This blog is basically about how good books are nice and bad books are the pits. And then I get grumpy.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

What you find when you're not looking...

I'm reading Meghan McCain's Dirty, Sexy, Politics, where McCain writes about the three buses her father used on the "Straight Talk Express." Apparently, the first bus was gorgeous and that's where John and Cindy and the main players rode; the second was pretty good too for other staffers and journalists; the third was crappy (complete with smelly toilet) and reserved for low-level campaign blogger Meghan and staff and...journalists who were on the outs with the campaign. Interesting.

First of all, imagine riding in a toilet on wheels for a year and a half. Wouldn't you think some reporters might be tempted to make nice in their articles just to get an upgrade? Here's hoping ethics won out, though something makes me picture FOX "News" people riding happily on bus 1.

Secondly, I imagine Ana Marie Cox, a blogger and writer who talks about politics on Rachel Maddow's show on MSNBC - a stellar show, by the way - was stuck on bus 3: Meghan recalls waiting to get on a bus (remember, it's crappy) and turning to Cox to ask a question. Ergo, Cox's bus was the stinker, too. Isn't that logical reasoning? If you've heard Cox on Maddow, you won't find the scenario surprising; you might happily sense the refreshing breeze of journalistic ethics sweep over you. Hopefully, Cox felt it, too. A year and a half is just too long to hold your breath and listen to Republican politics all day, too.'s the exciting part, and it has nothing at all to do with smelly transportation. Well, actually it kind of does, but it's DONKEY smell! That's kind of like horse smell, isn't it? Mmmm, so good! Anyway, in a Wonkette review of Meghan McCain's book (of all things), there's a link to this wonderful video. Prepare to feel good about book lovers!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Thirdly, and lastly, (and, again, why not estimate about 1 year ago)...

 Allie Finkle's Rules for Girls, Book One: Moving Day

My goodness, I gobbled up the first hundred pages or so of this book! Ah, the joys of juvenile literature. First, The Penderwicks, now Allie Finkle.

I won't compare the two beyond saying they're both fun. But whereas The Penderwicks is timeless and reminiscent of books past, Allie Finkle is - it seems to old fuddy-duddy me who was never totally plugged in, even as a child - hip. Just look at her on the cover. I'd have looked like a little yuppie next to her.

Not that the heroine of this series by Meg Cabot would have cared. The girl's got sense, after all; she keeps a notebook of rules to help her live life more smoothly and, while "Never eat anything red" doesn't seem too do-able or constructive, that particular rule and many others illustrate her personality. The attitude conveyed by the voice of Allie, who tells the story in first-person, and the rules she chooses to make - at once logical and humorous - paint a picture of a very charismatic nine year old.

Barbies and Bratz, trips to Dairy Queen - Cabot certainly hasn't forgotten what it's like to be a kid. I've got to think there are a lot of little girls wishing this author was an older sister or aunt. She's seems the kind to let you stay up past 11:00 and try on her make-up. That's much like the humorous Uncle Jay character in this novel; he plays a charming role toward the book's end and, indeed, throughout. It is his influence that sends Allie into "war" mode as her parents decide to move and she decides they shouldn't, in ever-so-gentle a way.

The writing in the book will allow even oldies like me to laugh out loud remembering childhood. Cabot's got it spot-on. Annoying best friends? Check. Games of pretend in castles made out of bushes and brick walls? Check. Little brothers who play astronaut using air vents between rooms? Check.

How Cabot remembers all these things I'll never really know. I've read that she uses old diaries from her childhood. Makes me wish I'd been more of a diarist in my youth. Ah well.

You know, I've so enjoyed reading these children's books I think I might just have to keep on reading. It's like drinking a little bit of the fountain of youth. I hear one of the next books in the Allie Finkle series is called Best Friends and Drama Queens. Now how can an old fuddy-duddy afford to miss that chance at re-living her younger days?

Next up (and from about 1 year ago)...

On film adaptations of classic novels, Andrew Davies and the Davies' (nearly mathematical) 'formula'

Upon an urge to pop something in the DVD player, I watched snippets of the 1990's Davies' adaptation of Middlemarch last night. Who knew that simple act could jeopardize my enjoyment of future viewings of Davies' adaptations?

Every film seems to include some staple scenes. There are Celia and Dorothea in their pj's and bedroom discussing men and romance. There are Marianne and Elinor in their pj's and bedroom discussing men and romance. There are Isabella and Catherine in their pj's and bedroom discussing men and romance. There are Elizabeth and Jane in their pj's and bedroom discussing men and romance. And at least three out of the four pairings are brushing their hair at the same time. Well, isn't that what girls do?

Then there's the scene when the good-looking gentleman is transfixed by the young, unsuspecting heroine's singing voice. I'm thinking Rosamond and Dr. Lydgate, Col. Brandon and Marianne, Elizabeth and Darcy.

There's also the 'manliness' scene wherein Darcy emerges soaking wet from a lake, Edward chops wood in the rain and Col. Brandon plays with a falcon. Okay, the last one doesn't involve water but it counts. What is facing the elements compared to facing down a bird of prey?

So the next time I watch a Davies' adaptation, I'm making a checklist. Whether I want to or not, I have a feeling I'll be testing my theory.

First, though, let me ask, have you noticed any other components to the Davies' formula?

I'm digging up old favorite posts from my old blog. First up (and from, about 1 year ago)...

  This is Water by David Foster Wallace

Graduation season is approaching and I guess that's why there was a new little hardcover book on the shelf in the store one day recently. It's a commencement address by David Foster Wallace that can be read in one sitting and, interestingly, is presented by printing just one idea, often just a sentence, on each page.

This presentation is probably meant to make something that most people wouldn't want to read seem readable. Who can't read a line per page? It might also be that the editors saw that there were some big ideas in this small book. Page by page they can be more easily digested. In any case, it cost somewhere around 14 dollars. Hefty, it seemed to me. The cynic in me suspects that maybe more pages mean higher pricing and this was a factor in the presentation, as well. Who knows.

It's a gem, though. Called This is Water, it's billed on the back as thoughts on compassion. It is. But it's not touchy, feely compassion. Using, sparsely, phrases like 'no-shit' to speak to his college audience, Foster keeps it real. He links thinking with compassion and shows how these two are related - how using your brain intelligently can help you put yourself in others' shoes.

But putting it in that nutshell seems so, as Foster might say, "lame and banal." He wisely describes what he means instead of preaching ideas at the students. In a wonderful depiction of the boredom and frustration of everyday life that most college students have yet to experience at their age, he relates the hypothetical but oh-so-identifiable experience of being tired after a rotten day at work, hungry, and needing to go to the grocery store before you can go through the equally rotten experience of cooking for yourself and satisfying that hunger. However, Foster says, the line in the supermarket is long, the behemoth cars on the road are cutting you off and you're miserable because all you want is to go home and eat. For most people at this point, Foster says, it's all about themselves.

But wait, he writes,

"It's not impossible that some of these people in SUVs have been in horrible auto accidents in the past and now find driving so traumatic that their therapist has all but ordered them to get a large, heavy SUV so they can feel safe; or that the Hummer that just cut me off is maybe being driven by a father whose little child is hurt or sick in the seat next to him, and he's trying to rush to the hospital, and he's in a way bigger, more legitimate hurry than I am - it is actually I who am in his way." (Foster's italics.) This is Water, page 85


But reading it in context is even more impressive. So I recommend This is Water as an economy of words with an abundance of meaning. This is lean meat; no fat here. Everything is there for a reason. I suspect the 'no-shit' reference made the message more credible and palatable for young people to hear. Rather than being solely amusing or drily informative, the anecdotes at the beginning serve their dual purposes of drawing in the attention of the speech's audience/readers and illustrating a point.

Foster suffered from depression and committed suicide in 2008. Another writer who suffered depression, Tennessee Williams, once wrote in his play Summer and Smoke, "Life is such a mysteriously complex thing that no one should really presume to judge and condemn the behavior of anyone else." Sounds like Foster and Williams shared more than an illness; they seem to have had something similar to say.

And, perhaps, we all should listen.

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