Monthly Archives: January 2011

Heidi ho

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Two very persuasive reasons should be preventing me from writing this now. In order of compulsion:

Reason 1, compelling: I am going out of town this weekend. The catsitter would surely appreciate a sparkling clean toilet, and I’m sure he’d prefer the carpet to be vacuumed, and while he’s probably not going to care much about the kitchen, it would still be a nice touch to clean up in there a bit.

Reason 2, incredibly compelling: A colleague has loaned me an Advance Reader Copy of the latest Kate Atkinson novel. And it is not just a Kate Atkinson novel; it is a Kate Atkinson novel featuring Jackson Brodie. Jackson Brodie is my favorite tough-guy investigator since Cliff Janeway opened his used bookstore in John Dunning’s mystery series. Kate Atkinson is marvelous and funny and unusual and unpredictable. Though I have devoted a great deal of my professional energies to describing books, I am unable to describe Atkinson’s novels. That is the problem with indescribable writers. As with K. J. Parker, all I can do is throw my hands in the air, acknowledge that I am incapable of explaining why she’s worth reading, and then beg people to read her anyway.

I am halfway through this latest Atkinson novel, Started Early, Took My Dog. I fully intend to finish the remaining half this evening, but first I will dutifully write this blog post, partly because I won’t be doing so this weekend, and partly because I want to try a soft pitch on my latest get-rich-quick scheme.

At work today, to see if the color printing option on the staff printer had been fixed, I sent a test job to the printer. I chose to print a picture of Heidi, a cross-eyed opossum who lives in Germany:


For the rest of the day, whenever I had a difficult interaction, I would steal a glance over at Heidi. She cheered me up each time. It was like magic. I don’t know if the Heidi cure will be sustainable, but if it proves to be effective over the course of time, I will share the knowledge with employees everywhere, although “share” is really not the right word here. If this works, I will turn a profit off of Heidi. I hope she’s not trademarked.

I stayed up far too late last night, and I still have vacuuming and laundry and litter-box cleaning and reading to worry about tonight. Not that I’m worried about the reading. That, at least, will get finished, though the other items on my list are looking less likely. But at least now I can cross off “Write something on your blog, fergodssake” from my To Do list. The quality and length of the text are dubious at best, but the possum picture compensates for the rest of the shortcomings here. Just, please, don’t anyone steal my business idea, okay? Thanks.

Curdling adventures

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Monday: “Dum di dum, doot di doot di dum de dum, just twiddling my thumbs here, yessiree, dum di la la, tra la la la lolly.”
Tuesday: “OH SWEET MOTHER OF GOD MY HAIR IS ATROCIOUS THIS IS TERRIBLE THIS IS HORRIBLE THIS IS INSUFFERABLE I CANNOT LIVE LIKE THIS.”

How these things happen so quickly I do not understand. One day everything’s fine, next day I have made a mortal enemy with my bangs and I will not rest till I have won vengeance or died trying.

Immediately following my vow, I called Hairdresser Jeff. I do mean immediately. (“Hi, I’ve got a call number here, can you point me in the direction of the biographies?” “Sorry. No. I’ve got to call my hairdresser RIGHT NOW. It’s an emergency.”)

Kidding.

So I called HD Jeff as soon as I could. Got home from work, got distracted from my feud with my hair, and went to sleep. When I woke, my cell phone showed that I’d missed the call. It was Jeff calling to confirm my appointment, though I didn’t realize this immediately, as the display showed me some digits rather than a name.

Hairdresser Jeff is the most important contact in my phone, edging out my workplace and my vet and 911. (Mom and Dad don’t count. I have their phone number memorized.) So why didn’t his identity show up on my cell?

It’s a new phone, that’s why. Verizon sent me a new phone that I neither want nor need. I haven’t got around to re-entering my phone numbers, though I did at least set the ringtone. When my cellphone rings, it sounds like a telephone ringing. I’m so retro I’m trendy. It’s amazing, really.

The Verizon website helpfully instructed me on how to import my phone numbers from my old cell to my new cell, except actually it wasn’t helpful at all, because it requires internet access, which I specifically declined to activate on my phone. I puzzled the hell out of the Verizon lady on the phone, I’m afraid. I kept saying no to things. No, I don’t want wireless. No, I don’t want texting. No, I don’t want a camera.

“I’m sorry,” I said. I felt the need to apologize to her. “I’m a Luddite.”

“A what?”

“I… nevermind. Just send me your crappiest phone, please.”

It arrived in the mail some weeks ago, at which point I chucked the box in the middle of the living room floor and promptly forgot about it. The box would have continued serving as a kitty fort indefinitely, perhaps forever, had I not received an email from Verizon instructing me to either activate the phone or pay a $160 fee.

Ya know, when I get stuff from other stores, the places don’t penalize me for not using my purchases. Take the cheesecloth Mom got me last spring. The grocery store didn’t come demanding payment for my tardiness in opening the package. I only got around to that last week, when I was making palak paneer, which was scandalously easy. Here’s how you make the cheese part of it:

1. Boil milk
2. Remove milk from heat. Squeeze a lemon over it.
3. Dig around in the curdling milk for the lemon seeds you didn’t mean to drop
4. Rummage around the house till you find the cheesecloth Mom got you for your last birthday. Because the milk needs to sit for ten minutes, drag out this process. Should come naturally anyway. (Hint: It’s not on the desk, nor in the bedroom bureau, nor in the weird pile next to the couch, the one with those embarrassing photos of when you were a kid. Try looking under the kitchen sink.)
5. Pour the milk into the cheesecloth.
6. Read for an hour.
7. Between chapters, look at pictures of cute kittens on the internet.
8. Extract cheese from cheesecloth.

Easy-cheesy!

The phone, fortunately, was not the only package to come by mail lately. Just yesterday I received a book from my friend Kaite in Missouri. It’s a bound magazine, actually, called Granta, with this issue-specific title:

Sex

….and with this sticky note from Kaite:

“Saw this cover and thought of you”

…and with this cover:

I am inordinately pleased.

I am not sure whether I will read the contents of the magazine. Normally I avoid short fiction and short nonfiction, but hey, it’s an interesting topic, and if we can judge a book by its cover, the writing is going to be awesome. Except for Dave Eggers, the contributors are unfamiliar to me, but then again my name is unfamiliar to most people and I fully expect them to read my writing. Regardless, I am pleased to have an easy way to continue the pictorial theme of Naked Ladies.

Naked Ladies! Naked Ladies! Naked Ladies!

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Naked Ladies! Naked Ladies! Naked Ladies! is the title of a book by Lynda Barry, and is also the reward you’ll get toward the end of this post in return for slogging through a discussion of domestic tedium.

But trust me, domestic tedium beats the alternatives. Among the Personal, the Professional, and the Political, the Personal is the clear winner today. In professional news, my library is grappling with some volatile local issues. I don’t feel comfortable right now talking publicly about the different tensions at play. As for political news, I am not going to add to the cacophony of voices commenting on the shootings in Arizona, other than to make a few terse observations:

1. Despite being a bleeding-heart leftwing liberal douchebag, I do not spend my energy complaining about our constitutional right to bear arms. I’ll never own a gun and I would prefer to be in a society where guns were rare, but the Founding Fathers were right then and they’re right now: the citizenry deserves a chance to protect itself against tyranny. More germane to most folks’ lives, the citizenry deserves a chance to protect itself from common criminals. But if the freaking sheriff of freaking Pima County, Arizona, thinks they need tougher gun laws, then maybe it’s worth considering. I’m all in favor of tougher gun control. Weapons for hunting, fine. A pistol for self defense, fine. Supercharged guns designed expressly for the purpose of slaughtering a lot of people, maybe not such a good idea.

2. The political tone these past few years has been hateful, far too hateful. Whether this had any bearing on the Arizona tragedy or not, the fact remains that media spokespeople, politicians, and ordinary citizens have allowed themselves to descend to ugly rhetoric. Dissent and disagreement is fine. Hatemongering and violent rhetoric is ugly and harmful.

Now then! The big news here is that Santa Mom and Santa Dad got me an Indian slow cooker cookbook. Thus far everything I’ve made has been delicious, though there was a bit of an awkward situation when I made the garlic-ginger eggplant. Since there were very few peppers to choose from at the grocery store, I opted for the habaneros, and since I didn’t know how many to use, I arbitrarily included six. It was scrumptious, understand, absolutely scrumptious, but though I gladly engaged with the spicy heat as I dined, I was somewhat less enthused to engage with the spicy heat the next day after it had been thoroughly processed. I’m trying not to be too awfully graphic here, but suffice it to say that habanero peppers pack a punch when they enter the body as well as when they leave.

In the vein of being domestically productive, I decided to make soap over the weekend. Besides, the soap bar in the bathroom was down to a tiny little nub. I melted my starter block, added the scent and some coloring, and poured it into the molds. A few hours later I had some lovely new soap bars to call my own. I also had three– not one, not two, but three!– irretrievably ruined kitchen items. Don’t worry: next time I make soap I think I’ll be able to avoid property damage.

The plastic Tarheels cup was no big loss. The cracked food storage thingy was more irritating, because it was part of a set, but oh well. The cracked ceramic mug was a catastrophe. The mug was uncommonly large and it had a nice heft and I used it all time.

So the next day I went to the thrift store and found a suitable replacement. I also found a garment, a black sleeveless dress with a hint of red trim and classy silver striping. It’s very retro, the sort of thing I imagine that Jacqueline Kennedy wore back when she was Jackie Bouvier. I was pleased to sport it at work. I was not so pleased when a colleague referred to it as a jumper.

A jumper, if I am not mistaken, is a hopelessly unfashionable garment worn by elementary school students and spinsters. Accompanied by comfortable shoes, it is an unflattering bit of boxy cloth made either of corduroy or thin cotton. In the case of cotton, the fabric is inevitably patterned with large garish flowers. The jumper is in the same stylistic category as the cardigan and the loafer: sensible and dowdy.

I prefer to think that my new acquisition is a short sleeveless dress. Alternately, another colleague recommended that I refer to it as a pinafore. I like that, quite a lot. For that matter, I like my new pinafore quite a lot, though I discovered that it does not work well with body suits. The visual ensemble is classy, but it does not facilitate the quick removal of one’s drawers. If one is, say, suffering the ill effects of habanero peppers, one cannot quickly take care of business. One must unzip the pinafore to be able to shrug down the body suit. The same effect cannot be achieved through creative wriggling in a confined space, though the unintended effect of repeatedly flushing the automatic toilet will certainly be achieved.

Regardless, it is a pretty piece of clothing, and I am glad to have found it at the thrift store. I am just glad in general that I went to a thrift store, because this evening, in another act of attending to domestic chores, I paid nearly six hundred dollars in car maintenance bills. I console myself by remembering that the bills would be much worse if I didn’t pay for routine preventative work. Still though. Ouch. I guess this is what happens when your car turns 40,000 miles old.

And now, to thank the reader for enduring all the domestic talk of food and soap and clothes and cars, I will share a picture of a naked lady:


This is a painting by Italian artist Amedeo Modigliani. This is my favorite picture of a naked lady ever ever ever. What I don’t know about art could fill entire museums (and, in fact, does) but I think she is just gorgeous. I love the body hair and the relaxed posture and the beauty and the eroticism. I first discovered her when she served as cover art of the Jean Rhys novel After Leaving Mr. MacKenzie (I worship Jean Rhys, by the way) and then, in following her trail, learned that she was but one piece in a series of reclining nudes. Apparently being nude is fatiguing and requires people to recline a lot.

I have been remiss in posting lately, what with holidays and travel and all that, but I hope to resume my more-or-less-weekly posts, posthaste. I cannot promise that the content will be any more exciting than what I offered today, and sometimes we’ll all have to struggle through without pictures of ladies wearing nothing, but at least I won’t post pictures of ladies wearing jumpers.

Book rundown, 2010

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Welcome to the fifth annual overview of the books I’ve read in the past twelve months! This is that magical time of the year when, with a level of detail and tedium that can be quite literally painful, I survey every single damn book I read. Remember the magic from previous years? 130 books in 2006, 141 books in 2007, 83 books in 2008, and 101 books in 2009?

That same magic returns in force this year, and it is better than ever before! This will be the most magical book rundown seen yet, because this year, for the first time ever, I will regale you not only with bizarre little statistics but with the actual list of titles and authors I read! Now you, too, can follow along at home! Let’s get started!

Total books read, cover-to-cover: 112

Age Levels:

  • Adult: 102
  • YA: 9. This is a much lower count than in previous years. Lately I’ve been craving the depth and complexity that are usually (but of course not always) missing from Young Adult books.
  • Children’s: 1. Oops. Need to get to work on that.

Books read that were published in 2010:

  • 47, give or take. This number has been creeping up steadily each year, partly because I try to have fresh content for my book reviews at the library’s blog, and partly because, in trying to maintain a professional awareness of current books, I find myself reading a disproportionate number of descriptions of new books, rather than old books– and that, of course, is how most titles make their way into my To Be Read spreadsheet.

Nonfiction: 27

Fiction: 85

Genres:  (as some books have more than one genre, total exceeds 112)

Nonfiction:

  • Biography: 3
  • Crafts: 1
  • Diet: 1
  • Economics: 1
  • Grammar: 1
  • History: 2
  • Humor: 2
  • Instructional/How-to: 8 (three cookbooks, one craft book, one cleaning book, one diet book, one how-to-plant-trees book, one how-to-find-a-job book)
  • Literary Criticism: 1
  • Medical: 1
  • Memoir: 3
  • Music: 1
  • Science: 7
  • Social Science: 2
  • Travel: 2
  • Trivia: 1
  • True Crime: 1

Fiction:

  • Fantasy: 29
  • Historical Fiction: 21
  • Horror: 10
  • Humor: 8
  • Literary Canon: 2
  • Literary Fiction: 5
  • Mainstream: 6
  • Mystery: 20
  • Science Fiction: 14 (only this many because I got suckered into reading Kage Baker’s Company series. By the time I realized I didn’t like it I was too far in and had to finish.)
  • Superhero: 1
  • Suspense/Thriller: 6

Formats:

  • Graphic novels: 18, of which 6 were nonfiction
  • Cartoon collections: 1: The Book of Bunny Suicides, by Andy Riley
  • Comics, sorta: 1: Edward Gorey’s Amphigorey
  • Novellas: 2 stand-alones and one collection of novellas
  • Short stories: 5 collections

Miscellaneous:

  • Annual fat Russian novel: Notes from Underground, by Dostoevsky. There is something seriously messed up about the Russian psyche.
  • Re-reads: 12 (10 by Jim Butcher, 2 by Connie Willis)
  • Annual grammar book, A Little Book of Language, by David Crystal: disappointing

Authors:

 

  • 82 total

Favorite new (to me) authors:

  • Frans Gunnar Bengtsson
  • Mark Bittman
  • Stephen DeStefano
  • Lev Grossman
  • Stieg Larsson
  • Linda Medley
  • Stephanie O’Dea
  • Bram Stoker
  • David Wong

Best book of the year:

Can’t pick between these two. Castle Waiting, by Linda Medley, filled me with joy. The Folding Knife, by K. J. Parker, filled me with despair.

Honorable mentions:

  • Let the Right One In, by John Ajvide Lindqvist
  • The Long Ships, by Frans Gunnar Bengtsson
  • Food Matters, by Mark Bittman
  • Coyote at the Kitchen Door: Living with Wildlife in Suburbia, by Stephen DeStefano
  • Notes from Underground, by Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky
  • The Magicians, by Lev Grossman
  • Skinny Dip, by Carl Hiaasen
  • Clan Apis, by Jay Hossler
  • Full Dark, No Stars, by Stephen King
  • Stieg Larsson’s Millenium trilogy
  • Make It Fast, Cook It Slow, by Stephanie O’Dea
  • Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary, by David Sedaris
  • Dracula, by Bram Stoker

Worst:

  • Kage Baker’s Historical Fiction cum Science Fiction Company series has a couple of great characters and an extremely catchy plot hook, but she lost me with the pro-pedophilia, pro-rape message
  • The Possessed: Adventures with Russian books and the people who read them, by Elif Batuman, was boring. Boring I can forgive. What I cannot forgive is a book that promises to talk about Russian books and the people who read them, and then doesn’t.
  • What Color Is My Parachute?, by Richard Bolles. Why do I read bother with self-help books? I despise them. I might also point out that I have this year collected a healthy pile of rejection letters, balanced out by exactly zero (0) job interviews.

And finally… all the books I read! Sorted by author!

Aguirre-Sacasa, Roberto Stephen King’s the Stand: American Nightmares
Ajvide Lindqvist, John Let the Right One In
Anderson, Alun After the Ice: Life, Death, and Geopolitics in the New Arctic
Arnold, J.D. BB Wolf and the Three LPs
Atkinson, Kate Human Croquet
Bailey, Neal Female Force
Baker, Kage In the Garden of Iden
Baker, Kage Sky Coyote
Baker, Kage Mendoza in Hollywood
Baker, Kage The Graveyard Game
Baker, Kage The Life of the World to Come
Baker, Kage The Children of the Company
Baker, Kage The Machine’s Child
Baker, Kage The Sons of Heaven
Batuman, Elif The Possessed: Adventures with Russian books and the people who read them
Bender, Aimee The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake
Bengtsson, Frans Gunnar The Long Ships
Bittman, Mark Food Matters
Bolles, Richard What Color Is My Parachute?
Bray, Libba A Great and Terrible Beauty
Briggs, Patricia Moon Called
Brown, Jeffrey Cat Getting Out of a Bag
Brown, Jeffrey Incredible Change-Bots
Bryson, Bill In a Sunburned Country
Burns, Charles X’ed Out
Butcher, Jim Fool Moon
Butcher, Jim Grave Peril
Butcher, Jim Summer Knight
Butcher, Jim Death Masks
Butcher, Jim Blood Rites
Butcher, Jim Dead Beat
Butcher, Jim Proven Guilty
Butcher, Jim White Night
Butcher, Jim Small Favor
Butcher, Jim Turn Coat
Butcher, Jim Backup
Butcher, Jim Side Jobs
Butcher, Jim Changes
Butler, Robert Olen Severance
Carey, Jacqueline Kushiel’s Dart
Carey, Jacqueline Kushiel’s Chosen
Carey, Jacqueline Kushiel’s Avatar
Coben, Harlan Caught
Cronin, Justin Passage
Crystal, David A Little Book of Language
Deaver, Jeffery The Burning Wire
Deaver, Jeffery The Edge
DeStefano, Stephen Coyote at the Kitchen Door: Living with Wildlife in Suburbia
Dosa, David Making Rounds with Oscar
Dostoevsky, Fyodor Notes from Underground
Doxiades, Apostolos Logicomix
du Maurier, Daphne Classics of the Macabre
Eastland, Sam Eye of the Red Tsar
Franklin, Ariana A Murderous Procession
Franzen, Jonathan Freedom
Gaiman, Neil and Sarrantonio, Al Stories: All-New Tales
Garcia, Kami and Margaret Stohl Beautiful Creatures
Geary, Rick The Borden Tragedy
Gorey, Edward Amphigorey
Greene, Amy Bloodroot
Gregory, Daryl The Devil’s Alphabet
Grossman, Lev The Magicians
Heatley, Michael The Girl in the Song
Hely, Steve How I Became a Famous Novelist
Hiaasen, Carl Skinny Dip
Hill, Joe Heart-Shaped Box
Hill, Joe Horns
Hosler, Jay Clan Apis
Keller, Michael Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species: A Graphic Adaptation
Kernan, Piper Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison
King, Stephen American Vampire
King, Stephen Blockade Billy
King, Stephen Full Dark, No Stars
Kinney, Jeff Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Ugly Truth
Konigsburg, E.L. The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place
Krakauer, Jon Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman
Larsson, Stieg The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Larsson, Stieg The Girl Who Played with Fire
Larsson, Stieg The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest
Linnea, Ann Keepers of the Trees: A Guide to Re-Greening North America
McKinley, Robin The Outlaws of Sherwood
Medley, Linda Castle Waiting
Mina, Denise A Sickness in the Family
Neal, Nate The Sanctuary
O’Dea, Stephanie Make It Fast, Cook It Slow
Oliver, Lauren Before I Fall
Parker, K. J. The Folding Knife
Pollan, Michael Food Rules
Raicht, Mike The Stuff of Legend
Riley, Andy The Book of Bunny Suicides
Roach, Mary Packing for Mars
Rucka, Greg Batwoman: Elegy
Sachar, Louis The Cardturner
Saint-Exupery, Antoine de The Little Prince
Sedaris, Amy Simple Times: Crafts for Poor People
Sedaris, David Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary
Shell, Ellen Ruppel Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture
Simon, Scott Baby, We Were Made for Each Other: In Praise of Adoption
Singla, Anupy The Indian Slow Cooker Cookbook
Small, David Stitches
Stoker, Bram Dracula
Strauss, Rachelle Household Cleaning Self-Sufficiency
Taylor, Mark Crisis on Campus
Wells, Martha Death of the Necromancer
Willingham, Bill The Great Fables Crossover
Willingham, Bill Witches
Willis, Connie The Doomsday Book
Willis, Connie To Say Nothing of the Dog
Willis, Connie Blackout
Wong, David John Dies at the End
Wood, Brian Blood in the Snow
Wood, Brian Plague Widow