series of essays by anthropologists about the wildly diverse meanings of fat in different cultures. The Peruvian fat-sucking vampire legend described on the back cover sounds like tabloid fare, until you read Mary Weismantel's essay, White, where she describes the deep sorrow expressed in these Andean folk legends. The vampire is a white predator--earlier versions had him riding a horse, now it's mirrored sunglasses and SUVs. He kidnaps and drains native people of the fat that keeps them alive, discarding their damaged bodies so he can grow wealthy from the last drops of their life force. The legend arises from a population living on the brink of extreme hunger on a daily basis. It doesn't take an anthropologist to see how these stories express the feeling of their very bodies being stolen to make others wealthy.

This book is a banquet of wildly diverse, entertaining, and profound explorations of the meaning of fat and body size in many cultures.

One such essay, Anne Meneley's Oil , explores the significance of extra virgin (and other!) olive oils in Tuscany. This article has changed my life! Never again will I touch that "light" olive oil-- evidently it's the dregs sold to the fat-fearing American market as "lite". Aiiiii!

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Rainbows, crystals and enlightened crickets

September 26-October 4, 1975

Rainbow: The stormy life of Judy Garland, Christopher Finch
An excellent biography of Garland--one of the few books I bought to read over again.

The Crystal World, J.G. Ballard
Very tedious, a cross between Camus and Edgar Rice Burroughs with a dash of Conrad for atmosphere finally finished on Oct after 3 days. I do remember that this book was about everyone, everything turning into crystals. Not exactly fast moving.

September 26 to October 4, 2005

Original Enlightenment and the Transformation of Medieval Japanese Buddhism, Jacqueline Ilyse Stone
This is a scholarly book I might not have attempted it, if it hadn’t been written by a very close friend. She suggested that, as a Nichiren Shoshu Buddhist, I might find it easier to start with Chapter 6, which contains the biography of Nichiren. So I read the first chapter and then the sixth, and found it very rewarding. I’m not enough of a serious scholar to read it straight through. It may take me awhile to finish the rest because I have to let it sink in as I read!

By the way, the original enlightenment idea, essentially, is “. . . the proposition that all beings are enlightened inherently. Not only human beings, but ants and crickets, mountains and rivers, grasses and trees are all innately Buddha.” Original Enlightenment and the Transformation of Medieval Japanese Buddhism, p. 1.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Colette in occupied Paris, Jennifer Weiner in Shoes and taboos

From September 22 to 25, 1975, I read:

Looking Backward, Colette

I remember reading many of Colette’s books, and even where I was living and where I sat or lay when I read them--many of my small apartments had no chairs, so I frequently read in bed. But specifics on this book eluded me. So I looked it up on the net and found a 1975 New York Times review by Anatole Broyard. Vaguely, I remember that this was about her life in Paris during the Nazi occupation, but I hadn’t remembered that she purposely went there when she could have stayed in a small village. God, I love the Internet (also Colette)!

Who could describe better than Colette, I thought, the almost dreamlike character of life in Paris during the Occupation? Safely lodged in a small village in central France, she had returned to Paris impulsively, unwilling to miss the tragicomedy, the cramped heroism, of keeping body and soul together under such conditions. A connoisseur of gestures, she was ideally equipped to appreciate the strategies of improvisation, the stubborn Gallic shrugs of perseverance. Already quite old and partly lamed by arthritis, she sat in her window, one of France's greatest voyeurs, and reviewed the long-running drama of survival.

How to keep warm? she asks in "Looking Backwards." "An old armchair is sure to burn slowly and steadily. I used to know a Breton set of shelves which would go up very well in smoke ... the skeletons of crates, the handles of broken brooms, the empty case that once held a dozen bottles of champagne ... let's screw up rolls of newspaper with an iron wire, which will burn almost without flaring up." A friend is traveling to Boulogne to buy animal sculptures to burn, "a stag and a Newfoundland dog, both in wood, life-size. A Newfoundland had a hare in his mouth and a thick tree trunk beside him -- even a branch of flowing hawthorn ...
from Anatole Broyard’s 1975 NYT review of Colette’s Looking Backwards.

From September 22 to 25, 2005, I read:

In Her Shoes, Jennifer Weiner

I contemplated reviewing this for my web page where I consider books that touch on size acceptance, but I decided not to. The interview with Jennifer Weiner that was included at the back of the paperback has a section that illuminates why I didn’t want to review the book. Actually I agree with Weiner on most points, but I put in bold the section that pointed to why I didn’t want to write an entire essay on her book, and explained below:

Q: In both of your novels [Good in Bed and In Her Shoes], the idea of body image is a central theme. Do you think this concept is a constraint that we place on ourselves, a restraint that society places on women, or a combination of the two?

A: Um, all of the above? I think it starts out as being a societal mandate—a kind of signpost outside of life’s roller coaster, reading “You Must Be Less Than This Fat Or Nobody Will Ever Love You”—and it’s something that women internalize, and carry with them in different ways. One of the things I was trying to do with this book was to show both sides of the coin, and the different ways that buying the beauty myth can harm you. Rose, for example, who’s a normal size and healthy, gets the message that her body is something to be ignored and concealed, swathed in sweatpants and unfashionable-length skirts, until she learns that however it appears, her body is first and foremost, something to use—to get her around, to ride a bike, to walk a dog, to hold the people she loves. And then there’s Maggie, who’s got this ready-for-its-closeup body (which, as we see, requires a tremendous investment in terms of effort and time), but it doesn’t bring her all the happiness that the plastic surgeons and diet merchants promise. It gets her scads of attention—good and bad—and it gets her judged, the same way Rose’s body earns her judgments. I hope someday the idea of “you are how you look” will change. . . But I worry that there’s so much money to be made off of convincing women that they’re inadequate, too big, too little, or otherwise completely unacceptable that change is going to be painfully slow.
From A Conversation with Jennifer Weiner, p. 534-35, Pocket Book paperback edition of In Her Shoes.

As I said, I totally agree with that last bit, and I realize that every woman in America today has to live with constant pressure to feel bad about herself—and then go buy something to make her feel better.

But Weiner has chosen to tell the story of a “normal size” sister, whom our twisted culture beats up on as “fat,” with her body-obsessed, yet dyslexic sister, who manipulates others with her body and is trashed by those around her as “stupid.” She's spanned the whole gamut of body oppression from A to B (to paraphrase Dorothy Parker's review of Katherine Hepburn).

I think Weiner’s work is size positive, but intentionally avoids scaring people away by using a character who actually is fat--as opposed to one who is merely healthy but considered as fat in our twisted view. I am guessing that this was a conscious decision on Weiner's part and it can be defended from the point of view of reaching a larger audience (um, larger in the sense of more readers, not larger readers). It certainly has worked, in that the paperback I bought was a mass market edition accompanying a motion picture release.

A positive fat character, a meditation instructor, appears in Weiner’s Good in Bed. The heroine, Canny, calls her a good “role model” but almost immediately upon sitting down to meditate, she has an insight that causes her to run away. One could argue that it's only coincidence that she talks to a fat lady and leaves town immediately. But from where I sit, it looked as if she needed to distance herself from the very idea of this woman’s fatness—be she positive or negative.

As a novelist, I know it’s damn hard to bring the reader into the head of a humanized fat character—as opposed to a stereotype of one sort or another.

Worse yet, and it is worse, I truly believe that an actual fat character used in a positive way is a taboo in fiction nowadays. And it’s not one of those fun-to-break taboos like cannibalism and necrophilia that bring in the big bucks.

My writer’s brain is already meditating on that State of the “F” Word essay. . . I’ll take my keyboard and soap box in the other room and let you know when it’s done and up on the web page. . .

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

A spy by any other name & talking the writer's block blues

September 18-21, 1975 I read:

Spy/Counterspy: The Autobiography of Dusko Popov

The name's Popov, Dusko Popov....
Some names cry out to be fictionalized.

Worse yet, the name of this book is confusing to Mad Magazine readers. When I looked at this 30 years later I wondered if it was a book of cartoons. Fortunately, the Internet informs us that "Popov was one of the most important double agents the British had during World War Two and was rumored to be Ian Fleming's model for James Bond. Known to the British as 'Tricycle' and to the Germans as 'Ivan’” It's vaguely coming back to me.

September 18-21, 2005 I read:

Wonder Boys, Michael Chabon

Sometimes I get in the mood to read about writing—usually not a sign of productivity! Chabon has an interesting insight--

…about the nature of he midnight disease, which started as a simple feeling of disconnection from other people, an inability to “fit in” by no means unique to writers, a sense of envy and of unbridgeable distance like that felt by someone tossing on a restless pillow in a world full of sleepers. Very quickly, though, what happened with the midnight disease was that you began actually to crave this feeling of apartness, to cultivate and even flourish within it. You pushed yourself farther and farther and farther apart until one black day you woke to discover that you yourself had become the chief object of your own hostile gaze. Wonder Boys, p. 76

Hmmm, creative writing as a form of substance abuse. Fortunately the navel-gazing insights in the book are interspersed with road trips, minor thefts, low-life characters and genuine humor. It may seem hard to imagine being captivated by the story of a professor with writer’s block and practically no conscience, suffering through a college literary festival. But the Hunter S. Thompson style field trips provide enough action to make the book hard to put down.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

A-bombs, exorcism and lost books re-found

September 12-17, 1975 I read:

Lawrence and Oppenheimer, Nuel Pharr Davis
Interesting book about the fathers of the atomic bomb.

The Devil’s Bride, Exorcism: Past and Present, Martin Ebon
I looked this up online and discovered that there is now a racy Regency romance novel with the same title! Um, just the “devil’s bride” part, not the part about “exorcism past and present”--I guess THAT would be a work about divorce law.

The Youth Doctors, Patrick M. McGrady, Jr. (skimmed. A very tedious book.)

September 12-17, 2005

Eleven On Top, Janet Evanovich
Recent Evanovich books have not made me laugh as much as this one, definitely a fun read.

Fly Away Home, Marge Piercy
I had read this in the mid-80s. The book about a woman finding herself in mid-life resonated with me. But for some reason I didn’t connect Piercy the novelist with Piercy the poet, whose work I also read.

On re-reading, I was startled to see how many small, peripheral things in this book influenced me. I recently even wrote a "women's novel" (romantic comedy--title: The Happily Ever After Diet, a Guide for the Dysfunctional Bride, with size acceptance highlights) with a heroine named Daria. My Daria is, however, very different from Piercy's, and I still haven't found a publisher for her story, alas! Oddly, when I mentioned Fly Away Home to a friend who has read everything she could find by Piercy it turned out this was one she hadn’t read. I had to have another reading of it before I passed it along! It was as good as I had remembered.

Sleeping with Cats, Marge Piercy
Autobiography with cat appreciation. It always interests me the degree to which authors are or are not sociable. Aside from her cats, Piercy has led a life with an amazing about of major human social interaction--friendly, romantic, political... I got exhausted just reading about it! Some of the cat stories were sad, but stories from her life were interesting enough to keep me reading past midnight.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Many flavors of escape, humor and a cry for self-help

In 1975, having finally graduated (over the summer) from San Francisco State, I started a full-time word processing job at a bankers' association. This cut severely into my reading time. If I started to read something that didn’t offer the kind of escape I needed, I didn’t bother to finish it.

September 3-11, 1975 I read--

Half Lives, Erica Jong

I'm Done Crying, Louanne Ferris as told to Beth Day

Hanging by a Thread, Joan Kahn, ed.

The Best from Orbit, Damon Knight, ed (SF anthology)

The Black Widowers, Isaac Asimov in mystery writer mode

This Side of Paradise, F. Scott Fitzgerald (didn’t finish)

Forbidden Colors, Yukio Mishima (couldn’t endure it—skimmed it)

By contrast in 2005, my need for escape is less intense, writing fulfills some of it. Also, for various reasons, my books come from other places than the public library, so I can't be quite as impulsive. The desire for escape has morphed into a quest for laughter and self-improvement, which come in many flavors.

September 3-11, 2005 I read:

Holidays on Ice, David Sedaris
For the longest time I had David Sedaris and Augusten Burroughs mixed up. When I opened up the mailer with the copy of Holidays on Ice, I wondered if I had accidentally bought two copies of the Burroughs book, Dry. Both covers are white with gray details and sinister moods. Holiday has a white cover with a black and white photo of a clear liquid in a whiskey glass, with black snowflakes showing up against the ice cubes. Then I realized that Dry has a white cover with blurred gray letters, no graphic. Whew! Ten dollar error avoided and I now no longer confuse Sedaris and Burroughs.

Sedaris’s small book (134 pages) provided several laughs in the first essay--"The Santaland Diaries," which recounted the author's adventures as an elf in Macy's Santaland. The other three essays left me cold as the ice cubes on the cover. I just don’t know, and thus can’t laugh at, rarified suburbanites who use the holidays as markers on a social climbing expedition. On the other hand now I understand why Sedaris is so frequently published by The New Yorker.

This reminded me how fragile, quirky and culturally nurtured humor is. Like a delicate flower, it blooms in one climate and refuses to stick its head out of the ground in another.

What to Say When You Talk to Yourself, Shad Helmstetter, Ph.D.
My friend and fellow novelist Jaqueline Girdner entitled one of her Marin County murder
mysteries, A Cry for Self-Help. Helmstetter would be comfortable talking to the New Age suspects in that book.

Is there a 12-step group for those of us addicted to self-help books? I don't know if I'm ready to give up the habit though, because some of these books have proved incredibly useful. I learned to stop at least 90% of my negative self-talk on body issues with some of these simple techniques from Marcia Hutchinson’s Transforming Body Image, and similar body-positive works.

I expected What to Say, etc. to be about self-esteem, but maybe a little more generic. Not exactly. It turns out to have a bit of Napoleon Hill type Think and Grow Rich flavor to it.

The first part of the book is great, about keeping affirmations simple. There’s a cute story about his sitting down in the middle of three empty seats in a crowded airport, initiating both sides of a loud discussion with himself, managing to get three seats to himself to engage in his audible self-talk.

Unfortunately, Helmstetter seemed to go totally bonkers in the last part of the book. It’s like his affirmations become cumbersome contracts covering every possible eventuality. Throw one of those at it, and I think my subconscious mind would react in a similar way to my conscious mind—hey, leave me alone and stop telling me every little thing to think. The first part, where his suggestions are simple, seemed possibly useful.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Object lesson for me on finishing books before commenting...plus warning label

I regret that I didn’t quite finish reading Augusten Burroughs’ Dry when I wrote yesterday’s entry. I hadn’t reached the two pages wherein he details his disgust at Sally Struthers’ fatness, and envisions her in vicious detail—collecting donations for her Feed the Children charity and using them to buy and messily consume junk food. I guess there is supposed to be a joke swimming somewhere in that vitriol.

I totally get that Burroughs’ fat hatred is fat phobia from a self-confessedly appearance-obsessed gay man of a certain age. Hey, I read a LOT of stuff by authors who meet that description. But not if they gratuitously spit venom on fat women, life's too short to pay people to do that.

I write this in irritation with myself: (A) for not finishing the book before I endorsed it, and (B) for not totally “getting” the fat phobia until nearly 24 hours after I did finish the book. We live in such a sea of body hatred messages, that sometimes I get numb to them.

Now about the cats. I almost called this entry “fat hatred and cat hatred in Burroughs” but I think it’s more like fat phobia and cat victimization….

I long ago decided that no book, no matter how well-written is worth the piece of my life it would take to read it, if it contains fat hatred and/or cruelty to animals. I was disturbed by the crazed adolescent starving her cat to death in Running with Scissors. But yesterday I read on a blog that there is discussion of a cat-poisoning substance in Burroughs’ most recent book, which is labeled fiction--no doubt with an eye to not being sued, as he's currently being taken to court by relatives of the crazy doctor portrayed in Running with Scissors. The blogger mildly suggests that crazy people who might read such a book don’t need more information to facilitate animal abuse. I agree.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

charm, laughter, and thoughtful things

August 28-31, 1975, I read:

Mother Goddam: The Story Of The Career Of Bette Davis, Whitney Stine

This book is waaaay out of print now. My memory of the joke Bette Davis made about the title came from the notorious 1926 play, The Shanghai Gesture. She remarked that when Hollywood made the picture, the owner of a notorious Shanghai brothel, Mother Goddam, would have to be called “Mother Gosh Darn.” In the von Sternberg film the part was re-christened Mother Gin Sling, so she wasn’t far wrong (though she didn’t play the part).

Born with the Dead, Robert Silverberg

Isaac Asimov's Treasury of Jokes, Isaac Asimov, Ed.

The Roots of Coincidence, Arthur Koestler
--I noted "such a small book and I couldn't finish it even though I LIKED it." Who knows, one day I might finish this!

The Embedding, Ian Watson

August 28-31, 2005, I read three books that would seem to have not so much in common, but in fact all three are sustained primarily by the author’s charm:

In the Company of Cheerful Women, Alexander McCall Smith

This is a mystery that follows none of the conventions of a murder mystery. There is no murder, and the rather mildly mysterious crime that is presented is never solidly resolved. Yet, the book is worth reading for the author’s evocation of Botswana and the further developments in the lives of the Precious Ramotswe and her associates at the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, characters we’ve come to care about in previous books. I also need to mention how beautiful these hardcover books are in every detail, notably the bold, almost Kente cloth-style African designs on the end papers (orange in this case) that compliment the covers.

Running with Scissors, Augusten Burroughs

Burroughs’ memoir of a bizarrely dysfunctional childhood, is a story of survival very different from McCall Smith’s gentle meditation. But Burroughs has his own kind of charm and humor, and it was sufficient to keep me reading his tale of an upbringing that makes Christina Crawford’s Mommy Dearest sound like Little Women. In Dry (see below) Burroughs sums up his childhood when he explains it to a potential boyfriend:

He was surprised to learn that my Southern parents divorced when I was young and that my mother gave me away to her psychiatrist when I was twelve and that I lived with crazy people in the doctor’s home and never went to school and had a relationship with the pedophile who lived in the barn behind the house.

In a nutshell (to coin a phrase) this is the subject matter of Running with Scissors. To pull laughter out of such raw pain a major accomplishment. (E.g., when Burroughs at 13 wants to quit school, his doctor and now legal guardian, suggests a suicide attempt and proceeds to supply both liquor and pills, and walk the child through it, supervising his hospitalization and then writing a letter to the school so that Burroughs can be officially excused due to mental fragility.)

There is a gross-out, “what-atrocity-will-happen-next?” quality to the book and I cringed as often as I laughed—a few episodes I skipped, and a few I wish I had skipped. My fellow cat-lovers may want to either avoid the book or skip the section where one of the crazed daughters decides her cat is sick and proceeds to starve it to death with no intervention from any family member.

But I was interested enough to read Burroughs’ next book Dry. Anyone who can make me laugh several times in the course of a book is worth a return engagement.

Dry, Augusten Burroughs

This is the story of Burroughs’ adventures in rehab. He brings us up to the point at which the story begins by saying.

When I finally escaped [from a life of squalor, pedophiles, no school and free pills], I presented myself to advertising agencies as a self-educated, slightly eccentric youth, filled with passion, bursting with ideas. I left out the fact that I didn’t know how to spell or that I had been giving blow jobs since I was thirteen.

Although successful at 24, his monumental alcohol problem comes to the attention of his employers, who intervene and send him to rehab. In a way it’s a familiar story, and it reminds me of Marian Keyes’ Rachel’s Holiday. Not as much wild laughter—the deep wounds sustained in childhood are beginning to be dealt with. But, Burroughs is not only brilliantly witty, but also thoughtful, warm and decent.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

From blondes to wizards

August 22-27, 1975, I read:

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Anita Loos
Anita Loos created an archetype in Lorelei Lee, the not-so-dumb-as-you-might-imagine, gold-digging, blonde heroine.

Anthology containing House of Double Minds by Robert Silverberg
I managed to not write down the title of this science fiction anthology, but clearly it was the Silverberg story that impressed me.

August 22-27, 2005, I read

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, sixth in the Harry Potter series

An absorbing few days with Harry and friends. Even with all the powers of darkness running rampant in the wizard world (sort of a “post-911 Hogwarts” high security atmosphere), Rowling has created a world that is a compelling place to revisit. The scenario of discovering unfolding new powers within oneself and facing unambiguous evil is refreshing in a healing way. Real life in our mundane world is never so simple—which is why we need such escapes from time to time.

This site link below has some fun Harry Potter links, and if you read the first one, an interview with J. K. Rowling, you’ll see a picture of her with her husband, Dr. Neil Murray (no relation to moi!) who really does look like a grown up Harry Potter—amazing! If only life would imitate fiction in this manner more often.


While we’re on this Harry topic, I’ve noticed a several fantasy heroes with the name of Harry. Harry Dresden in Jim Butcher’s “Chicago gumshoe wizard" series, and Harry Keogh in the Necroscope series come to mind immediately. Am I really stretching if I mention “Henry” in Jane Yolen’s Wizard’s Hall? Um, yeah, kinda. Okay, so that's not "several." For a minute I wondered if it could be a legacy of Shakespeare’s Prince Hal, Henry/Harry/hero thing, sort of like the great “Kate” phenomena in mystery fiction a few years back, where we saw countless Kates encountering corpses.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Untangling webs . . . ferreting out secrets

August 13-22 1975

Marjoe, Marjoe Gortner
This was an interesting story of someone born into the business of evangelism, who managed to learn to think for himself and live as a rational person without disrespecting the tradition he was raised in. This fascinated me because I was beginning the process of sorting out the deeper religion from the crowd control. Later, I saw the documentary movie, Marjoe, about Gortner revisiting his former profession with a film crew. An interview that gives the gist of his journey is at the link below.

Looking Away, Hollywood and Vietnam, Julian Smith

Jacqueline, Ron Goulart, photographer (photo book of Kennedy-Onassis)

Eleven Blue Men and other Narratives of Medical Detection, Berton Roueche

Poe, Poe, Poe, Poe, Poe, Poe, Poe by Daniel Hoffman
Um, this one was about Edgar Allen Poe.

The Edge of the Chair, Suspense, fact/fiction, Joan Kahn, Ed.

August 13-22, 2005, concluding my tabloid research, I read:

Poison Pen, The True Confessions of Two Tabloid Reporters, by Lysa Moskowitz-Mateu & David LaFontaine

What really offended me about this book was the contemptuous attitude that the male half of the formerly married couple adopts toward tabloid readers. I’ve now read several books on this subject and this was the only one that stooped to sneer.

One thing the former couple still has in common is a feeling of having been traumatized by the process of working for the tabloids--though frankly, I think reporters for a great many non-tabloid news outlets get just as down and dirty in pursuit of a story as any of the tabloid transgressions described. Haven't these people seen The Front Page or His Girl Friday?

LaFontaine, the male half of the former couple, has major S. Hunter Thompson attitude that doesn’t mesh well with his “I’m too good for this job” pose. His wannabe gonzo riffs came across as adolescent.

To her credit, Moskowitz-Mateu, doesn’t put down tabloid readers, although she appears to feel equally ill-used by her former employers. Mostly she feels for the celebrity targets of the tabloids, and she spends a lot of the book in mea culpa mode, confessing to ploys she undertook to get stories and bemoaning the effect on her psyche.

"I Watched a Wild Hog Eat My Baby!" A C0lorful History of the Tabloids and Their Cultural Impact, by Bill Sloan

Sloan has worked for both tabloid organizations and been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting for a mainstream newspaper. The book’s title comes from one of the more fanciful tabloids. But the author gives a comprehensive history of the popular press journalism from the penny dreadfuls of the 1830s through Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst’s wild and wooly press in the early 1900s. He points out that the tabloids of the last 30 years have invaded the mainstream media to the point of undermining their own existence.

The book with the wildest title had the most thoughtful examination of the phenomenon--go figure

Saturday, August 13, 2005

little houses in which our hearts...

Old Songs are more than tunes, they are little houses in which our hearts once lived.
Ben Hecht

For me that quote applies to books as well—

August 8 to August 12, 1975, I read:

Harriet Said, Beryl Bainbridge

Death of a Dude, Rex Stout
Ah, Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin—there’s a little house of the imagination in these stories. Wolfe’s brownstone with the orchids he cultivates, the able chef and the constant diversion of solving crime. This was my first exposure to these mysteries, as you can see, I immediately went to get more!

Death of a Doxie, Rex Stout

Don't Fall off the Mountain, Shirley MacLaine
A whole different kind of mystery with Shirley MacLaine.

Kings Full of Aces, Rex Stout
(anthology - Too Many Cooks, Plot It Yourself, Triple Jeopardy, Home to Roost, The Cop Killer, The Saint and the Monkey)

August 8-12, 2005 I read:

The Historian, Elizabeth Kostova
This was a hypnotic book. The storyteller’s art is highlighted by the Scheherezade device of a storyteller using the stories in a life and death game. I wouldn’t have bought this book in hardcover if the first chapter hadn’t drawn me completely in. Kostova manages to sustain the weaving of several narratives through the device of the narrator gradually learning from her father about her origins and her mother—about which her father has been mysteriously silent. His silence involves a threat from a vampire, and he only begins to speak when the danger of silence becomes greater than the danger of telling the story.

Story threads from the daughter, the father, and the father's mentor become puzzle pieces for the reader, and each thread is distinct, clear and fascinating.

Great stuff. I’ve heard this book called “The Da Vinci Code with vampires” but that’s like comparing a wonderful oil painting to a Sunday cartoon strip. The Historian has deep and heartfelt characters as well as an interesting historical puzzle, and that whole vampire threat thing.

I had trouble tearing myself away from it until around page 470. Seriously, this is a 641-page book. When the author dropped a sizeable chunk of a straight-up historical lecture into the plot, things slowed waaaaaay down, and I was able to set the book down for awhile. I had no intention of abandoning it, but I was able to unglue myself from the pages and take a break before coming back.

I really don’t think this digression on pilgrimage routes of Christian monks in the middle ages helped the book. But what do I know? To be honest I skimmed it, and even though it was only a 14 page mini-lecture, it seemed longer. It also ushered in a lot of information on the same topic that cooled my own interest down considerably, though I guess it was necessary to complete the puzzle aspect of the plot.

The good news is that skimming this section, and a lot of other medieval European stuff that only marginally interested me, I was still able to enjoy the last few hundred pages of the book.

I did notice a kind of distancing the reader from the ending however. It was almost as if the author were putting the ending in a historical context, which might or might not have served the story well. I liked it enough that I’ll go back and look at it later, so I may feel differently when I examine the text more carefully.

All in all, however, very few books have held my attention for 470 pages so masterfully, and this is the experience of reading that we keep coming back to seek.

Friday, August 05, 2005

From Mishima to the Enquirer in 30 easy years...well, mostly easy...

July 30-August 5, 1975

After the Banquet and Death in Midsummer and Other Stories, Yukio

I went on a brief Yukio Mishima binge after my Buddhist scholar friend told me that her teacher told her "not to spend too much time" on a translation assignment of Mishima's Double Suicide. Dangerous literature appealed to me at that point. For whatever reason, however, I never became very entranced with Mishima. Curiosity followed by mild irritation would be accurate words for my reaction.

Frankenstein Unbound, Brian Aldiss

July 30 to August 5, 2005

Secrets of a Tabloid Reporter, My 20 Years on the National Enquirer’s Hollywood Beat, Barbara Sternig

The Untold Story, My 20 Years Running the National Enquirer, Iain Calder

Truth be told (!) this is research for a ghost story novel I'm writing, ghosts and paparazzi! Honest. But, totally aside from my admitted weakness for celebrity biographies as a kind of soothing potion, I have to say that I think the tabloids are unfairly maligned.

Former Enquirer Editor-in-Chief, Calder sums up my view very handily on the last page of his book:

I believe gossip is as old as civilization. In the days before television, neighbors would be as shocked and entertained by such tidbits as: “Mrs. Jones down the road has run off with the milkman.”

These days the neighbors would have no idea who Mrs. Jones is. Most people hardly even know their next-door neighbor. They do know Oprah, Rosie, Tom Cruise, Britney Spears, and Regis. They want gossip about them. When an Enquirer reader learns something new, it’s fun, and it gives her a feeling of power to call a friend and say: “Did you know. . .”

This, I submit is human nature.

The Untold Story, Iain Calder

Also, I gotta say it, the Enquirer’s readership is 90% female. Did you ever notice how publications aimed at women are frequently disparaged as second rate and trivial? I’ve ranted and raved on this subject as it relates to size acceptance in an essay on my web page at http://www.maadwomen.com/lynnemurray/essays/tabloid.html

Saturday, July 30, 2005

The amazing Princess Bride and dinosaur cults in Hawaii

July 29, 1975 read:

The Princess Bride, "by S. Morgenstern" and William Goldman

My note on this title is "sigh" I adored this book. Some books you remember everything about them. I vividly recall the shelf in the news stand style bookstore in Honolulu where I found this book. I went exploring while all the other Buddhists were having a cultural performance of some sort. If I'd been feeling guilty it would have been a guilty pleasure. But I what I was feeling was rebellious. And the first fruit of my own personal declaration of independence was to find this wonderful, magical book.

I sighed after reading it because I enjoyed it so much and it was far beyond what I could imagine writing myself. The modern twists and turns in the story that frames the fairy tale, and delightful flights of fantasy and adventure within it--Cliffs of Insanity, the Rodents of Unusual Size, swordplay and true love. It's all there and the wit flows like wine. Way before the film was made, the watchword among aficionados of the book was, "My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die."

Great stuff.

July 29-30, 2005 I read:

Casual Rex, A Detective Story, Eric Garcia

This is the second in this series introducing undercover Velociraptor and private detective Vincent Rubio. Coincidentally, Vincent's case takes him to Hawaii tracking a victim of a cult. Hmm. Cults in Hawaii. Not going there just now thank you very much. I've already been.

Garcia's first was dino detective book was Casual Rex, and I think there's third one out now called Hot and Sweaty Rex. Sort of Raymond Chandler meets Jurassic Park, although I'm not sure what Chandler would have made of the human-disguised, cross-dressing dinosaurs. A fun read.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

The Hawaii to Yorkshire to Los Angeles Express

July 22-25, 1975, no books listed.

A fellow Hawaii convention of 1975 survivor informs me that July 22-29, 1975 we were in Honolulu. One major accomplishment of the convention for me was finishing Michener's Hawaii, and evidently there was an epidemic of reading that book among convention goers. In Honolulu, I found a book that I've adored ever since, but I'll talk about that next time!

July 18-25, 2005 I read:

Dialogues of the Dead, Reginald Hill

This is a mystery featuring the Yorkshire-based detectives, Chief Superintendent Andy Dalziel (often referred to as "the Fat Man") and DS Peter Pascoe. Definitely a size friendly book, because of the respect Fat Andy Dalziel demands. There's a very generous supply of locker room and barracks banter, but this must be one of the few police procedurals where the Oxford English Dictionary features so importantly in the plot! Hill knows how to tell a story--this is the 19th in this series, and I think there have been a few more since it originally came out. This book had an interesting variation on the double and triple twist ending.

A Playdate with Death, Ayelet Waldman

Very different from the Yorkshire police locker room! Waldman's "mommy track" mystery series, set in Southern California, features Juliet Applebaum, a former lawyer turned stay-at-home mother of two young children. In this book, the death of Juliet's personal trainer seems to have been a suicide but might have been murder. Juliet investigates, and finds a twisted trail of closed adoption, covert anti-Semitism and family secrets. There were some laugh-out-loud moments in the book, which I always enjoy.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

haunted mysteries and historical horror

July 14 to 17, 1975, no entry - maybe I was still chipping away at Michener’s Hawaii, in anticipation of actually going there that month.

July 14 to 17, 2005, I read:

No Man Standing, Barbara Seranella

This is the fifth in the Munch Mancini series wherein the former biker chick and recovering addict protagonist solves a mystery and copes with the ghosts of her past. Excellent writing, and the heroine’s grit makes her human and understandable. The previous four books are No Human Involved, No Offense Intended, Unwanted Company and Unfinished Business. There’s a sixth, Unpaid Dues, and a seventh, Unwilling Accomplice, just out, but I don’t have my hands on those.

The Colour Out of Space, Tales of Horror by Lovecraft, Blackwood, Machen, Poe, and Other Masters of the Weird, selected by D. Thin, New York Review of Books

These are the venerable masters of the weird--and I can’t resist being naughty and pointing out that none of these stories are protected by copyright, which makes them much cheaper to anthologize. If one is not used to the florid verbiage of bye gone storytelling, one might be impatient with these masters. This one was.

However, I’ve been going through some Lovecraft nostalgia. One of the things I did in Hawaii in July 1975, was to play hooky from the Buddhist convention to watch on The Dunwich Horror (with Sandra Dee!) on TV in the hotel room. Amazing. Younger readers will find it hard to imagine, but I actually did not own a TV, so this was a special treat for me.

The Masters of the Wierd anthology had some good stories, specifically the title story. I wouldn’t recommend the gratuitous sadistic cat slaughter in Bram Stoker’s The Squaw, which is also horribly contrived--the minute the iron maiden torture device is mentioned, you know the author’s going to turn twist the narrative into a pretzel to get a character in there. I sort of wanted O. Henry to come in and shake his finger at Stoker for this.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Reality, fiction, emotion

July 11, 1975, I read:

The Reality Trip, Robert Silverberg

July 7 through July 13, 2005, I read:

Something Rotten, Jasper Fforde
The totally charming, and moving, fourth and final book in the Thursday Next, time-traveling, book-traveling series. I always like books that make me laugh out loud, and am generally suspicious of the ones that bring tears. I distrust manipulative writing and never touch known tearjerkers. But Fforde ends this book and the series with genuine emotion and a resolution that seemed inevitable and just right.

The Closers, Michael Connelly
Connelly is a master of storytelling and particularly in elegantly filling in the somewhat complicated background of his police detective, Harry Bosch, without ever giving the reader the sense that the story stops so that information can be delivered. If you read the early Connelly books, you can see that it was not ever thus, and it gives us all hope to see a writer growing more powerful with each book and giving a series character more depth.

The True and Outstanding Adventures of the Hunt Sisters, Elisabeth Robinson
If this book had not been so well written, I wouldn’t have stayed the distance because both the tragic and the comic subject matter equally push my anxiety buttons. It is told in letters written by older sister Olivia as she tries to keep her Hollywood producer career going and at the same helps take care of her gravely ill younger sister. I had to skip some sections that so faithfully recorded the long hospital hell sections. “Blah-blah-blah--hospital” Two pages later. “still in the hospital." In real life you have no choice. In a book you can skip the pages.

Ironically, the book’s comic relief letters were almost as painful for me. The narrator alternates letters to and about her dying sister with letters and emails selling herself as a producer and detailing her deals with Hollywood, movie stars, backstabbing fellow producers.

Let‘s see, life and death in the hospital waiting room, or grinning tap dancing in the face of rejection and double dealing--way too much like what writers go through selling our work.

It‘s truly a testament to Robinson's excellent writing that I read as much, and skipped as little as I did.

That said, this was not one of those books of such stunning genius that I was unable to skip. There are such books--I‘ve gravitated to them through some sort of death wish in times of crisis. Hot tip: If you‘re going through a horrible life crisis, I personally do not recommend reading D.M. Thomas‘s The White Hotel or William Kennedy‘s Ironweed--beautifully written, majorly depressing.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

No computer for 2 weeks….resurrecting old habits

On or around June 23, my old computer turned itself off and refused to be turned on again. It expired at the age of 6, which is roughly 102 in computer years. It had lived a full life and certainly pushed its brain to the max. It was sorely missed by me. I had no connection to the internet, no way to add to my ongoing manuscripts…no way to do the work I do in order to pay my living expenses--and in the short run, no funds to simply buy a new computer.

Over the past two weeks I tried a loaned computer that didn’t work. It could not be induced to connect with the internet. This was one of those computers, that when you talk to tech support and they ask, "What kind of computer do you have?" you have to read a list of parts that your local Frankenstein Junior has kindly put together and zapped into existence. The New Improved Tech Support Person then tells you that the equipment you have won't cut it, and recognizing a sales opportunity, routes you to a sales person who tries to sell you a new computer that you can't afford.

While I wasn’t looking in the past six years, 3.5” floppy drives have evidently become obsolete, and are no longer standard equipment on computers. So much for my diligent habit of backing up my work! The teenager who was kind enough to help with the loaner computer eventually stopped returning my calls--and I totally understand why! In one of our last communications, I asked about the floppy drive, he suggested I get someone who does have a floppy drive to email me the documents. Alas, since I was unable to connect to the internet to retrieve them… Old people's problems--eeek! When I was his age, I distinctly remember hanging up on some old person who was bugging me about a problem I could not solve and did not want to hear about.

At last, on Friday, July 8th, due to the kindness of my saintly brother and the early payment of an outstanding invoice, I was able to rejoin the computer world with a new brand name computer. Although it doesn’t have a 3.5” floppy drive (or 8-track stereo--sorry that’s a ‘70s joke), I was able to get on the net--receive my archived manuscripts from a kindly neighbor with a 3.5” floppy drive, and rejoin the 21st century.

During the two weeks with no computer, I did my writing with a pen and paper, and read lots o’ books. These old, old habits had never really gone away, and they reminded me that there are ways to cope, no matter what happens.

I read so many books in the last two weeks, and have enough to say, that I’m going to break it down into two entries today and tomorrow.

June 23-July 7, 1975 I read:

George, Be Careful: a Greek florist‘s kid in the roughhouse world of advertising, by legendary adman George Lois

Just as I was looking back at this book, I happened to see George Lois on a television reality show, The Cut, wherein designer Tommy Hilfiger holds a sort of designer boot camp/Survivor Manhattan Island for aspiring designers.

Psychic Discoveries Behind the Iron Curtain, Sheila Ostrander and Lynn Schroeder

Psychic discoveries continue, even in the absence of the iron curtain.

June 23-July 7, 2005, I read:

Geisha, Lisa Dalby

Ironically, here’s a 1975 book that I missed the first time round. The geisha world of womanly wiles and eloquent, ritualized clothing that Dalby explored as an anthropologist and a participant is pretty much the opposite of the way I was raised as an American woman. But living so close to Japanese culture as a Buddhist, it fascinates me. This book captured a very familiar world to me--the rich details of geisha life and the very different relations between the sexes in Japan, as seen by an American woman. I also saw how the author of Memoirs of a Geisha (his name eludes me at the moment) took waaaaay too much material from Dalby, and yet, I found his book to be so gorgeously written that I forgave him. I don’t know if I would have done so if I were Ms. Dalby, however.

Paparazzi, Peter Howe

Interesting book about the rogue photographers - thin on text, thick on pix, naturally.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Humor, horror, and--well, fluff

June 16-22, 1975

It looks as if my younger self was not doing much reading that week!

June 16-22, 2005

Undead and Unemployed, MaryJanice Davidson

I've been wrestling with the problem of humor in horror--can it live? This vampire chick lit book didn't help much, because there was very little that was scary, and it was meant to be pure fluff.

Elizabeth (Betsy) Taylor's status as Queen of the Vampires was mainly a way to work in lines like, "between work and the queen of the dead thing, and fending off Sinclair, I just didn't have time to cram a boyfriend into my schedule."

I read the first book in the series, Undead and Unwed, and this is possibly even more lightweight. The idea of the designer shoe fetishist heroine getting a job in Macy's shoe department was cute. One thing that I can see will be harder for the author to continue to pull off in subsequent books is wringing humor out of what begins to sound like a never-ending case of PMS, interspersed with flashes of lust for the King of the Vampires (see Sinclair in the quote above), to whom she is eternally linked, and whom she has decided to despise. It's one of the Scarlett-Rhett, "No, no, no, no--yes, yes, yes, yes!" relationships.

Not a lot of suspense there. As for humor in horror . . . I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

One woman's poison....many women's whimsy

June 14-15, 1975
Strong Poison, Dorothy L. Sayers

What a great book to read for the first time. I've since re-read it many, many times. Not only is this a Lord Peter Wimsey mystery, but it's also the one where he meets Harriet Vane. Many of us have been in love with Lord Peter since our first Dorothy L. Sayers reading experience of him. Harriet Vane, the crime writer on trial for poisoning her ex-lover in Strong Poison, is the perfect love interest for him. Partly because she initially refuses him! Most of us who adore Lord Peter do so because under his elaborately carefree witty persona, there is always a deep chord of how his experience in the World War I scarred him. Despite his witty ranting and his use of solving crimes as a kind of therapy for post-traumatic stress, he really is a noble-hearted, unaffectedly human character. What the whole "English nobility" aspect of his character means to English-born readers, I have no idea. It definitely added a certain glamour to his appeal. But the patient persistence with which he courts Harriet over the course of a few books shows the depth of his character and has provided a hopeless ideal for several generations of female readers--including me--and probably including his creator, I suspect). It's not that Peter Wimsy has all this noble birth stuff going for him (although that makes it possible for him to break a lot of rules in his detection of crimes). Rather it's the witty, loyal, ethical and gentle man of honor that Sayers has created, and that we dream of finding in an actual flesh and blood human of the male persuasion.

...and jumping 30 years forward to something completely different....

June 15-16, 2005
Shutter Island, Dennis Lehane

As a rule I have enjoyed Lehane's storytelling and gripping prose but the ending of this book really set my teeth on edge. I won't reveal any of the corkscrew twists in the last third of the book in case someone reading this wants to experience the ending "unspoiled." But I felt manipulated. Generally Lehane books are dark, but with an underlying affirmation and attention to small, comforting details that makes the darkness bearable. Once the mechanism of the end of this book started cranking, I began to lose interest in the characters to the point where their eventual fading out didn't bother me so much because I'd stopped believing in them. I have hopes that the next Lehane I pick up will be less thriller-ish and gimmicky. This time I just wanted to yell at him--"why do you think we read fiction? To lend meaning to life. To inject some understanding into it. I'm not saying you have to write about that. But if you don't--I don't have to read your stuff."

Friday, June 10, 2005

A few days with no books read, the business of books

Wouldn't you know that the minute I start collaborating with myself when young, the kid would start slacking off on the book reading! I tell you, young people back then, er, myself back then. Well, I was doing my best, and there was that thing called summer school--I didn't write down textbooks or other boring things I read back then. I had no idea that 30 years later I would be looking for what I had read.

Why do I feel like I'm in that Robert Heinlein time travel story All You Zombies Out There? (One of my all time favorites by the way.)

Actually, I'm in no position to throw stones at my younger self, because I've spent the past few days reading not books, but a pile of last year's New Yorker Magazines that someone gave to me because she couldn't bear to throw them out.

Speaking of New York, if you are interested in the first coherent explanation I've read of the BEA trade show in New York this past week, I put a link below to G. Miki Hayden's piece. This is the first explanation of this event that has made much sense to me. Partly because, as an excellent novelist, she puts you in the scene. She also explains the whole trade show aspect for lay people. I've been to trade shows, but she puts the event into a human framework that I could relate to. That interests me a lot more than what literary celebrities I never heard of were doing at restaurants I also never heard of. I may just enjoy it more because I read more mysteries and am interested in the authors she discusses!


Sunday, June 05, 2005

Volcanoes, bird droppings, celebrities, ghosts & UFOs

June 2-5, 1975

I was still chipping away at:

Hawaii, James Mitchener
Slow going--I don't recall exactly, but maybe by this point the volcanic eruption that formed the islands had cooled, and the rock broken up to the point where the seeds contained in the droppings of migratory birds were taking root... When Mitchener tells you history, he starts from below the ground and moves up.

June 2-5, 2005 I read:

The Importance of Being Famous, Maureen Orth

Interesting essays (some more than others!) These tales from the frontlines of celebrity culture were entertainingly reported. I read this book partly to indulge my weakness for celebrity bios, and partly as research for one aspect of the ghost story novel I'm writing.

I also went back to finish:

Report on Communion, The Facts Behind the Most Controversial True Story of Our Time, Ed Conroy

I needed to finish with this book so that I could send it and Streiber's Communion itself to my friend in Nevada who was interested in them. The alien critter depicted on both book covers had start to creep me out again.

Okay, I admit it, I am not a fan of disturbing art.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Hawaii - conventions, murders, fictional refuge, true crime puzzles

June , 1975, I started to read:

Hawaii, James Mitchener
This was a long book, and it took awhile to read. I didn't finish till I was on the plane to Hawaii for a Buddhist convention a month later. Mitchener books are useful for tourists because they are like mini-seminars in More Than You Wanted to Know about an area.

Another reason reading this book took so long was because I had discovered I could finally get my BA degree if I took one summer school science course and I elected to take Physics for Non Scientists. This was taught by a radical physicist at SF State. He livened the course up with a visit from a Hiroshima survivor who brought slides of the aftermath (including some haunting images taken before the U.S. military could get there to stop the photography). We were all spellbound hearing how this man had survived because he was late to work--his office building was near the epicenter of the blast. I had some idea of the horrors of that day from reading John Hershey's classic Hiroshima years earlier, but hearing it firsthand made it much more real.

Then I had to explain to this physics prof why I was missing one or two sessions of his class to go to Hawaii for a Buddhist convention. He must have sighed inwardly--you go to all the trouble to dumb down the science, you take out the math, you make it interesting and human. And still these ditzy liberal arts majors need to take time off to go to the beach. Hey, I was a psych major and I knew he was a peace activist, so I talked it up as "for world peace, etc." He agreed to let me make up the work if I would give the class a report. No problem there! I still remember his joke when I told him the name of the organization (as it then was) NSA and he asked, "National Security Agency." Alas, no.

That reminds me of the Richard Armour joke in the form of a quiz in one of his humor books. In writing about The Iliad, he poses this question: "Discuss what would have happened if Helen had been carried off to Paris, instead of being carried off by Paris."

Eventually summer school ended, I passed the class, went to Hawaii, graduated with a mostly worthless BA in psychology and finished reading Mitchner's Hawaii. Not necessarily in that order.

From May 29-June 1, 2005 I read:

The Well of Lost Plots, Jasper Fforde
This was the third of four books about Thursday Next, wherein she hides from time traveling enemies who have "erased" her husband from existence. Where does she hide? In an unpublished book in the Well of Lost Plots. This was a delightful reading experience. . . and a story about storytelling itself. What are its components and how can they be put together? Will they explode or collapse gently into a deflated balloon posture? Do they need to be pepped up by injection of some nifty backstory purchased from a backstoryist in a small crowded shop:

"Something for the lady? Ill treatment at the hands of sadistic stepsisters? Traumatic incident with a wild animal? No? We've got a deal this week on unhappy love affairs; buy one and you get a younger brother with a drug problem at no extra charge."

Great fun meeting some of old friends, i.e., your favorite fictional characters "behind the scenes" in the story. There were too many cool things for me to pick just one... well, okay--I loved the nursery rhyme characters, picketing the Jurisfiction offices--they get no benefits or vacation because their stories are oral rather than written. A funny and convoluted and exhilarating ride.

Heart Full of Lies, Ann Rule
Here's a 30-year coincidence. Although the murder took place in Oregon, a great deal of this true crime book happened in Hawaii. The victim was a Hawaiian Airlines pilot killed by his surf photographer wife. Ann Rule does this sort of book better than anyone, and she keeps the reader turning pages as she puts the jigsaw puzzle together. This is classic Hitchcockian suspense, where the reader knows whodunit, and has a pretty good idea of why. Yet it was hard to put the book down as you rooted for the police to be able to find out the true story of what happened, and discover enough evidence to prove it. Masterfully written.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

From Nixon to hungry ghosts

May 25-28, 1975 I read:

Nixon's Psychiatric Profile, Eli S. Cheson, M.D.
This was an interesting book. History buffs and Watergate buffs might still find it interesting.

May 25-28, 2005 I read:

Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things, by Lafcadio Hearn
These are short ghost stories from ancient Japan, translated in the late 1800s and early 1900s (Hearn died in 1904).

The Nixon book above was much scarier than Hearn's book. The stories in Kwaidan, even when describing stark terror, factor in some cause and effect along with the wistful beauty and eerieness. Hearn can also be charming and funny, as when he talks about the mosquitoes that torment him in Tokyo, which are said to be the souls of hungry ghosts.

With a view to self-protection I have been reading Dr. Howard's book, "Mosquitoes." I am persecuted by mosquitoes. There are several species in my neighborhood; but only one of them is a serious torment,-- a tiny needly thing, all silver-speckled and silver-streaked. The puncture of it is sharp as an electric burn; and the mere hum of it has a lancinating quality of tone which foretells the quality of the pain about to come,-- much in the same way that a particular smell suggests a particular taste. … And I have discovered that it comes from the Buddhist cemetery,-- a very old cemetery,-- in the rear of my garden.

The remedy suggested is pouring kerosene on the surface of stagnant water where the mosquitoes breed -- but every grave in the cemetery had cups to offer water and flowers to the dead. He ponders this--

To free the city from mosquitoes it would be necessary to demolish the ancient graveyards;-- and that would signify the ruin of the Buddhist temples attached to them;-- and that would mean the disparition of so many charming gardens, with their lotus-ponds and Sanscrit-lettered monuments and humpy bridges and holy groves and weirdly-smiling Buddhas! So the extermination of the Culex fasciatus would involve the destruction of the poetry of the ancestral cult-- surely too great a price to pay!...

Besides, I should like, when my time comes, to be laid away in some Buddhist graveyard of the ancient kind. . . . That old cemetery behind my garden would be a suitable place. Everything there is beautiful with a beauty of exceeding and startling queerness; each tree and stone has been shaped by some old, old ideal which no longer exists in any living brain; even the shadows are not of this time and sun, but of a world forgotten, that never knew steam or electricity or magnetism or -- kerosene oil! Also in the boom of the big bell there is a quaintness of tone which wakens feelings, so strangely far-away from all the nineteenth-century part of me, that the faint blind stirrings of them make me afraid,-- deliciously afraid. Never do I hear that billowing peal but I become aware of a striving and a fluttering in the abyssal part of my ghost,-- a sensation as of memories struggling to reach the light beyond the obscurations of a million million deaths and births. I hope to remain within hearing of that bell... And, considering the possibility of being doomed to the state of a Jiki-ketsu-gaki [hungry ghost]. I want to have my chance of being reborn in some bamboo flower-cup, or mizutame, whence I might issue softly, singing my thin and pungent song, to bite some people that I know.

I think Nixon could probably relate to the "bite some people that I know" part, but I doubt if he ever reached the serenity Hearn seems to have achieved.

There's a great (though kinda long) Kenneth Rexroth article about him
I love the quote from a letter Hearn wrote in 1893: “The great point is to touch with simple words.”