And what are you gonna be?

Yes, I definately just saw a big pink bunny tear up Ellis St. on a crotch rocket.

I love Halloween.


Event Review: Black Eyes & Neckties at Bay St. Coffee

So, you haven't seen Black Eyes & Neckties live? Oh, honey, you have to.

I don't know why I put it off for so long, especially when I'd heard nothing but enthusiastic reviews to the tune of "oh! God! Best live show ever!", and every clip of their music I'd heard I loved, and every band they've been compared to is inevitably one I adore (think Murder City Devils, The Deadlines)--and especially given the fact that I've known 4/6 bandmembers at some point in time but haven't seen any of 'em for years.

The moment of truth came at last. Black Eyes & Neckties played at the Bay St. Coffeehouse last night, with Racetrack and a couple other bands that we missed, and Lyle, Mitch and I were there. It was great.

While Racetrack was fun to listen to, the three of us were squeezed onto a love seat somewhere near the back of the shop and all we could see of the show was the occasional flailing of the bass player over the spiked and bleached heads of the crowd. Before Black Eyes & Neckties came on, however, we relocated to the second floor, where we could lean over the railing and look down on the band--ultimately, this was a good move, because we didn't miss a thing.

Now, for those of you who've actually been to Bay St. (the coffeehouse formerly known as Stuart's--*sigh*), you might have difficulty imagining a punk show taking place in any part of the shop, especially one of the caliber that Black Eyes reputedly put on--I definately couldn't picture it. Even as the band began setting up, I couldn't picture it. Surely, I thought, they're not cramming the bass, guitar and keyboard all into one corner, within mere inches of the drum kit?

But they did.

And then they started playing and it was chaos, utter chaos. We were directly above the aforementioned corner, and so we had prime seats to watch the drama unfold as the keyboard took a dive (as did the keyboardist, unbelievably steamy Brenda Grimm) into the audience, after the guitarist crashed into her, once, twice, something like three times, until finally the keyboard stand collapsed and called quits, and Brenda was forced set up her keyboard on an unused bass drum.

Smoke machines, red lights, wailing! The crowd was sweaty and mad, Davey Crypt nearly killed his drums, he was playing so hard, Brenda crawled into the crowd on hands and knees and writhed around on the ground screaming, while Bradley Horror stalked back and forth shrieking into his mic; Ryan Cadaver, Josh Homicide and Benny Bloodbath (guitar, guitar, bass) tumbled and tossed and took flying leaps at the crowd and each other--all within an area the size of, say, a mini-van.

They're playing the 3B on Monday night (Halloween! Hoorah!), and periodically the three of us would glance at each other, pump our fists and mouth, "3B!" I can't wait to hear them on a real stage, to see what they do with space.

[ look | listen ]


Happy Thanksgiving, eh?

Ha! Thanksgiving has arrived! Before you start panicking, though, keep in mind that the Michaelis family functions on a whole other timeline--Thanksgiving comes before Halloween. It's just easier that way.

So, dinner's tonight, and I'm making dessert. My house smells like pumpkin.

In other news, we (Mitch, Lyle and I) are going to a Black Eyes & Neckties show after dinner--never seen 'em play before, and I know something like half the band from the days of yore. Haven't seen 'em in ages. It'll be great.


Happy unBirthday (to me)

We have a houseguest. I think this is awesome, even though I'm not a very good hostess.

I mentioned Lyle in my entry about Myspace, and here he is, showing up again, but this time he's shown up in my house, with a toothbrush and shampoo. Through an odd twist in events, he's landed on the couch in my living room for a few days, and I love it, having him here, especially since I actually have a living room for the first time in 1 year+ of studio-apartment-dwelling.

Of course he's been a terrible influence--without company, Mitch and I are usually in bed by eleven, after a happy evening of homework, blogging, reading and Warcraft, but with Lyle, well. Bedtime has been extended.

Monday night found Lyle, Sarah, Galen and me (all friends from high school, recently reunited), playing pool at the Nightlight well after midnight, despite the fact that I had to work in the morning. Lyle and I, whose birthdays are April 25 and 26 respectively, bickered over scores--I told him that I let him win, as a special unBirthday present; he claimed he'd let me keep on thinking so, as an unBirthday gift to me.

Tuesday morning found me groggy, moving slowly, but not sorry for a second. Every time I rubbed my eyes I thought of lining up shots on the green felt table, of sinking into vinyl couches and listening to my friends tell stories and laugh, and I grinned. I'd yawn, and find myself smiling.

Here, let's have a moment. I want to say: what is it about my high school friends, that they've all become such wonderful people? And then I will move on.

Tonight, we're playing at domestic, the three of us. Veggies are roasting in the oven, Lyle's out getting beer and a movie, Mitch is studying in the still, spare moment while I write and try not to think about the awful lot of writing I'll be doing over the next month.

It's fun coming home to another person, fun finding somebody else's gadgets plugging into various outlets, fun getting to know somebody I've known so well, and discovering what a splendid person he's become. Say what you want about houseguests, I'll be sad when he goes back to Tokyo and takes all his clutter with him.



This is probably the coolest thing ever. And I mean that. I always go around saying that stuff is "the coolest ever", but I'm serious about this one. Introducing: National Novel-Writing Month!

From November 1-Nov. 31, all kinds of silly people from one end of the world to the other are going to be churning out 50,000 word novels in a single month--forget rewritting and carefully-constructed plots; it's a fiction-writing free-for-all!

Now, grab your pompoms and get cheering, because--that's right--I'm one of those silly people who signed up. The emphasis, the website assures me, is on quantity, not quality, so I can write 175 pages of total crap (but I'll really be trying, honestly--probably it'll just turn out crap, and that's o.k.! I'm o.k. with that) and still qualify. For all the actual details, check out the link above.

In two weeks I'm probably going to be regretting this big-time, but I do think this is a stinkin' cool idea. Besides, I'm not in school anymore--what the hell else am I going to do? And they gave me a button:

(props to that one guy for the idea)


I smell revolution

My friend Kiah got me started on Myspace.com, and I'm not sure if I should thank her or fall on my knees sobbing, or what. Because whatever life I had...d'you hear it?...just went out the window.

Here's the funny thing about Myspace--you can find tons of people. People you'd forgotten about, or been trying to forget about, or perhaps had been searching for, desperately. Take my friend, Lyle--good buddies, kept in touch for a bit, moved, moved again, boom! Haven't talked in two years. Haven't seen each other in four. Hop on Myspace, look up kids in my graduating class, and wham! There he is. And he's in town for a month (he lives in Japan, now). I had lunch with him yesterday and everything.

But no, this is not a commercial.

The mixed blessing of Myspace is that you start to want friends, badly. You also become terrified, thinking of the kids you knew from high school who are embarrassingly unchanged, whose photos look the same, whose bios read like those of angsty high school sophomores, and you start praying, pathetically, that you're at least a fraction cooler than you used to be. That when people happen upon your profile they say, Wow, that Thea! Look at all the fascinating stuff she's been up to! Oh, and she's lookin' foxy!

I know. I'm embarrassing myself, just admitting this.

But the worst are people who really are doing cool things, and who look great, and I'm so happy for them in that shallow "wow, your life looks great on paper" sort of way, but I'm also stabbing at the keyboard rather aggressively as I tell them so, and hoping that my feeble life looks great on paper, too.

I have to remind myself, periodically, that I adore my life right now. Forget Myspace.

Oh, but I keep going back, checking every few minutes to see if anybody's found me, if anybody wants to be my friend--so far, I've gotten an invitation from a sci-fi site (how they found me, I don't know) and a bench. An honest-to-goodness park bench. Go figure.

Book Review: THE TIME MACHINE, by H.G. Wells

Anybody else see the remade movie, starring Guy Pearce? No matter that I give Guy the eternal thumbs up for Memento, I have to say it: The Time Machine sucked. Sorry, buddy.

And why? Why should it have sucked so badly when the material they started with was so stinkin' cool?

Because the book, by H.G. Wells, is another story completely. There's no sappy "I must go back in time and save her" routine here, no new love discovered in the distant future--nope, just science, time-travel and satire, with some creepy action/adventure mixed in. Sounds like the formula for brilliance to me.

So. The lead, who is known only as the Time Traveller (as other characters are called Medical Man, the Psychologist, the Very Young Man and the Provincial Mayor--though some have proper names, they are few), hosts a weekly dinner and invites several prominent men to his table. He shows them a miniature model of a Time Machine, and tells him his theory on the fourth dimension (Time), and his discovery that man can, in fact, move through time. He invites them to view his full-scale Time Machine-in-progress; his guests express skeptism and disbelief.

By the same time the next week, the Time Traveller has had himself a full-fledged adventure, the details of which he recounts to his guests after arriving, late and dishevelled, in their midst. Again, they express skeptism and disbelief.

But the adventure part is awesome. I won't tell you about it, in case you haven't seen the movie, but it's great. Some of the passages where the Time Traveller ruminates on the possible fate of mankind are incredible, because Wells reveals not merely one evolution of man, but several, in the way his Time Traveller interprets his surroundings. Genius.

In closing, I will say this: I hate it when Hollywood jumps on any excuse to turn a female character into a sexpot. Sheesh.



Book Review: BIG BLONDE & OTHER STORIES, by Dorothy Parker

What do I know about Dorothy Parker? Nuthin'. But, after reading BIG BLONDE in a moment of desperation (must have short stories! Must have 'em!), I fell for her pretty completely. She's a bit like Salinger, only a girl, and that's a pretty quick way to my heart.

Though the women in her stories are woefully insecure, I think that might be more of an era thing--I'm guessing '30s? '40s?--so I let it slide. Her dialogue more than makes up for any deficiency in the characters, anyway, and her voice is so sassy I can hardly stand it. Does anybody know about some Dorothy Parker novels? I want 'em.



Ornithological dejecta

My dad and I have this thing about bad books. Not merely "a complete waste of time" bad, or even "why, God, oh why?", but bad--so bad they're almost good. And while we've exchanged several books of bad poetry over the years, the pursuit of the very worst books didn't get competitive until last Father's Day, when I gave Dad a copy of Why Cats Paint.

I can't even explain the badness of this book and do it justice, so thank God for the website.

I send you forth with the chilling words, "They're serious."

So, we went out to breakfast at Old Town on Father's Day, and found ourselves seated not two booths away from another Father's Day hoopla--a dad, a mom and three kids, and dammit all if the dad wasn't wearing a crown with "World's Best Dad" across the front in embossed letters. Show off.

"I want a crown," Dad pouted as we sat down.

Before long, however, we stole the spotlight as the craziest folks in Old Town when Why Cats Paint made its way out of the gift bag--laughing like mad as we read passages aloud, passing the book back and forth over our coffee cups and breakfast plates, both of us crying and pink in the cheeks. In the absence of the actual book, I give you this quote from the website:

The work shown here was completed in 15 minutes on bathroom wallpaper by Monty, a Persian belonging to Mrs. Nora Scrotes of Chicago.

Mrs. Scrotes feels sure that the work was directly influenced by Monty being washed and having his knots removed the day before. Not only does Monty find the experience unpleasant, but on this occasion Mrs. Scrotes had to take an extended call from her elderly mother when she was halfway through the final rinse and was therefore unable to restrain the cat from attempting to dry itself by rolling in its litter tray.

We learned, to our dismay, that there are honest-to-God "feline art critics." And to make matters far worse (or better? I can never really be sure), while perusing The Museum of Non-Primate Art website, I found this.


Tell a story, tell a lie

Recently, a friend mentioned her desire to only read books that are "edifying" to her soul, by which she meant Christian books. I wondered at this. I've done that very same thing before--chosen to read only Christian books, to listen only to Christian music and so on, thinking that it would help strengthen my faith to be surrounded so completely by Christianity, but now I am not so sure that cutting off the rest of the world, forsaking the variety of "non-Christian" experience, is beneficial to faith.

Certainly it only crippled mine.

To imply that the books sold in Christian bookstores are better for one's soul, to argue that rich, white, conservative, American authors can summon God more readily than Kazantzakis, Tolstoy, or Dostoevsky can, or that fiction must be Christian (must use Jesus as a presence in the story? Must say his name a certain number of times per chapter? How does one guage "Christian"?) for it to be "edifying", seems to me to be missing a very beautiful point: good fiction paints God with many different faces, even though it might not call him by a familiar name.

Which is not to say that Christian literature is bad. Plenty of it rocks my little world--think L'Engle, Lewis, Don Miller, Bonheoffer--but why do we need to divide everything into "Christian" and "secular"? Why should all "good" books be safe?

Formulaic Christian literature runs through me like water. To finish a book like Left Behind, or The Prayer of Jabez (a book marketed on its ability to nournish the soul), leaves me hungry for substance, for characters who ring true, who experience God in different ways--whether they call him Christ, Allah, Providence, or do not name him at all.

The Brothers Karamazov edifies my soul; The Purpose-Driven Life does not.

All snobbery aside, I recognize that Karamazov is a big, fat Russian novel, while The Purpose-Driven Life is much more accessible to a wide audience, and I'm not getting all worked up because I think that everybody should read Dostoevsky as a spiritual companion to the Bible. Heavens, no. I just hate to see fiction painted as inferior to nonfiction because it's "not true"--in some ways, I think great fiction can carry more truth per page than any nonfiction book, be it history, self-help or a computer manual.

The difficulty comes in the fact that there is no clear line between wholesome novels and the sort that threaten instant damnation (you know, for even touching the cover), and so it's just easier to write the whole show off as false, and therefore a waste of time.

Fiction is just so damn subjective.

I worry when I see people casting off stories in favor of over-marketed facts, because "easily-digested" is not the same as "edifying."

Book Review: LAMB TO THE SLAUGHTER, by Roald Dahl

Halfway through LAMB, I lost the book! I really, really hate that. I headed straight for the bookstores as soon as I noticed that my copy was gone, but none of my favorite used bookstores had LAMB TO THE SLAUGHTER in, so I suppose I'll give you a mini-review of what I'd read so far while I renew my efforts at recovering the book.

Everybody's been telling me how great Dahl is, and, having read several of his children's books (I just reread The BFG last year), it didn't take much convincing for me to pick up a collection of his stories and get reading...

The first story in LAMB (the title has the word "parson" in there somewhere, that's all I remember) is incredible--Dahl had me nervous, chewing my fingernails as the plot thickened...and thickened... Even though the main character was kind of a scumbag, I was hooked, and I never honestly thought I'd get so caught up in antique furniture, but there you go. I also loved the title story, "Lamb to the Slaughter"--brilliant. People keep telling me that he started the whole "twist ending" movement, and I could see it--if it didn't originate with him, well, he probably does a better job with it than whoever wrote the first one.

Sadly, I was right smack dab in the middle of "The Bookseller" when LAMB and I parted ways, and I was just about to figure out what was going on. So unfair. So very unfair. I will find another copy. I'm on a mission, now.



Promoted! (But still working for free)

Well, Saturday hit my house in a flurry of laziness--I slept in, took an obscenely long shower and spent something like forty-five minutes at the breakfast table, reading. The laziness was so complete that I didn't even brew coffee. I just thought about how much I'd like some coffee.

To top off my morning of blissful inactivity, I spent something like two hours editing the new site layout, getting the colors and font size and borders and tables and photos just so, and if you don't like it, hmph. That's all I'm sayin'. Hmph. See, you may or may not have noticed, but for the last week I've been taunting you with little entries, mostly devoid of content, so that I can get this damn layout working (to see the template I started with, click here)--but now we're back in business, so get ready for more long, long rants about, well, nothing.

Eh. I never promised content in the first place.

When I finally left the house, it was only to step outside and realize that I was tragically overdressed, because--what the crap?--it was sunny out, and 60-degrees. Surely, I did not authorize this. So I sweated my way through the walk downtown, peeling off scarf and ski sweater, and pushing up my sleeves. Though threatened with heat exhaustion, I did not miss the opportunity to ooh and aah over nature: heaps of copper-colored oak leaves! Bare branches, just showing through fiery yellow and gold and red leaves! That autumn sky, an intense blue; the mountains looming, violet and gray, over church steeples, office buildings, the lone parking garage!

To spare you lots of sentences that would inevitably begin "And then I...", I'll summarize: the afternoon involved bookstores and several hours spent curled up on a couch at the Black Drop, refilling my bottomless cup o' joe and reading, alternately, Report to Greco, Roald Dahl's Lamb to the Slaughter, and a stack of loosly paperclipped stories from the Bellingham Review.

And this is where I plunge fearlessly into an aside. See, for the last couple years, since I graduated from college, I've been putting in a few hours a week doing grunt work for this literary journal on campus. Keeps me in the writerly scene, or something.

Nobody really knows who I am, except the editor--I drift in and out of the office at will, opening envelopes, logging in submissions, entering subscriptions into the database, usually rocking out to Frank Sinatra or Audioslave on my headphones while I work, so I don't really have to talk to anybody. I have no status. It's awesome.

But this week, the editor looked woefully at the mounting stack of fiction submissions (200 in 3 weeks! Egad!), sighed, looked at me, and asked if I'd be interested in being a reader.

Um. Yes?

Some kids do this for college credit; I do it for the love of reading. And I get paid in KitKats.

So I checked out a stack of stories, took 'em down to the Black Drop and got crackin'. What I honestly expected--I say this without shame--was for the stories to be horrible. Really, really bad. And I was excited, because I love terrible writing (I get this fascination from my dad--for an entry on our love of crappy literature, click here)--but in this respect, I was disappointed. The editor warned me that the magazine accepted something like 2% of all submissions, so I certainly did not expect the stories to be, well, good. I definately didn't expect them to be--ahem--better than my writing.

I know, I know. Ouch. Ego, deflated. Moving on.

In the end, I quite enjoyed the stories, but by the time I'd finished the last one I noticed that my hands were trembling rather badly (how many times had I refilled my cup?), so I packed up and went home--

--where I noticed the light on my answering machine blinking.

Dun, dun, DUN.

But the rest of this is probably a story for tomorrow, since I'm all tuckered out and ready to hit the hay. 'Night!


What, another new template?

Yes, it's true.


"Is you is, or is you ain't my baby"

Must really be fall now. I hear rain hitting my windows at full speed; the kitchen smells like licorice tea, the living room smells of candles. I spent the evening curled up on the futon with a book, while Mitch scribbled and scratched out and pondered aloud his homework.

I miss our woodstove, but a fleecy bathrobe will do.

We listened to old, crackly jazz recordings courtesy of the Radio Museum's broadcast station, but we kept the volume low enough that we could still hear the rain outside, the slap of wet leaves against wet glass.

Like a cat curled in front of a fire, I am content.

Book Review: IN EVIL HOUR, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Ah yes, another author I've been meaning to read since the dawn of time: Gabriel Garcia Marquez, he of the many thin books, of the few fat ones, of the Nobel Peace Prize. I own both Love in the Time of Cholera and One Hundred Years of Solitude, but have I read them? Alas, no. Instead I've read the nice, skinny novels, Of Love and Other Demons and now IN EVIL HOUR.

HOUR takes place in an unnamed Colombian town, and begins with a murder--the result of the spread of the dreaded "lampoons" (think tabloids, but they're about you and somebody saves you the trouble of sneaking peeks in the grocery line by nailing it to your front door). The reaction of the citizens and the town's politicians forms the foundation for HOUR's plot, which Marquez builds up with remarkable skill until the comedy of the lampoons is replaced, subtly and very stealthily, by a tense drama of oppression and politics.

Of course, I was lacking some political context (this is nothing new), so I caught onto the shift in plot a bit late, but Marquez depicts a struggle so gripping that, after a few chapters, the context seemed more beneficial than necessary, and the way in which he twists events just slightly felt to me very much like the maneuvers of a dictator sidling into power.

And that just gives me the shivers.

The novel could have been much longer, but Marquez isolates a key point in the disintegration of the town and focuses on it, removing it from the town's history so that the book starts and finishes abruptly. To the reader, it seems that the story continues on in either direction, unrecorded.

One problem I had, though, was with the translation. I mean, you just can't trust 'em sometimes, and this one seemed a little off. Sometimes the phrases just felt awkward, but other times the characters went around referring to a lady as "so-and-so's wife" when a big part of the scandal was the fact that the lady was not married to the aforementioned gentleman, but was bearing his child. See?

And my plight was made all the more difficult by the fact that I'm also currently reading Kazantzakis's Report to Greco, and the translation from the Greek is magnificent. Not that I know Greek--I don't--but everything about it feels in place and lovely. Everything is as it should be.

But, back to HOUR: my favorite scene involves a dentist, an abcessed tooth, the mayor and a passel of gunslingers--it's very good. And since HOUR was written just before One Hundred Years of Solitude, and, according to the back of the book, "points to the author's later and flowering greatness," I suppose I'll have to read Solitude now. "Later and flowering." Honestly.




We must leave the earth not like scourged, tearful slaves, but like kings who rise from the table with no further wants, having eaten and drunk to the full.
--Nikos Kazantzakis, Report to Greco

Book Review: GIRLS' POKER NIGHT, by Jill A. Davis

That's right--I joined a book club. I've yet to attend a meeting, but there's one coming up this week and I hear there will be fondue. I'm supposed to bring apples, or at least that's what my invitation said.

On a random but not entirely unrelated note, I must add that I checked this book out from the library and discovered, to my dismay, that it smelled strongly of cough syrup. Undoubtedly this has effected my reading of GIRLS' POKER NIGHT, but possibly not--possibly I'm not that shallow.

But probably I am.

Anyway. I must admit I was skeptical going into this book, mostly because it has pink on the cover and one of those foo-foo fonts with all kinds of swirls and peppy letters heading every chapter (okay, yeah, I am that shallow), but really, when it's all said and done, I think I liked GIRLS' POKER NIGHT. Ruby Capote, the narrator, kinda won me over.

See, Ruby, a quirky newspaper columnist, sends the editor of The New York News a batch of her best columns and a six-pack of beer, lands a job at the paper and leaves Boston (and her boyfriend, Doug) behind. The story is told in a series of short scenes (not even chapters, really--the sections are titled but are not often longer than, say, half a page apiece), and the scenes are sprinkled with the wacky antics of Ruby's friends at their weekly poker night, as well as with Ruby's therapy sessions.

And therein lies the problem: the therapy session. At some point, Ruby gets less funny and more...emotionally conflicted. Psychobabble abounds; there's talk of her abandonment issues and several scenes where she cries and cries and cries...and cries. And cries.

Perhaps she has reasons to cry, but they're so over-analyzed--by Ruby, her friends, her lover and her shrink; everybody's got a take on Ruby's problems--that, well, I quit actually knowing (or caring) what pushed Ruby to a state of near-breakdown. Ruby, as a character, is fun, but not especially deep, so when she stopped being fun, I found it difficult to stay interested.

But when she's fun, she's really fun. Ruby Capote's got some great one liners.

This is a good light read, I'd say--take it to the beach or something, read it when you crave something witty and laughable, and try not to mind the crying. That's my advice.



A template adventure

This weekend my accidental mission has been to spruce up my site--and I say "accidental" because I had no intentions of changing anything at the start of the weekend, but...so it goes. After many failed downloads and several encounters with screwy text, I found a darling template (courtesy of Maystar Designs) that I proceeded to hack to bits and pieces, rearrange and change the colors--I added links! And comments! And many other things I've come to know and love!

I rather like it.

Soon, I shall be adding graphics, if I can ever get at Mitch's computer long enough to break into Photoshop (anybody know any good, cheap photo editors for Mac? I need one, badly), and ideally, I'll convince the drop boxes to your left that they do, in fact, want to open the links I've assigned them.

Any help with that one? They worked once, but haven't since, and I love them too much to give up.

But really, what do you think of the new layout? Leave me a comment, let me know! (Of course, that doesn't mean I'll change a thing--ha ha! It's my site, isn't it?)


We're all sheep here

So (my husband) Mitch is big on World of Warcraft--sort of like I'm big on blogging--and every so often I peek over his shoulder to see what's happening in the big ole world o' Warcraft (which is significantly more entertaining to watch than the world o' blogging).

More often than not, I have no idea what the hell's going on, but I'm impressed as all get out that he can keep track of all those wee buttons and bad guys while also maintaining a bit of dialogue with the other players--my video game tactic has always been press buttons! Madly!

Long story short, the other night I poked my nose in about the time that some other guy turned Mitch's character into a sheep. A sheep!

"Damn," Mitch said wearily, "he turned me into a sheep."

"He can do that? Really?" I gasped. "That's the coolest thing ever!"

"Yeah," he sighed, "that spell's called 'crowd control'."

Book Review: THE HOTEL NEW HAMPSHIRE, by John Irving

To my knowledge, there is no other author quite like John Irving (and if you know of one, by all means, tell me!). His novels are vast, often following the characters through their entire lives, and they are varied--Irving presents his characters with some of the most original conflicts of any author I've read, and his characters themselves, oh!, they are so lovely, so complete. And he is funny.

In this case, I turn to the back of the book for a summary, since it does so well. I give you THE HOTEL NEW HAMPSHIRE:
The first of my father's illusions was that bears could survive the life lived by human beings, and the second was that human beings could survive a life led in hotels.

So says John Berry, son of a hapless dreamer, brother to a cadre of eccentric siblings, and chronicler of the lives lived, the loves experienced, the deaths met, and the myriad strange and wonderful times encountered by the family Berry. Hoteliers, pet-bear owners, friends of Freud (the animal trainer and vaudevillian, that is), and playthings of mad fate, they "dream on" in a funny, sad, outrageous, and moving novel by the remarkable author of A Widow For One Year and The Cider House Rules.
"Funny, sad and outrageous" just about sums it up.

Irving is a master of recurring themes--throughout the book certain things come back, over and over (the bear, Sorrow, Freud and "the other" Freud), like refrains between the verses of the Berry family, changing slightly as the story and family ages, acting as the support beams for the rest of the plot. In fact, with this book, the fifth Irving novel I've read, I noticed that Irving repeats themes from novel to novel--the dressmaker's dummy, the "not growing" (Owen Meany, Lilly Berry)--thus giving his books a feeling of continuity.

Perhaps the only fault I could find with NEW HAMPSHIRE was that, as it was written early in Irving's career, the writing isn't as tight as in, say, Irving's second newest novel, A Widow For One Year (his newest being Until I Find You, whose paperback arrival I am anxiously awaiting)--and that isn't much of a criticism, not when you consider that his early books are still a sight better than most. In NEW HAMPSHIRE, he just doesn't seem quite at home in his style yet, and it's only knowing that Irving is so good now that makes me notice.

With that in mind, I'd suggest you start with The Cider House Rules or A Widow For One Year if you're new to John Irving. If you're a veteran, well, dive right in--THE HOTEL NEW HAMPSHIRE does not disappoint!



She of the repeating stories

I can't help myself. Halfway through a witty anecdote, I will inevitably pause, feeling suddenly awkward and say, "I might've told you this already...", but of course I can never remember. The problem here might be my tendency to witticize my life and share each individual moment with those around me (this will drive my husband into a coma, without fail), but, eh, it was funny the first time--why shouldn't it be funny the second, especially with a few minor plot adjustments, some added suspense, and character voices?

Here are my top 5 most retold stories:

5--The Time I Ran Over My Own Arm Snowboarding. Sad but true. Don't know how it happened, but it hurt an awful lot and the story always draws respectful curiousity from the first-time listener. "You did what?"

4--The Time My Dad Swung Off the End of Our Rope Swing, Down a Rather Large Hill and Landed in the Ditch by Our Driveway. I was maybe 5-years-old at the time, and could not make sense of the very odd sight of my dad curled up in a ditch and snoring. I turned to my cousin Jenny and asked if he had died (he hadn't, thank God--but he did spend a bit of time in the hospital after that one).

3--The Time a Childhood Friend's Younger Sister Poked Me in the Ear With a Chopstick. Never play "Doctor" with two small children at once. If you do, graciously bow out when they suggest an "ear check-up," or keep a close eye on both at all times. I tell you, a chopstick to the ear drum hurts.

2--The Time That A Co-Worker, While Telling a Rather Entertaining Story, Punched Me in the Eye. I had walked up behind her to ask a question at precisely the wrong moment--she swung her fist back to illustrate a point and made alarmingly solid contact with my left eye. She felt terrible, but I was laughing too hard to accept her apologies (all of them, many) for a few minutes.

1--The Time I Had a Kidney Stone, a Hand-to-Mouth Virus and a Ruptured Appendix (the latter resulted in hospitalization) in Less Than 5 Days. This story is not so lovely, but terribly dramatic. I didn't suffer any of these at the same time--they spaced themselves out over the 5 days rather nicely--but I really don't feel that detracts from the overall effect: I need to crack my knuckles and push back my sleeves before I tell this one, and it always gets a good reaction.

Hmm. Most of these involve me, or somebody near me, getting hurt--I hadn't realized that. I am my own slapstick routine.

Of course, this list changes often, but these are the classics--the ones I come back to periodically and ask, "Did I ever tell you about the time that...?" when there's a lull in the conversation.


Book Review: THERESE RAQUIN, by Emile Zola

My friend Laila, who loaned me Zola's The Earth, assured me that Zola is one of the most depressing authors ever, and after I finished the book I had to agree with her--his artistic treatment of humans as animals is bleak, sad, and violent. But there's an absorbing quality to his writing that makes it difficult, no matter how many times you try, to leave his books unfinished.

THERESE RAQUIN is a "grim tale of adultery, murder and revenge in a nightmarish setting," according to the back of the book. Why did I try Zola again, you may ask, since I found The Earth so depressing? I'd have to shrug and mumble something like "I found it in the free box at Michael's Books, and, well...". It seemed worth a shot. And it was. It was worth a shot.

Perhaps one of the best parts of the book is the preface--and by no means to I intend to put down the novel itself by making this assertion. Zola's rebuttal to the critics of his day who found the book pornographic and offensive (more on this later) is scathing and delicious, well-written and direct. It opens like this:
I was simple enough to suppose that this novel could do without a preface. Being accustomed to express my thoughts quite clearly and to stress even the minutest details of what I write, I hope to be understood and judged without preliminiary explanations. It seems I was mistaken.
And he goes on to whip those critics into shape:
Obviously my work is the property of my judges and they can find it nauseating without my having any right to object, but what I do complain of is that not one of the modest journalists who blushed when they read Therese Raquin seems to have understood the novel. If they had, they might perhaps have blushed still more, but at any rate I should at the present moment be enjoying the deep satisfaction of having disgusted them for the right reason. Nothing is more annoying than hearing worthy people shouting about depravity when you know within yourself that they are doing so without any idea what they are shouting about.
I could go on quoting the preface forever, but instead, I turn to the novel and wonder what pornography the critics were referring to--sure, there are sex scenes (it's about adultery, after all), and perhaps it was simply that the times were different and any mention of sex at all was naughty, but it seems to me that, if one was looking for something in THERESE to object to, one might take issue with how very disturbing and grotesque the story is. Two lovers murder the husband that stands between them and then find themselves haunted by his corpse--not his ghost, mind you, his bloated and decaying corpse.

I do not take issue with it. The book is fascinating, but it's creepy as all get out--thank God it's short, that's all I'm saying. But Zola's storytelling is furious and intense from the very first chapter and for all 256 pages I was hooked. Grossed out, half-afraid to turn the lights off, but hooked.



Event Review (Donald Miller at the PAC): She encounters a church circus, and hears Don Miller speak

I've now accomplished one of the things I'd hoped to do before I die: I've seen Donald Miller speak live.

If you're not familiar with Donald Miller, well, he's an author, and his books are very good. Blue Like Jazz, a feisty, memoirish book on "Christian spirituality" (which, in between nuggets of glittering wisdom wholly relevent to my feisty little generation, is complete with handdrawn cartoons and funny anecdotes about his friends, Tony the Beat Poet, Rick the Cussing Pastor, Andrew the Protestor and more) fell into my hands at precisely the right moment, and since then I've felt something like gratitude towards Miller.

He is not a traditional Christian author; he is not a traditional Christian. His liberal-mindedness, his lack of fear that prolonged contact with anything unChristian (or even dubiously Christian) will in any way diminish his faith, is refreshing after books like Left Behind and The Prayer of Jabez (both of which are available in the "...for Women", "...for Teens", and "...for Leaders" editions--I smell money. Does anyone else smell money?).

But most of Miller's appeal lies in his confidence, which comes across an awful lot like humility--he can laugh at his own expense without sounding false, he can make a statement in his favor without sounding arrogant--and in the fact that he is easy to relate to. Like Anne Lamott, but less nuerotic.

After reading his second book, Searching for God Knows What, which is more theological than Jazz's Sedaris-style prose, I determined that I must go see Don Miller at all costs, if ever the opportunity arises.

Arise it did, and on Thursday, I found myself standing in the lobby of the PAC with Mitch, my mom and my stepdad, and many, very many, college kids. More and more students packed into the lobby, all of them chattering, all of them whipping out cell phones and laughing in a way that made me feel, well, old, as I checked my watch and thought, I hope we get done around ten, because I'm tired.

When the doors finally opened, we all proceeded in a dignified way (some elbows and knees were involved) to our seats, and the volume level continued to hover somewhere around "piercing" as the auditorium filled up. And filled up. And the ushers started to look a little harried, as all the seats appeared full but people were still coming...

Finally folding chairs were employed, and the room was packed elbow-to-elbow with students, youth pastors and my parents, who were by now a bit self-conscious at being, apparently, the oldest people there ("It's okay," I reassured them, "it's because you're so hip").

And one of the pastors walked up front to the mic and said hello, and introduced...

A band?

Yup. A band took the stage, instead of Don Miller, though the pastor/MC assured us that Don would be up later. So the band played, and, while I might have enjoyed them more had they not been sprung on me as a surprise instead of Don Miller, I was a little annoyed--though they had one instrumental song that was amazing, involving an acoustic guitar being used both as a guitar and a percussion instrument.

Finally, the band finished and I sat up straight and the pastor took the stage again and introduced...

A video?

They played a video that--oh, most original of concepts--featured a camera man going around Western's campus and asking random students what they thought of Christianity. I slumped back into my seat and groaned.

When the video finished, the pastor took the stage again and (dare I hope?) introduced...

Another pastor.

That's right. So Pastor 2 took the stage and proceeded to apologize to the audience for how he may have misrepresented Jesus in his life and blah blah blah, and how he hoped we could forgive him for standing in the way of Jesus. Jesus!, I was on the verge of crying in sheer exasperation, Right now you're standing in the way of Don Miller!

About the time I began grinding my teeth, the pastor finished his bulk apology and introduced (Please, God, I prayed fervrently, Don't let it be another pastor)...

Donald Miller.

Who made up for it all by laughing aloud and saying, by way of opening remarks, "Well, if there's anyone here tonight who's not a Christian, they're probably creeped out by now. I'm sorry," he smiled apologetically, "We're goofy as hell."

And then he added, "But I'm not going to talk about Jesus tonight, so don't worry," and proceeded to tell an anecdote about unwittingly taking a girl on a date to a reading of lesbian erotic poetry.

He's in his thirties; he's got curly brown hair, thinning a little, and eyes creased like he smiles a lot. He is a big man, with big hands, broad sloping shoulders, and a charming demeanor--not Gilderoy Lockhart charming, but charming like you'd like to hang out with him sometime and he'd probably let you.

And he more than made up for the pre-show hoo-ha. After reading a lengthy excerpt from his forthcoming To Own a Dragon (prefaced by the statement, "It's about growing up without a dad, which is a subject a lot of people find sad--but I find it funny"), that had the whole audience in fits of laughter, the Q&A session began.

And a guy in our row wanted to know why Don Miller wasn't talking about Jesus tonight, and a guy toward the front asked the inevitable "How did you get published?", and a girl in the back asked for Miller's take on "scripture as the 100% infallible word of God," which ellicited a flustered laugh from Miller, who then proceeded to say that he couldn't answer that: what did she mean by "infallible"? What did she mean by "Word of God", or "100%"?

The next question came from a guy a few rows behind us, who was curious which religion Miller would choose next, if Christianity didn't work out, and this got a delighted laugh from Miller. He scratched his chin thoughtfully and said, "Well, I've always had a soft spot for Buddhism...and agnostism's really sexy right now..."

My own favorite quote came when someone asked for Miller's opinion on Christian music. He listed some bands he liked, said a lot of it was really good, even if some of it wasn't, and then said that great Christian music "is going to be revolutionary, it is going to be bloody, it is going to march up to the man and kick him in the nuts."

Which is pretty much what I think Donald Miller's writing is up to right now--kicking the man in the nuts--if by "the man" you mean "the American church" and if by "kicking" you mean "making some changes."