Sunday, January 31, 2010

I Doubt It

Have you gotten the email with the power point presentation telling you how rhythmical coughing can act like self-administered CPR t0 keep you alive during a heart attack while you're waiting for medical help?

What about the touching story of how Lee Marvin was wounded at Iwo Jima -- and his sergeant, also wounded, was Bob Keeshan --who later became Captain Kangaroo?

This same story went on to say that Mr. Rogers, yes, the one with the Neighborhood and the cardigan "was a Navy Seal, combat proven in Vietnam with over twenty-five confirmed kills to his name. He wore a long-sleeved sweater on TV to cover the many tattoos on his forearm and biceps. He was a master in small arms and hand-to-hand combat, able to disarm or kill in a heartbeat."

Okay. I might have let the Lee Marvin/Captain Kangaroo thing slide. But Mr. Rogers . . . ?

I doubt it. So this is when I go to -- dispeller of myths and rumors. And yes, Lee Marvin was a Marine and served in the Pacific during WWII -- but he wasn't at Iwo Jima. Neither was Bob Keeshan, who joined the Marines too late to see any action in WWII.

Mr. Rogers was never in the military. And coughing for a heart attack? Not recommended unless you've received very specific training in the technique. Otherwise, you could make things worse.

Snopes is the place to go when you receive any of the thousands of emails that get forwarded. I've been taken in many a time -- on this very blog I posted the one about Mars being closer to Earth than any time in the past many years; I posted a list of things women should do if they're attacked -- and then when some friend gently pointed me to Snopes, I had to do an uh-oh followup post.

Snopes is a wonderful resource when you get one of these hard-to-believe tales or one of those breathless Forward to everyone you care about warnings. It's also a fun place to browse.

That warning about criminals in the US using burundanga soaked business cards to incapacitate unwary victims?

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Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Catcher in the Rye

The news of J.D. Salinger's death and the picture of that iconic cover -- I had that same paperback and wore it out -- took me back to 1960 and my freshman year in college.

Catcher had been out nine years when I first met Holden Caulfield. And everything about this book spoke to me -- true and real and sweet and sad.

I went on to read more Salinger, to write papers about his work, to have long discussions as to whether or not Franny was pregnant and what was the meaning of banana fish. And what about Seymour -- See more -- what did he represent?

J. D. Salinger -- I would say he'll be missed but he hasn't been around except as a legendary recluse for the past fifty years.

It's said he continued to write -- for his own pleasure. It would be lovely to think that more stories will surface -- but somehow, I don't expect it.

Besides, what we have of his is perfect.

At some point during that freshman year of college I was also introduced to T.H. White's The Once and Future King. This is one of my very favorite books of all time -- I love the Arthurian legends/tales/stories and this sprawling, multi-leveled book is magical. I've read it over and over.

These are two more books that I particularly remember from that freshman year. I was passionate about Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged -- a bit of a rite of passage for college students. When for my Intro to Philosophy class I was assigned to write about my personal philosophy, what I produced was was a pastiche of Rand's ideas.

I still remember the discussion the professor and I had: me, burning with the true flame of Rand's Objectivism and him, wearily shaking his head and saying, "But you leave no room for compassion."

I got over Rand rather quickly. I still have several of her books but haven't been tempted to a re-read. And as I think back on it, they seem a bit . . . corny.

Mary Renault's The King Must Die and its sequel The Bull from the Sea have held up much better. The beautifully retold story of Theseus and the Minotaur, these are some of the best historical fiction around. And yes, I reread them too.

A note: as of last night, the snow was coming down with more forecast. We may lose power; we may lose internet. If I don't post, that's what's happened.
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Friday, January 29, 2010

Spring Tease

Yesterday was a beautiful blue sky day with the temperature in the fifties! My goodness, it seemed like spring! Unfortunately, however, there is snow in the forecast for Friday night -- 6-10 inches of it. So it was off to the store to lay in supplies -- mainly food for the animals and a bit of fresh stuff for us.

How nice a day was it?
At the grocery I parked next to a convertible with the top down -- that's how nice.

I treated myself to some primroses. They'll brighten the dining room and when spring really gets here, I'll plant them outside.

On my way home, this lovely run of sunlight down the side of the Freewill Baptist Church caught my eye.

The same sun was much enjoyed by Kate and Marigold and friend.

I also treated myself to some spiffy new boots, just the thing for the Spring mud that will be coming. (Vicki Archer, eat your heart out!)

And there was an almost full moon, tangled in the bare branches of a poplar tree.

A lovely day.

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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Enter Nellie Bly

Look who's just walked into Under the Skin, my work in progress! It's Nellie Bly, investigative girl reporter herself.

I had decided to have the DeVine sisters, the twin mediums in my 1887 subplot, be the object of an investigative reporter's interest and I thought I'd read up on Nellie Bly for ideas.

What I found was that Nellie herself was available. In May of 1887 she was probably between jobs. She had left the Pittsburgh Dispatch, disgusted with having been returned to the theater and art beat after her exciting six months in Mexico, during which she reported on the life and customs of the people and ran afoul of the current dictatorship after daring to be critical of it.

Her next recorded stop would be New York, where she would gain fame as an undercover reporter for Joseph Pulitzer's New York World. Her 10 Days in a Mad-House did a great deal to expose the brutal conditions of the asylums of the time and she would go on to challenge Jules Verne's Around the World in 80 Days by making the trip in in 72.

But what if, between leaving Pittsburgh and going to New York, Nellie decided to take a kind of working holiday by visiting the Mountain Park Hotel and participating on a seance held by the famous spiritualist sisters, Theodora and Dorothea DeVine?

I think it it sounds like just her sort of gig.

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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A Vote for the Independent Bookstore

Things are shifting uneasily in the book world. It seems like almost every day brings news of another independent bookstore closing -- Jim Huang's The Mystery Company in Indiana and The Open Book in Greeneville, SC (after forty years!) are two of the latest casualties. In 1993 therewere 4,700 independent book stores in the US; by 2007, there were only 2,500. Heaven knows what the figures are today. Even the big chains, the well-known names, aren't showing the profits they once did.

Is it the economy? Is it the on-line book sellers? Is it e-books? Is it huge discounts in big-box stores? Is it a shrinking base of readers?

So far, the independents I know best in my area are still hanging in there -- making adjustments where necessary, adding a cafe here, joining forces with another bookseller there.

Long may they survive!

The indies are a treasure to the community -- holding readings, hosting book clubs and discussions, giving space to writers' groups, running book fairs to support various community projects -- and, oh yes, being real booksellers.

These are the folks who read the books and can tell you about them, who remember what sort of books you like and recommend similar ones. Indy booksellers tend to be passionate about books -- heaven knows they're not in it for the money!

These are the folks who've been very good to me, 'hand selling' my Elizabeth Goodweather books and hosting events where I can meet my readers.

And these are the charming little stores where I love to browse and discover new books -- the quiet little books that are under the bestsellers' radar, the quirky little books that'll never show up at Wal Mart, the regional books that teach me more about Appalachia . . .

So I make a point of doing some gift-buying at my local Indies. Even if I could save a few dollars by shopping on line.

It's my small vote in favor of the wonderful institution of the independent bookstore.

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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Another Florida

There's another Florida -- away from the traffic and the high rises and the Mouse and the golf courses. There are untouched beaches, sand dunes and sea oats, and in winter, there are very few visitors.

These are photos taken (I think) in 2004, when we visited the State Park on the St. Joseph Peninsula in the Florida panhandle.

Miles of beach on the Gulf of Mexico, a bay over which to watch the sun rise, deer, bald eagles . . a Florida paradise.

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Monday, January 25, 2010

Little Women

On my post for MLK day, Miss Yves (in France) commented that as a girl she had read and loved Uncle Tom's Cabin and something she referred to as "Little Ladies." I was puzzled and then it came to me -- Little Women.

Miss Yves replied to my query: "Yes , of course, "little women "; my favourite character was Jo !!!!!!!! The french translation was: "les quatre filles du docteur March."

It's amazing, the popularity of this book -- it still sells well on Amazon (though I suspect it may be bought mainly by grandmothers and aunts wishing to share a beloved book with the younger generation.)

I read it first back in the 1950's -- a good ninety years after the time it takes place -- but it always seemed fairly contemporary to me. Sure, there was talk of horse drawn carriages and the illustrations showed the little women in long dresses but it wasn't like reading a historical novel -- it was reading about four girls.

Like Miss Yves, I liked Jo the best. I admired Meg and her gentle beauty; I enjoyed Amy's artistic efforts, her silly pretentiousness, and her difficulties in school (what are pickled limes, anyway?) Sweet little Beth was a little cloying, for my taste.

But I felt I knew all of them -- I devoured Little Women and its sequels Good Wives and Little Men, and there are bits of the lives of the March family that are as real to me as my own past -- the sisters taking up staffs and pretending to be pilgrims, Jo's attic where she wrote, the blanc mange the sisters took to the invalid Laurie, Jo's eventual renunciation of Laurie, the lobster salad at Amy's school party, the lemonade at Meg's wedding, the white rose that Amy gave Laurie, the museum the boys had at Dr. Baer's school, the little cook stove that Daisy cooked a meal on -- I was there, I tell you!

I wore out the my first copy of Little Women/Good Wives. I still have this copy of Old- Fashioned Girl - wherein country mouse Polly comes to the city to stay with wealthy relatives.

This one was my mother's -- and it was already a period piece back in 1928.

I adored it. And Polly was as real and as relevant to me as Nancy Drew or the Bobbsey Twins or the Pevensey children -- they were all real people who just happened to live in books.

While looking for an illustration I came across this:
New York Times review from 2005

And this -- I hadn't known about May Alcott -- Louisa's sister and probable prototype for Amy -- who did the illustrations for the original Little Women.

I wonder how these books would strike someone today, encountering them for the first time?

Overly didactic? Saccharine? Sweetly sentimental?

I don't know. I read and loved them -- and still do.

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Sunday, January 24, 2010

What's Playing?

When out shopping the other day, I saw this congregation of birds -- probably starlings -- and they looked like musical notes to me.

I don't read music, but I think I can guess the tune.

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Saturday, January 23, 2010

This Is How It Begins . . .

So, I'm lying around on my back like I always do -- same old ceiling, same old people leaning down and saying weird stuff -- and then I get an idea: hey, what if I rolled over?

So I give it a try . . .

Whoa! That's scary . . . everything's upside down. Time for some serious re-booting.

And then it hits me what I've done . . . this is how it begins . . . next I'm crawling and then I'm walking and before I know it I'm in school and getting married and I've got a job and a mortgage and a political stance and acid reflux and kids and in-laws and . . .

I think I feel a little nauseous.

Okay, so I've never been the type to thrust baby pictures on people. And I wouldn't be doing it now (though young Asher here is certainly pretty darn cute) but I think these pictures say something about the human condition.

My niece sent me a video of Asher who has just learned to roll over. It totally cracked me up because of the faces he makes. I tried to catch them on the screen captures above but I couldn't get the best ones. There's a moment when he kind of shakes and I swear, he is re-booting.

The video is just over a minute long. Do check it out and see if you see what I saw in his expressions.
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