Posts Tagged ‘atozchallenge’

The Letter V (A-to-Z Challenge)

April 28, 2015

A Year in Provence, by Peter Mayle

Note:  As Provence is in the region of Vauclaus, and as the Peter Mayles lived in a house with a Vineyard, I feel that there are sufficient Letter V’s associated with this selection.

When I was a child I always eagerly awaited the arrival of the Reader’s Digest.  As soon as it arrived I would seize it and scan the right hand column of the table of contents, hoping to see humorist Will Stanton’s name there. I loved him. I believe – and I would like to look into this further but I don’t have time right now – that he was the one who wrote a story about an episode involving an American diner and a French waiter.

If I remember correctly this was basically a conversation recounted in the first person by the fictitious American, in which he and the waiter try desperately to communicate in basic French phrases.  Of course each phrase is most slap-stickishly misunderstood and even more hilariously misspelled using similar sounding but totally inappropriate English words.  I particularly remember one line where the waiter bows obsequiously and murmurs “Tray of Beans!”  Now, thanks to my many years of careful study of the French phrases employed by Hercule Poirot, I understand that this was obviously a joke on “tres bien” and so I can easily see why it was funny. I don’t know why I thought that it was funny then as I had not yet met Monsieur Poirot, but it simply slayed me. Desperate to share the joke I carried the magazine around and inflicted this story on each person in my family individually, making them drop everything and listen while I read it out loud, and every time I got to “Tray of Beans!” I would first break into titters and then into guffaws and then I would fall helplessly onto the floor laughing uncontrollably, unattractively, ungracefully and all by myself, because no one else thought it was funny at all.*

I am hopelessly enamored of the French language and it is the cruelest of ironies that Fate gifted me with a congenital inability to pronounce correctly even the simplest of French words.  I think it’s partly physiological — I’m pretty sure that to produce the tones intrinsic to the language requires a sinus structure that is not present in my head, and perhaps a smaller and more flexible tongue, and also a much stronger and more coordinated musculature of the lower face — and also partly psychological — I’m just way too self-conscious to even try making those beautiful, sonorous Gallic noises, much as I swoon at the sound of other people making them.  In my second year of college I was given a French song in my voice lesson and my tentative honks and infantile mews caused my voice teacher, the kindest man you can imagine, who was accepting to a fault and never laughed at anyone, first to go all wild-eyed and twitchy behind his beard and then to break down entirely. He was so sorry, afraid he had hurt my feelings, but I totally understood.  Languages in general are not my strong point, but French in particular is just not going to happen.

Still, I fantasize about living in France (perhaps as a mime) and here I found A Year in Provence to be very encouraging. On a casual first read it seemed to that Mr. Mayle and his wife plunged into living in France in exactly the way I would be likely to do if left unsupervised (that is, recklessly, on a whim, with no forethought whatsoever) and that it was only once they had arrived and settled in and he was casting about for something to keep himself busy that he conceived the bright idea to write a hilarious book about his experiences, kind of as a hobby, a little project on the side, something to fill the long afternoons.**

On second read, though, it is obvious even to me that A Year in Provence was certainly not only in the works, perhaps already under contract, but that it was no doubt the whole reason for the move in the first place and that framing it as a spontaneously plunging into a new experience was carefully planned as a major theme of the first few chapters, in which although Mr. Mayle does not know the language well and both misunderstands and mispronounces his way through the first few months, he is able nonetheless able to negotiate the activities of daily living in French.  Here’s the clue: after a while as you read you realize that these activities – visiting markets, gossiping with the neighbors, being available all day for the builders, making excursions to neighboring towns, seeking out the best places for lunch, finding out all about truffle hunting –  could only be the daily activities of a man who has the flexible schedule of a writer and the assurance that when he assembles all these experiences into manuscript form he will certainly be compensated most lucratively.  That’s alright, that’s the way sensible people do things.  Spontaneous activities run most smoothly on a roadbed of painstaking preparation, as I have been reminded often by the Patient Man (but not in those words, which he would think were not only an incomprehensible but a downright silly way of saying it).***

The book lures you in, though, seduces you with the idea that maybe you could really just up stakes and move to France yourself.  Is it any wonder that everyone envies a writer?  I wonder what else I could do remotely via computer from a farmhouse in the French countryside.  Medical data transcription?  Email fraud?  A pyramid scheme? Cold call insurance sales?  Tech support – no, probably not tech support.  One more reason to get cracking on the next Great American Novel, I guess. It could be a step to the Great American Living in France Novel.

See you tomorrow for Letter W,


*None of them speak French either.

**Actually I’m probably the only reader who ever interpreted it that way.  As I said, I do not have the gifts of forethought and planning and I so desperately wish that things could work out nicely without them that I’m always on the lookout for success stories of this type that I can share with the Patient Man and this probably coloured my initial reading.

***It’s amazing how many years it took me to figure out, for instance, that the very simple picnics being unpacked so casually on the lawn (oh, I’m sorry, the Lawn) at Tanglewood were the result of much planning, shopping, cooking, baking, garnishing, coordinating, accessorizing, packing and presenting.  All my picnics seemed to consist mostly of paper plates and plastic Walmart bags escaping to fly around annoying the old money.  I still don’t have the knack.  I mean, I can shop, plan, cook, bake, garnish, coordinate, accessorize and pack, but when it comes time to present I get nervous and drop things and then off fly the paper plates again.


The Letter U (A-to-Z Challenge)

April 26, 2015

U stands for Undecided

Throughout this challenge books have been practically flinging themselves out of the bookcase shouting, “Pick me! Pick me!” and more than once I have read through two or three candidates for a particular letter before coming to a decision and then re shelving the runners up, telling them that while I loved them and thought they were special and all that they weren’t quite what was wanted at this particular time.

Then along came letter U, not that unusual of a letter, more common than, say, X or Z* or even Q, which I had no trouble at all with.  Part of the Great Book Purge of this past winter included sorting the surviving books into bookcases by genre and then alphabetizing them by author.  So I went into the library (location of fiction and selected science fiction) and squatted down by the third shelf from the bottom on the far right toward the end of the T’s, to see what I could find.

There was one single book.  Brazil, by John Updike.  Sorry, but I don’t love John Updike.

I scanned the shelves for authors’ first names.

Umberto Eco.  I have three of his books, but I’m afraid they barely escaped the Great Book Purge because I just find them to be so much work.  I finally fought my way through The Name of the Rose a few years ago but The Island of the Day Before totally baffled me and I haven’t found the energy to tackle Baudolino.  I’m not sure why I even have Baudolino.  I must be subconsciously trying to pretend that I’m more literate than I really am.

To titles, then.

Under the Tuscan Sun.  Enjoyed it, but not really that much there to talk about.

So I started thinking about characters. Umberto suggested Humbert Humbert…Lolita? No.

I went around to the other rooms.  Between the children’s bookcases I discovered no fewer than three copies of Ursula K. Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea.  Unfortunately, none of us liked Earthsea at all.  The only reason we have three copies is because it was on three kids’ reading lists at different times and we could never find any of the copies we already owned so we thought we’d better grab another one just to be on the safe side.

There was only one thing for it.  I took a trip to the Goodwill.

Bent over sideways and leaning in closely to peer at the books I sidled along the shelves.  First I checked for authors. No one I didn’t already have, and here I’d just like to mention that there were no fewer than eight Umberto Eco books in pristine condition (ha! it’s not just me!) and at least a dozen Earthseas of the edition sold by purveyors of required summer reading, so apparently we aren’t the only ones who don’t feel the need to keep those around the house either.

Then I crept around again, this time checking the titles.

When I spied not one but TWO graceful capital letter U’s in metallic gold script on the well-broken spine of a fat pink paperback I thought I had hit the jackpot for sure. I leaned closer and squinted. The cursive font was so fancy as to be practically unreadable but I believe the title was Ursula’s Undoing.  I took a look at the cover and sneaked a peek inside but I’m sorry to report that the enormity of the bosoms and the luridity of the cover art were NOT entirely justified artistically,** at least not sufficiently for this challenge.

Remembering how I had been able to justify to myself talking about The Three Musketeers for the Letter S, I expanded my search parameters to include any title or author in which the letter U was involved in any capacity.

Dune caught my eye, and with fully one quarter of the letters in its title being the letter U it more than qualified under the new rules but I somehow wasn’t feeling science fiction-y today.

Cider House Rules was there (two internally placed U’s) and this gave me pause but only because I didn’t remember seeing it at home and I know I have it.

Of course there were shelves’ and shelves’ worth of the ubiquitous Jude Deveraux.  I’ve never looked inside a Jude Deveraux book and today was no exception.

Then I saw Snobs by Julian Fellowes.  I really liked another book of his I bought a few weeks ago that I can’t remember the title of just now. I bought Snobs, but to read later.

Then I gave up on Letter U and just started grabbing things for fun.

A biography of Louisa May Alcott.

Joys and Sorrows by Pablo Casals which I thought Yale Man might like.

State of the Union by Douglas Kennedy which I’d never heard of but it had an interesting picture on the cover. It looked like it could easily go either way*** but as the books at Goodwill are just a dollar each there’s not much harm done if something you buy turns out to be a stinker.  And, a bonus, it could qualify for Letter U if nothing else turned up.

An Irish Country Doctor by Patrick Taylor which I also might own already but I think not so I put it in the cart.

Jodi Picoult’s Sing You Home because sometimes I want to not-quite-mindlessly kill two hours but I’m not really in the mood to watch a movie.

The Jewish Book of Why, because I hadn’t seen it before and it looked interesting.

The Headmaster’s Wife  by Thomas Christopher Greene  because I’m a sucker for any book cover featuring brick buildings, fall foliage and a distant, solitary figure half hidden in the mist.

Then I saw it.  Down on the bottom shelf where they put the tall, heavy textbooks.  Convin & Peltason’s Understanding the Constitution.


This is a book that will be good for me.  It will be character building and ego-bolstering and educational. Unfortunately, there is no way I’m going to be able read it by this evening so, for today anyway, here endeth the Letter U.

One of these days I’ll let you know what I have learned about the Constitution.

See you Monday for Letter V,


*Although I’m kicking myself around the block for not saving Gatsby for letter Z, as it is dedicated “To Zelda.” That would have been astute and clever and entirely acceptable.

**Here, as most of you will have noticed, I modify a line delivered by one of Mr. Blackadder’s aging actors. I’m not sure I’m actually required to mention that, but one time I made the mistake of reading the comments on a news article in which one commentator used an iconic movie quote and another commentator immediately pounced on him, saying that he shouldn’t pretend he made it up when he was actually stealing it from a movie.  The first guy said he wasn’t pretending since it was obvious that everyone would recognize it.  The second guy said he was going to report him for plagiarism.  This, of course, is why no one should ever get involved in comment sections.  Anyway, now I’m nervous that if I don’t attribute the Blackadder spoof someone will report me.  Or worse, they’ll think I think I made it up.  When I was five years old I thought I had made up a nice little song on the piano, and it turned out to be a Minuet by J.S. Bach.  I’m still embarrassed by that one.

***It is bound in textured craft paper, which I find is often a bad sign.

The Letter S (A-to-Z Challenge)

April 22, 2015

The Three Musketeers, by Alexandre Dumas* **


The Three Musketeers is one of my five beloved paperbacks, the soft and cuddly ones I mentioned before that are as comforting as old shoes and as welcoming as old friends.  I think I read once that the real genius of Alexandre Dumas is his gift of dialogue, and if I didn’t read that somewhere I should have because to me that is the whole charm of The Three Musketeers.  Open your copy and find a place where Athos, Porthos and Aramis are bickering, possibly with one or more of their servants involved as well, and then D’Artagnan shows up and joins in.  They can go on for pages.  None of the lines needs the speaker to be identified because there is never a question of who is speaking.  I love this, and because natural dialogue has never been my forte several years ago I set myself to write from memory amusing or important conversations that happened around me.

Two recent events reminded me of that exercise.

Event the First:  This past weekend on the closing night of Young Maria Callas’ opera scenes show, Little Miss Sunshine and I took her and a new friend of hers out for a celebratory dinner. This new friend asked if we had any amusing and hopefully embarrassing childhood stories about Young Maria Callas, and since we were feeling pretty jolly by that point I took out my phone and opened one of these conversations I had saved.  I read it to him, using the various appropriate voices, and after that our table became very hilarious indeed.  It occurred to me then that it might be fun to post that conversation here, later on, after A-to-Z is finished, because it sheds light on the personalities of both Young Maria Callas and the Pokerface Joker whom most of my readers have never met.

Event the Second:  This morning I realized guiltily that although in the beginning of the Challenge I was very faithful about visiting five blogs daily and leaving thoughtful comments, I have lately gotten out of that habit.  I decided to do this before writing today’s entry because I knew if I left it until afterwards I would very likely run out of time and not do it.  So before I even got out of bed I poked through the list of participants, clicked on an appealing title, and discovered to my utter delight someone whose entire A-to-Z theme is the recounting of faithfully recorded conversations and these conversations are not only natural and lifelike but also very, very funny indeed.***

Is it not amazing how when you really want to do something you can find all sorts of signs indicating that you really should go ahead and do that thing right now without delay.

So out the window went poor Alexander McCall Smith,**** who was to have been the subject for the  Letter S, and in came Alexandre Dumas (who at least has an S at the end of his name, and plus he shares a first name with Alexander McCall Smith whose last name does begin with S) because he can serve as a springboard to the brilliant use of dialogue and from there to this dialogue exercise of my own!

And so now without further ado here is the conversation:


The Pokerface Joker and I are lying on his bed. I am reading to him. Young Maria Callas enters the room, stomping, and towers over us, frowning.

Young Maria Callas: There aren’t any band-aids.

Me: Do you need a band-aid?

Young Maria Callas: No. But I might soon, and there wouldn’t be any. PJ, did you use all the band-aids again?

Pokerface Joker: No.

YMC: Yes, you did. You took them all and stuck them all over yourself. There isn’t even one left.

PJ: No, I didn’t.

YMC: Yes, you did. When you weren’t even hurt. You just waste them. You do it all the time.

PJ: No, I don’t.

YMC: Yes, you do.

PJ: Well, I didn’t this time.

YMC: Yes, you did. You always do that.

PJ: No, you always do that.

YMC: No, you always do that.

PJ: No, you always do that.

YMC: No, you always…

Me: Stop it! Stop it!

YMC: (ostentatiously turning her head away from the Pokerface Joker) Mom, we need more band-aids. PJ took them all and stuck them all over himself when he wasn’t even hurt just like he always does.

PJ: No, I didn’t

YMC: Mom, we need more band-aids.

Me:  Alright, Young Maria Callas, I will buy more band-aids tomorrow. I cannot do it tonight. Do you need a band-aid now?

YMC: (reluctantly) No. But I might. And then there wouldn’t BE any, because PJ took them all and stuck them all over himself when he wasn’t even hurt. Just like he always does.

Me: Tomorrow I will buy some more. And PJ won’t do that anymore.

PJ: She’s the one who does it.

YMC: Fine.

PJ: Not me.

YMC: Shut up! Just shut up!

Me: Everyone! Stop it! I will buy band-aids! No one will waste them anymore! Okay? Can I read now?

YMC stares down at us with folded arms while I try very hard not to laugh. My mouth twitches. I can’t help it. She begins to retreat furiously. As she reaches the door the Pokerface Joker mutters.

PJ: She’s the one who does it.

I can’t help it. I snort.

Young Maria Callas slams the door hideously. I ignore this and begin to read aloud. Young Maria Callas opens her own door across the hall and immediately there is a terrible crash followed by horrific shrieking. The Pokerface Joker and I lie very still. We are very afraid.

The shrieking stops.

Young Maria Callas’ door opens and closes.

The Pokerface Joker’s door opens.

Young Maria Callas enters and glares at us. She seems to sort of float across the floor toward us on a wave of fury.

YMC: In case you care, even though you didn’t bother to ask, I’m okay. Except I stubbed my toe.

My mouth is twitching and I can’t seem to breathe in or out. I don’t dare blink. I speak very evenly.

Me: I’m sorry, Sweetie. Are you alright?

And then the Pokerface Joker speaks very sweetly.

PJ: Do you need a band-aid?


Alright.  Thanks for your patience.  Tomorrow we will talk about an actual book, I promise!

See you tomorrow for Letter T,


*I did mention earlier that I’m a champion rationalizer and manipulator of rules and that the constraints of the alphabet would be as nothing to me in the way of limiting what I might choose to feature for any particular letter.

**Probably here ‘S’ should also stand for Self-Serving Segue.


****Actually nothing would please me more than to spend the day immersed in the eighteen or so Alexander McCall Smith books I’ve got lying around but unfortunately I’ve got one or two things to do this afternoon, so the signs and omens directing me to switch over to something I’d already written were very welcome indeed.  Just to clarify, I don’t actually believe in signs and omens.  Unless of course they tell me something I want to believe anyway.

The Letter R (A-to-Z Challenge)

April 21, 2015

The Beginning of the Armadillos, by Rudyard Kipling

In Rudyard Kipling’s tale The Beginning of the Armadillos,* two friends named Slow-and-Solid Tortoise and Stickly-Prickly Hedgehog live and play together in a very Frog-and-Toad-like way along the banks of the turbid Amazon.  One morning a young and hungry Painted Jaguar approaches them with the idea of breakfast and the animals are able to thwart him, at first by Slow-Solid by retreating into his shell and by Stickly-Prickly shoving spines into the big kitten’s paw.  Then they confuse him with a mixture of distorted truth and outright deception, baffle him with twisted and clever back chat and finally tie him up in a tangle of semantics.  Frustrated and still hungry, Painted Jaguar runs crying to his Mummy.

The two friends eavesdrop on their conversation and are horrified to hear Mummy providing Painted Jaguar with detailed, species-specific instructions on how to kill and eat tortoises and hedgehogs.  It is obvious that Painted Jaguar now knows exactly what’s what and the two friends are resigned to the fact that he will be back to get them in the morning and that this time he will be armed with a fatally accurate knowledge of their respective weaknesses.

“I do not like this old lady at all — at all,” said Slow-and-Solid Tortoise.  “Even Painted Jaguar can’t forget those directions.  It’s a great pity you can’t swim, Stickly-Prickly.

“Don’t talk to me,” said Stickly-Prickly.  “Just think how much better it would be if you could curl up.  This is a mess!”

But forewarned is forearmed, and the animals do not panic but instead calmly set to work to save themselves, working through the night as each shares with the other the skills of bending and of swimming, conversing all the while in the fun, finicky language of old bachelors.

Stickly-Prickly helped to unlace Tortoise’s back plates, so that by twisting and straining Slow-and-Solid actually managed to curl up a tiddy wee bit.

“Excellent!” said Stickly-Prickly; “but I shouldn’t do any more just now.  It’s making you black in the face.  Kindly lead me into the water once again and I’ll practice that sidestroke which you say is so easy.”  And so Stickly-Prickly practiced, and Slow-Solid swam alongside.

“Excellent!” said Slow-Solid. “A little more practice will make you a regular whale.  Now, if I may trouble you to unlace my back and front plates two holes more, I’ll try that fascinating bend that you say is so easy.  Won’t Painted Jaguar be surprised!”

“Excellent!” said Stickly-Prickly, all wet from the Turbid Amazon.  “I declare, I shouldn’t know you from one of my own family.  Two holes, I think, you said? A little more expression, please, and don’t grunt quite so much, or Painted Jaguar may hear us.  When you’ve finished, I want to try that long dive which you say is so easy.  Won’t Painted Jaguar be surprised!”

And so Stickly-Prickly dived, and Slow-and-Solid dived alongside.

Kipling must surely have been a big Homer fan and most certainly The Beginning of the Armadillos was intended to be read aloud since, much like the wine dark seas and the rosy-fingered dawns of the Odyssey, Kipling’s repeated addictive and soothing references to the Turbid Amazon and the High and Far Off Times and the periodic addressing of the story to O Best Beloved build and weave an irresistible rhythm that lulls both parent and child to settle deeply into the gentle tale.

Is this a traditional fable retold or a story from Kipling’s imagination?  I do not know.  It’s a good one though.  I hope your mother read it to you and if she didn’t, I hope you will read it to someone yourself.

See you tomorrow for Letter S,


*quotes from Kipling, Rudyard, and Lorinda Bryan Cauley. The Beginning of the Armadillos. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1985. Print.

The Letter P (A-to-Z Challenge)

April 17, 2015

Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen

I discovered Jane Austen by accident and held onto her out of desperation.

Within a period of twenty-six months during the late eighties I went from cocky brand new college graduate who knew more than anyone to snotty grad student surely about to rack up unprecedented academic honors to grad school dropout to minimum wage office gopher to new bride (one bright spot at least!) to different office gopher (just while my husband was in law school – then I’d go back to grad school*) to (Ack! Surprise!) new mom.  It reminded me of the time I had travelled from St. Petersburg, Russia (at that time Leningrad) to New England to California to far Northwestern Alaska (above the arctic circle) in the space of six days**  Both experiences left me dizzy and disoriented and, when looking at my watch, not entirely sure if it was 3:00 a.m. or 3:00 p.m.

During the long days alone in a small apartment with Little Miss Sunshine,*** who I was slightly afraid of because I actually had never so much as held a baby before she was born, I discovered the delightful fact that as long as I would hold her in my arms she would sleep peacefully for hours.  I’m sure I’m not the first new mom who has perfected the art of gliding smoothly around the house cuddling the baby closely and securely with one’s right arm and upper left arm while using one’s left forearm to reach for things.  One day my left hand reached out, t-rex-like, and grabbed Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and carried it over to the couch and Little Miss Sunshine and I sat down together – I to read and she to sleep – and that was the end of my getting anything else done for awhile.****

All six of Jane Austen’s books (second hand paperbacks, of course) were sitting unread in the living room bookcase.  I had acquired them months before during a weekend spree at Smith’s Family Bookstore in Eugene, Oregon and had brought them home and given them pride of place on a shelf right at eye level but had not yet taken any of them out to read.  I knew they were classics. Very intelligent and articulate friends of mine – English majors – raved about them.  The trouble was, I was slightly afraid I wouldn’t like them and that this would reflect badly on me.

Of course I needn’t have worried. Where I had gotten the idea that the books would be dry and hard to follow is beyond me. Everyone knows (at least everyone reading this knows) how engaging and insightful and appealing and timeless and generally wonderful the Austen books are so I won’t go into that here.  Instead, as I do increasingly, I’ll use Jane as a springboard to another and only tenuously related topic.

Jane Austen, who lived at home all her life and wrote her books in the parlor, is known to have covered up her work whenever anyone came into the room.  I find this so endearing of her to have done.  I understand it so well.  When I am writing anything – and I mean anything from my novel I’m supposedly working on to a blog entry to a nasty letter (a guilty hobby of mine) to a fb messenger conversation with one of the kids – and anyone happens to stroll into the room, I simply can’t continue.  If the Patient Man comes in and stands behind my chair and makes as if to look at the screen I have to close the screen. Goodness only knows what he must think I’ve been looking at.  But if Jane Austen didn’t want her own family catching a glimpse of such as Pride and Prejudice before she was ready to show it, how much more should I feel the need to shelter my poor scribbles?

Another really interesting thing I recently learned about Jane Austen was that, lacking google docs or wordperfect or even a typewriter and a bottle of white out, she made extensive revisions to her handwritten manuscripts by writing the new material on little pieces of paper and pinning them into the original with straight pins. I found this out by following a link an English teacher friend posted on facebook one time.  It was similar to this link which I found just now through google.

Isn’t that interesting?  This is what I miss about facebook.  I had so many friends there whom I don’t have access to in real life, and some of them put up really interesting things almost daily and I picked up so much esoterica by clicking on those links.  I miss that a lot.

I think I might have to go back.

Actually, I feel that I really owe it everyone involved to go back.

It’s not like I was providing educational or improving links that others were relying on.  No, I was mostly just doing the same thing I’m doing here, yakking on and on, arranging small words in such a way that I come out looking clever and funny and interesting without actually saying all that much. The real reason is that I’ve just switched over to posting everything on Instagram and ‘accidentally’ pressing ‘share on facebook’, which even I can’t pretend isn’t really just using facebook.  And if I’m going to do that, and with graduation and birthday and recital and vacation season coming up you can bet I’m going to continue doing that, it’s very rude of me to turn my face away while backhandedly slipping my own pictures right out there where everyone else has to look at them.  This is a behavior analogous to gathering up your winnings and leaving the game while you’re ahead (I infer this from fiction, as I don’t know how to play cards) or (this one is from my experience) to requesting that your own child play first on the program and then getting up and walking out of the recital without staying to listen to everyone else’s kids.

But as long as we were speaking of Jane Austen, let’s think about it.  Would not she herself have simply adored Facebook? What a rich addition to plot and characters.  What a goldmine of gossip dressed as photo captions and passive aggressive treachery lurking in perky comments followed by smiling emoji!  And how the characters could have revealed themselves through their facebook activity!

  • Mary Bennet would post links to reviews of learned books she hadn’t read.
  • Lydia and Kitty would giggle together and goad each other into inappropriately friend requesting young officers, and repeatedly infest their computer with viruses picked up from celebrity gossip pages.
  • Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst would take delight in posting unflattering pictures of Jane and Elizabeth Bennet and then commenting on what perfect likenesses they were.
  • Mrs. Bennet would spend hours minutely analyzing the pages of all her women friends and then shredding their characters based on her findings, to Mr. Bennet, who would pretend not to listen.
  • Mr. Bennet wouldn’t have a facebook and would sneer at anyone who did.
  • Jane Bennet would move systematically and judiciously through her newsfeed each morning bestowing likes and comments equally on friend and foe.
  • And Elizabeth Bennet?  How I would love to know how Jane Austen would deal with Elizabeth’s facebook involvement. I have an idea she would have made her one of those people who will set up a page and then never use it because they aren’t actually all that interested in such trivia. If Elizabeth had had a page she would most certainly have deactivated it during the time Mr. Darcy was ignoring her.

Whatever your opinion of my speculations expressed above, I think we can all agree that facebook society is as rich in plot and drama as any Regency Period English village ever was. There’s just so much there! I ask myself, “What Would Jane Do?”

And I answer myself…

See you tomorrow for Letter Q, and quite possibly see you soon on facebook,


 *Nope.  Didn’t.  Too lazy.

**Look at a globe and count up how many time zones that trip covered.  I’ve never bothered to do so but I know it was several. I was a wreck all summer, and living in constant daylight above the arctic circle didn’t help.

***Little Miss Sunshine is herself all set to graduate from law school next month.

****I think I mentioned before that I can’t seem to get as much done as other people do.  One reason may be that I will always immediately drop anything to read a book.  This is not a virtue and I’m not presenting it as one.  When I told my mom that I had discovered a wonderful new author and was taking advantage of Little Miss Sunshine’s nap times to read (which I thought of as necessary refreshment for the frazzled spirit) she was horrified.  “I should think that you’d want to use the baby’s naptime to catch up on your housework,” she said reprovingly.  I don’t think she actually thought anything of the kind; she had known me quite well for twenty-four years and during all that time I’m pretty sure I never once willingly put down a book in order to do anything useful.

The Letter O (A-to-Z Challenge)

April 17, 2015

I’m going out on a limb here (har har – you’ll get it in a minute) and choosing for the Letter O my favourite character from A.A. Milne’s The World of Pooh and The World of Christopher Robin, and that would be Owl.  Poor Owl, loving the big words but generally misusing or misspelling them, or when he happens to use them correctly his friends think he’s sneezing.  Living in his tree house with his books and his paper and pen, painstakingly writing speeches which he is never allowed to finish, unfailingly gracious and generous with using his literary skills to decipher letters for his little friends, always available to provide the ink-spattered and originally spelt signage necessary for their adventures, sagely dispensing wisdom and carefully considered advice to all the creatures of the Hundred Acre Wood.

And in another attenuated and awkward* leap here I am going to post a link to something which made me suddenly and thoughtlessly laugh out loud in a very percussive manner in the middle of the night, badly startling the Patient Man.  It is in honor of Owl.

I hope you enjoyed that and I hope it more than makes up for the very thoughtful analysis I was planning on Homer’s Odyssey.

Wait for Letter P, though.  It’s gonna be a good one!

Working hard to catch up, thank you for reading!


*My my, I seem to be quite into alliteration today, do I not?  Or is still alliteration when the words start with vowels?  

The Letter J (A-to-Z Challenge)

April 16, 2015

J is for The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes.

J is also for Uncle Junior, who way back around Letter E supplied me not only with a suggestion for the Letter J but also a short description which he hoped would entice me into reading it:

Please PLEASE make the letter J be Julian Jaynes. (How can you go wrong with TWO J’s?). He wrote the BEST EVER serious book. “The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind”. It is way over the top my favorite book of all time. He was a Yale Psychology Professor who, in the 1970s, wrote a startling theory about how and when humans became ‘conscious’ and what that means. And, interestingly enough, it is very readable.

He even has a chapter on people like Ellen White with extraordinary consciousness.


When I received this email I thanked Uncle Junior (who is my youngest brother, fifteen years my senior) and explained that I was only using books that either I have read and internalized enough to have formed some sort of opinion on or at least have a personal story of some kind attached to them. Besides, although he claims that the book is very readable, one has to understand that Uncle Junior has about seventy-five IQ points on me.  No, better make that fifty points. I’m no slouch. But he is particularly brilliant.

But then right after Letter H two situations converged: I had a packed weekend and my brain got very, very tired.  As I said, I’m no slouch, but I have been constantly at the beck and call of up to four children for the past twenty-seven years and I am afraid that this has taken its toll on my mental stamina.  Please don’t get your back up, I’m not saying that raising children is a lowly occupation or that that it chips away at your intelligence.*  Many women can do it all: raise well-rounded, high-achieving kids, have a brilliant career, keep a gorgeous home, have personal hobbies.  I myself had to pick one and I picked the kids.  They seem to be turning out alright so at least there’s that.  But, and this is a big but, I am afraid that my brain may have atrophied a little in the process.**

Now the kids are mostly grown and I’m facing some unpleasant truths.  For instance, I used to be a champion multi-tasker and I thought at the time that this was because I was clever and capable.  Alas, it turns out it was only because I was constantly being interrupted and handed multiple tasks to do.  Left to myself now I will start a task and keep working on it slowly, waiting for someone to stop me and give me another one, and when this doesn’t happen I just keep plugging away, ever more slowly,  without really knowing how to stop or how to decide to go on to something else.***

I’ve been finding this a little disturbing.  So over the past few days I cheerfully accepted all the activities and tasks that were handed to me, but unfortunately no one said, “Oh, hadn’t you better also get to that A-to-Z Challenge project of yours?”

Which meant that I didn’t.

And so it’s Uncle Junior to the rescue!  I here append the disclaimer that not only have I never read The Origin of Whatever in the Bi-something-or-another Mind, I have never even heard of it.  I would go ahead and read it this evening**** but I’m afraid I have to work on Letter P for tomorrow (right?) and any spare thinking time has to go into filling in the place holders for Letters K, L, M, N and O.*****

I do hope you enjoy it.  Please someone let me know if you think I’d like it too.

See you tomorrow for Letter ?


*But in fact I’m pretty sure that it does chip away at your intelligence, but only in the nicest possible way.

**Again.  I’m not offending YOU!  This is about ME!

***Did you see Pleasantville?  I’m the soda jerk polishing a hole in the counter because the assistant never showed up.

****I have to warn you that Uncle Junior, who insists upon having a very optimistic opinion of my intellectual abilities, sometimes thinks things are much more understandable than they really are.  I confess that although I do enjoy nearly everything he recommends, sometimes I grasp only a tiny bit of what the writer is actually trying to say as I’m mostly enjoying the rhythm of the sentences and the interesting and unusual vocabulary and the illusion that I am a very smart person indeed to be reading this really smart book.

*****Hopefully they won’t stand for Kill me now, Let’s just get this over with, M is for obsolete Mommy who can’t write, Never again, and Oh that’s it I quit.

The Letter H (A-to-Z Challenge)

April 9, 2015

Hour of Gold, Hour of Lead: Diaries and Letters of Anne Morrow Lindbergh

I bought this paperback edition at the delightful ‘Briar & Tobac’* in Brainerd, Tennessee, a shop which sold pipes and tobacco in the front room and used books in the back room.  Books bought there smelled deliciously of pipe tobacco; if I open my copy just enough to admit my face, press the pages tightly to my ears and bury my nose deep in the binding I can still catch a faint, fragrant whiff.  I’m a tiny bit embarrassed to say that I first picked this book up because I thought it had something to do with unicorns.**  The reason for this is that under the title “Hour of Gold, Hour of Lead” were the words “by the author of ‘Bring Me a Unicorn.’”  I pulled the book out and added it to the stack in my arms, and then noticed that the next book on the shelf was that very Bring Me a Unicorn.  I pulled that one out, and just inside the cover a poem was printed:


Everything today

has been heavy and brown.

Bring me a unicorn

to ride about the town.   – A.M.L.


My, wasn’t that whimsical.  I admired it very much, because back in those formative years I still saw myself becoming someone just that charming and whimsical.  This was before I evolved into the cynical monster I am today, who views all things whimsical in a very negative light. Not long ago I walked down the main street of a self-consciously quaint New England town, one of the smaller, poorer ones way inland that doesn’t have much to attract tourists, and as I was walking along minding my own business I nearly tripped over a pair of green wellington boots someone had left right in the middle of the brick sidewalk.  I tried to kick them to the side and found that they were actually glued to the bricks.  Incredulously I noticed that there were two or three more pairs of boots in other pastel colours glued in a carefully random pattern under a shop window.

“I’ll bet someone thinks they’re being very whimsical!” I raged, and sure enough, when I looked up at the window there was the hated word right there in the name of the shop.

I am happy that I bought the two books, whatever my feelings on whimsy might be today.  They are two volumes of an autobiography told in diary entries and letters.  Although the excerpts are carefully selected and no doubt sanitized in order to present her life in the best possible light, still they tell her story from her own perspective, which is of course what we all would do if given the chance.

This was a girl so sheltered and tradition bound that the most daring act of rebellion she could imagine was defiantly enrolling at Vassar when all the women of her family had gone to Smith….and even then, she didn’t actually follow through.  A shy little rich girl, daughter of an ambassador, who read books and wrote poems and didn’t like talking to strangers but somehow grew up to marry the wildly famous aviator Charles Lindbergh, to learn to navigate and to fly and to accompany her husband all over the world.

It’s a kind of life you wouldn’t necessarily even dream of unless you read an account by someone who lived it.

Just the kind of treasure you can find in the back room of a tobacco shop.

See you tomorrow for Letter I,

*I tried to look it up.  If it still exists, it hasn’t bothered to inform Google.

**I can’t imagine why this would have appealed to me; I just remember thinking it.

The Letter E (A-to-Z Challenge)

April 6, 2015

East of Eden

John Steinbeck


Among my way too many books there are five elderly paperbacks that have been read and and reread and loved almost beyond repair, they are faded and scraped and scarred from being stashed in totes and backpacks, torn and twisted from being jammed tightly into banana boxes for moving or carelessly knocked down behind nightstands or kicked under car seats where they fraternized with old homework papers and food wrappers and collected dents and nicks and grease spots; their corners are rounded and their covers are creased and tattered, their once-stiff paper spines now as flexible as fabric bandages, their edges thumbed to the softness of an old oxford shirt.  Sometimes I will reach for one of these beloved books as much for the comforting touch of their pliable bodies and their frayed and sueded covers as for their content.  Like the Velveteen Rabbit, these books have become ‘real’.

The titles of these five paper bound companions of the bosom are: The Three Musketeers, The Hobbit, The Pickwick Papers, The Canterbury Tales, and John Steinbeck’s East of Eden.

Now comes the bad part.  The fact is that I didn’t get a chance to read over East of Eden this weekend like I meant to do. This isn’t because I procrastinated or indulged in Easter excesses.  It is because when I went to reach for my comfortable old velvet-soft copy I remembered with a horrid shock that SOMEONE had BORROWED it and LOST it.

I do have a new copy, but it is beyond horrible.  I don’t know why anyone would bind a book like this.  It’s awkwardly over sized, not quite tall and wide enough for its thickness.  The pages are made of that rough craft paper people use for homemade Christmas cards which makes it unnecessarily bulky.  If it had either a flexible paper cover or a decent hard cover you could almost deal with the pages, but the textblock has been glued into a stiff, shiny armor of rigid cardstock  that seems to be constantly trying to dissociate itself from the floppy pages. However you try to hold it the sharp edged cover cuts into your hands. There is simply no way to read this book.  It’s too chunky to hold in one hand, it’s too inflexible and fat to lie open on a desk or a table and – this last bit defies belief but I swear it’s true – the pages are deckle-edged.  You literally cannot get hold of the pages to turn them.  Who on earth thinks it’s a good idea to make a deckle-edged book?  Not someone who has actually ever read a book.

So the problem is I don’t have a readable copy of East of Eden and it’s almost noon on Letter E Day.

I’m afraid that the only thing left to do is to apologize that this has turned into a story about my own copy of East of Eden instead of the recommendation for John Steinbeck’s East of Eden which I had intended, and then post it anyway.*  If only there were more hours left in this day, if only I had started thinking about this yesterday, if only I had any copy to skim through other than the nasty shiny artsy paper one that I can’t even bear to hold in my hands . . . but there aren’t, and I didn’t, and I don’t, so there it is.**

Tell you what, though, I also love Cannery Row, and I believe that ‘R’ is still up for grabs,*** so maybe we can look forward to that.

See you tomorrow for Letter F,****


*Of course, if you’re actually interested, there are bound to be dozens of reviews out there written by people way more qualified than myself.

**This did bring my word count down to 662 though.

***See my disclaimer regarding my reserving the right to abuse and/or ignore the rules of alphabetization.

****Already written, I promise!

The Letter D (A-to-Z Challenge)

April 4, 2015


Dandelion Wine, Ray Bradbury


It’s typical that I stumbled onto this challenge only two or three days before it started, and it’s also typical that it didn’t occur to me that it would have been possible even then to write up at least a couple of the entries ahead of time.*  I also read the calendar wrong (and now I can’t even find it) and I thought that we didn’t post on weekends, but this morning’s email brought notifications of Letter D posts from some of my new friends.  So, instead of spending a cozy weekend mulling over Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine and posting a carefully considered essay on Monday as I had planned to do, I’ll just dash off a short post quickly because A) if I miss one day I will collapse into a puddle of failure and give up on the whole project, and more importantly B) Dandelion Wine is a terrific book and I really want to share it with you.

Dandelion Wine is a memoir of Bradbury’s childhood in Waukegan, Illinois, a blessed but not unordinary childhood recalled by a gifted thinker and writer who treasured his family and his friends and saw the magic behind the ordinary of everything.  Here is a bit of a poem he includes in his introduction:


…While by the porch-rail calm and bold

His words pure wisdom, stare pure gold

My grandfather, a myth indeed,

Did all of Plato supersede

While Grandmother in rockingchair

Sewed up the raveled sleeve of care

Crocheted cool snowflakes rare and bright

To winter us on summer night.

And uncles, gather with their smokes

Emitted wisdoms masked as joked,

And aunts as wise as Delphic maids

Dispensed prophetic lemonades

To boys knelt there as acolytes

To Grecian porch on summer nights;

Then went to bed, there to repent

The evils of the innocent;

The gnat-sins sizzling in their ears

Said, through the nights and through the years

Not Illinois nor Waukegan

But blither sky and blither sun.

Though mediocre all our Fates

And Mayor not as bright as Yeats

Yet still we knew ourselves.  The sum?



Set in the summer of 1928, Dandelion Wine is a memoir of childhood that speaks to all of us no matter when or where we grew up.  

You smell the dust and feel the sun of your own twelfth summer, blink in the dazzling green and gold of June, shiver in the cool damp grass in the chill of early evening. You remember picking blackberries, the creak of the porch swing at dusk, the whir of the mower as your older brother cuts the grass.  You feel again the sinking of your heart when your best friend moved away from town, the day your own grandmother slipped away on down the shore, you remember your own elderly friends and neighbors now long gone.

The end of the introduction:

I see my grandfather there looking up at that strange drifting light, thinking his own thoughts.  I see me, my eyes filled with tears, because it was all over, the night was done, I knew there would never be another night like this.

No one said anything.  We all just looked up at the sky and we breathed out and in and we all thought the same things, but nobody said.  Someone finally had to say, though, didn’t they?  And that one is me.

The wine still waits in the cellars below.

My beloved family still sits on the porch in the dark.

The fire balloon still drifts and burns in the night sky of an as yet unburied summer.

Why and how?

Because I say it is so.


Maudlin, you say?  It is not.  Read and see.

See you tomorrow for Letter E,


*I clicked back to to a late March pre-challenge post on someone’s interesting blog yesterday and in that post he mentioned that he was working night and day cranking out his alphabet entries for April.  I also noticed that someone else hits ‘post’ at exactly 12:00 a.m. each day.  What?  I thought we were supposed to write them in the morning and post them in the afternoon.