Saturday, January 29, 2005

Are you as mystified about RSS and Webfeeds as I am? According to many bloggers, RSS is fast becoming an essential blog feature. Here's the best brief tutorial on the entire business, by Amy Gahran.

Later today I'll be blogging about Broken for You by Stephanie Kallos, a book that I had to return to the library before I finished it because other people were waiting for it. But I needn't fret; I just placed a reserve on it, and soon I'll be reading it again.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

By midnight we should have another nine inches on the ground here in eastern Norfolk County, according to the weather people. The question on my street? Where do you put it? I could ascribe my grumpiness and inability to tap out the final few pages of a writing project to the snow, but this aggravating, though minor, production slowdown is really because I've been working so furiously over the past few weeks and I'm at the end of my tether. Solution: Leisure Time. I keep talking about it, but where is it?

And here it is, the object of my leisure time desire, hot off the presses, Little Fugue by Robert Anderson, now being reviewed in most major newspapers. Anderson is a past winner of the Flannery O'Connor Award for his short fiction. Publisher's Weekly chose Little Fugue as its editors pick of the month. The character Robert Anderson appears to be the author himself, a writer in New York, whose path keeps crossing with the people Plath knew best. So far I've read a few pages from the middle, and the voice and language are haunting and are mystifying me enough so that I can't wait to give it my full attention.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Blogger is acting up this evening, and I don't have the patience at the moment. Still enjoying Lip Service by M.J. Rose.
Thirty inches of snow later, here I am at my desk, still trying to make up for worktime lost by snow removal. We did not lose power and I'm so grateful to the electricity god!

Saturday I did not work at all, except for an hour very early in the morning, so I had the chance to scrutinize M.J. Rose's writing. She has posted comments here a couple of times and has two blogs of her own. She writes thrillers, but, as she'd be the first to tell you, they're "intelligent thrillers," meaning that the characters and situations have a lot of psychological depth. I ordered Lip Service, her first book, from the library network. It was published in 1998, but she had self-published it prior to that. With a really successful marketing campaign (Rose had a career in the advertising biz), and good writing to support her claims, the book was picked up by a major publisher.

I was bowled over by the black-and-white photo on the cover; it's more than very suggestive. I think it's intended to be er*tic, but to me (and I swear I'm not a prude!), it borders on p*rn. (I'm starring syllables because I don't want the h*rnie
p*rn*rs to find my blog.)

At first I was concerned that it was going to be a trashy read, but after the first chapter, my fears had vanished and I was totally absorbed. I read until it was way past time for dinner and couldn't wait to get back to it. The characters are well-developed, the story is original and invoked my curiosity, the pacing is terrific, setting details are handled convincingly, and I found myself caring deeply for the protagonist. And it is hot! Rose can write s*x all right! Heartily recommended. It will warm up your toes on January nights.

I'm going on a deadline--actually three deadlines, so I can't provide the links at this moment. I will put them in during the day today.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

It's 4:30 p.m. and it started snowing a half hour ago. The blizzard is on. This storm has been hyped to the hilt, but we are due to get a minimum of two feet of snow. I picked up Dr. Kenneth Kamler's Surviving the Extremes: A Doctor's Journey to the Limits of Human Endurance at the library yesterday. I think I'll delve into the section where he discusses human exposure to snow and cold--just for fun.

So the answer to the Laura Ingalls Wilder question. I'm assuming, of course, that everyone has read The Long Winter (and if you haven't, don't miss this classic of American literature. It's as lyrical and fine as any other work considered classic.) In The Children's Blizzard by David Laskin (see the archives to access my post from December 18), he discusses the calamitous winter of 1880-1881 on the northern plains, which was named "The Snow Winter," and is the subject and setting of The Long Winter. The first three-day blizzard hit on October 15 and, after a six-month-long siege of one mega-storm after another, there was still snow on the ground by late May.

Because the trains could not get through for weeks on end, the Ingalls family survived on wheatberries that the girls hand-ground with a small coffee grinder. It was necessary for the entire family to work from sunup to sundown--either grinding wheat or twisting hay into knots for fuel. Their mother made some sort of pancake with the wheat, without any fat or milk or yeast or leavening agent. UGH. Although Wilder never says so, historians have revealed that the Ingalls were suffering from starvation, as were all of their neighbors in De Smet, South Dakota.

So, in conclusion, then, the Children's Blizzard was in 1888, so is not the same blizzard as any of those described by Laura Ingalls Wilder.
Blizzard Warning! That's enough to get a woman away from her desk. My Girl Scout training is in full swing: "Be prepared." Must find firewood, get the sleeping bags out of storage, get Ken to shop for a camping one- or two-burner stove, and find matches, flashlights, candles, blankets, and food. We once lost our power after a horrible snow storm on April 1, 1997--it was gone for four days and, since the weather was extremely cold, I was freezing all the time. Now it's January and record-low temperatures to boot. How will we fare this time? Of course, I pray we don't lose the power, but we tend to whenever there's a bad windstorm because of Elm Street. Yes, dear old Elm Street is a nightmare for the power company because trees hug the road and drop on powerlines whenever they feel like it. Yet I have to remember, during the Blizzard of '78, which I will never ever forget, my roommates and I did not lose power. So maybe there's hope!

To the anonymous commenter who asked if the Children's Blizzard of 1888 was during the blizzard winter that Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote about in The Long Winter, I now have the answer and will post late this afternoon sometime. Stay tuned!

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Last night's snow was light and fluffy, making this morning's walk beautiful. Sophie went beserk--running and pouncing in it. The hike was breathtaking, but with tomorrow's weather expected to be below zero as far as windchill is concerned, I may not have the stamina to deal with two woods walks.

I'm not sure, but later next week may open up some leisure for me, giving me the time to do some real blogging.

Ron McLarty's novel Memory of Running is getting so much hype that I should be ashamed of myself for mentioning him, but if you haven't heard the story of how he went to a therapist to stop writing novels, you might want to check this article out.

Have you ever noticed that the blue of a January sky is unique?

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

I'm curious about the writer Sandra Birdsell, author of Katya, a novel about a Mennonite girl during the Russian Revolution. Milkweed Editions is the publisher, and I'm reminded that when I blogged about Seth Kantner and Outside Wolves (see entry for January 8), I meant to provide a link to its website and forgot.

Birdsell is a Canadian (Saskatchewan writer), and Katya was a finalist for the Giller Prize, only at the time the prize was awarded, the book was titled Russlander.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

I rather doubt I can blog this evening--a hellish day all round. But I can report that I'm enjoying listening to Light on Snow by Anita Shreve on CD so much. I must look up the name of the reader because she's so good and her voice is perfect for this story about a twelve-year-old girl and her father who find a newborn baby wrapped in a sleeping bag in the woods. It's been such a long time since Shreve has written a book this good. Here's to hoping I can blog a regular entry tomorrow!

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Alas, I have just a moment to raise my head and ask how I have ever managed to overlook the British novelist Nicholas Shakespeare? Political history and a love story do equal time in Snowleg, his latest novel, about a British medical student in West Germany who falls in love with a young East German woman in the last decade of the cold war. Upon scanning the novel briefly, I noticed from the blurb on the back cover that Shakespeare's novel, The Dancer Upstairs (published in the U.S. in 1997), was chosen as the best novel of 1997 by the American Library Association. It was also made into a movie directed by John Malkovich. Does anyone remember it?

Friday, January 14, 2005

If you're interested in small press, alternative press, and the indie-world, I'm sure you'll enjoy New Pages, a media website that's full of links to literary magazines (both print and online), alternative magazines and newsweeklies, book reviews, and links to other resources (including literary blogs). I especially enjoy the NewPages' blog, maintained by editor Casey Hill. I invited Casey to drop by for a visit, and he has now listed "Musings" on NewPages' list of lit blogs. In his email, he suggested that I announce to my readers that he's looking for reviewers. Although he says there's no payment available, there are plenty of books and literary magazines for those who are interested. What a terrific way to get started as a reviewer!

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Since Christmastime, I've been wanting to blog something about Citizen Girl by Nicola Kraus and Emma McLaughlin, the authors of The Nanny Diaries. In December I did something I rarely do--I selected an author's second book when I've considered the first to be second-rate. Yes, I still have no idea what the hype surrounding The Nanny Diaries was all about. I found it oppressingly dull, although I did note at the time that as writers, Kraus and McLaughlin showed some possibilities.

Yet the whirlwind of a drama that swirled up last winter about their contract problems with Random House made me curious to take a peak at Citizen Girl. (For my take on the hysteria, go to the archives and see my entry of February 9, 2004.) When, after three literary agents and two publishing houses, Kraus and McLaughlin landed at Atria, I waited for the book to appear.

My verdict: Citizen Girl will be loved by young, twentyish, single professional women trying to survive in today's work environment and dating scene. (Link is an interview with the authors.) Girl is feisty, bright, incredibly stupid, and a desperate achiever. I identified immediately. But, as so many reviews have pointed out, the plot circles and circles and doesn't really get off the ground. In other words--wait! Can a book be extremely episodic? Yet, as many critics have also said, the book has its brilliant moments. There are flashes of killer dialogue, and those sensational one-liners were great, but it was not enough to make me read through to the last page.

In any case, I'm hanging in with them. I will pick up another book. I do wish, though, that they'd grab themselves a top-notch editor. Surely they can afford it. Then they might go places.

If publishing brouhahas entertain you, do check out this crisis summary in the Rocky Mountain News.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

I was hoping that Ken and I would be able to see Hotel Rwanda this coming weekend. Even though it's only Tuesday, it looks like I've got too much work to get away. Maybe next week? That seems to be a long refrain these days.

I'm interested in the Rwandan genocide because, clueless as I must be, I was largely unaware of it as it was happening in 1994. Swept up by my own problems, I chose to look the other way. (I don't remember consciously doing this; in fact, I don't remember anything about it, but that must have been what happened.) Since 2000, I've become much more globally aware, and have done some reading.

Right now I have the book We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families: Stories from Rwanda by Philip Gourevitch, a journalist who toured Rwanda in 1995 after the bloodbath in which 300,000 people lost their lives. I want to read it because I agree with Samantha Powers, author of Problem from Hell: America in the Age of Genocide, that if enough Americans voiced their protests about genocides to our leaders, then they would pressure other nations, the United Nations, and the governments of the country where genocide is occurring to stop.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Last night Ken and I watched The House of Sand and Fog on DVD. It was incredibly powerful. I have to confess that I haven't read the book by Andre Dubus III. When it came out and was at its height of popularity, three people told me that it was a depressing read. Because I was shunning downer books at that time, I didn't pursue it, but if the movie is any evidence, I wish I hadn't avoided it. Ben Kingsley is amazing...I was inspired to have sympathy for a character I ordinarily would have loathed--I don't know exactly how he did it, but I'm thankful for having seen it.

Did you hear a primal scream at 6:46 p.m. EST? Yes, it was me--I had just spent 45 minutes preparing a beautiful entry and I lost it. My stupidity is to blame once again.

I have to go make dinner and I don't want to, especially now. If only I could just redo the entry!

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Three more inches of slush dumped on us today. A good day to stay inside and work. January is another bear for me workwise, I'm afraid.

A trip to the library was the only bright light. Heir to the Glimmering World by Cynthia Ozick appeared at my feet. And I also happened upon Anita Shreve's Light on Snow on CD--to listen to while I'm cooking, doing dishes, and cleaning the kitchen. Just a month or so ago I heard someone refer to her books as chick-lit. I think the boundaries of that genre are becoming very loose indeed. I admit she's not a literary behemoth, but she's not the pop-'em-out-every-eight-months-potboiling author either. Or is she? Now there's a question to debate.

I've been wanting to blog about Alaskan writer Seth Kantner's Outside Wolves for over a week. I heard a brief, interesting interview with him on Leonard Lopate's show on December 28th. Kantner lives and grew up in northernmost Alaska, in the land of tundra and permafrost. His family home was a sod igloo, the kind that drips moss-colored water from the ceiling when snow melts in the spring. His father Abe was a back-to-nature type from the 1960s. Kantner has lived all his life among the Inupiaq, where he was always the outsider. The novel, though not strictly based on his childhood, incorporates elements of his experience and is about a young teenager coming to manhood in a sometimes brutal and often stark, beautiful world.

"The north wind swept the open tundra and howled into the spruce on the bank where our sod home was buried in the permafrost. The skylight shuddered. Snow laced over the riverbank. The gray wool of moving snow hid the horizons. Overhead the frozen sky purpled with night, and above the wind and frantic branches clung watery stars. Out under tte ice, the wide Kuguruk River flowed past the door, through the arctic part of Alaska that our mail-order schoolbooks called barren icy desert. That shamed me, that quick, throwaway description flung from the far rich East, printed in the black-and-white validation of a textbook. My protests only made Abe shrug."

Thursday, January 06, 2005

The weather today has been so beastly! Wet snow and a hard, pelting sleet, followed by rain--what a mess. Golden retrievers and dirty slushy roads do not mix. Ugh.

As I scooted around the web this afternoon, I'm reminded of a new book I'd like to sample. Maybe The Family Tree,a first novel by the Welsh-born British writer Carole Cadwalladr, could lighten the gloom around here. I must admit I'm very nervous that the Kirkus review protested, "This is not chick-lit!" Why did the reviewer emphasize that point? Does it read like chick-lit? Does it look like chick-lit? Now I'm more hesitant than I was before I saw that blurb. But the basic plot line intrigues me so. "A tale of a pregnant young woman whose scientist husband questions her genes while she questions nearly everything she knows..." Am I hard up for excitement or is that an interesting premise? I'm on the fence on this one. Publisher's Weekly and Kirkus gave it a starred review, though. It's been out in Britain since August--has anybody read it or heard about it?

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

At the gym yesterday, while working out on one of the new arc trainers, a woman asked me how I'm able to read and use this machine. "Desperation," was my answer. There is absolutely no way I can huff and puff on this device of modern torture without a high-quality distraction. The gym book must be compelling (so I don't feel the pain), entertaining, and moderately intellectually stimulating without requiring too much concentration. (Remember, the brain is being taxed by oxygen deprivation!) Yes, I told her, the lines of text do jump and move about, and I do get slightly dizzy, but it's better than being bored out of my skull!

Educating Alice:Adventures of a Curious Woman by Alice Steinbach was yesterday's gym read. A Pulitzer-prize winning former journalist, Steinbach now travels the world on her own, writing unusual travel pieces. I skipped over her adventure in French cooking classes at the Ritz in Paris and traditional dance classes in Kyoto to settle on her pursuit of Jane Austen in Winchester, England, where she eventually caught up with a British Jane Austen convention. I'm also eager to find out how her border collie herding classes in Scotland turned out. Good fun. Not heavy. Oh if I only had more money in pocket so I could traipse off in search of Icelandic ponies!

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

News Flash!
Journalist and publishing maven Sara Nelson, author of the reading memoir So Many Books, So Little Time, has been named editor-in-chief of Publishers Weekly. The news stunned me, mostly because she seems such an unlikely choice. But, after thinking about her long career in publishing, it appears more plausible. After all, she knows every editor in every New York publishing house. And she's had her ear to the publishing ground for more than 20 years. So maybe this will be a great change in leadership for PW.

It's funny--I was in the midst of preparing a blog entry about Citizen Girl and I had Sara Nelson's article on the "naughty nannies" in front of me when I got the news.

I've got to dash, but I'll post more later today!

Sunday, January 02, 2005

If you are or have ever been an author, or if you have ever dreamed of being one, you won't want to miss Cynthia Ozick's essay in The New York Times today, "Lighting Out for the Territory," a diary detailing her first book tour at age seventy-something and 38 years after the publication of her first book. I blogged about Ozick not too long ago and noted that Heir to the Glimmering World is being acclaimed nearly everywhere.

Here's a brief excerpt from the essay:

Mid-August 2004. Press interviews, mainly by telephone. Author is pleased: she can be invisible in ragged pajamas while literarily pontificating. ''What do you think,'' interviewer asks, ''of Philip Roth's new novel?'' Author excitedly reports she has read it, it swept her away! Author and interviewer engage in extended discussion of genius of Philip Roth. Later it occurs to Author she has mostly forgotten to speak of her own new novel -- did she even remember to say its name?

Oh, I'd love to meet her!