Friday, May 29, 2009

You look like you could use 12 minutes of happiness.

I think I'm gonna be spending my writing time today, reading. In consideration of my reader who needs a post with which to eat her Cheerios, here's a little something via Swiss Miss:

Happy Friday, Lisa Haf.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Whispersync in my ear, and I'll follow you anywhere.

A little over a month ago, I proposed to the inventor of the Kindle. I'm still waiting to hear back, but I'm sure things are going to work out for us.

Because my love just keeps growing, every day.

And I don't mind that the screen is smaller on the iPhone; if a book is well-written, I'll read it tattooed around someone else's ankle. The fact that it's backlit just makes it that much easier to read in the bed without disturbing the cat, who likes to go to sleep earlier than I.

I had downloaded half a dozen free books and purchased two before discovering that Amazon Kindle books have a sample option. Just click the button, wait a few seconds, and start reading. At the end of the free sample, you're given the option to buy the whole book (which just shows up, a few seconds later).

This is so much more gratifying than reading an excerpt, ordering the book, and waiting for the mail to come. Oh wait. This is why everybody is so into instant gratification. I get it now.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Call it what you want; it's a book review.

For the first time in a long time, I spent all of the past Saturday with my nose in a book.

I took Scott Sigler's The Infected: A Novel with me to the family luxury vacation condo. Once there, I cracked it open and was instantly hooked. I toted it from room to room. I read on the back deck, on the sofa, and in the hot tub. I stood with it in the kitchen as I microwaved my lunch and read it instead of having a nap on Saturday afternoon. I've not read with such single-mindedness since studying for comps.

And yet, I just can't recommend this book. No one is more surprised than I.

Author Scott Sigler has a fairly large Internet following; in fact, his previous work was published exclusively via podcast. While I'd not read listened to his work before, I knew he was out there and that he enjoyed a measure of respect from folks who had. Ultimately, I was convinced by Amazon reader ratings averaging four-and-a-half stars and positive reviews from both the Dallas Morning News and Publishers Weekly (among others).

The premise: a mysterious disease of unknown origin is causing everyday Americans to run amok, torturing and killing friends and family members before killing themselves. Leading the effort to diagnose and contain the contagion is CDC agent Margaret Montoya. On the ground, the CIA's Dew Phillips is tasked with finding and capturing someone with the disease. By the time the reader discovers that the illness is actually a bio-engineered parasite, ex-college-football-star-turned-IT-worker Perry Dawsey becomes one of the infected.

I don't think I've ever encountered a book that so compelled me to finish reading, while simultaneously reminding me of the author's lack of artistry. While not exactly novel, there's enough promise in the premise to prompt me to spend my money. I wish I could say as much for the character development and quality of writing.

What a disappointment. Sigler's been at this long enough by now to have developed better chops.

I knew before looking him up that Sigler was a Stephen King fan, because I could see it in the dialogue. And he's really good at imitation-King dialog (No bout adout it), as opposed to King-influenced dialog. More than this, though, he lacks King's ability to flesh-out characters--particularly female ones.

And ultimately, I think that's where Sigler lost me. If a novel can be said to be masculine in nature (and I think it can), then this is a manly book. Indeed, the most horrifying portions seem designed to particularly terrify male readers. And I'll wager that they do. If Sigler really does want his work to be held in the same esteem as King's, though, he's going to have to find a way to scare the rest of us. Making us understand and care about the central characters would be a good start.

Until he can do that, he should probably stick to free downloads.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Internet = boys.

Do you remember that boy who liked you in the fifth grade? He was so cute.

Things were less complicated back then, and it was easy to see that he was into you because of the way he hipchecked you while you both stood in the cafeteria line. Yeah, you got into trouble for breaking out of line, but what ev.

At recess there was the playful snap of your tiny bra strap. When you left your desk to sharpen a pencil, you returned to find your homework gone. And then there was the Spy vs. Spy he drew on your notebook. He liked you. It was sweet. Until it wasn't. Right about the time you had had enough pranks and shoving, just when you were wishing he would try and hold your hand or otherwise show his tender side, he went too far. He called you out in front of his friends.

"Hey, Hotlips!"

So yeah. All that attention? In the beginning, it was fun. But after a while, it was just tiresome.

The Internet can be like that.

First, there was One Friday, Without the Milk, Catherine Swinford's Amazon review for Tuscan Whole Milk. It is everything I love about the Internet--ironic social commentary combined with humor and corruption of the expected form. The idea of purchasing milk online was just too much to resist; 1060 others had a go.

But it didn't stop there. There are fake Amazon reviews for the JL421 Badonkadonk Landcruiser, Uranium Ore, and Fresh Whole Rabbit. Unfortunate clothing choices are under fire of late--the Three Wolf Moon T-Shirt, the Sea Cow T-Shirt, and Zubaz Pants are three of the most popular. The more ridiculous the item, the greater the number of fake reviews.

Unfortunately, not everyone is as creative as Ms. Swinford. If her approach to Tuscan Whole Milk, 1 Gallon, 128 fl oz represents everything I love about the Internet, then these last represent what I like the least: people who don't understand the difference between clever and mean.

That's not fun anymore. It's just tiresome.

image, found.

Who knew?

I've been chipping away at my TiVo backlog the past few evenings, staying awake until the wee hours of the morning and watching entire seasons of shows I couldn't before--not while LOST was taking up so much room in my brain.

But you can relax. I'm not winding up to rehash a bunch of shows that are over and done with. I have a much more lofty purpose in mind.

My family was never one for the latest in gadgetry, seeing as how we were what is now commonly known as the working poor; my mom was the only one who worked, and so we were poor more often than not. But we had a console Curtis Mathis television set ("The most expensive television set in America; and damn well worth it") and the very first microwave oven on the block. I think my dad may have traded one of our cars for the TV; the microwave must have fallen off a truck.

After my mother demonstrated that she could scramble eggs in only twice the time and with four times the effort it would take to cook them on top of the stove, she turned her attention to microwaving popcorn. She was well ahead of the trend, there. Many, many years later, there are at least dozen brands of popcorn specially packaged to be popped in the microwave. My own personal favorite is Pop Secret Jumbo Pop.

Which I can't find anywhere, anymore. Of course. And that's when I remembered my mom, cooking up some corn in a brown paper bag. So the last time I shopped, I picked up a bag of regular popcorn. My friend Ernie Buffalo was just talking about how surprised she was to find that in this instant age, one can still buy such a thing. In fact, it is ridiculously inexpensive, especially when compared to microwave popcorn.

Here's how I do it:

Measure 1/4 cup popcorn and add just enough oil to coat each kernel. Pour it into a lunch-sized paper bag, and fold the top of the bag down two-to-four times. Place the bag upright in the microwave and cook for the traditional 2-3 minutes. Just listen for the popping to slow down. The result kicks the legs out from under any popcorn you've ever eaten, especially if you top it with a generous helping of real melted butter.

Which I do, because I have the arteries of a 20-year-old.

related: Just Wrong. In so many ways.

Image, LIFE photo archive.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Role models.

When I was a teenager, I was certain that given enough time, pressure, and heat, I would eventually grow up to be just like my mom. And sure enough, like virtually every daughter born to every mother, everywhere--I am on occasion startled to hear her voice coming out of my mouth.

But as it turns out, I needn't have worried.

I am instead horrified to realize--as I sit at the computer in my underwear at 1:30 in the afternoon--that I grew up to be my dad. Like him, I've discovered that the world looks better when viewed on the horizontal, and that getting dressed is what one does for company.

Alas, this is not news that's going to thrill my mother.

I've complained before that the more free time I have, the less I manage to actually accomplish. If I were a savvy marketer of my own shortcomings, I would defend this by saying that I work better under deadline. In actuality, I'm slovenly and mostly just want to read and eat and watch the occasional LOST episode. When I do suffer a bout of energy, I do all three at the same time and call it work.

For the last few days, everything took a backseat to grading, which had to be completed by noon on Tuesday (see? deadline). But now that that's finished, I have a few weeks during which any incentive at all to get dressed is going to be hard to come by. Unless the fire alarm goes off, I may not open the front door until June 1.

Which would be really bad news for you. There's just not that much material in my cat.

Related (because I've been headed down this road a long time): Friday night lights (out).

image, Ramon Casas i Carbó, 1899, Jove Decadent.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Like a Supreme Court appointment, but without the fancy robe.

When I was in high school, every girl was required to take Home Economics class. For the four semesters of our junior and senior years, we learned to sew an apron, follow a recipe, manage a family budget, and differentiate between Queen Anne and Hepplewhite furniture styles. As far as the Board of Education was concerned, these were the skills we were going to need as we made our way out into the world.

And yes, I stayed in a snit for two school years straight.

Although we hit the high points of parenting in those classes, there were a lot of things about mothering that I didn't know. More than anything though, I was shocked to discover that my last moment of peace-of-mind was the one right before the doctor readied the forceps.

I thought of this last week, when a friend told me that when he visited his grandmother at the end of her life, the last thing she said to him was, "Honey, you be careful."

She was worrying about him, right up until the very end.

Almost 23 years into my motherhood gig, I'm still staying awake nights. I try to remember this when my mother and I argue because she's forgotten that I am as old as Castro's regime. And when Muffin Uptown gets irritated with me for pretty much the same reason, you needn't think that I'm above pointing it out to her.

I'm no longer baking cupcakes for homeroom, waiting in the car rider line, or reading stories at bedtime, but I'm thinking about her more minutes than I'm not. What's more, I can't imagine a future when that won't be the case. In July, she's lighting out for New York City, and it's going to be all I can do not beg her to let me go along. We've already done this--when I left her at college her freshman year and then last year when she went to LA on an internship. I was hoping it would get easier, this watching her walk away. Instead, it's Groundhog Day, over and over again.

Which is how I know that the worst part of the whole thing--for both of us--will be me trying to get in all the last minute reminders before the car rolls out of sight.

"Do you have your cell phone? Is it charged? Do you have your charger? What about money? You guys split that cash between you--don't carry it all in one place. If you run low, let me or your daddy know; don't you run completely out of money. I don't want you going without food. Don't you kids be sleeping in the car..."

There's no end to it. If I keep talking, and she keeps listening, I may happen upon something that I haven't already said to her, but that I should have. Because that's the real fear: that I've forgotten to give her something really, really important.

And this may be my last chance.

photo, Gordon Parks, 1953, Life photo archive.

Related: The city of angels plus one.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Movies for Mother's Day.

I've put together a list of my favorite mom-themed movies, just in case you aren't able to spend your day with the real thing. As you would expect, it's heavy on the heart-wrenchers.

Stella Dallas (1937) In one of her best performances, Barbara Stanwick plays Stella, a mom from the wrong side of the tracks who keeps getting it all wrong.

The Old Maid (1939) Single Bette Davis gives her daughter to Miriam Hopkins to raise, while she becomes the child's Aunt Charl0tte.

Mildred Pierce (1945) Poor Mildred can't do (or give up) enough for daughter Veda.

Imitation of Life (1959) White mom Lana Turner and black mom Juanita Moore team up to raise their girls.

Carrie (1976) Piper Laurie is Hollywood's scariest mom. Sissy Spacek's Carrie is no bed of roses, either.

Steel Magnolias (1989) This eighties tear-jerker has very possibly the best female cast ever assembled.

Terms of Endearment (1983) Shirley McClain and Debra Winger in a classic mother-daughter conflict. Another one for the tissues.

Freaky Friday (1976) Mom Barbara Harris and teen Jodie Foster trade places--and bodies. This one and the next are safe if you've already cried over your mom today.

Throw Mama from the Train (1987) In this twist on Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train, Billy Chrystal and Danny Devito strike a nasty bargain.

The Grifters (1990) Conman John Cusack is caught between mom Angelica Houston and girlfriend Annette Bening. Look this one up if you haven't seen it before. You may not cry, but you'll definitely rewind the climax to see it again.

Joy Luck Club (1993) Amy Tan's novel of four women, their histories, and their daughters. This one turns Muffin Uptown to mush. I generally start blubbering during the opening credits.

Happy Mother's Day. Now stop crying and go call your mother.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

I'll have what they're having.

I have a fairly large collection of cookbooks--over 90 of them. After the last move, the only way to keep them all was to store most of them above the overhead kitchen cabinets. Taking one down to leaf through would require circus acrobatics and probably, a net.

Really, though, the Internet long ago replaced cookbooks for me when it comes to looking up a recipe. To my mind, the best use for a cookbook is to look at the pictures until you figure out what it is you want to cook to eat.

So for the time being, at least until it's no longer dangerous for me to do otherwise, I'm getting my food ideas from TasteSpotting, "a community-driven visual potluck."

TasteSpotting has page after page of hard-core food porn--all of it tantalizingly photographed, all submitted by readers. Each delectable photo links to the recipe, so you don't have to worry about the frustration of getting all worked up with no payoff. I know how much you hate that.

Wow. It's like the minute I typed the word "porn," everything became a double entendre.

Image, Life Begins at 30.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Life is easy, if you live in a house on the beach with your fishdog.

It's finals week, and posting may be sparse, but I'll do what I can. Don't break up with me, though, and I'll be a good girlfriend next week. Who knows? Maybe I'll put out.

via (obviously) Daily Beast.

Friday, May 1, 2009

You go on. I'll catch up with you later. If I'm not too depressed, that is.

This is the last weekend before the great influx of final papers I will have to grade next week. I've turned down all but the most insistent of invitations, just so I can roll around on the couch and read a good book. And I've assembled a small stack of titles that are, by several accounts, good. It wasn't until I had gathered them into a pile, though, that I realized how dark they all were:

From the New York Times Briefly Noted book review of Elizabeth Stout's book of short stories, Olive Kitteridge:

And there in every story, like a tree that’s been blackened by lightning but still leafs in the spring, stands Olive Kitteridge, a retired math teacher who loves her tulips, bullies her husband, and barks at anyone foolish enough to irritate her. You loathe this woman at the book’s beginning; you long for her at its finish.

George Stewart's post-apocalyptic Earth Abides:

This 1951 Winner of the inaugural International fantasy award is said to be the inspiration for Stephen King's The Stand.

From Publishers Weekly review of Kim Stanley Robinson's alternate history novel, The Years of Rice and Salt:

It's the 14th century, and the Black Death has swept through Europe, killing not 30% or 40% of the population but 99%. With Europeans now no more than a historical curiosity, the empires of China and Islam spread rapidly across the world.

Let's hope the fact that I've been trying to reading another Black Death fantasy novel, The Plague Tales, since 1998 isn't indicative of anything.

Cormac McCarthy's The Road:

Everyone on earth but me has read this National Book Critics Circle finalist and New York Times Notable book. I've resisted only because of McCarthy's obstinate refusal to observe any but terminal punctuation. In the past, I just wasn't able to stop noticing what isn't there. Perhaps I've become accustomed to missing punctuation, after having having read two semesters of freshman comp papers. Freshmen, alas, also have little regard for quotation marks.

I know this one is going to be a big downer, though, because Oprah chose it. Anything Oprah picks for her book club is guaranteed to make you want to crawl into bed and pull the covers over your head.

It's difficult for me to choose, when I have more than one book. So, please, if you've read one of these and enjoyed it, let me know. If one of them caused you to lose your will to live--well, that would be good to know, too.

edit: I forgot to mention that I was inspired to write about my book quandary by my Material World friend.
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