Books

Book Recommendations to Tide You Over While You Wait for Episode 8

What to do what to do what to do while waiting for new Serial Podcasts . . .

I’m kidding really – not that addicted, yeah.

Anyway, I read two fantastically entertaining books in a row, such a rarity, that I thought I’d share.
20170404

First, Station Eleven.  I’m really over post-apocolyptic YA; I’m done with Hunger Game clones, and teenage angst and anxiety played out over distopian scenarios.  Station Eleven dispenses with the typical post-apocolyptic formula – rather than concentrate on the wildfire spread of the flu, and the obvious chaos that must have followed, Station Eleven picks up 20 years after nearly 90% of the world’s population has been extinguished, and we’re left with a cast of character who have managed to survive, I supposed, because they have let go of the past.  Part of the plot follows a traveling company of Shakespearian performers, and the curious survival of the traveling roadshow.  There are flashbacks, and strangely connected characters, and really interesting details, such as a character trying to remember and then describe what a working computer monitor looks like.  Characters who remember the past, characters who only know the present, and this stripped away existence, without electricity, internet, books, and global connection.  The connections in this book are intimate, and meaningful, in a way remarkable considering how isolated the characters are, living in gas stations, stranded in the airport, or examining the world through an old comic book.  Anyway, the plot, the characters, the concepts are all really thoughtful, and stayed with me long after I finished the book.

So much so that I had a book hangover after reading it – I didn’t want to read another book because I was afraid it would bring down my book high.

But, of course, I did pick up another book and this time, one that is light and frothy, and a book lover’s perfect tale.

18293427

The book is just completely charming.  All of the characters are good people, and all are flawed – all are just incredibly human and they feel like friends.

So, that’s it, until next time . . .

The Emperor’s New Clothes – The Passage

Every week, I get a dozen emails from Amazon – bestselling mysteries, New York Times bestsellers, bestselling cookbooks, etc.  Today, I received, the Best Books of 2010 – So Far.  No 1?  The Passage by Justin Cronin.

Do Not, I Repeat, Do Not get sucked into the hype that has attached itself to this doorstop of a book.  This book is nothing short of terrible.  So terrible I didn’t finish it – because finishing it would have been an oxymoron – there’s no ending.  It’s a planned trilogy.  And it’s not a stand alone. 

I read a review of the book that didn’t quite pan it, but was hardly a drum banger, and it suggested that this was the book Mr. Cronin wrote in order to send his kids to college.  Well, if you want to put some change in his pockets, buy his earlier books – Mary and O’Neil and The Summer Guest – simple, beautiful, well drawn character studies, not this magnum opus mess-us.

The Passage has received a lot of “word of mouth” publicity – well, really, its only one big powerful mouth that’s pushing this book – Stephen King.  And why wouldn’t he – it’s a total ripoff of his Stand, and what’s the highest form of flattery?  Imitation.  King has been sucked in by this 700+ page ass kissing, and now he wants you to get sucked in too.

Don’t, I repeat, Don’t do it!

I can’t even believe I’m going to say this, but here it goes – deep breath – the New Moon saga series vampires are more compelling than the goons in this book.

And, if you really want the pants scared off of you, and you want good zombie/vampire stuff, literally eat your face off stuff – rent 28 Days and 28
Days Later.  That’s about a four hour investment as opposed to the time it’ll take you to get through this garbage – and the next two.

Listen to Lemon – she’s imploring you –

lemon in living room

A Window Box and a Book Review – Why A Window Box Reminds Me of Prison

week3closeup

This week’s window box lives on Latimer Street, not far from my office. I picked this box, not because of it’s composition – it’s lovely, but pretty standard.

I picked it because it has attitude – a definite Philadelphia attitude. This box says, “you give me garbage, I’ll give you petunias. You want to write on that wall over there, fine – I’ll answer with pansies.”

week3blackandwhite

It says “I don’t care that I live in an alleyway, a back alley for that matter, full of dumpsters, garbage, graffiti. I don’t care what goes on on the street below, what business is conducted. I don’t care about the dim parking garage, or the after hours club across the street, that brings out seedy characters as the sun begins to rise. Whatever . . . this is the perfect place for a window box.”

week3acrossthestreet

And, in that small space, maybe 20 feet above the ground, when you look up, there is a moment of beauty.

week3withparkingsign

And, I was thinking about this box as I finished reading Piper Kerman’s prison memoir, Orange is the New Black, My Year in A Women’s Prison.

When I first started at the public defender’s office fourteen years ago, I used to meet my ride to the prison in this back alley, at the parking garage on Latimer. Back then, there wasn’t a women’s prison – the women’s prison and the men’s maximum security facility shared the same building. So, there weren’t a lot of resources for the women – no official visiting area, no place to really meet with clients. So we met with them in the “law library,” which contained law books circa 1972, several children’s books, and a few bodice rippers. If we couldn’t meet with them in the library, then it was either in the laundry room, or perhaps a social worker’s office, if someone happened to call out sick. Man did I hate going to the laundry room – the laundry room was fairly close to the kitchen, and the two smells together were more than overwhelming. And, it’s there that we interviewed women about their cases, inside the prison, where they lived, worked, and waited.

But, that was then, and now, the women are housed at Riverside Correctional Facility for Women. I don’t have to go to the laundry room, or the social workers office, or the makeshift law library – there’s now an official visiting area one steel door beyond receiving. I’ve never seen the inside inside of RCF – and I think that’s what drew me to Ms. Kerman’s book – because while you’re sitting in that official visiting area, waiting for your client to emerge from inside the heart of the prison, you can’t help but wonder – could I make it? Could I do the time? Whenever I convey an offer to my client, there usually comes a time when they ask me, what would you do, would you take it? And my answer generally is, it’s your case, you have to do the time. I can’t do the time for my clients, I have no idea what it means to walk in their shoes, so when I read Ms. Kerman’s husband’s columns in the New York Times about visiting her in prison, I thought, eh, I’ll read her book – then I’ll know.

But, really – you don’t. Ms. Kerman, throughout the book, is constantly reminding you she’s not walking in “their’ shoes – because she doesn’t really belong there – her crime is sooooo old, and she went to Smith, and she has a good family, and she has a wonderful fiancée, and she has a website and she reads real books, not cheap novels. And to walk in “their” shoes – meaning real criminals, not her, you have to walk in those shoes out of the prison, and she was always cognizant of the fact that she was going to walk back into her privileged life, change out of her prison slippers and into Coach boots and be on her way. So, while she rails against mandatory sentences and inflexible sentencing guidelines (all of which I am in complete agreement with her), the truth is, her case is almost an argument for mandatory sentences and sentencing guidelines (and guidelines, in the federal system, is a misnomer – they are mandatory as well) – because if there weren’t guidelines, she would have gotten probation, whereas someone who committed the same crime but not coming from a similar privileged background would go to jail.

And, I guess she feels better about that by rationalizing – it’s because I have a high powered attorney. But, it’s not – it’s who you are that gets you your sentence, not who your attorney is. Our federal public defender’s office (we’re technically all part of the same Defender Association, and have the same board, but our federal office pretty much functions independently as part of the federal system) has some of the finest attorneys in the country, and they are recognized as such – this is their life’s work. And, they don’t do it because they can’t find other jobs, or they went to inferior law schools, they do it for the same reason I do my job – because it’s who we are and what we do. So, I’m not sure why it was necessary for her to single out the public defender’s phone in the law library as an example of poor representation. But, whatever, that’s just my personal beef.

So, while prison for her did seem on one hand to be a book waiting to happen, an experiment, it did suck, she did do her time, and the book was interesting from that perspective – one woman’s journey through prison.  We know what it would be like to walk in Ms. Kerman’s shoes through prison, but I’m not sure what it would mean to walk in Natalie’s shoes, or Pop’s shoes, or Mrs. Jones’ shoes, or any of the other inmates she introduces us to throughout the book.  And, what Ms. Kerman advocates -a restorative system of justice (i.e., probation) – requires rehabilitation, not retribution – which is what she experienced.  Well, that’s all well and good, I’m with her there too, but for rehabilitation to begin, and for probation to work and be appropriate, rehabilitation begins with recognition, and Ms. Kerman never quite gets why she’s there.  Her crime was a whim, a need for excitement, kind of just fun – which to me, makes her criminal involvement so much worse than other women who find themselves in simply untenable situations, that because of their backgrounds, commit similar crimes out of need – whether it be need for money, drugs, or just survival.  Indeed, when writing about her crime on her website, she says, “When Piper was a young pup she was involved with some unsavory characters, and traveled in some unusual circles – put this circa 1993, post-Smith College. There were unpleasant drug-related things happe
ning, often in exotic locales. She broke ties with those folks, and made her way to SF, where she became the nice blonde lady you know.”  She says that she refers to herself in the third person just for the hell of it, but really, the reason is deeper – she never fully comes to grips with the fact while she may have plead guilty to money laundering, she really was a drug dealer, on the money end, albeit, but a drug dealer all the same.

There comes a time during every sentence, where I think every judge looks at a defendant and thinks – is this guy sorry he did it, or sorry he got caught.  I think she would like to be sorry she did it — she certainly was sorry she put her family, fiancee and friends through the fallout of her criminal escapades, but if you take away the guidelines, the mandatories, I’m not so sure a prison sentence wasn’t the appropriate one in the end anyway – restoration requires reciprocity – the defendant does something, the community gets something.  And the only thing Ms. Piper can offer society is a heartfelt apology – sincere remorse.  And if you can’t do that – then do your time.   Which is what she did, and in the end, it doesn’t seem all that unfair in the scope of things.

Once, at RCF, I was waiting for a client, and suddenly, the room was full of women — Amish women — and children – toddlers, babies, school age youngsters – they were there as part of a program that was trying to promote the bond between children and their incarcerated mothers.  Seeing these Amish women, surrounded by children, reuniting them with their mothers in this setting was more than surreal,  — it was truly a moment of humanity.

And, that is what’s lovely about Ms. Kerman’s book – she’s observant, and there are many moments of humanity in these pages, and to humanize the prison experience is a thing of grace.

And that’s why, when I finished her book, I thought of the Week 3 box.  The moments she describes – whether it’s a birthday party featuring cheesecake baked in a microwave from scavengered ingredients, or her proud, soon to be released, older bunkie getting her  GED — are really moving.

Moving in the same way that this flower box, that lives in an alley, among dumpsters and graffiti moves me.

Book Review – Sweater Quest

I meant to write about Sweater Quest: My Year of Knitting Dangerously, last week, when it was fresh in my mind, but my issues with this book, and the subsequent reigniting of my Starmore obsession took a detour when I found myself on trial (not unexpectedly, but when an overpowering, all consuming obsession like Starmore is sideswiped, that’s quite a shock).   But, when yesterday’s mail brought with it A Collector’s Item by Jade Starmore, another fire was lit, and once again, I am obsessed with all things Starmore.

Starmore – how many times did I say it in the above paragraph?  In the past, uttering she who will not be named could at most, bring on an intellectual property lawsuit, or at the least, a request to please stop talking about her and her designs.  Those days seem to be over, and while I wouldn’t say Starmore is now fair game, I do think talking about Starmore and her designs in an appropriate way is now a doable thing.

And in Sweater Quest, Adrienne Martini talks about Starmore – the litigation, the designs, the insatiable desire to have a Starmore.  And, in deciding to knit a Starmore, Mary Tudor, and to spend a Year of Knitting Dangerously, Martini decides that her theme will be “movement” –  the idea that by knitting this sweater, she would be in control – of her knitting, her plentiful knitting metaphors, and ultimately this fantastic Fair Isle creation she would produce, and ultimately, the result would be that this power in this one aspect of her life would presumably fortify the rest.   

Ok, I’m with her so far – I have been there too.  I have seen the blinding light known as Starmore, and have fought the uphill battle just to be able to cast on – finding the out of print, hard to find, crazily expensive patterns, substituting yarn when there is no good substitute, and then the actual knitting.  And, at first I fretted with the same question she frets with for most of the book – is a Starmore still a Starmore when it’s no longer a Starmore?

I answered the question very early – who cares?  I felt the same angst when I knit my first (and probably only) Kaffe Fasset production.  And when I asked the properietress of our shop, Lisa, what she thought, as I had more colors than the original called for, different colors, different gauge, etc, I asked, “Is it still a Kaffe?,” and she said, “it’s Kaffier than Kaffe.”  Ok, good enough.  Onward.  Movement.

Martini on the other hand, not so satisifed.  She travels the blogosphere in search of answers – visiting with the Yarn Harlot (who ironically, blogs today about lying to herself about how long her garment is, see below), the Mason Dixon Women, Clara Parkes, and others – the book is so jam packed with bloggers that I have been reading for years, I almost felt like I knew the people she was talking about (indeed, I did know one of them, Purlewe, who helped her when it came time to making that first oh-so-painful cut into the steek), and knew that they were going to give her the same answer – who cares?  It’s your sweater.

And, I guess that was my ultimate problem with her book – if your goal is really movement, and empowering yourself through your knitting, why are you spending pages and pages worrying about whether your Starmore is still a Starmore if you changed umber to amber (that’s not the color change, just an example)? 

And after fretting and fretting, and whining to her knitting compadres about this Hamletesque to be or not to be a Starmore, she finishes the sweater, puts it on, and, gasp, it doesn’t fit.

And, she doesn’t care.

And, at the point, I cry foul – bullshit.

She explains that she is a process knitter – that her joy was in the process, and in creating this unwearable thing of beauty.

It’s not beautiful if it doesn’t fit.

Unless you intend to turn it into a pillow.

And, at that point, Martini reminded me of this guy who used to work in our office.  He would come to me with these crazy defense strategies, and when I would poo poo them, he would scowl and walk out.  Then, an hour later, I would hear him down the hall, asking another attorney the same exact question he had already asked me – looking not for the right answer,  but the answer that he wanted to hear – yeah, dude, great idea!  And, frankly, I was pissed that he had wasted my time – and I think she wasted a lot of people’s time.  Instead of spending so much time quizzing other knitters about the authenticity of her Starmore, maybe she should have been asking them, hey – do you think this is going to fit? 

I’ll tell you one thing of which I’m pretty certain – I think Starmore intended all of her sweaters to fit — an authentic Starmore fits.  And process isn’t just about color design, actually tackling the fair isle and the steeking — process is also about producing a garment that fits.

Some people like to say there are process knitters and product knitters, but to me — they are the same thing.  I can’t say that I haven’t knit something that I had no intention of wearing – but I intended someone to wear them.  Sometimes there is a crazy technique I want to try, and that I don’t want to wear – and I decided right away it’s going to be a gift.  But, I would never ever decide to knit something useless.

At the end of her year of knitting dangerously – Martini has a sweater that’s sleeves are SIX INCHES too short, and bust is too small – and I have to wonder how much deadline played into that.    Six inches, really?  A normal sleeve is approximately 17-18 inches long – that means she only had a 12 inch sleeve – and she knew she was not making a sweater for her garden gnome.  If your sleeves are too short  – and there is no way, no way she couldn’t see that her sleeves were too short – that’s a no brainer mistake, knit them longer. 

Unless, of course, you’re rushing through the “process” and you just want to get it done.  And, is that really a process knitter?

And if your sweater is going to be too small – you’ve knit the wrong size.  This is a painful thing to fix, unquestionably.  She talks about well, if I were really obsessed with this sweater, I would rip out, redo it – but see, this is proof that it was all about the process.  Again, bullshit.  Blocking does work miracles, true – but  it doesn’t work miracles like adding the four or five inches she’s talking about.  Within several inches of knitting, based on just looking at the sweaters she already owned in her closet, it should have been obvious that blocking was not going to make it fit.  And, if you’re going to right a book about knitting, movement, progress — how is it progress to spend a year knitting a sweater that you knew all along wasn’t going to fit?

And, at the end of the day – I just found myself disappointed in her – really, you spent all of this time bugging people — help with getting Scottish campion colors, with your angst about authenticity, with your desire to have everyone ooo and ahhh every time you took your sweater out of it’s knitting bag, and now you can’t even wear it?  No one can wear it because it has 12 inch sleeves?

Pe
rhaps also fueling my disappointment in her, is my small pang of jealousy – I could have written this book, but I didn’t think of it.  Or maybe I couldn’t have written this book – she’s a very entertaining writer – as disappointed as I was in her, it was a good read.  After the Yarn Harlot’s success, I think publisher’s got it into their heads that if you throw in some language like “tinking” “frogging” and whatnot, you were going to end up with sellable “knitlit” – and as most of you know, there’s a lot of garbage out there.  Just because it has knitting in the title, doesn’t mean I’m going to buy it.  Just because you can impale someone with a knitting needle, doesn’t mean that its going to make for a good murder mystery.  My point is, this is a well written book.  While I do believe that the “process” of knitting this sweater was more of a “process” of meeting a deadline and finishing this book, this is an authentic book about knitting – which is more important to me than knitting the ultimate, totally authentic Starmore sweater.  And I’m glad I read it – because it did get me thinking about my Starmore again – because unlike Martini – I haven’t finished mine.  So, I may point the finger and call bullshit on her – but really, the bullshit call is on me – at least she finished.

Keep it Spinning

So, now that the life has calmed down, the tornado of thoughts that swirled through my head has settled, and the dust is clearing.

 

And, now I remember what the point of my cultural graffiti post (see below – what the heck was my point?) was going to be – it was supposed to be a book review singing the praises of Let the Great World Spin, by Colum McCann, easily the best book I read this year.  Oh yeah, that’s what I really wanted to talk about . . .

 

let-the-great-world-spin-0809-lgAnd what does Let the Great World Spin have to do with cultural graffiti, my theory about spray painting crap on top of art (Sea Monsters swimming in Bath in Jane Austen), or crap on top of crap (Matt Damon’s endless voiceover in The Informant) as the case may be – Let the Great World Spin is a richly layered novel, that dispenses with gimmicks and writer tricks, creating a story set in 1974 that easily could be lifted and transposed onto 2009 – timelessness isn’t a trick, it’s writing that transcends – lifting the subtance above the story, rather than burying it under guck.

 

Let the Great World Spin takes place during the course of one day in 1974, when Philip Petit danced and romped joyously on a tightrope strung between the Twin Towers, with intersecting stories of the lives of ordinary people – drug addled prostitutes, mothers mourning sons, an immigrant priest, among others – who all experience a moment that makes them extraordinary.  And this moment — whether it be a moment of love or loss –  is a moment brimming with extraordinary humanity.  This story, that draws from Watergate, Vietnam, and the counterculture of the 70’s, is a mirror of our younger, American selves – it’s about how the past informs the present, and as Esquire Magazine put it, it’s “the first great 9/11 novel,” and tells us more about that day, than any book that actually tries to describe that day or strives to tell a 9/11 story. 

 

Anyway, so I must thank Oprah – you are now forgiven for those disgusting Turkey burgers – Oprah spread the word about this book through a free e-book giveaway (love my Kindle!!!!), and after the Turkey burgers, it would have to be free, because Oprah endorsements had gone sour for me.  Oprah, you are redeemed, because this book was truly a gift.

Kindle, How do I Love Thee? I’m still counting!

Have you noticed the Widget thingy on my sidebar – I am “on page 0 of 576 pages” of The Book Thief.  I’m not actually on page 0, but I have no idea what page I am on.

p1000301

The beauty of the Kindle.

 

Beauty?  Not knowing what page you’re on?  Absolutely.  Reading is no longer a race to the finish, because who knows where the finish is.  Nor is it about flipping to the finish, to see if its worth it.  The decision on what to read is no longer a cost/benefit analysis based on amount of time available v. the desire to read said book.  There’s just no way of telling how long a book actually is — your progress is noted in percentages, not pages. 

 

I’m reading things I never would have dreamed of reading, had I been able to flip through and evaluate the time commitment.  Take the New Yorker.   When I had a subscription to the paper version, the one that came in the mail every Monday, and fell into the pile next to the toilet by Tuesday, I would flip through for the cartoons.  Then, on the second pass, I tended to read the shorter blurbs – the about town, the small reviews, the short story perhaps – but not the long, long, long featured essays that went on for pages, and pages and pages – did I really want to make a two hour investment in reading a 20 page article about Barthleme and what it really means to be post modern?

 

Apparently, when I don’t know how long the commitment is going to be, I’ll bite.  On Monday, when I started the article, I had no idea it wouldn’t be until Wednesday by the time I finally finished it. 

 

p1000302So time commitment is no longer an issue – it just is what it is, you can’t worry about what you can’t see.  The other thing that goes hand and hand with length is also obsolete – weight.   Never again do I have to ponder the following question – based on my schedule now, can I lug that hardback book around, or should I go for the slimmer paperback?  And, the question doesn’t boil down to cost – that paperback is in the same ballpark price as the hardback, as even a NY Times bestseller is generally only $9.99 (except for the rogue author here and there trying to buck the new system).

 

And, I am a sucker for the NY Times book review – like yarn, books become, I have to read it now (the New York Times said so!) – and not last summer (because I spent the summer on the beach, and hence, made the tactical decision just to go with paperbacks – see the question of “weight” above), but the summer before, I got suckered into hardback after hardback that I ended up hating – The Yiddish Policemen’s Other Ball, Divisidero, The Falling Man . . . two summers ago, and I still remember how much money I wasted!  With the Kindle, the new books can be more expensive than the paperbacks (sometimes even as high as $16.00 – but a $16.00 mistake is still less painful than a $24.00 mistake).  And, speaking of “I have to read it now!” you really can read it now. With Amazon’s wireless delivery, you can have your latest heart’s desire in a matter of seconds.

 

Length and weight no longer an issue, neither is a pretty cover.  You can be told from the time you start to walk and talk that you can’t judge  a book by it’s cover(although, when you start to walk and talk, you’re only looking at picture books, counting books, books that go “mooo”, and  you probably can judge a book by it’s cover – maybe that’s why the advice never stuck)  but a pretty cover, a good blurb, and handsome jacket, can go along way.  You go into Borders or Barnes and Noble and there are tables and tables of books – what catches your eye?  Author of course.  A snappy title, maybe.  But when you have the book in your hands, a snazzy cover and a well written blurb might just push you over the edge into purchasing.

 

Not any more.   No more covers.  Everything is so egalitarian!  And, with no covers, you have so much more privacy.  Ever been embarassed because you’re reading something completely brainless – a guilty pleasure trashy romance?  or perhaps a book you read as a child that now seems silly as an adult?  No worries – no cover means that no one can see what you’re reading!  Reading is again a private thing – enjoy what you want, no one is judging you for your cover (alghough, that does work in reverse as well – I am totally a cover judger). 

 

Now, there are some books that are not on Kindle, that I do want to read – and that’s the only true dilemna now — since I just love my Kindle so much.  For instance, I really want to read 2666 – but frankly, I only want to read it on Kindle.  The last paper book I read, The Given Day, at 800 pages, was completely overly cumbersome – I could never prop myself into a comfortable position, the book was just such a beast.  2666 is 912 pages!  I don’t want to invest in 912 pieces of paper.   So, am I missing out – it just won the National Book Award? 

 

Yeah, probably, but there’s so much other Kindle content out there, and you can’t read ’em all.  The web is loaded with free e-book content, all of which are readable on the Kindle. My queue is backed up with free classics – books that I was supposed to read in college, but chucked and read the cliff notes, or read so fast just to get to my next assignment.  And, unlike in college, when I had to carry around a backbreaking bookbag of books, the Kindle holds them all in either it’s memory or (since I have Kindle 1), an SD card that holds thousands – right now, I’m carrying around at least 200 books. 

 

It sounds like I’ve abandoned paper, doesn’t it?  When I got the Kindle for Hanukkah (hmmm, I guess that’s one factor I haven’t had to worry about – the price of the Kindle, since it was a gift – so put it on your Holiday list for December), I said, eh, I’ll always read paper books – but now, really, I have no desire.  The e-ink technology is so good, that sometimes I get tricked, I  go to turn the page instead of push the button, because that’s how much it feels like reading a book. 

 

And, reading is fun again – and I’ve overcome any shame in saying that its because the book is on a gadget.  I like being able to push a button and look up a word I don’t understand.  I like having a clipboard, where I send things I want to think about later, or with Joey’s reading Olympics, things that are going to make it onto index card question cards for study purposes.  I have to admit, I’m not a reading purist – I embrace the technology, and I look forward to what comes next.

 

And not only is reading fun again, but the more I read, the more desire I have to write – not to go too far with my point, but I’m not sure this new blog would have happened had I not been reading as enthusiastically as I have been since I got my Kindle.  I wrote about it here somewhere – either in the first post, or the the about page – about this strange phenomenon I’ve been experiencing – that of losing words, like they’ve all run away and abandoned me. 

 

Kindle has given me back a handful, and the desire to use them.

Beware the Shredderman

I like being a regular – I like walking into a bar, and the bartender immediately opening an Amstel Light.  Before I worked at Rosie’s, I liked going into the store, and someone immediately pointing me in the direction of the new shipment of Koigu.   And, when the coffee shop across the street opened about two years ago, I became a regular – Chris, the owner, would see me coming, and immediately have my large coffee and whole wheat bagel with cream cheese to go, on the counter.  Somewhere along the way, though, this “regular” business at the coffee shop got a tad twisted up – for some reason, Chris thinks my name is Jen, and for some stranger reason, after two years (although, for the past year, I’m not so much a regular any more – Joe makes coffee for me every morning – big AWWW!!! He’s so sweet!), I have yet to correct him.  It’s kind of like my secret identity, like a coffee super hero and I kind of like it.

 

Joe’s son, Joey, is doing the Reading Olympics, and after his d51xjkdwdkpl_sl500_aa242_pikin-dp-500bottomright-1938_aa280_sh20_ou01_isaster of a 5th grade science project, I decided that adult supervision was required for this project, and I have been reading the books along with him.  The first book, Brendon Buckley’s Universe and Everything in It was excellent, the second book, Shredderman: Attack of the Tagger, eh, not so much.  First of all, it’s pretty stupid to have the second book of a series as a requirement for something like the Reading Olympics, where you have to be responsible for six books and you just might not have time to read the first book in the series that’s not on the list.  Second, I wasn’t sure how I felt about the whole premise of Shredderman, and his secret identity, and whether he really was a superhero.  In the book, Nolan, the nerdy kid, has created a secret online identity, Shredderman, an online superhero who gets revenge against the school bully, Bubby Bixby, by putting a photo of Bubba’s Big Butt on his website (this happens in the first book of the series, probably why they chose the 2d book for a school reading event).  The only person who knows Shredderman’s real identity is his teacher, who becomes his superhero sidekick.  To me, there’s something wrong with this.  Back in the old days, the nerd obtained revenge against the school bully through his wits, guile, better disposition, and all around good person-ness.  And, he did it in a non-anonymous way, and all of the other nerdy kids were empowered by his triumph, too.  Here, Shredderman pokes fun, and humiliates the bully online, hiding behind his dot.com.  Is this really a hero?  Or is this beginning of a snarker (see below)?  Is this how we really want our children to confront bullies?  I don’t think so.  And, when Shredderman exposes another bad kid on his website as the Tagger, the graffiti artist “terrorizing” the town, he does so by spying on them in the bathroom, evesdropping, and a little detective work – and then he posts his evidence online, anonymously – this, to me, is a snitch, not a superhero (and I have very definite ideas about the differences between a “snitch” and a “witness” – a post for a different day).  And, the fact that the teacher is in on it, I don’t know, this is not good teaching to me – and, the quality of Nolan’s school life really doesn’t change because of his anonymous behavior – Bubba still picks on him, and he’s not a hero in anyone’s eyes but his own.

 

So, why am I secretly pleased with my own secret coffee shop identity?  “Jen” doesn’t wear a cape, fly around, and defend the rights of coffee owner’s everywhere.  She doesn’t slay decaffeinated beans in a single bound.  When we were teenagers, and my brother worked at Kmart, he didn’t want the K-“nuts” as he called them knowing his name – so my brother (Howard) wore a name take that read, “Jake.”  But, what difference did it make if he still had to answer to it? 

 

I guess it’s not the name, it’s the face.  I am not anonymous in the coffee shop – I can be identified, just not by my name.  If I left my purse on the counter, and a co-worker came in, and Chris said, “Jen left her purse” and the co-worker said, “which Jen?” and Chris described me – “The curly haired girl that looks like Barbra Streisand,” my co-worker would immediately say, “That’s not Jen, that’s Wendy.”  And, I guess that’s why all of the caped crusaders work as “heroes” (as opposed to snitches) for me  – they aren’t really anonymous, they’re just masked – they can be identified on the street, their deeds are visible, and their “secret identity” is really their boring alter-ego – it’s not even really a “secret identity” – it’s almost a separate identity.  If Batman left his wallet on the counter – the guy would say, “You know, the bat in black with the mask,” and everyone would know Batman. 

 

In Shedderman, there is no Shredderman.  Shredderman is not a man of action, visibily righting wrong, fighting crime, exposing himself to harm – he’s not even an entity, it’s just the name of his website, and it’s disturbing to me that the Reading Olympics at Joey’s school is letting this book lead as an example.

 

And, well, for me, well, now that I’ve been exposed as not a coffee super hero, I guess I should share my real name – but what would I say at this point – I really didn’t care enough to correct you the first time?  I really don’t care what you call me because you actually have nothing to do with my life?  Oh, and I answered to it because it was easier than correcting you after all this time? 

 

Hm, probably as lazy as Shredderman.

Book Review – The Long (LONG!) Walk Home

longwalkhome

 I downloaded this book (yes, downloaded – I am all about my Kindle – a post for a different day . . .) after reading the first two Kay Scarpetta novels The Scarpetta Collection, Vol. 1: Postmortem / Body of Evidence, which were bundled together, practically with a bow.  These pre-CSI novels featuring Virigina medical examiner Kay Scarpetta, if read separately, are probably ok, passable crime fiction.  But, when read back to back, Kay is just so incredibily stupid that they are hard to stomach.  How on earth does she let the killer get into her house TWICE!  You would think after the first book she would have learned her lesson.  I’ve been working in criminal law for nearly 12 years, and never once has the Medical Examiner ever a. been in the paper for any other reason than as a side note in a homicide case, i.e. “the medical examiner testified that the cause of death was homicide,” b. been identified as an investigator on the case as opposed to the Homicide Detective, c. ever been tracked down by a homicidal maniac, or become the target of any homicidal maniacs rage. My clients know exactly who arrested them (the homicide detective) and who is prosecuting them (the da), however, the medical examiner or even the crime lab technician is never ever on their radar as an “enemy.” The plots of these books, if given more than a passing thought, make absolutely no sense.

 

Oh, wait, I’m supposed to be reviewing The Long Walk Home — anyway my point in bringing up the Scarpetta novels was not to illustrate just how insipid highly-educated and respected Kay actually is, and how, as time after time she puts herself in jeopardy only to be saved by the Sipowizc-like male detective, she is really an anti-feminist creation reminscent of fainting, hyperventilating heroines of fairy tales, but to explain why I went all the way to the other end of the spectrum – a stylized romance novel, because make no mistake, The Long Walk Home is nothing more than a Harlequinn novel in a fancy party dress.  I just wanted to read something nice — no blood spatter, no crazed maniac, no infuriating woman character who is infuriating simply for the reason that she’s supposed to be a strong role model for women in a field dominated by men, yet she lets the men dominate her over and over again – oh, yeah, the Long Walk Home – – –

 

Anyway, The Long Walk Home – I wanted sweet, I got saccharine overload.  This book is Bridges of Madison County on uppers – basically, the same story, rewritten with heavy handed protestations of undying love and of course, a happy ending.  Yucko.  I should have just reread Bridges of Madison County.

 

The Long Walk Home tells the story of Alec, who travels to North Wales to scatter his ex-wife’s ashes along the Welsh countryside.  Yes, not wife, ex-wife – an ex-wife who on one hand is portrayed as the ultimate asshole, but on the other hand, of course, completely irresistible.  I suppose she has to be an asshole for us to believe that the woman he meets on his journey, Fiona — the proprietor of a Welsh bed and breakfast that she runs while her sickly, peticide poisoned husband David manages the family sheep farm with the aid of a local boy who of course is in love with the farmer’s daughter, who brings home her citified asshole boyfriend — is his true soulmate after he’s just travelled thousands of miles, mostly on foot, to dispose of the ashes of another woman.  That may have been a run-on sentence – but this is a run-on novel – on and on it goes – Fi and Alex drink lots of wine, and eat yummy meals, and fall in love – and, even though the setting is Wales, you can hear strains of The Heather on the Hill in the background, and a leprachaun popping out of the woodwork wouldn’t be surprising at all, this book is so laden with stereotypes and cliches.    Alec writes love poetry to Fi, and he spends quiet moments pondering what the British would possibly do if there were no tea.  Alec, like the author of the novel, is a former Washington speech writer, yet he takes to farming like a natural, birthing breeched sheep and cleaning out dung in the barn.   And, if he was not already beatified when the book began, he certainly is when he stumbles across David, his rival, Fi’s husband, dying of hypothermia on the edge of a cliff, seconds from death.  Of course, Alec summons help, saves his lover’s husband, and then takes off, leaving her to care for this completely disabled, brain damaged guy who beat the crap out of her right before he tried to kill himself on the moutain, for her own good – it was the right thing to do.   Yeah, whatever. 

 

If you want to read a romance novel, like I did, don’t read something that’s pretending to be something else – because to become something else – “literary” fiction in this case, I suppose – the writer will employ all kinds of heavy handed techniques in order to mask what it really is – a sappy, poorly written, trashy novel.