Monthly Archives: March 2011

Adventures in coffee drinking

This morning in my zeal to get to work uber-early and place our book order, I went and spilled coffee right down my front. Often, this would produce no visible effects (other than grouchiness) since I tend to dress in shades of black and brown (I have worn my breakfast before), but today I was feeling teal. I tried to blot my sweater with a wet cloth once I arrived at the shop, but wound up drenching it. Now it’s draped over the step stool in front of the space heater, drying. I hope. Because my t-shirt (not intended to be seen except for cuffs & collar under the sweater) is just a little too tight. Thank you, Cadbury chocolate eggs.


Drying-out clothes at the office always makes me think of my brief stint at the Fed. One of the economists used to dry his socks on the lovely old radiator behind the desk in his office. I don’t think he ever wore galoshes, or those things they call “rubbers” in England (you know, goofy overshoes for men – Do they even make those anymore?) when it rained. Nope, just draped the socks over the radiator and they dried. It made for a pleasant, homelike atmosphere.


Which brings me to our latest money management -type acquisition. Suze Orman\’s newest is all the rage, but am I the only one who thinks that her cover photo makes her look like she needs a trip to the Betty? She’s always looked sort of scarily over enthusiastic, but now seems to have crossed over into true Speedy the Squirrel mania. Maybe she just needs to cut down on the caffeine. Maybe it’s her photographer. Who knows? In any case, that is all that I know about her book. Which is selling like hotcakes. And which I could probably use. But I would so much rather eat Easter candy and read one of the following:


First Grave on the Right  It’s a mystery. The narrator is the grim reaper. Yes, I know… you’re tired of the paranormal. But really, she’s funny and snarky and noir. You’ll like this one. It’s great for Sookie Stackhouse fans & smart enough for devotees of Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman & Christopher Moore to enjoy.


Rawhide Down  I never was much of a Regan fan, but this

play-by-play of his almost-assassination looks pretty fascinating. The inner workings of the secret service, the fact that he was much closer to being dead than we were ever told, the jolly, brave face he put on the whole thing, lend insight into the man’s character – not to mention lots of drama, and make it seem worth slogging through the exhaustive details.


Furious Love  Normally I can’t be bothered with actor bios, but the photos alone make this a lovely way to remember Elizabeth Taylor.


War Horse  Did you miss this wonderful children’s book when it first came out? Have you heard about the amazing stage production of it in London? Do you know they are making the book into a movie? Even if you don’t give a fig for all the hype, this is a deeply touching story of the mutual affection of a horse and his boy during The Great War. Generations away, we tend to think of WWI… well, not very much at all. But this was a conflict that scarred people in a whole new way – something like the Vietnam of its time. I’d love to take a class on WWI in fiction someday. The Lord of the Rings would be among the obvious choices for something like this, but War Horse gives an interesting window into this terrible time as well.  Besides all that, the horse is really, truly horse-ish. Like all the best fictional animals, he makes us better somehow. And his boy – well, you’ll just have to read it, won’t you? 


Having read thus far, you may be thinking that my take on politics, both present and past, is a bit dicey. I am about to exceed your worst fears.


Theories of International Politics and Zombies  I just ordered this for stock today and I cannot wait until it comes! If you’re looking for a poly sci run-down with a clever dose of satire, I’m thinking this is your book. Possibly for the title alone…


And now my sweater is dry. Whew!

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Stories for an Early Spring

This season, two extraordinarily fine novels have come out. One is about Hemingway’s first wife and her life in Paris with the writer. The other is about dissident art in Vietnam. Both are more than worth your time.

The Paris Wife, by Paula McLain distills the expatriate life of Ernest and Hadley Hemingway – it’s the world of A Moveable Feast experienced from a woman’s point of view. Lots of people call Ernest Hemingway a misogynist. I think nothing could be further from the truth. He reserves both his most tender and most scathing characterizations for the women in his novels. They don’t get as much ink as the men, but they are much more telling. (How can Lady Brett not break your heart at the end of The Sun Also Rises, with her summation of the Almighty, “Isn’t it pretty to think so?”) Hemingway’s years with Hadley were some of his most productive and most interesting. Her presence and personality inevitably colored his writing. Scattered with characters like Gertrude Stein and the Fitzgeralds, The Paris Wife is a feast indeed, and the Paris it draws –the bars, the cafes, the clamorous neighborhood surrounding the Hemingways’ deeply crummy little apartment– seems a character too, gathering artists, writers, thinkers together under wings as dusty and soft as the pigeons scratching in the Tuileries.*

The Beauty of Humanity Movement is a glorious book with a horrible title. Even some marketing folks at Penguin think the moniker is pretty bad. The story is a delight.  Here too, the setting is almost a character in itself. Moody, ever-changing, improvising like an actor, it remakes itself from a past of infinite sadness with great courage.

Here is a story of the divide and connection between survivors and their children, between foreigners returning and those who never left, between artists and their legacies, the living and the dead. It’s beautiful and sad and revealing and, once you’re done with it, the title doesn’t seem so stupid after all.

Since Donald Rumsfeld’s memoir came out, we’ve all had to hear again about how some things you know you know, and some things you know you don’t know, and some things you don’t know that you don’t know. And yes, we all had a good laugh at his strangely poetic expense. But I have to say, like him or hate him; that is what novels are all about. Fiction – stories – are about telling each other what we don’t know that we don’t know. There are so many things in this life that it never occurs to us to ask. Sometimes we don’t know the right questions because one of us is male and one is female, or one of us is old and one of us is young – because we come from different places or different pasts. The best fiction doesn’t just tell the truth – it reveals mystery.

It’s spring now. There are crocuses coming up through the mud. The dog is shedding and daylight savings will soon be here. It’s time to celebrate crunchy-granola-type things like new beginnings and getting up in the dark. In that spirit, let me suggest this:  Ask someone today, “Tell me a story.” You never know what you might hear.

And now, a little poetry from Donald Rumsfeld:

As we know,
There are known knowns.
There are things we know we know.
We also know
There are known unknowns.
That is to say
We know there are some things
We do not know.
But there are also unknown unknowns,
The ones we don’t know
We don’t know.

—Feb. 12, 2002, Department of Defense news briefing (Stolen from Slate Magazine)


*And yes, in case you were wondering, Hemingway did say that he used to shoot and eat them (the pigeons, I mean).


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