Order Great Tales for These Dumb Times!

2019 Nobel Prize: My Guess

Though she’s only got bookies’ odds of 10/1, I have a feeling Olga Tokarczuk is going to nab the prize this year.

I don’t even know why I think that, except that I saw her name on a list (a list that has Anne Carson’s odds at 4/1), and thought about a book of hers book that’s just been released in translation called Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead. And. so.

I’ll follow up on Friday when the winner is announced.

Hahaha! I know, I know: who cares what I think?

(I really did laugh before I wrote “Hahaha!”)

Olga Tokarczuk

Is It My Face?

I’ve been on a mini-vacation from work for the past five days, and for me that’s meant staying in and getting other work done—housework, writing, social media, etc.

But I got a call at around 7:30 on Friday night from a friend who was at the Waffle House with her girlfriend eating dinner. She asked me to join them, so I told her to order me a waffle with half a cup of coffee and that I’d be there in five.

We were just shooting the shit, as you do at the Waffle House, talking about books, and at one point I was telling them “a sad story” about the time I loaned my battered, manhandled copy of a beloved book to some girl on a first date: there was never a second date; I never got the book back; I saw recent photos of her and I’m glad she hasn’t aged well; etc.

A few minutes later, some guy at a nearby table leaned in our direction and said, “I couldn’t help but overhear you talking about a sad story. What was sad?”

What the hell?

Okay, I say “What the hell?” but I got up and went over to him. I told him the whole sad story (minus the detail about its being a girl I was on the date with: this is Alabama, after all), and that launched him into a diatribe about never loaning books, and then he started a whole speech about the dissertation he’s working, yak yak yak.

His wife sat there looking at me with pity, and at him like she wanted to strangle him. But I listened. Patted his back. Told him good luck. Blah blah blah.

As we were leaving, another guy approached me and said, “I heard you talking about a banned book—can I ask what it was?”

I told him it was The Catcher in the Rye, and that it had been banned from our library when I was in high school; thus, everyone in my high school who wanted to read it just borrowed my copy. Hence, its battered condition (and my sentimental  attachment to it) when I loaned to That Awful Girl 25+ years ago.

He let me know that when he was in high school, The Catcher in the Rye was required reading. When I asked where he went to school, he named a la-ti-da prep school over in Mobile.

“Well,” I said, “I went to public school in West Virginia. So I guess that explains my story.”

None of this would be all that funny if I hadn’t had a similar experience the day before I started my mini vacation. There were some things I needed to buy (read: bingo prizes) for my ladies at the retirement home before I left them for nearly a week, so I went to Walmart.

And I guess because I had on khaki pants and a black polo shirt, people assumed I worked there. Because…

A woman stopped me on the cereal aisle and asked me if I knew where the sugar was. Luckily, I did. I pointed her to the next aisle over.

Then as I was approaching the self-checkout area, I saw my friend ********* finishing up a purchase. We started talking as I scanned my items, and the man at the checkout facing mine said to me, “Can you help me?”

I stared. “I—what’s wrong?”

He held up his hand: blood. He’d cut himself. He needed some paper towels or tissues, but I had none, of course. Then he remembered the handkerchief in his pocket and pulled it out, pressing it against a pretty nasty skin tear.

For whatever reason, he actually had a band-aid in his other hand, so I took it from him and covered the wound. “Make sure you wash it when you get home, and put Neosporin on it.”

If that had been an old person I love I would want someone to do that for them. So. [Insert eye roll here.]

But wait! There’s more!

********* and I went back to our conversation as my checkout task was winding down, and I heard another voice coming at me from two checkouts over. “Hey, I need your help.”

I looked up. This was a younger guy, my age. Jesus. “I don’t work here,” I said.

That didn’t register, I guess, because he pointed down and said, “This thing triple-charged me for something!”

He was mad! At me? I wasn’t sure!

I happened to be near the spot where Walmart’s self-checkout guru hung out trying to be helpful, and because I shop at that Walmart so often I actually knew her name. “Terri, there’s a guy over here who needs help,” I sort of yelled toward her.

And she helped him.

But man! I don’t think I need to go in there dressed in anything but shorts and a t-shirt from now on. Is it my face? Do people sense my inability to “just keep walking,” as I try to tell myself to do so often in order to avoid these types of situations?

Honestly, I think putting off a trip to Walmart is the only reason I wrote this blog post. For obvious reasons.

The Book You Want to Read

“Write the book you want to read.”

Is that good advice? I’m not sure. When I think about it, I know it makes sense, but as soon as I concede that, I suddenly lose my idea of what I want to read. It just flies out of my head, like all the books I knew I wanted to look for once I step inside a bookstore, or the way album titles used to leave me when I finally made it to Camelot Music in the Middletown Mall throughout the 80s.

What are the books I have loved most in the world? They made me laugh. They made no sense. They had no real plot, but the characters were funny and said funny things and did funny things, and faced no punishment for their transgressions, asked no forgiveness and learned no lessons from their experiences. No logic. No linear timeline. Nothing believable, nothing rooted in believability, but always haunted by the ghost of reality. That’s the perfect book.

Nobody really wants to read about redemption, because the moment you feel another person has redeemed himself, you feel criticized; you feel less than that person. Observe a person making his mistakes. Then laugh, and sneer. Feel superior for a few beautiful seconds. Because you’ll eventually have to go back to your life full of mistakes and transgression and subversion, and you can’t count on redemption. Nobody can.

Franzen’s Rules

I didn’t think I could like him less as a writer, but he certainly helped me out with that.

Reading in 2018: Sad!

Last year I set a goal via Good Reads: I would read 45 books between January and December. In keeping with what we will just call “the story of my life,” I failed to read 45 books – but I did manage to read 38 books.

Prelude to Bloomsbury Memories Post

I crawled into my bed a little early last night – not to sleep, but to read under the covers with Chrissy at the foot of the bed, and all right with the world. As I lay there, I kept letting the thought flit through my mind that I needed to get up and write a blog post. I knew what I was going to write and everything, and I kept thinking about it.

Somewhere along the way, that thought stopped flitting, circling a few times and settling down with its tail wrapped around its body just like Chrissy. It felt asleep. I fell asleep.

No blog post got written.

I’m going to post this and write the one I was supposed to write last night.

Chrissy in 2013
Chrissy in 2018

Morbid Millie Drops the Ball

Time can get away from us all every now and then. Sometimes it doesn’t seem like it – like when you go into the same  Ruby Tuesday where you worked for two weeks in 1996 but while you’re eating you hear Hootie and the Blowfish, Jewel, Goo Goo Dolls, and Blues Traveler played back-to-back.

If you don’t find yourself immediately demanding your fucking money back for having to try and force your food down while that cacophony was playing in the background, you might have tricked yourself into thinking that no time has passed and the girl you had a crush on who worked there will come out of the kitchen at any moment and comment to someone that she loves the awful, awful music playing in the restaurant.

I realized today that somehow in the last week I lost time. I would never have been aware of this had I not noticed that my RSS feed contained 31 unread obituaries from the New York Times, as well as 48 (48? what?!) unread items in the Times‘s book section that I had not laid eyes on yet.

How is it possible that I – someone whose mother used to call her “Morbid Millie” – could have let enough time pass – without even noticing – to accumulate that many unread obituaries? I scanned the headlines, and was even more sorry.

I’ll just give you a bulleted list with a few facts, since I know people these days have neither the time nor desire to read anything that remotely resembles an actual paragraph of text.

  • a guy died who was referred to in the headline as “the Prince of Chintz”
  • a “Foe of Power Plant and Friend of Fire Island” passed away, and that combo makes me wish I’d heard of him before now
  • one obits headline read, “Dies at 48.” I don’t like those headlines. I’M 48. Ugh!
  • I was not too sad to see that “William Coors, Brewery Chief and Ultraconservative Voice” had kicked the bucket, mainly because his obit contained this sentence: “Coors brewery workers struck in 1977 over many issues, including the use of lie-detector tests to ferret out employees who were gay or whose politics were considered radical.” Oh, well. He’ll soon be wanting just a drop of that clear spring water used to make Coors beer – and he’s going to be wanting it for eternity,  which doesn’t sound nearly long enough to my mind.
  • anyone who was a “Nixon Target,” as one man was described, belongs in a Hall of Fame somewhere
“Miss me yet?”
  • the fact that “Marie Runyon, a Liberal Firebrand Into Her 90s, Dies at 103” was around a year longer than the hell-bound Coors guy has kept things evened out, I’m sure
  • And this week’s “Overlooked No More” features “Annemarie Schwarzenbach, Author, Photographer and ‘Ravaged Angel’,” kind of what the gay community doesn’t really need right now from an obit written 76 years after the fact. (A sample: “Schwarzenbach spent much of her adult life as an addict…attempted suicide twice…she died of her bicycle accident injuries at 34 on Nov. 15, 1942, in the Swiss town of Sils im Engadin — she had been showing off by riding with no hands…” In Jesus’ blessy name!)

I can deal with missing the 48 book review items from the Times. Who cares what they think?

Bartleby, Book Lights, Bed Side Tables

Look: I’m almost 50 years old. I don’t have a lot of time left. None of us really does have a lot of time, period, whether we’re 90 or newly born. I am not reading Moby Dick. Drop it.

Long Live the Streak!

…[E]verything I thought to write about seemed like something I should be putting into my current WORK IN PROGRESS (as opposed to ON THIS BLOG).

Oh, well. Why not?

Have I ever mentioned what a Twittiot I am? This is my word (probably not original: shut up!) for being a Twitter Idiot. I’m so bad at it. Instagram, too. All those hashtags and @-symbols and the never-ending. always-updating scroll on both platforms.

I was born in 1969. This is not the future I imagined. I just wanted hand-held video cameras to not cost $8,000 and hoped Game Theory would one day win a  Grammy.*

“WILL video cameras ever be affordable for the average Josephine?”

Anyway.

Because I’m bad at Twitter and Instagram, I have very few followers on either site. Nobody reads this blog, either. Also, I’m pretty sure most people who haven’t already hidden me on Facebook do after every Labor Day weekend is over. Because equating socialism with Stalin’s purges.

So I logged on to Twitter and noticed I had a new follower. I went to this new follower’s Twitter page. I clicked a blog link. After reading the post I got interested – in the book she wants to write (working title: This Is Your Brain on a Quest), and about the Patreon model she is trying to use to fund the writing of said book. (My friend Brian uses Patreon, but he hasn’t come out for or against it yet.)

I studied the tiers of patronage. A dollar per month (“Acquaintance”) seemed too wishy-washy, while $5 per month (“Friend”) was a little out of my budget right now. So I decided to donate $2.50 per month, and call my custom tier “Cool Bartender at Lame Party.”

That girl better write a GREAT BOOK with all this money I’m giving her, or I’m gonna tear Twitter UP!

*: Game Theory never did win a Grammy. Also, their lead singer died in 2013. DAMN it.

A Good French Conundrum

So something is happening in a couple days that is so wonderful that it’s terrible!

On August 28, Netflix will finally have season two of “The Good Place” to stream in its entirety. Season 1 was pretty impressive, and I am almost totally in love (actually, 2/3 sounds about right) with Kristen Bell, so this whole streaming-thing makes my toes tingle.

Also on August 28, French Exit, a new novel by Patrick Dewitt, will be released. Dewitt has written three other novels, all of which I have read, and from none of those can I pick a favorite: they are all so different and so, so damned good. Based on nothing but the New Yorker headline on a review of this latest effort (“The Stealth Absurdism of Patrick deWitt’s ‘French Exit'”), I have a feeling I am going to love this one, too.

Add to these two events the fact that I have one other event that is obsessing me at the moment and it’s hard to tell what my fate will be in the next few days. (The Other Event:  being balls-deep* into writing the first draft of my own novel [working title: Dinner at the Wonder Bar] [Not really; I just made that up] [But it’s not half bad, right? It actually kind of “goes” with the story – inside AND outside of it!] [Bob Ross isn’t the only person whose art can filled with Happy Accidents!].)

I guess I better hold onto my hat because this week could get pretty wild.

*: Just kidding about the balls! I’m a girl!

Kristen Bell of “The Good Place”

Related to this post:

The Good Place: Season 1

Ablutions: Notes for a Novel by Patrick Dewitt

The Sisters Brothers by Patrick Dewitt

Undermajordomo Minor: A Novel by Patrick Dewitt

Born on This Day: Annie Oakley

Today is the birthday of Phoebe Ann Mosey, born in Ohio in 1860. She later went on to fame as  Annie Oakley, a sharp shooter in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. She died of anemia at the age of 66 on November 3, 1926.

Finding this out made me think – on and off, all day – about a collection of short stories I’ve loved for decades called Annie Oakley’s Girl, by Rebecca Brown. I bought it when it first came out, knowing nothing about it except that it might tell some stories about gay people, and in 1992 I badly needed to read stories about gay people.

Buy from Amazon

The eponymous story, which opens the book, tells a tale of time travel and cultural appropriation, of borrowed glory, celebrity, love, and mixed messages. What would it be like if Annie Oakley came into the present as the same person she was in the past, then let you parade her around as your girlfriend? Not surprisingly, she would feel special at first; then used; then like an animal in a cage. Nothing good could come of it.

The closer in the collection, “A Good Man,” was a revelation to me in the age of AIDS. I was sheltered from most of this epidemic by geography and circumstance, and “A Good Man” brought it right to me, shattering my heart and teaching me, as a young writer, what power there could be in fiction, in otherness. It taught about the bravery of stepping up, front and center, to say, “We are people. We have lives, and when they end it is just as tragic. Grief does still engulf the people we leave behind because they loved us and we are gone forever.”

Still very busy

Since my last post, I have been very busy taking care of all the new business presented as proof that I had been too busy to write any blog posts when I posted last.

  • On the subject of whether it would be better to purchase a Kindle, a Fire tablet, or an Asus ZenPad, I stopped waffling and ordered a Fire tablet. I now wish I hadn’t. The software is very clunky and slow, and offers too many opportunities for distraction to a person who has no will power to keep distractions at bay. If I had it all to do over again, I would have bought a plain old Kindle.
  • I decided not to get a haircut, because I need my hair to be a little longer to distract from my fat face. A trim is needed, but nothing drastic.
  • I’ve read a couple of books since I was bemoaning the fact that I hadn’t read many books this year. Strangely enough, I was reading a book called Less by Andrew Sean Greer when it won the Pulitzer Prize. Though I doubt it deserved the prize over some other books being considered, I liked it very much and some of it broke my heart.
  • It is not time to start dating again. I thought for a split second that it was, but was disabused of that notion via a not-unexpected-rejection of the idea by a second party. Haha! What is wrong with me?
  • Oh. And the word “blog” is still considered a misspelled word by the spell check on this damned blog.

The Shape of Unauthorized Imitation

My introduction to YA literature was, I guess, via Judy Blume and Beverly Cleary: Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret, Naomi in the Middle, BlubberFifteen, Jean and Johnny – that sort of thing.

But the first YA I read that I could actually relate to, and that seemed to be better written (to my fifth grade mind, anyway) was Paul Zindel’s Pardon Me, You’re Stepping on My Eyeball. I can still remember much of it vividly, because at that point in life I’d never read anything like it. Though I did read The Pigman and My Darling, My Hamburger, Pardon Me… will always be my favorite Paul Zindel experience.

So imagine my surprise after seeing the movie The Shape of Water when I read that the filmmaker is “trying to dodge multiple plagiarism” allegations, among them an accusation that the story Guillermo del Toro tells was lifted right from a play by Paul Zindel called Let Me Hear You Whisper.

Zindel’s son told The Guardian he was ‘shocked’ at how similar the movie was to his father’s play, but Fox Searchlight—the studio behind The Shape Of Water—maintains that Del Toro didn’t know anything about Let Me Hear You Whispertelling Vanity Fair that he ‘has never read nor seen Mr. Zindel’s play in any form.’

I can sort of believe that. As we all know, there’s not a new idea under the sun. Not anywhere. At all.

Hearing this news brought Pardon Me, You’re Stepping on My Eyeball into my mind after leaving it decades ago. It’s a shame that del Toro is being accused of plagiarizing a play by Zindel called Let Me Hear You Whisper, because that guy could rock some otherwise good titles:

  • The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds
  • And Miss Reardon Drinks A Little
  • Confessions of a Teenage Baboon
  • One Hundred Percent Laugh Riot
  • Every 17 Minutes the Crowd Goes Crazy