Monday, March 28, 2011

The Particular Happiness of Nik's Lemon Cake

(I admit it, I'm blatantly borrowing the title of this post from that of Aimee Bender's novel, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, about a girl who bites into her mother's lemon chocolate cake and discovers she can taste her mother's emotions in the slice. I also admit that I haven't read the book, but the play on the title seems apropos for the post.  Hope you think so too.)

My friend Niksmom emailed last night, wondering if I might be available today to accompany her and her boy - her sweet, sweet darling boy - to the children's hospital this morning.  There would be a test, one requiring sedation, one leading to (hopefully) some answers. 

When it comes to caring for our cubs, we Mama Bears are good at so many things ... with the exception of, sometimes, asking for what we need. And in this case, what was needed was moral support, live and in person. 

"I'm there," I replied via Facebook. 

The morning brought a phone call from Niksmom, asking if I could stop by Starbucks (oh, all right, go ahead and twist my arm, how didya know I wanted a cinnamon dolce latte for the ride, girlfriend?) and get her boy a slice of lemon cake as a post-op treat. 

A hour later, with traffic conquered and two pieces of lemon cake hidden in my purse, I arrived at the brand new sparkling MRI Center in the children's hospital, the lyrics from The Jungle Book greeting me in the waiting room. ("Look for the bare necessities, the simple bare necessities, forget about your worries and your strife, I mean the bare necessities, that's why a bear can rest at ease, with just the bare necessities of life.")

As we waited - and waited, and waited some more - I got to see Nik in action.  You see, being nonverbal, Nik uses a "talker," a specialized computerized iPad-like device (pictured at the top of this post).  Indeed, this is more than a computer; it's how Nik engages with his world through a few keystrokes, mastering new ones every day, making himself heard loud and clear.  It has become a necessity of his, essential to his life, and transforming his world.

I watched in wonder, taking in his little fingers flying over the screen, and my friend being the incredible mother she is to a boy with multiple challenges.  Later, in recovery, we watched the monitors and watched him sleep under sedation.

And then, awake and rehydrated and officially  discharged, it was time for lemon cake, which I produced with great flourish and which was met with great joy and a flurry of words. 
Cake profferred and accepted.

(You got that right, kiddo.  I could live on that Starbucks Lemon Cake myself.)


Such absolute delight and joy you never did see.  It was such a simple thing, this asking-via-talker for cake, my giving it to him, and the sheer politeness and gratitude. 

We walked down to the lobby like this, Nik being wheeled in a wagon typing, the talker talking, me doling out pieces of lemon cake.  It was only then that I became slightly aware of the stares - we're in a children's hospital, this can't be all that strange, and you know, the hell with you all if it is - and then, the recognition and grins of the passersby in the lobby as they began to recognize what was going on.  I noticed the corporate-exec looking dude glancing down, his eyes wide with amazement as he watched Nik press an icon that announced "CAKE!" and then "THANK YOU," my eyes meeting his with a triumphant grin at this little boy, communicating through the most modern of technologies, being able to ask for cake just like every other little boy. 

We should all be able to experience that kind of happiness, even once in our lives, I thought.  

And with whatever the darkness of this night holds, and with whatever answers and results might lie in store tomorrow from the tests today, we have this slice of this day to savor: a little bit of joy, a little bit of laughter, a little bit of happiness from a little piece of lemon cake.

Look for the bare necessities
The simple bare necessities
Forget about your worries and your strife
I mean the bare necessities
Old Mother Nature's recipes
With just the bare necessities of life.


copyright 2011, Melissa, The Betty and Boo Chronicles If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

A Different Kind of Scripting in the Theater

So there we all were in the theater at Betty's play, our offspring gathered for a cast photo.

And as we the parental paparazzi positioned ourselves in just exactly the best spot, a voice piped up from the seats, loud enough for the entire audience to hear.



Scripting SpongeBob.

copyright 2011, Melissa, The Betty and Boo Chronicles If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

The Sunday Salon: Book Less

I missed last week's Salon (not that anyone probably noticed) because of a solo weekend trip to visit The Husband in Pittsburgh. There was a black-tie event (a sit-down dinner! one where I actually got to sit down!) and an overnight splurge stay in a hotel. We drove around some of the towns we're considering moving to and visited some Open Houses. It was a great trip, and was exactly the kick-in-the-pants I needed to get moving (literally) with packing boxes and finishing getting our own house ready for the market.  (It's been a slow process.)

There was a milestone of sorts reached in that 300+ mile trip. It was the first time I've ever gone away without a physical book accompanying me! And I gotta say ... being bookless felt weird. Like I was missing an appendage or something. Of course, I had my Kindle, so I really wasn't bookless, but being without a physical book was odd. It was only for two nights (one of which was spent at the event), so I knew that the 305 books that I have on my Kindle (mostly freebies and a lot of classics) would suffice. 

(I wound up reading - via Kindle - the first chapter of Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, which is one of my currently overdue library books and one that I don't want to return. And of the five audiobooks I had with me, I only listened to the first CD of That Old Cape Magic by Richard Russo before deciding that this one wasn't holding much magic for me. Into the DNF pile it goes.)

Anyway, it almost doesn't matter that I missed last week's Salon because I've been reading the same book for the past two weeks. That's not to say it isn't a good one, because it absolutely is. I'm engrossed in Jonathan Bloom's American Wasteland: How America Throws Away Nearly Half Its Food (and what we can do about it).  I know, it doesn't sound like all that appetizing of a book, does it?  But it is absolutely fascinating and sobering at the same time. I knew we, as Americans, waste a considerable amount of food, but I had no idea of the magnitude of the problem nor of its impact. 

The first sentence of Bloom's book is the eye-opening "Every day, America wastes enough food to fill the Rose Bowl. Yes, THAT Rose Bowl - the 90,000 seat football stadium in Pasadena, California." He gives more statistics and backs up his meticulous research with an engaging narrative that is making this a really interesting read.  The jacket copy proclaims "after reading American Wasteland, you will never look at your grocery list, dinner plate, or refrigerator the same way again."  That's the absolute truth.  On Thursday night, neither Betty or Boo finished their plate of spaghetti.  "I'm too full," Boo said.  "That's fine," I replied.  "It can be your dinner tomorrow night."  He looked at me like I'd sprouted another head.  But when you've just read that the average family wastes $2,200 a year on food that is discarded (and that is a conservative estimate), then dammit, that spaghetti is making an encore appearance. 

I'm hoping to finish American Wasteland today, although I'm not sure that will happen. This move is taking a toll on my reading progress (and my blogging, and my aching back), I'm sorry to say.  I'm at the point where I need to pack up some of my books (have been putting this off as much as possible) and return some of my library books. 

Hope you're having a great Sunday!

copyright 2011, Melissa, The Betty and Boo Chronicles If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

I've Been Seeing Beth, In All the Most Surprising Places

"I'll be seeing you, in all the old familiar places ...."  
"I'll Be Seeing You" ~ Frank Sinatra (and others)

I had reached my breaking point, a truce, with all the magazines in this house. There were simply too many, and they needed to go into the recycling.  Immediately. 

I knew this. 

I also knew that one of the things that slowed me down was my compulsion to look through them because I might miss something or because I might need something or because I paid good money for this magazine and never read it.   But time is money too, and so the other day I gave myself permission to just toss them all out, unread.  I did just that, with stacks and stacks of O Magazines, most of them 7, 8, 9 - and yes, some that were even 10 years old!   (I should not have unread magazines in this house that are older than my kids, that still bear the address stickers of three houses ago.) 

Then, it was onto the pile of Real Simple magazines.  This would prove harder, because I really like the recipes in Real Simple.  So I allowed myself to bend the rules, to just take a quick cursory glance by paging through the food sections and the food sections ONLY.

And when I opened the June/July 2003 issue of Real Simple (I know ... two thousand and three!), it fell open to the personal essay pictured above, one written by my friend and author Beth Kephart.  I didn't remember seeing this before, and so I sat and read.  See? I thought triumphantly to myself.  This is why I need to read through these magazines.  I might miss something ... and I nearly did. 

Two days later, I was at our local AAUW book sale. I wasn't going to stop at the "Local Interest" table because, quite frankly, I had already purchased more than enough books.  But resistance is futile at book sales, and after promising myself I would just take a "quick look," Beth appeared again, this time in the form of her memoir Ghosts in the Garden.  I picked it up immediately, knowing that my very dear friend Jini had lent her copy to a friend who never returned it.  This would make a nice surprise for her, perhaps for a significant birthday coming up (which was Tuesday and the book is still sitting here, a belated gift).

I don't know what it means, these little serendipitious moments of Beth (and, by extension, Jini). Maybe it means nothing. 

Or maybe - like friendship - it means everything.

copyright 2011, Melissa, The Betty and Boo Chronicles If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: Proof That It's Here

Taken on the First Day of Spring 2010,
on the sidewalk a few doors down from us.

copyright 2011, Melissa, The Betty and Boo Chronicles If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Book Review: Something is Out There. Stories by Richard Bausch

Something is out there.
Stories by Richard Bausch
Alfred A. Knopf
268 pages

There's something I can't quite put my finger on with Something is out there, the eighth short story collection by new-to-me author Richard Bausch.  I'm not sure what, exactly, it is about this collection that has left me underwhelmed while really liking most of these 11 stories.  

I know, it doesn't make sense to me either.  So, don't mind me, I'm just going to ramble to myself here and see if I can figure it out. 

As I said, I really liked most of these stories.  They held my interest and several, especially the title story, were filled with enough tension to keep me turning the pages. "Something is Out There" fits this bill with its fierce blizzard and a potential accident, and even though there aren't any answers by the story's end, there's enough foreboding and dread to fill a novel. Also in this category is "Reverend Thornhill's Wife," which had me wondering if her sins would be discovered and what would have happened if she had just spoken up in the first place. 

There are a lot of secrets involving relationships (don't they all?) in these stories and a lot of assumed secrets.  There's adultery and loss.  There's also death and sadness, particularly in "Byron the Lyron," one of my favorites.  This one is about a devoted son sitting vigil at his dying mother's bedside while coping with the fresh breakup of a long-term relationship. This story is notable for how it makes the reader feel, which in my experience was a palpable sense of sadness. Maybe it was because I saw elements of my own life in this one, but in my opinion, this was probably one of the best of the collection. 

Now that I write this, I realize that this is kind of a depressing review of a depressing collection of stories but that's not what bugged me about it though.  I mean, I can handle depressing. With short stories, so much has to happen within a very brief amount of time - and ultimately, in my opinion, it is the writing itself that is key to everything in a short story. And for me, it is the writing itself that is at the crux of my problem with this collection of otherwise very good stories. 

In my opinion - and what the hell do I know, really? - Bausch's style in Something is out there seems to be very flat, very matter-of-fact.  Like the old writing adage, I felt like I was being told what happened, not shown. I didn't feel part of the action or the plot, rather that I was witnessing it from a distance.   

Richard Bausch is an accomplished writer and one with many accolades to his name.  I haven't read any of his other works, but even though Something is out there wasn't quite for me, surely there's someone out there for this one.

copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

How to Catch a Leprechaun, by Boo

Found this while going through some old (as in, from last school year's) papers of Boo's.  Happy St. Patrick's Day, everyone!

How to Catch a Leprhechann

First, run very fast to find a Irish Leprechaunn.
Second, can't find it, try looking for a Map.
Third, run farther than ever!
Fourth, move fast that your lephrecaun can.
Fifth, there you have to run and catch it.
Finally, congragelations! You have your own lephrecaun.

copyright 2011, Melissa, The Betty and Boo Chronicles If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Library Loot: March 16-22

I'm having a hard time getting the official Library Loot button to appear, so apologies for that. Anyway, Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Marg from The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries!

Over the weekend I had to return some books, and I also wanted to see what was there in the way of audiobooks.  I have a long (10 hour round trip) drive ahead of me this weekend (there's a Gala that The Husband and I are attending as part of his work; this will be the first my mother has heard that I am driving this distance instead of flying - which I can't do now because Southwest jacked up their fares significantly because of the gas prices) so I wanted to make sure I was stocked up.  Of course, you know I couldn't just go to the audiobook section ... I had to see what might be on the New Books shelf, too. 

That Old Cape Magic, by Richard Russo (9 hours)
Ford County, Stories by John Grisham  (8.5 hours)
The Postmistress, by Sarah Blake (10 hours)
(not pictured) The Story of Edgar Sawtelle (much longer ... this one is 18 CDs)

All of these (with the exception of The Postmistress) are books already on my TBR shelf (I have the print version out from the library), so I thought it would make me feel especially accomplished if I could knock one of these out on this trip.  I'm kind of leaning towards The Postmistress, though I could be persuaded to change my mind.  I really don't want to have to pack up Edgar (that thing is a Chunkster!) and That Old Cape Magic seems like a light read.  Then again, Ford County is a collection of short stories, so that might be a good choice to break up the trip between audiobook and music.  (I don't think I can listen to an audiobook straight through.)

Have you listened or read any of these?  

Oh, and then it was over to the New Books shelf, where I found:

By Nightfall, by Michael Cunningham (really looking forward to this one)
Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English, by Natasha Solomons

Breaking Night: A Memoir of Forgiveness, Survival, and My Journey from Homelessness to Harvard, by Liz Murray (I read a little of this in the library and OMG ... it looks fascinating)

Take One Candle, Light a Room, by Susan Straight

Then yesterday, I was at a meeting at one of our offices and afterward I had to return some books.  I stopped in at the nearby library branch - which is one of my very favorite branches in our system and out of the way for me normally, so it is a treat to go there and find beauties like these:

$20 Per Gallon: How the Inevitable Rise in the Price of Gasoline Will Change Our Lives for the Better, by Christopher Steiner  (I can't think of a better depressing selection for a 10 hour car ride, can you?)   This one is 9.5 hours. 

Reading Jackie: Her Autobiography in Books, by William Kuhn  (12 hours, 30 minutes)

Going Away Shoes, by Jill McCorkle
Zoli, by Colum McCann
The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott, by Kelly O'Connor McNees 
The Way I See It: A Personal Look at Autism and Asperger's, by Temple Grandin 
Click: When We Knew We Were Feminists, edited by Courtney E. Martin and J. Courtney Sullivan
The Quickening, by Michael Hoover
Thief, by Maureen Gibbon
The Wisdom of Sam: Observations on Life from an Uncommon Child, by Daniel Gottlieb 
The Imperfectionists, by Tom Rachman (I am kicking myself for not snagging this when it was $5 for the Kindle)
A Thousand Sisters: My Journey Into the Worst Place on Earth to Be a Woman, by Lisa J. Shannon
$20 Per Gallon 
Fresh from the Vegetarian Slow Cooker, by Robin Robertson

In addition to bringing the audiobooks with me on this trip (which will be a busy one with little non-car time for reading), I'm only bringing my current book (American Wasteland: How America Throws Away Nearly Half Its Food and What We Can Do About It, by Jonathan Bloom - such an interesting book!) and my Kindle. 

But tell me ... if you were looking at 10 hours in the car, which of these audiobooks would you want with you?

copyright 2011, Melissa, The Betty and Boo Chronicles If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Book Review: Room, by Emma Donoghue

by Emma Donoghue
Little, Brown and Co.
321 pages

I know. 

If you're a book blogger, you're skipping this post because you know it will be another superlative-filled, wonderfully glowing review of Room (and you'd be correct).  And if you're one of my friends or relatives who reads the blog with bemusement over the amount of books I read, you're probably rolling your eyes because you've heard me go on and on via Facebook or in person about how amazing this book is. 

This book.  This is the type of book that you want to buy a hundred copies of and give to everyone you know who hasn't read it yet.  It is that good, that powerful, that affecting.  This is a book that - as one of my blog commenters said - completely engulfs you, that you are compelled to read in practically one sitting. (It took me three, but one was spent reading almost 200 pages straight and I vowed not to go to bed until I knew what happened. You who have read Room can probably guess what part of the book that I speak of.)

"But what's it about?" several of my friends have said. 

The first thing you need to understand about Room is that this is so much more than your regular novel, and about so much more than the actual plot.  So much more.

That being said, it is the story of a 5 year boy named Jack and his Ma. From the book jacket:  To five-year old Jack, Room is the world. It's where he was born. It's where he and his Ma eat and sleep and play and learn. There are endless wonders that let loose Jack's imagination - the snake under Bed that he constructs out of eggshells, the imaginary world projected through the TV, the coziness of Wardrobe below Ma's clothes, where she tucks him in safely at night in case Old Nick comes.  

Room is home to Jack, but to Ma it's the prison where she has been held since she was nineteen - for seven years. Through her fierce love for her son, she has created a life for him in that eleven-by-eleven foot space.  But Jack's curiosity is building alongside her own desperation - and she knows that Room cannot contain either much longer."  

It is original in respect to the writing - for it is the mark of a true talent to sustain the incredibly authentic voice of a five-year-old over the course of a novel, which Emma Donoghue (a mother of two young children herself) does brilliantly.  The pacing is perfect and has you on the edge of your seat.  While Room is indeed very tense in parts, this isn't a gory or graphic novel. (Donoghue could have easily gone down that road, but didn't, and it works just as well.)

As a reader, you don't know where this story is taking place - nor do we ever learn Ma's full name - and those elements add to the absolute straight-from-the-headlines feeling that Room has. (This inspiration was the Fritzl case in Austria, as some other reviews have mentioned. I found myself thinking a lot about Elizabeth Smart as I read this.)  We also know that this takes place in the modern day - there are references to a website with "lots of faces," and emailing friends, and Lady Gaga, and children's shows such as Dora and Barney. There are so many small details that add meaning and depth to the novel - from the time of year that it takes place (springtime, right around Easter weekend, symbolizing death and resurrection).

You find yourself caring about these characters, rooting for them, wondering what exactly happened for Ma and Jack to wind up in this predicament in the first place.  (And when that is revealed, you realize how this could have very well been a nonfiction book, a memoir.)  You find yourself falling in love with Jack, wanting to adopt him, and cheering his mother's fiesty spirit on.   From a literary perspective, everything works in this one. 

But most of all, you read Room in utter and complete awe, for this is a story of maternal love and the lengths that a mother will go to in order to give her child the best life possible, despite the horrific circumstances that they find themselves trapped in.

Speaking of traps, if you're one of the book bloggers who have seen Room praised and reviewed to the high heavens since it made its debut at BEA a year ago and you think you'll bypass this one because of such ... don't.  I thought that, too, when I saw this sitting on the New Books shelf at my library. (Placed there by mistake, I later realized, because there are 149 people waiting for it in my library system.)  I'm so glad I snagged it because this will, without a doubt, be one of my favorite books I've read in 2011 as well as among my favorite books ever.

There is so much more I could say about Room, so very much more. I'm not a member of a book club, but if you are, I think this would be a wonderful choice to read and would prompt some great discussion.  I honestly think this book should be required reading, and that it should be fast-tracked to being one of the classics of our time. 

It is that important, that good, and that powerful of a story.

What Other Bloggers Thought:  (There are a gazillion and ten reviews of Room around the blogosphere, and I am sure I missed half a million of them. If you'd like to leave yours in the comments for me to add to the list, feel free to do so and I will be happy to add it.)

Book Journey
(Book Journey also has an interview with author Emma Donoghue here.)
Book Nook Club
Farm Lane Books
I'm Booking It
Jen's Book Thoughts
Jenn's Bookshelves
Musings of a Bookish Kitty
Paperback Reader
Rhapsody in Books
S. Krishna's Books
Savidge Reads
She is Too Fond of Books
Shelf Life
Stuff As Dreams are Made On
The Bluestocking Society
Write Meg!

copyright 2011, Melissa, The Betty and Boo Chronicles If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Guest Post from The Husband: Get Your [Bleep]ing Hands Off My Light Bulb

Amusement ride, Ocean City, NJ
I'll probably piss off some of my readers by guest posting this from The Husband, but ... oh well.  One should know that we really do recycle our newspapers (yes, we still get a daily paper delivered), cans, bottles, and - most recently - 10 years worth of Oprah magazines. (Yes, really. Ten years.)  Light bulbs, however, are a different story.  ~ M.

Just to be clear: I really don't give a damn about my carbon footprint. My forefathers didn't, so why should I? I mean, you're telling me that they got to take advantage of all the great inventions [coal, gasoline, being able to read at night] and I can't? Screw that. Let my kids figure it out - that's why I pay taxes to pay for their public education.

Every time I see something that is 'green' - no trays in the cafeteria, silverware recycled from used toilet paper, etc - I want to vomit. Perhaps nothing sets me off more, though, than those ridiculous-looking so-called 'light bulbs' that look like something you get at Mr. Softy. I hate them. If there was a stronger word in the English language than 'hate', I'd use it. So, 'I fucking hate them' will have to do.

For one thing...well, like I said: they look like ice cream [or whatever they put in Mr. Softy]. For another, you get more illumination from a Charlie Sheen sermon than you do from these monstrosities. At my previous office, they replaced all of my lighting with these things and I ended up lighting candles and setting furniture on fire just to see at night.

Somehow, I missed something in Congress a few ago that may mean every light bulb I ever see is one of these 'green' bulbs. It'll be great for the eyeglass, contact-lens and lasik-surgery industries. Apparently, a 2007 bill - passed overwhelmingly by both houses of Congress and signed into law by President Bush - will make the old, familiar and loveable [not to mention light-emanating] incandescent bulb subject to strict 'efficiency standards' next year. One of the causalities will be the 100-watt incandescent bulb.


You better start hoarding them now - as, indeed, some are. If you have an Easy-Bake Oven from Hasbro, particularly, you better buy them up. Otherwise, Junior will be cooking in the dark - which is how fires get started, I think.

While the law does not outlaw incandescent bulbs or dictate that consumers must use the ridiculous-looking spiral-shaped compact 'fluorescent' lights, it does intrude into my life by limiting the amount of light allowed to be emitted per watt of power used. Thus the currently effective 100-watt bulbs must become 25% more 'efficient', meaning that its makers are forced to design new bulbs.

I never in a million years thought that I would be on the same side of an argument as one of Congress' preeminent assholes, Rep. Joe Barton [R, Tex.]. Barton is against just about everything except oil companies and making himself filthy rich. Plus, he had the audacity to oppose the 2006 Combating Autism Act and publicly apologized to British Petroleum CEO Tony Hayward in 2010 for what he called President Obama's "shakedown" of the oil industry.

So, it's clear the guy is a prick. Still, on this issue, the prick and I are on the same side. Who knew it would take a light bulb to put us there? Barton has sponsored a bill to reverse the new light bulb guidelines. "From the health insurance you’re allowed to have, to the car you can drive, to the light bulbs you can buy, Washington is making too many decisions that are better left to you and your family," Barton said when he introduced his bill in January.

Plus, a convenient fact dismissed by environmentalists is that the supposedly 'green' bulbs are actually health hazards because they contain mercury. So, they're 'green' unless they break. While some tree-huggers try to discount the danger by saying the mercury in a single fluorescent bulb is less than what some power plants throw into the atmosphere while generating the electricity it takes to light one incandescent bulb, I'm reminded of the great Archie Bunker line: when Gloria tells him that 60% of those murdered in the U.S. in the previous year had died of gunshot wounds, Archie says, "Would it make you feel better if they was pushed outta windows?"

I'm now not only on the same side of the issue as a bastard like Barton - I'm on the same side as the lunatic-fringe Tea Partiers! My head is spinning. One of their darlings - Rep. Michele Bachmann [R, Minn,.], introduced a bill to repeal the light bulb law in 2008, and did so again this year. I apparently missed learning about the light bulb law after the President's January State of the Union Adress...then again, I missed the Address, too. Anyway, Bachmann gave the Republican response to President Obama's Address. In her response, one of the things she blasted was the light bulb nonsense.

Another Tea Bagger - Sen. Rand Paul [R, Ky.] - said not only did he resent the light bulb standards but he also blamed the government for poorly working toilets in his house because of the regulations on how much water they should use. Once again: whoever thought I'd be on the same side as a wacko like Paul? I hate those goddamned toilets. You may as well shit on the living room floor for all the good these new toilets do.

Oh, and these light bulb regulations have already affected the American economy. Last fall, General Electric closed its last major United States plant producing the old-style incandescent bulbs, in Winchester, Virginia. I wonder if those out-of-work employees are worried about their carbon footprint. Indeed, nearly all of the compact 'green' fluorescent bulbs are made in Asia. While some United States manufacturers say they will retool former factories to make other energy-efficient bulbs, you'll forgive me if I'm a bit doubtful.

Meanwhile, the clueless Energy Department says the energy savings from these curly-Q bulbs are 'significant'. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Energy Kathleen Hogan told a Senate committee this week that - by meeting the new lighting standards - consumers could save nearly $6 billion in 2015. I don't even know if I'm going to be alive in 2015, lady. Get your fucking hands off my light bulb.

Hogan later made a statement that makes one wonder where she pulled that $6 billion figure from anyway. Hogan told the same committee that a household that upgrades 15 current incandescent bulbs could save about $50 a year. Wow! A whole $50?!?!? How much would we save if we just went back to lighting candles?

Candles are cheaper than current halogen incandescent bulbs, which now cost about $1.50 each. Another 'green' wonder - the LED bulb - can cost $20 or more each. While it is true that the LED bulb has only recently been introduced [and, thus, one assumes they'll eventually go down in price], and that they supposedly can last ten years or more, the fact is: I like changing a light bulb. Why the hell should I have to wait ten years to do so?

So, now, in addition to the bedroom and my pocket, I want the government's paws out of my light bulbs. Amy Ridenour has the right idea. She is the president of the National Center for Public Policy Research, a conservative group, and has already hoarded about 100 old-style incandescent light bulbs in her basement. She hopes to have several hundred by the time the new standards go into effect on January 1, 2012. Her hoarding, she told the New York Times, is primarily driven by concerns about the mercury in the compact fluorescent bulbs. Her middle child, a 10-year-old son, is autistic. "He’s knocked over quite a few lamps," she said, and broken plenty of light bulbs in the process. Since I'm not convinced that mercury doesn't contribute to autism, I'm with her.

That's especially true in that the Environmental Protection Agency [EPA] actually issues detailed instructions on how to clean up a broken fluorescent bulb because of the potential for spilling mercury. In fact, because of the mercury, the EPA recommends recycling used fluorescent bulbs rather than disposing of them in household garbage.

You know what? Recycling was cute when it was cans, glass and newspapers. It's just a real pain in the ass now, and the novelty - like the days of the effective light bulb - is over.

copyright 2011, Melissa, The Betty and Boo Chronicles If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Sunday Salon: March 13, 2011

It seems so trivial to be talking books this morning, doesn't it, with the devastation half a world away in Japan?  To my knowledge I don't know anyone personally affected by the tragedy, but this blogging thing has a way of bringing the world ever so closer and connected.  Needless to say, my heart and my prayers go out to the people of Japan and everyone affected by recent events. 

Books have always been an escape - from the news, from life - and this week has been no exception.  In fact, dare I say that I think my book slump (again, an insignificant matter, considering ... ) officially ended when I started Room right before bedtime on Friday evening. 

What was I thinking, starting this before bedtime?!  I cannot put this one down. I know I am the last person to read this, for bloggers everywhere have been singing Room's praises for almost a year now, ever since it made its debut at BEA 2010.  I saw it on the library's shelf and now someone else wants it, but I'm not giving it back until I'm finished.  I'm only 61 pages or so into this, but I'm pretty sure it will be one of my best books read in 2011.  I'm hoping to spend a little time with this today, although probably not until later this evening.

Another one that will likely make that list (and that I started and finished this week) is Paolo Giordano's debut novel, The Solitude of Prime Numbers. I absolutely loved this novel, which is much more of a love story (albeit a heartbreaking one) than one filled with facts and figures. Giordano brilliantly uses the mathematical concept of prime numbers and twin primes as a symbol of the relationship between Alice Della Rocca and Mattia Balossino, as well as Mattia and his twin sister Michela.

In last week's Salon, I told you about a wonderful short story collection, Everybody Loves Somebody, by Joanna Scott. There are 10 stories in this book, and I liked all but two of them (a pretty good ratio, in my opinion). I think this is a great collection to try for those who don't think they like short stories (and especially those who do!) 

There was - as seems to be my pattern lately - a DNF that fell into this week.  I'm not sure I can really consider this one a DNF, because I didn't last too long with The Ask.  As many of you know, I'm a fundraiser for a nonprofit organization, and was especially excited about this one because the main character is also in the development field.  There aren't too many novels featuring the glamorous world of fundraising, but this one just struck me as overly (and unnecessarily) crass.  I'm hard to offend, but this one kind of managed to do exactly that within a few pages.  

Finally, my current audiobook is The Box: Tales from the Darkroom by Gunter Grass, an author who I've never read.  I'm on the fence with this one (it's described as an ambitious literary experiment, in some reviews I've seen, kind of a cross between fiction and memoir).  Grass writes in the voices of his eight children, who gather together on regular occasions to reflect on and record their childhood memories.  The Box is the Agfa camera belonging to their family friend, Marie, who uses it to document almost everything about the children's lives, right down to the crumbs left behind from their meals.  It's a bit strange, truth be told, but it is also relatively short. I have the printed version out from the library also, so I might just finish this in the print version.   

All in all, it was a pretty good reading week.  Other than that, I'm spending today just relaxing from a busier-than-usual Saturday evening. One of my oldest and dearest friends came down for the weekend with her daughter and we took the girls to an American Girl Fashion Show that was a fundraiser for our local Ronald McDonald House, and then out to breakfast this morning.  We had a really good time, despite my waking up this morning with a bit of a head cold/sinus infection (and losing an hour of sleep certainly isn't helping).   I think the cure is a nap, followed by a little reading on the sofa. 

Hope you're having a good Sunday!

copyright 2011, Melissa, The Betty and Boo Chronicles If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Book Review: Talking to Girls About Duran Duran: One Young Man's Quest for True Love and a Cooler Haircut, by Rob Sheffield

Talking to Girls About Duran Duran: One Young Man's Quest for True Love and a Cooler Haircut
by Rob Sheffield
274 pages

By the time I had finished reading the very first paragraph of Rob Sheffield's memoir, Talking to Girls About Duran Duran, I was already laughing hysterically.

"If you ever step into the Wayback Machine and zip to the 1980s, you will have some interesting conversations, even though nobody will believe a word you say.  You can tell people the twentieth century will end without a nuclear war.  The Soviet Union will dissolve, the Berlin Wall will come down, and people will start using these things called 'ringtones' that make their pants randomly sing 'Eye of the Tiger.' America will elect a black president who spent his college days listening to the B-52s.

But there's one claim nobody will believe: Duran Duran are still famous."  (pg. 1)

Talking to Girls About Duran Duran gets its title from Sheffield doing exactly that.  "It's how I've spent my life," he continues.  "I count on the Fab Five to help me understand all the females in my life - all the crushes and true loves, the sisters and housemates, the friends and confidantes and allies and heroes. Girls like to talk, and if you are a boy and you want to learn how to listen to girl talk, start a conversation and keep it going, that means you have to deal with Duran Duran. You learn to talk about what the girls want to talk about.  And it is a truth universally acknowledged that the girls want to talk about Duran Duran." (pg. 2)

This is not, however, a book solely devoted to the virtues and appeal of Duran Duran (although there's a fun mix of that in the introduction and last chapter.  The other chapters - all titled with various '80s songs and artists (ones that are each, in some way, meaningful and influential to Sheffield) - are vignette-like stories of Sheffield's suburban Boston escapades in the '80s.  Spending a summer driving an ice cream truck, rushing home from a school dance at 10 p.m. to catch the premiere of Michael Jackson's "Beat It" on MTV and then heading back to the dance to show off the moves, trying in vain to master the hand-clap sequences of various songs ("Private Eyes", by Hall and Oates, who get an entire chapter in this book).  If you grew up in the '80s, you will definitely see yourself in these hilarious tales and understand exactly what Sheffield means when he says, "When Michael Jackson, John Hughes, and Patrick Swayze died, these were national days of mourning." (pg. 3) and "Any wedding I attend degenerates into a roomful of Tommy and Ginas living on a prayer." (pg. 3)  

I promise you, I'm not going to quote the book verbatim in this review ... but I could, simply because there's so much good stuff here. For many of us who grew up in the Big Hair Generation, music was what we knew and what our lives revolved around.  It was also our very foundation of life itself.  ("Top 40 radio was a constant education in the ways of the world." (pg. 25)

Sheffield manages to weave all kinds of  '80s references - from music to songs to fashion - into his narrative, much of which is peppered with lyrics or '80s "in-jokes" (just like that ...the use of "air quotes" for certain words and how you won't find people under a certain age doing that or even knowing what that is.)  There's more coverage of new-wave music here, but there's certainly enough to make anyone nostalgic and appreciative for this glorious decade.

I will admit, I was a little surprised and taken aback (and disappointed, truth be told) by Sheffield's treatment of Paul McCartney, who at one point he calls "dumb," his manner "cartoonish," and his public actions "moronic."  Now, as regular readers know, I am a huge Sir Paul fan.  I've never paid $250 to see anyone in concert until Paul played Philadelphia in September 2005 (maybe that makes me dumb) and I doubt I will ever pay that amount for a concert ticket again. I also don't doubt that Paul has his faults (he's a knight, not a saint) but in my world, he'd have to do something more horrendous than make his wife part of his band or release an album the likes of "No More Lonely Nights" (which I actually really like) in order to fall from my graces.

Which is why I was perplexed (and cringing, actually) at passages like these:

"Paul was the bitchiest Beatle. Everybody knows the other Beatles thought he was bossy. Even in the interviews for the 1990s Anthology documentaries, George Harrison physically bristles in his company. But he was the Beatle who worked hardest, who forced the others to finish their songs and show up in the studio."  (pg. 154)

Even lovely Linda, God rest her soul, isn't immune.

"He [Paul] didn't just sing about the way love messes up your mind - he lived it out. He even let his wife, Linda, join the band. Everybody made fun of him for that; everybody knew the joke, "What do you call a dog with wings?" There's no way Paul didn't know the whole world was laughing at him for giving his wife so much of his attention - he just didn't care.  Or maybe he did it to annoy people." (pg. 156)

That may be true (that Paul just didn't care), but the fact is that Linda is an intrical part of Wings.  He wanted to be with her, he wanted to be in a band and on the road. How is that any different than John and Yoko? Or any other husband-wife duo? 

Want more?

"It's his virtues that seem profoundly fucked up. He was a man deranged by love, driven to madness by a happy love affair, a deeper madness than other rock stars got from their unhappy ones .... "Maybe I'm Amazed" is an infinitely freakier song than "Revolution Number 9."  [my note: absolutely, completely disagree 100% here.  I cannot abide "Resolution Number 9" - fingernails on a chalkboard is preferable to listening to that - and I make The Husband turn it off if it is played in my presence.]  Linda seemed like nobody's idea of an obsession-worthy muse, just some random hippie chick Paul liked. ...

Um. "Maybe I'm Amazed" is an amazing song, a tribute to Linda for essentially saving Paul's life post-Beatles breakup, while he was in the throes of a breakdown and a depression so deep that he couldn't even get out of bed.  

"I'm not claiming to like all the music - far from it. "Let 'Em In" is some kind of high-bongwater mark for how zonked and sedated a grown man can sound when things are going too smoothly. Songs like this terrify me. I mean, Keith Richards has some impressive vices, and I always love hearing gossip about them. But they only disturb me in theory. In real life, I'm not in any danger of turning into Keith Richards and neither are my friends.  But turning into Paul McCartney? It could happen to anyone.  Some of your friends are probably already this fucked."  (pg. 158)

I'll be honest here.  I really, really enjoyed this book - up to this chapter. I can't say that these 9 pages ruined the book for me, but they managed to leave a sour taste in my mouth. (I had recommended this to The Husband before getting to this point, but there's no way in hell he'll pick this up now after hearing me read to him the aforementioned quotes.)  It's just that it's hard to quantify devotion to Hayzsi Fantayzee (an '80s band I've never heard of) with this. 

Enough of that.  I'll let it be, and I'll leave you with the thought that Talking with Girls About Duran Duran is indeed well worth listening to what the man (Rob Sheffield) says.

What Other Bloggers Thought:

Books, Movies, and Chinese Food
Eleventh Stack (blog of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, which is very high atop my list of places to visit when we move to the 'Burgh)
The Girl from the Ghetto
She is Too Fond of Books

copyright 2011, Melissa, The Betty and Boo Chronicles If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Cousin Joey Goes to The White House Today! (Yes. THE White House.)

It's a proud day for our family. 

This morning, our cousin Joey has a meeting at The White House - yes, The White House.  As a Student Ambassador for GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network), he's bringing his personal story of bullying and his message of change right to President Obama himself.  He and others (including his mom, who introduced me and my husband) are part of today's White House Conference on Bullying Prevention.

For those who are new readers to the blog, Joey is actually my husband's cousin's son ... but we're all cousins in this family, regardless of whether we're related by marriage (like me) or blood (like the husband).  We only deal in seconds and thirds when it comes to food, and we're only removed geographically (although Facebook helps with that).

I've written about Joey and his story of extreme, horrific bullying (because he is gay, because at 16 he is living his life out loud) here on several occasions ("Be the Change," "One More, In the Name of Love").  He is an extraordinary, compassionate, and brave young man. 

You can watch the White House Conference on Bullying Prevention live at  I believe it begins at 10:35 a.m., but the White House site has the details. 

We're already incredibly proud of you, Joey, today and every day.  We love you and we always will.   

Now, go rock the House.

copyright 2011, Melissa, The Betty and Boo Chronicles If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

(Not So) Wordless Wednesday: Goodwill

My Decluttering 2011 project has gone into overdrive, now that we're moving. 

(I didn't know we would be moving when I vowed to get rid of 2,011 things this year.)

Pictured above in the back of my Chevy HHR, is a significant portion of the walk-in closet in our master bedroom.  Four years ago, we moved all of these clothes to this house.  Now, some of them actually did fit us then ... but many, many, many of them did not.  We were holding onto them because "maybe someday we would fit into them again."  (You understand how that game goes, right?)
Instead, they damn near barely fit into my car.  As you can see, I needed the front seat, too. A lot of them still have the dry cleaning tags on them.   (If you're in the market for an HHR and are wondering how much the back can hold, now you know.) Here's what was donated to Goodwill yesterday:

9 men's suits
22 men's dress pants
29 men's dress shirts
3 men's blazers
3 women's suits
5 women's blouses
1 knit dress
4 women's blazers
3 women's dress pants

Pretty much all of these items are professional work clothes, so I hope they will help someone out. There were two completely full trash bags of the kids clothes underneath this load, too, but I didn't itemize them. I just grabbed them in order to get them out of the house.

copyright 2011, Melissa, The Betty and Boo Chronicles If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Book Review: All Is Forgotten, Nothing Is Lost, by Lan Samantha Chang

All Is Forgotten, Nothing Is Lost
by Lan Samantha Chang
W.W. Norton and Company
205 pages

When the author of the novel you're about to pick up is the director of the famed Iowa Writer's Workshop, you expect great things. 

Fortunately, that's what you get with All Is Forgotten, Nothing Is Lost.

This short, almost novella-length book was one that I saw on my library's New Books shelf, and I was intrigued by the title and Ms. Chang's credentials.  (I confess, I have often wondered what it would be like to be a student at the Iowa Writer's Workshop. Some people dream of fame and stardom. I dream of Iowa City.)  Anyway, this was the rare book that I hadn't heard much buzz about among book bloggers or anyplace else, and I kind of liked the idea that I might discover a little gem to tell you about. 

I'll admit that the premise - as described on the jacket cover - didn't strike me as overly original, but the story started growing on me fairly quickly. 

At the renowned writing school in Bonneville, every student is simultaneously terrified of and attracted to the charismatic and mysterious poet and professor Miranda Sturgis, whose high standards for art are both intimidating and inspiring.  As two students, Roman and Bernard, strive to win her admiration, the lines between mentorship, friendship, and love are blurred.

Yeah, we can tell where this is going, can't we? 

Roman and Bernard are both students in Miranda's poetry seminar, as is Lucy.   Over the next 30 years, all four of their lives will continue to intersect, even as their careers go in different directions, and their friendship and allegiances will be tested.

One of my favorite quotes from All Is Forgotten, Nothing Is Lost is this:

"The people who matter the most to us in the end , who teach us the most, are the people who make their worst mistakes with us." (pg. 133)

I think the opposite is true, too.  I think we make our worst mistakes with the people who matter most to us.  That's definitely the case with the characters in this novel.

I'm really glad that I gave this one a chance.  There are several moments of surprise, of slight twists that I wasn't expecting, and the last dozen pages or so are reminiscent of the Six Feet Under series finale. (If you are/were a fan of the show, you know what I mean.) The prose is tight and the pacing is such that the narrative just flows almost effortlessly, making it a quick read. (I read this over the course of one day, starting at lunchtime and then finished it up in the evening. This would be a perfect Read-a-thon book.)

Overall, All Is Forgotten, Nothing Is Lost is a nicely-written character-driven book that makes one think about how much credit we owe those who have influenced our success and the intangible currency that we all use to pay the price.

What Other Bloggers Thought:

The Blue Bookcase
S. Krishna's Books

copyright 2011, Melissa, The Betty and Boo Chronicles If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Sunday Salon

We're celebrating The Husband's birthday this weekend, albeit in a very non-exciting way.  Among other things, yesterday (his actual birthday) he did several loads of laundry (as he does every weekend) and helped me clean out our closet.  The result is quite a number of suits, dress pants and shirts that will be donated to Goodwill tomorrow, along with two trash bags of Betty and Boo's outgrown clothes and some of my suits that don't fit me anymore.  Hopefully someone will be able to get good use out of these.

We did celebrate with one of The Husband's favorite dinners (baked ziti) and chocolate cake for dessert.  Can't go wrong with that!

Birthdays are always good for bringing out the nostalgia, and if you're a child of the '80s (as The Husband and I are), you will probably enjoy Rob Sheffield's Talking to Girls About Duran Duran: One Young Man's Quest for True Love and a Cooler Haircut. I finished this one earlier this week, and for the most part, really enjoyed it.  Rob Sheffield definitely knows his '80s music (and music in general, as he is a columnist for Rolling Stone) and is incredibly talented and funny. 

I will say that the only part of the book that took me aback was Sheffield's treatment of Paul McCartney.  Now, I'm a Paul fan (very much so), but even if I wasn't, Sheffield's skewering of Paul was a little over the top and a bit disproportionate to some of the other musicians criticized in the book. I'll have more to say on this (and the parts I loved in Talking to Girls About Duran Duran) in my review. 

Thanks to a bit more local travel than usual, I spent a little more time in the car this week.  As a result, I was able to start and finish the audiobook of I Curse the River of Time by Per Petterson. As audiobooks go, this one is relatively short at 6 hours, but I found the story to be rambling and disjointed.  Truthfully, it was almost a DNF for me.  Even though I felt a little sympathy for Arvid, the main character(we can all relate to experiencing regret and wishing back time gone by), I didn't much like Arvid and I kind of wanted him out of my car sooner rather than later.

Finally, my current book is a short story collection that is due back to the library on Tuesday without any more renewals left. (I found this, which was published in 2006, while browsing the shelves.) I'm really enjoying Everybody Loves Somebody by Joanna Scott, an author I haven't read before.  The first three stories ("Heaven and Hell," "Stumble," and "Worry") are all well-written and superbly crafted, and I'm looking forward to the other seven stories in this collection.

As much as I would like to spend this rainy Sunday curled up on the sofa and doing exactly that, there is more decluttering and packing on the agenda today.  This moving nonsense really has a way of cutting into one's reading and blogging time. 

How is your Sunday going?

copyright 2011, Melissa, The Betty and Boo Chronicles If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Friday, March 4, 2011

50,000 Books

That's about what my TBR pile looks like after my patronage of a local used book sale this afternoon.  (I know. I really have no business bringing any more books into this house right now. But, well ....)

Our local branch of the American Association of University Women (AAUW) is hosting their annual book sale ("Dollars for Scholars") this weekend. The majority of books were in the $1 - $3 range, and proceeds go toward college scholarships for deserving high school students as well as women who are returning to school late in life. My friend Dina was a beneficiary of AAUW's generosity, and they were (and still are) a very strong supporter of the organization I previously worked for.  So, a good cause, and their ads stated that there were 50,000 books available for the taking.  My resistance was nil. 

So this morning I started working much earlier than usual, finished up a bit earlier than usual, and headed up to the sale while the kids were in school. 

Imagine your average, regular suburban mall.  Now imagine the majority of said mall lined practically end to end with tables of used books, all sorted neatly into categories.  You meander along the mall, and in between the kiosks for sports memorabilia and decorative cell phone covers, you find table after table after table of books for the perusing. 

I know I should have taken pictures, but truthfully?  I was a little overwhelmed. (50,000 books will do that to you.)  And I had a bit of a time constraint and I wanted to use the time wisely. Plus, the ladies and gentlemen volunteering at the sale were absolutely delightful to talk books with and so enabling helpful, offering to hold books "to keep your hands free for browsing."  (One lady, every time I picked up another novel, whisked it away to the "Mallissah" pile.)

Which, after a while, looked like this:

This represents my haul from the fiction section, literature, and "award winning children's books" (that would be Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson). 

The Best American Short Stories 1990
The O. Henry Prize Stories 2007
Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson
Case Histories, by Kate Atkinson
Away, by Amy Bloom
Bombardiers, by Po Bronson
The Woman in White, by Wilkie Collins (I've since discovered this is a freebie on the Kindle, so it is quite possible this might be donated back to the AAUW)
The Garden of Last Days, by Andre Dubus III
Geek Love, by Katherine Dunn (my friend Amy - not the blogger - has been raving about this one ever since I've known her.  I was ecstatic to see this one on the table!)
What is the What, by Dave Eggers
Long Quiet Highway, by Natalie Goldberg
Same Kind of Different As Me, by Ron Hall and Denver Moore
The Collected Stories, by Amy Hempel
Rosie, by Anne Lamott
Hard Laughter, by Anne Lamott
The Group, by Mary McCarthy
Enduring Love, by Ian McEwan
The Music Room, by Dennis McFarland
Half in Love, by Maile Meloy
Wise Blood, by Flannery O'Connor (who, as you know, I adore ... but somehow never read this one!)
Anil's Ghost, by Michael Ondaatje
Drinking Coffee Elsewhere, Stories by ZZ Packer 
1185 Park Avenue, by Anne Roiphe
The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell (because Florinda raves about this)
Push, by Sapphire
The Thirteenth Tale, by Diane Setterfield
By the Light of My Father's Smile, by Alice Walker

Wait, there's more.  (It was like the tables kept on going and going.  I didn't even stop at the last group of tables because it was getting ridiculous.)  Here's what I came home with from the music table (they had CDs, vinyl records, VHS tapes and DVDs), sociology, gender, history, biography, and local interest. 

Why, yes, that certainly is Barry Manilow's The Complete Collection and Then Some 4 CD box set.  At $10, there was no way I was leaving that there.  (The lady was like, "You do know this is ten dollars, right?"  I replied with, "And well worth every penny.")

I love, love, love Barry Manilow. 

On the Local Interest table, I spotted Beth Kephart's Ghosts in the Garden.  I grabbed it, knowing that my friend Jini had lent her copy to someone who never returned it, and that this would be a nice surprise for her. 

Rounding out this section were the following:

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America, by Erik Larson
Are You Somebody? The Accidental Memoir of a Dublin Woman, by Nuala O'Faolain
Flux: Women on Sex, work, Love, Kids, and Life in a Half-Changed World, by Peggy Orenstein (because I really want to read her book Cinderella Ate My Daughter, and I think that when I do, I will want to read this one)
In Our Time: Memoir of a Revolution, by Susan Brownmiller
The Trust: The Private and Powerful Family Behind The New York Times, by Ssuan E. Tifft and Alex S. Jones
Andrew Carnegie, by David Nasaw

What's fun at these sorts of sales is evesdropping on the conversation around you.  The people next to me at the Poetry table were discussing how to rearrange the furniture in their living room to accommodate all the books they were bringing home.  (I didn't feel so bad after that, but I have no room to talk since we're moving and 34 more books are not what I need.)

Finally (I know, there's more!) I got three cookbooks, but I'll tell you about them in a Weekend Cooking post. 

37 books (plus Barry!) for $74.25.  That's an average of $2.00 per book ... and it all goes to charity!

copyright 2011, Melissa, The Betty and Boo Chronicles If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Book Review: Tinkers, by Paul Harding

by Paul Harding
Bellevue Literary Press
191 pages
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize

If you've ever sat with a dying person, you know that the passing from one realm to another can often be a hazy and mysterious sort of time - for both the person dying and those sitting vigil.  At least in my experience, it's a time flooded with memories, of reflecting back on what (and who) was important in our lives, of realizing what really matters.

In such a state, time is the only constant.  It's present in the ticking of the clock, the slow passage of the minutes between breaths, between being awake and asleep.

In Tinkers, George Washington Crosby is a tinker, a fixer of clocks, a keeper of time.  The symbolism of this is prevalent throughout the novel, which takes place over several days as he is dying in a hospital bed set up in his living room, with his family surrounding him. As George fades in and out of consciousness, he is remembering his life growing up in New England.

"George Crosby remembered many things as he died, but in an order he could not control. To look at his life, to take the stock he always imagined a man would at his end, was to witness a shifting mass, the tiles of a mosaic spinning, swirling, reportraying, always in recognizable swaths of colors, familiar elements, molecular units, intimate currents, but also independent now of his will, showing him a different self every time he tried to make an assessment." (pg. 18)

It's not an original premise or theme, but what makes Tinkers stand out (and what I absolutely loved about this book) is the gorgeous writing and melodic language.  Paul Harding can most definitely write (there are echoes of Faulkner here) and so beautifully at that. Tinkers has been described in some reviews as prose that you can actually hear; the words are harmonious and in sync with each other so perfectly, and that's what makes this novel stand out. 

"He tinkered.  Tin pots, wrought iron. Solder melted and cupped in a clay dam.  Quicksilver patchwork. Occasionally, a pot hammered back flat, the tinkle f time sibilant, tiny beneath the lid of the boreal forest. Tinkerbird, coppersmith, but mostly a brush and mop drummer." (pg. 12)

As George lies dying, Tinkers becomes more of a story not about George's death, but the life of his father Howard and how the choices he made impacted the next generation and the one to come.

There has been some criticism in other reviews about the disjointed nature and rambling style of the narrative, and I admit that sort of bothered me a bit.  But I think that is intentional and an integral part of the story.  It doesn't make for a smooth, linear story, though - there are lots of detours and tangents - so if that sort of thing irks you (and it usually does me), Tinkers might not be for you.  (It's received mixed reviews, and has been compared to Gilead by Marilynne Robinson, which was a DNF for me.)

George Crosby (and his father, Howard Aaron Crosby) reminded me of both of my grandfathers, men who could very much be described as tinkers, who were curious about how things worked and who had the right tool to fix anything.

"That was it, he realized; the clock had run down. All of the clocks in the room had wound down - the tambours and carriage clocks on the mantel, the banjo and mirror and Viennese regulator on the walls, the Chelsea ship's bells on the rolltop desk, the ogee on the end table, and the seven-foot walnut cased Stevenson grandfather's clock, made in Nottingham in 1801, with its moon-phase window on the dial and pair of robins threadin flowery buntings around the Roman numerals. When he imagined inside the case of that clock, dark and dry and hollow, and the still pendulum hanging down its length, he felt the inside of his own chest and had a sudden panic that it, too, had wound down.

When his grandchildren has been little, they had asked if they could hide inside the clock.  Now he wanted to gather them and open himself up and hide them among his ribs and fainting ticking heart." (pg. 33-34)

What Other Bloggers Thought:

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The Bluestocking Society

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