It’s Friday: Watch out!

I’m connecting dots.

Today, I saw a recommendation on the PBS Facebook page (like) for a new book about an old event:

“The Last Gunfight: The Real Story of the Shootout at the O.K. Corral—and How it Changed the American West” by Jeff Guinn.

Hmmm, “Changed the American West.” Intriguing. I adore non-fiction that sheds new light on or gives a new interpretation of familiar subjects.

So, my dots:

  • Gunfight
  • Guns
  • Winchesters
  • Winchester, Simon—author of
    • The Professor and the Madman
    • The Map that Changed the World
    • Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded, August 27, 1883
    • A Crack in the Edge of the World

among other books.

But these are four that I own, and I love, and which are now occupying position #44 on my 250 Library list. Four books, one position. That’s what I said.

I could have connected the O.K. Corral book with other dots, say, to a truly wretched episode of Classic Trek: Spectre of the Gun. This time, aren’t we all glad I went with classy non-fiction instead of Classic Trek (see #42)?

Well, most of us.

More downsizing to follow.

March Time


Thanks, Phil!

For all my fussin’ and fumin’ about summer, I adore the Fourth of July!

I love fireworks and watermelon and John. Philip. Sousa. Oh yeah, I love a march. That handsome lad in uniform? He’s Philip J. Eberly, my nephew-in-law, and he plays the euphonium (or what I call a tubini- sorry Phil) in the Navy Band.

The real deal United States Navy Band.

That blows me away, as does his talent.

Great music on the Fourth of July– that’s an inalienable right. Actually, music and movies. I pulled out my favorite holiday DVDs:

  • The Musicals, of course:
    • 1776
    • Music Man
  • The Obvious:
    • Independence Day
    • Jaws
  • Sure, but why not:
    • Apollo 13
    • National Treasure

I used to pull out the remake of The Parent Trap, what with the summer fun and a different take on an American/British rivalry. But then Lindsay imploded and Natasha < gulp> died. I’m looking for more upbeat holiday fare.

So, Jaws?

Well, I don’t do The Patriot. Too gruesome; too Gibson.

So, Jaws.

No Gibson!

Plus I added the annotated book of the musical 1776 to my 250 Library. And that’s enough digitizing for a holiday.

Hope you enjoy some music, your favorite holiday-themed movies and some watermelon. And remember: Safety First with those fireworks.

Happy Birthday, America.


Me in my head (from Summer by Alice Low)

Why I Hate Summer


It's 90 degrees out. Am I mad?

Urgency Day 106

500 Things Item 391: Winter Coat

  • History: c. 1999, I meant to un-possess it last winter
  • Value: It’s a good warm coat which someone will enjoy
  • Parting Pain: Embarrassed that I have so many coats, so no parting pain
  • Un-possessing: Donation

I hate summer.

I take a lot of abuse for saying this.

I also receive a fair amount of support.

Summer seems to be a more divisive topic than you might expect.

If you’ve been so kind as to take notice of the 250 Books list I’m methodically compiling, you may have observed a wonderful children’s book at #23, Summer by Alice Low. Occupying position 23 on my list should not suggest it is my 23rd favorite book; that is merely the order in which it was added. Actually, this little picture book is probably one of my top 5 favorite books.

It’s a sweet, funny tribute to all the things I used to love about summer-time, back when summer was about time: Time off, time to relax, time to do absolutely nothing. Summer-time is quantifiably different from other-time.

And it’s ridiculous to say we did nothing in summertime. We did everything in summertime!… except go to school, and that made summer the absolute perfect time.

Being done with school now, the lack of school doesn’t make summer perfect anymore. That’s not what is missing for me. The beach is missing for me. Has been for years now, and I miss it with an ache as potent as the loss of a soul mate.

But wistfulness is not hate. And I hate summer.

  • I hate the heat AND the humidity:
  • I hate perspiring glasses and people;
  • I hate that panicky space of time between shutting the passenger door on your buckled-in child or panting dog and dashing around to the driver’s door to start the car and crank up the air conditioning;
  • I hate air conditioning;
  • I hate when the air conditioning breaks;
  • I hate spider veins, month-old pedicures, self-tanner stains, bikini waxes, needing bikini waxes.

And there’s the ugly truth. I hate that aging means I’ve become high-maintenance in summertime. It’s not the aging; it’s the maintaining.

Summer used to be about a tank top, a pair of shorts and maybe some flip flops. Not anymore. Now, I need time to be presentable; more time than in the wintertime; too much time, to present myself comfortably, and I hate wasting time.

What am I working toward in this project?

Less stuff, more time!

And I don’t want to do nothing anymore; I want to do everything! Except preen. What a waste of time.

But that’s what it’s come to for me: Self-consciousness. I hate that.

Ditto, summer.

Words Matter



Morning meditation


This morning over coffee, my friend Janet shared a great story about her college-age son. He’s dating a woman whose first language is Japanese and who still struggles with English.

“Well, how do they communicate?” we asked.

Very well…” she demurred.

With a wink and a nod, we three women, with collectively over 75 years of marriage lingua frankness, were reminded of the subtle language of young lovers.

“Of course, you know, 90% of communication is non-verbal,” I said, as we grinned like a clowder of Cheshire cats.

I know we all know what we’re getting at here. <ahem> However, I’m not sure I believe the statistic. 90%? Really? Does that imply that words don’t matter?

I couldn’t disagree more with that statement.

Here are just a few reasons why saying words don’t matter bothers me:

  • I’m an English major, a reader, a word addict
  • My family and friends are also word-nerds
  • Remember the recent library video, “Libraries Will Survive!” (enjoy another peek)

Words matter.

For example, here’s a great word: Nepotism. Well, the word is interesting, even if the action is often maligned. Accepting that I am guilty of nepotism, I want to call your attention to a new blog called Words Matter. When you visit, you may recognize the writer. He’s the one for whom I save over 90% of my non-verbal language.

You can check out Paul’s blog by clicking on “Paul’s site” over there on my Blogroll.

Watch for his sentence of the week. I’m on the hunt with him, paying even closer attention to what I read and listen to, hoping to catch another sentence that is especially expressive, artful, or funny. Or truthy, if we’re watching Colbert. Our friend Andrew Amelinckx pursues a similar interest. While you’re communing with the words, check out his blog, The True Sentence. It’s a shiny new addition to my Blogroll.

Speaking of updates, I added a few books to the 250 Books list, which I realized I had been neglecting. (I’ve committed 39 to my list now, and I’m already second-guessing myself.) At some point, I will have to categorize the entries, or at least alphabetize them.

Words matter, but so does organization!

Save our Libraries!


Hey! I know those Librarians!


As seen on the World Wide Web and Chicago’s own NBC5!

The librarians at the Central Rappahannock Regional Libraries in Fredericksburg, VA have made a video and have become overnight YouTube stars!

They don’t just think they can dance;

They can!

Here’s why you should care:

  • You love libraries, no matter where they are.
  • You love librarians, because they do the 1st Amendment heavy lifting.
  • These actual librarians are some of my Very Best Friends in the World! (Okay that’s why I care, but I’m just so proud.)

I’m not even going to give you the link to the edited version. Pop some corn, grab the family and take 10 minutes to love on some amazing people doing important work on a vanishing budget.

PRESS below to watch now:


They MUST Survive!

Mind the Ghosts


Measured in certain "units:" priceless

Urgency Day 350

500 Things Items 143-151: Set of 9 Books (not shown)

  • History: Details can’t be revealed because they are to be a present
  • Value: The bindings match and have made a lovely addition to my shelves
  • Parting Pain: None– I love the eventual recipient
  • Un-possessing: Christmas gift

Do you believe in ghosts?

Even existing outside of a purely doctrinal construct, I do.

What happens to discarded books? I have dozens and dozens awaiting their eventual fates. Will they go directly to good homes? Will they linger on used-bookstore shelves or in the sorting space of our local library in anticipation of the Friends of the Library book sale? Right now, they are in actual Limbo piled on my basement floor.

One book expressed its discomfort last night.

I’m reading Her Fearful Symmetry, Audrey Niffenegger’s follow-up novel to The Time-traveler’s Wife. I adored Time-traveler’s Wife— the book NOT the movie– and it became something of a phenomenon in our house: widely recommended and even earning a featured role in the infamous Sean Turns Forty! video gift. I remember when Fearful Symmetry came out being very excited to read it. Until I read the reviews.

Every author I know personally—and you two know who you are—is groaning right now. And they should be.

I count on book reviews to do several things for me: First of course, give me a sense of whether I should add yet another book to the toppling tower on my bedside table, but second and more importantly, help determine whether I am constitutionally capable of reading the reviewed book. Ask John Gilstrap—almost-family member and well-known author of popular action thrillers– how many of his books I have actually read. That would be zero. Why? In a word: wimp. As in, I am one.

So when the review of Her Fearful Symmetry revealed that it is a ghost story, I sighed and chose to read something else. (What did I read instead? I wish I had an index of all the books I’ve ever read such as the comprehensive one my sister has kept since she was a teenager, so I could pinpoint exactly what I read instead. Alas, not all the family’s organizational genius went to me.)

But recently, I was at the public library picking up another bushel of college admissions guides, when I noticed Her Fearful Symmetry. Why not? I thought. I really have gotten tougher since I’ve watched Battlestar Galactica (just to repeat: NEW not 1970s version). I can handle a few ghosts and ignore a less than glowing review. Why not?

Soooo, cut to the chase. I am really enjoying Fearful Symmetry. And you would think that was my point.

Um, no.

Last night, lying in bed with a non-Earl related storm howling outside and reading this spooky story, I was reminded of another ghost story I have enjoyed. In preparation for my family’s trip to Scotland in 1996, I bought Sam a cute picture book called The Ghosts’ Trip to Loch Ness by Jacques Duquennoy. Four little ghosts decide to make a journey to Loch Ness to see the famed monster, and much Highland fun ensues. It’s such a delightful story, and after Sam actually spotted Nessie on our trip (and we have the official Certificate to prove it), quite the requested bedtime tale.

Something about the Niffenegger book and the rattling windows and the vagaries of firing synapses caused me to leave my comfy bed last night to locate this little ghost story. In my basement. On a dark and stormy night.

The hundreds of books I identified way back in July for sale and donation have not been moved since. Sam’s band practices around them, the guys who bought Asteroids stepped over them, and the cat has graciously ignored them in her quest to eat everything she possibly can. But I know, even if the piles of books had been disturbed in the ensuing months, I never did and never would include The Ghosts’ Trip to Loch Ness for un-possessing.

Why, then, was This One Book I went downstairs to find, of all our books, lying near the pile of discards? Not on its appropriate shelf. Not open as if recently consulted. Just nearby, but not safely stored.

Ghosts. That’s why.

Appearances of supernatural phenomena are thought to have many perfectly reasonable explanations and, on certain cable “reality” shows, are even “scientifically” measured in “units.” Mostly, I think it all has to do with Regret. I try so very very hard these days not to linger on regret. It takes a lot of energy– trying so hard– energy that can probably be measured in units: Regret units. Finding this little ghost story lying inexplicably on my basement floor was a gentle if somewhat mysterious reminder:

Keep the memories; lose the stuff.

And the regret.

Urgency Day 413

500 Things Items 85-88: 127 Books (yep, 127)

  • Purchase, rinse, repeat
  • Tons o’value, fun and weight!
  • Pain associated with expense not with parting
  • Dispersal undecided

We passed like ships in the night. Probably a dark and stormy night, to be even more clichéd.

When we first moved to Naperville in May of 2006, there was an amazing used bookstore a little over a mile from our house. BookZeller— a play on book seller and book cellar I imagine–was a playground for word nerds such as me and my loved ones; a basement rabbit warren of room after room containing shelf after shelf of used books. And this was no specialty affair catering only to prowling genealogists or wan science fiction fans: every genre was represented with depth and discernment.

Alas, it didn’t last.

It did last long enough for our friend Sean to go missing several times during the infamous 40th Birthday-Weekend-Laminated-Extravaganza! for Sydney.

Sample passing inquiry:

  • “Where’s Sean?”
  • “Uh, I think he might have gone back to BookZeller’s.”
  • “Again?!”

But as I said, alas. By November, 2006, it was all over. Not exactly out of business, but certainly gone, reinvented as a used book wholesaler, operating only out of a warehouse and on the internet.

With my on-going effort to reduce our accumulation of books, I called BookZellar to see if their used book buying service would be a good option for my goals of decluttering, making a little money and not losing it all to postage costs. The gentleman I spoke with was quite pleasant and said they would be happy to look at the inventory of books I had compiled, and that they typically pay 50 cents to one dollar per book.

Quick calculation: I have inventoried 127 books so far. Let’s say they were interested in about half or 60. Say half of those were paper and half were hard covers. That means I would make $45 for selling 60 quality books.

I don’t feel great about this.

I know that’s better than I could do at a yard sale where books typically go for 25 cents/paper and 50 cents/hard cover—if that. And I investigated selling books on Amazon, but that seems to require the same blithe disregard for spending all your earnings on postage that eBay selling requires. Plus you have to deal with the Ohmygawd Crazy People.

[Disclaimer: I will reveal the outcome of my eBay “figurine” sale  (I don’t want to use any details that could potentially be tracked through a search engine) only to trusted family and friends through a password encrypted exchange. I am serious. That guy scares me.]

Where does that leave me? Good question.

First of all, it reinforces my commitment to not buying books, unless, UNLESS they are really truly forever and FOREVER books—a calculation made through a series of physical and mental challenges and arbitrated by Paul. And he’s tough. He was a mountain man who could only bathe once a month.

So that keeps the future book problem from expanding like black mold on a mountain man. But what do I do with the books I am ready to relinquish? Relinquish– but for which I would like a bit of compensation?

I’m open to suggestions.

BookZeller’s former space has been reconceived as a hip clothing boutique/sometimes punk-music venue called No Exit. I’d like to think the new name is a nod to the ghost of Jean-Paul Sartre. I suspect, however, it’s a reference to local law enforcement’s most frequent justification against allowing large crowds of moshing teenagers into a one-flight down, claustrophobic firetrap.

No Exit is also feeling like a very literal description of my old books.

vol. 1 of 2

Urgency Day 427

500 Things Items 73-74:  2 Art Books Not Making the 250 Cut

  • Both from my days as an art history student
  • I tend to Google and I still have Janson (and more)
  • Too cumbersome to be ambivalent about them
  • Donate

I think I know what happened:

In the itty bitty blurb space allotted in Real Simple’s “Suggested Summer Reads” feature (I know! Two consecutive references to Real Simple. What can I say? It’s a good issue.), someone who hadn’t read the book and wasn’t aware that it really isn’t a comedy it just has some funny moments, extracted the reviewer’s toss-away comment about the book’s humor and ran with it.

Excuse me? What book? Huh?

Sorry. The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet by Reif Larsen, one of the best books I have read in years, and really really not a comedy.

But you know how these things work. A magazine or newspaper editor wants to distill a review down to the bits that will attract the most attention. Currently what would those reliably appealing features be? The evidence suggests humor and, of course, vampires. No vampires in T.S. Spivet and wry observations rather than humor, but the review did its job. I immediately rushed to check out the book from the library.

I wish I owned it.

But what does this fabulous book have to do with this blog post’s promised Caravaggio and ballet?

I’m connecting some dots here. I hope you’ll stick with me.

I love art and I love ballet. I love art about ballet, which Caravaggio certainly didn’t create—him of Thomas skeptically sticking his finger in Christ’s bloody stigmata just to be sure fame. No tulle-bedraped Degas, he. But Caravaggio and ballet shared news space in the last few days, all of which reminded me of T.S. Spivet.

On Wednesday, The New York Times “Arts, Briefly” section reported on an attack on famed Russian ballerina Natalia Osipova as she was leaving the Met after a performance Monday night. She wasn’t badly hurt, but her bag was stolen which contained a pair of pointe shoes and the small hammer she used to shape them.

On Thursday, the same “Arts, Briefly” section contained a report on the positive identification of the remains of Michelangelo Merisi, the artist known as Caravaggio. His burial had been “a centuries-old mystery” which was solved through DNA analysis. The small article was accompanied by a fairly odd if not downright gruesome picture of a smiling scientist carrying a glass box containing the artist’s very visible bones.

The ballerina and the bones. Actually, the ballerina’s hammer and the artist’s bones. I couldn’t get these two juxtaposed images out of my head, especially as I was finishing The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet and processing its profound effect on me.

Many people are unaware of the significance of the tiny tool, the hammer, which was stolen in the dancer’s mugging. Over her career, a ballerina spends countless hours pounding the stiffness out of the hard boxes of her pointe shoes. While she goes through dozens of shoes a week, her hammer is unique, often selected very early in her training, personalized and prized for its precise heft and balance in her hand,  and its ability to persuade her slippers both to mold to and support her feet.

I am sure the muggers were disappointed in their cache. I know Ms. Osipova was devastated at her loss. She probably has other hammers which will suffice; they will have to. As she said in a longer article which was printed today, the crime was more shocking than physically damaging. Only her nose was bruised, for which she was grateful, but a sense of vulnerability remains.

Vulnerability, indeed literally “vulnerable remains,” shadows the scientific triumph of identifying Caravaggio’s bones. Certainly he will now get a proper burial and deserved monument, and no one more than I support scientific progress.

But those are his actual bones in that picture. His femur and, what are those? Bits of his skull and pelvis? I’m not usually squeamish about bones—no really! About gore, absolutely, but not pristine bones!—so, it’s not a bit of skeleton with which I’m feeling discomfort. It’s the overwhelming vulnerability permeating the scene, of a complete disconnect between his human life and the ignominious parading of his remains.

And so, The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet. I think there must be different book jackets for this book, because the one I checked out of the library varies from the one shown in the Real Simple article. The one that has hardly left my side in the last two weeks depicts the skeleton of a sparrow and a cartographer’s sextant. Bones and tools. Each plays a significant role in the coming-of-age story of a gifted twelve-year old map maker and grieving child.

I won’t give away more; I’m so glad I didn’t know more before I read this amazing book. I urge you to make time for this wondrous, baffling, triumphant novel.

Bones and tools and maps; artists and ballerinas and dignity. It’s a heady mix for a “humorous summer read.” I hope you find out for yourself what happens.

Urgency Day: 466

500 Things Items 32-35: The World is Flat, The Corrections, Water for Elephants, Bel Canto

  • Curious about book-club books even when not in book clubs
  • Paul v. Suzanne appeal detailed below
  • Loving the streamlining
  • Donations

How can two such avid readers not be in any book clubs? Or the corollary: If a book is read but not discussed, is it still made from falling trees?

No wait. We’re not talking about Godot here.

I admit it; I am self-conscious about not being in a book club. It’s not from a lack of invitations. I have one darling friend who has repeatedly encouraged me to join either of her two book groups. “Just try one. You’ll love the people, and we have really great food!”

Yes, the food. A tiny part of my reluctance is the fear that I would become like the character Maggie Gyllenhaal plays in the wonderful movie Stranger than Fiction. Have you seen it? She was a law student who started bringing baked treats to her study group and found that she was more interested in providing her group with delicious muffins, cupcakes, tarts, éclairs, breads, cookies, pies, napoleons, brownies, bagels, biscuits… oh my— than in studying the law. She flunked out and opened a bakery.

I don’t think I could qualify for a start-up loan.

Really, it’s not the food or the time-commitment, and it’s certainly not the people that have me squirming for excuses. It’s the books. Book clubs tend to choose to read contemporary, challenging, often disturbing books.

I am a PG girl in an R-rated world.

Of the four books included today in my 500 Things downsizing effort, I have read two. The two hard covers for what it’s worth: The World is Flat and The Corrections. Friedman’s book made great connections, but I have come to realize that current events books like this are best borrowed from the library. For me, they become too quickly dated to deserve a spot in my Very Streamlined Library. And The Corrections? Geez, I hated that book. I hated the entire cast of unsympathetic characters and the smug tone of the writer.

Paul kind of liked it. He’s much more sophisticated than I am.

Paul also enjoyed the other two books, but they fall precisely into my discomfort-zone. They are just too rough for my delicate sensibilities. Oh, but I loved, adored actually, Ann Patchett’s latest novel, Run. If you haven’t read it—wait for it—Run! right out and get this book! (Also, please see the latest additions to my 250 Books project page. A wee tip of the hat there.)

I guess I need to find or start a group like the Jane Austen Book Club (ditto, a wonderful movie). I can just imagine the relaxed delight we would share in knowing that none of us would ever suggest The Kite Runner or The Help or The Kite Runner (sic!) as a selection.

My Filters do such a heroic job of steering me clear of movies that, despite clever and deceptive ad campaigns that try to lure me in, would simply be too much for me to handle.

I feel, however, I must take responsibility for my reading nuttiness.

Bring on more coelacanth books!

Urgency Day: 478

500 Things Items 23-25: The Scarlet Letter, The Awakening, Jane Eyre

  • Sam’s public school fees paid for them
  • 3 more checkmarks under “cultural literacy”
  • Sam gleefully contributed them
  • Donations to Sam’s book drive

Do you have warm and fuzzy memories of reading 19th century novels in high school?

Neither does Sam.

Boy oh boy, did he love Slaughterhouse 5. That book really grabbed him. Ditto To Kill a Mockingbird, Oedipus, Twelfth Night, Ender’s Game… I could go on and on. But the 19th century workhorses of the typical bourgeois American high school English class? Having read a number of them now, Sam says a polite but firm, “Not my cup of tea, no.” And here’s a few for your book drive.

Sam’s mama was an English major and also the little sister of a voracious reader. When books such as these were assigned in classes, I was already familiar with them. Perhaps not from having read them, though occasionally from having seen a movie version, but aware at least of their titles and respected status.

When I say I was familiar even though I hadn’t read them, this does not adequately represent my level of intimacy with these titles.

My sister is a few of years older than me. She left for college far sooner than I was prepared for. In her absence, I took some comfort in hanging out in her room and sleeping in her bed. It was wondrous to lie there, on my stomach, propped up on my elbows and read, no absorb, all the titles of all the books she had lined up, in alphabetical order, along her headboard-bookshelves. This, I knew, was what it meant to be educated: Reading all these books. These books. They were the keys.

On some holiday or occasion, our parents had given her a set of books, “The One Hundred Greatest Books.” They were, to be frank, cheap paperbacks which fell apart at the first reading, but it didn’t matter. The rubber bands which held together the finished volumes were validations, check-marks on the path to worthiness and a true liberal education.

The titles are still etched on my brain. To this day, if I see a book that was in that collection, I still conjure the font, the heft, the jacket blurb from that edition. And when I come across other books that have since become accepted as part of the classical canon, I honestly deem them “Johnny-come-latelys.” Of course I have evolved. I am relieved and thrilled that the canon has expanded beyond dead white guys and a couple of Bronte sisters, and that now my son’s reading list includes Vonnegut and Lee and Card.

But in my school days, when my teachers assigned The Return of the Native, Hard Times and The Portrait of a Lady, I already knew these were classics, these were Good Books. They had the imprimatur of the rubber bands.

But what I couldn’t figure out for a long time was, once I actually read them, why didn’t I, you know, like them? These books, which were included in The One Hundred Greatest Books for heaven’s sake, these were classics! Surely that meant they had gone through some sort of official vetting process, where all subjectivity was eliminated and what you were left with was the essence, the purity of Great and therefore good Literature.

What was I missing?

I still squirm a bit with betrayal when I say I don’t like these books. I quibble and say, oh I see the artistry, or in their historic context, the freshness of their perspectives, or their influence on ideas and other writers. But that’s quite different from saying, “I like these books.”

In fact, I do still like all these books. I like about them exactly what I liked when I was a lonely eight-year old, lying on her beloved absent sister’s bed, staring at those wondrous titles and dreaming of someday being able to say I had read all the classics, all one hundred of them. Sure I like the promise they hold of stories and adventures, but also I crave the certainty of a definitive and finite path to rigorous enlightenment. A path– and a reading list– I am very much still on. But most of all,  I like their connection to my Donna.

And now I really admire that Sam has no pulls on his inner critic.

No equivocating: he just didn’t like them.

End of story.

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