Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Pencil pusher

Reading All the King's Men, by Robert Penn Warren. This volume is different, in that apart from the plot and its drama, there's also a tiny duel between two previous readers of the book, carried out with their notes, all over the text.

An unfortunate side effect of getting your books from a university library is that they are often heavily marked or highlighted. Sometimes I can overlook it, sometimes the markings are so distracting I can hardly concentrate on the book, and sometimes (rarely) reader comments, written in the margins, are almost as entertaining as the text itself. I was raised to believe that marking in books is a vulgar, rude, and gross habit. My mother was fond of specifying the sorts of things that we did or did not do, and we did not write in books. If you need to underline a sentence that says, say "Jack Burden was very popular," and then write "popularity" in the margin, perhaps literature is not your field.

Anyway: All the King's Men. Some pencil-pushing prick took it upon himself to fussily correct Robert Penn Warren's grammar throughout the text. Any time a sentence starts with the word "well" the pencil pusher has circled it. He also objects to Warren's use of "was"--crossing it out and writing "were" in the margin dozens of times and further making himself obnoxious by adding penciled commas and other editorial marks. How do I know the Pencil-Pusher is man? Because he hates women. In the margin on one page he wrote, "It's all the fault of the damn woman," and "Cherchez la femme."

Then there's the Red Pen Person (also male, I suspect) who, enraged at the Pencil-Pusher's antics, wrote "devil" or "freak," and in one case, "dude, go get some fresh air" under his corrections, along with copious red underlining of text. (A third commenter interjected with "Who is this misogynistic jerk?" in response to the Pencil-pusher, who tacked the following ending onto one of Warren's sentences: "I still hadn't learned that she's no good for any man.")

In other words, there's quite a lively conversation happening in my copy of All the King's Men. Here's what I have to say to the Pencil-pusher:  Sir, you are a loser. There is no doubt in my mind that Robert Penn Warren can write circles around you. Believe me, I'm the first person to deride a badly-written novel, but All the King's Men is a masterpiece and who are you with your "weres" and your commas and your prickish little pencil?  Remove the pencil from your own eye before pointing out the dangling participle in another's.

To red pen man: Dude, go outside and get some fresh air.  I believe we are in agreement about the pencil man, but, red pen?  Really?

To the third person:  Well said.

*Disclosure:  I originally wrote this in September, 2007, and came across it while browsing my stats and it made me laugh out loud.  I know it's a bit pathetic that I am mining my own content for content.  On the other hand, it got something like four page views, so it will be new to most of you. Link to All the King's Men is affiliate. If you are so inclined, entertain me in the comments with stories of ridiculous things you've found in library books.  (I confess, that despite my upbringing, I did once write, very lightly in pencil, "Lies! All Lies!" next to a paragraph in a parenting book that discouraged breastfeeding beyond the first year.)

Monday, October 28, 2013

A Chair, a Martini, and a Sweater

We bought a new chair. This is very exciting because we haven't bought any new furniture since the coffee table of doom, nearly three years ago.  The new chair is a bit imposing and seems to think it is the boss-furniture of the house.  See how the table cowers before it?

Get me a throw pillow.

The piano is not having it.
Piano: I've seen a lot of chairs come and go. You're not so special.

What else?  Once I finished the martini project Jon and I stayed away from Bang for a while.  We've eaten everything on the menu at this point, but it's nice to have a familiar place where we know the staff and there aren't any surprises, so we returned.  They added a new pumpkin martini to their menu.  I had been looking forward to a second go at one of the martinis I liked, but couldn't resist trying the new one.  Honestly, I didn't like it very much.  Like eggnog, pumpkin drinks become cloying after a few sips.  It might make a nice dessert martini if you are so inclined and have a high tolerance for nutmeg.

I bought a sweater.  Remember Meryn Cadell's song, "The Sweater"?  It is still one of my favorite songs, and my new sweater is just like the sweater in that song, except that it doesn't belong to a boy.  I haven't had a favorite sweater in a long time, but this one is big and cozy and wooly and I see that I will wear it to rags and then someday tearfully cut it up and turn it into an oven mitt or fake boot socks. What piece in your wardrobe would you wear every day, if you could?

The Sweater song.  I'm was surprised to read that it came out in 1991, because I could swear I was listening it to it on CFNY in college, which would have been 1990 or earlier. Could this song be the source of all the "boyfriend" clothing items?

Friday, October 25, 2013

Friday Reading Assignment: essays

How about an essay or two (or three) for a change?  I've been reading The Essays of Elia (Classic Reprint)* and here are a few of my favorites.

Charles Lamb

"Modern Gallantry"  The roots of feminism are probably located in pre-history, but the earliest published feminist work that I'm aware of is A Vindication of the Rights of Women by Mary Wollstonecraft.  (1792)  It was published when Lamb was a youth, and it may be a stretch to assume that he read it, or that it influenced him, but  "Modern Gallantry" proves that he gave some thought to the condition of women.  In this essay, Lamb exposes the hypocrisy of his age, in which gentlemen took pride in their gallant behavior toward "ladies" but at the same time, treated women from ungenteel backgrounds with total contempt.  It's not a feminist essay.  You could argue that it's anti-feminist because he objects to the fact that women endure the same capital punishment that is meted out to men. (Equal treatment, right?)  However, he does show how gallantry does not illustrate a respect for women, but only a respect for their beauty or wealth.  You can read the full text here.

"A Dissertation Upon Roast Pig"  I believe this is Lamb's most famous essay.  No need to explain the text because the title says it all, but it's so charmingly written, although, perhaps may elicit some winces from animal lovers.  Full text here.

"A Bachelor's Complaint of the Behaviour of Married People"  Here, Lamb is a 19th century Bridget Jones, decrying the smugness of the marrieds and their often-repulsive offspring.  Lamb says, "When I consider how little of a rarity children are--that every street and blind alley swarms with them--that the poorest people commonly have them in abundance--that there are few marriages that are not blest with at least one of these bargains--how often they turn out ill, and defeat the fond hopes of their parents, taking to vicious courses, which end in...the gallows,--I cannot for my life tell what cause for pride there can possibly be in having them."  I am married (and with four children) but I can relate, particularly to the bits about smug parents.  Full text here.

Down with smugness

* The link to the Charles Lamb book is an affiliate link.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Friday Reading Assignment: On the Nightstand

What's on my nightstand lately?

The Essays of Elia by Charles Lamb.  Lamb was buddies with Wordsworth and Coleridge and other writers of the romantic era.  I have only just started this book, but so far the essays have been quietly amusing.

The Book and the Brotherhood by Iris Murdoch.  I've been reading my way through all of Murdoch, and this is where I am now.  She wrote twenty-seven novels, of which I have now read twenty-three.  I haven't read a single Murdoch novel that I didn't love.  I've just started this one, and it's still a bewildering crowd of characters I can't keep straight, but all should become clear after a few more pages, I hope.

Dark Tide: The Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919 by Stephen Puleo.  Can you imagine 2.3 million gallons of molasses flooding your neighborhood and killing dozens of your neighbors?  It seems incredible, but that is what happened in the North End of Boston in 1919.

Green Eyes by Jean Nielsen.  Another mid-century young adult novel.  I can't wait!

The Tricksters by Margaret Mahy.  A New Zealand-based children's writer, Mahy writes spooky, supernatural stories.

Slipstream by Elizabeth Jane Howard.  Remember the Cazalet Chronicles that I loved so much?  This is the author's memoir.

Happy reading!  What's on your nightstand?

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The gift of gifs

It may be childish, but I think gifs are one of the best things on the internet right now.  It's amusing to use one's favorite micro-moments of video to express one's emotions. If you haven't discovered Whatshouldwecallme, I suggest you check it out, because it's hilarious.   To amuse myself, and because I need a stress outlet, I have put together a little whatshouldwecall me imitation.

When someone sends me an email with a read receipt.

When I'm in a late-running meeting.

When I am invited to a late Friday afternoon meeting

When someone sends me a high priority email

When I'm on call

When I'm put on the spot in a meeting

Paying attention

When someone expects a huge new project to be completed immediately

My reaction to ICD-10

When it's time to leave work for the day.

Monday morning

Friday night

Sunday, October 13, 2013

How to have fun in Washington during the shutdown

Weeks ago, my brother and sister and I planned a sibling reunion in Washington, DC.  It's unfortunate that our weekend coincided with the government shutdown, but we had a great time anyway.  My brother and sister had Thursday and Friday together and had some cool adventures of their own in the private sector.  Ian and I joined them on Saturday.

We went to a Turkish restaurant for brunch and then toured the Anderson House, which once belonged to Larz Anderson and is now the headquarters of the Society of Cincinnati.  Our eccentric guide did not stick to the script for our tour, which made it all the more fun. 

Olmsted Room at the Anderson House

I loved this peaceful pool.

Random people.
I half expected the White House to be wrapped in a tarp.

Ian and me and my brother & sister 

The last time the three of us were in DC together was 1980, when our parents drove us down for an educational Easter vacation trip.  John, Margaret, and I were ages 10, 7, and 11, respectively, and we each packed one treasured possession.  Margaret's was a real izod "alligator" shirt,  John's was a straw cowboy hat, and mine was a Papagallo purse, which had been in my Easter basket that year.  In every single photograph, the shirt, the hat, and the purse are present.  Margaret coveted my purse and would beg to be allowed to hold it and I would say charming, sisterly things like, "You can hold it for five minutes if you promise not to talk to me for the rest of the day." The pictures, alas, are at my father's house, probably as slides.

Papagallo purse.  I had that exact navy cover,
 and the yellow one, and also a wool plaid one.

It really was the educational trip that my parents intended.  We went over every inch of every Smithsonian museum and toured all the monuments, the Capitol building the Supreme Court, and the Library of Congress (which I pretended was my own house).  The only thing we didn't tour was the White House (too crowded). The Washington metro was brand, spanking new and we rode it everywhere.

This time, after the Anderson House, we adjourned to the W for cocktails and laughed ourselves sick at these reminiscences, and more.  Later we went to the National Press Club for dinner.  I rented an apartment near DuPont Circle through airbnb.  Sunday morning, Ian and I struck out alone and had a delightful breakfast at Tryst, on 18th St.  Then we walked to my sister's to hang out a bit before driving back to Charlottesville.

18th St. from inside Tryst

Friday, October 11, 2013

Friday Reading Assignment: Pickwick Papers

Dickens is not one of my favorite authors.  I struggled through several of his novels in college and was never able to understand what all the fuss was about.  All his colorful characters were just irritating to me.  Then again, my grandfather always claimed that The Pickwick Papers was his favorite novel.  I held a deep respect for my grandfather's taste in literature, so if he identified a novel as his favorite, it must be worth reading.

Having now read The Pickwick Papers (for the Fifty Classics project), I can't honestly say that it is my favorite novel, but I can now say that it is my favorite Dickens novel (a spot formerly held by David Copperfield).

Pickwick Papers was Dickens' first novel.  I think of Dickens as a Victorian, but Pickwick Papers is set in the 1820's, and it is nothing like a typical Victorian novel.  Early on, I realized it reminded me of Jane Austen.  Of course, if you compare anything to Jane Austen, everybody will want to read it, so I must warn you, Pickwick Papers isn't really like a Jane Austen novel, it just shows Jane Austen's era in an entirely different light from how she portrayed it.*  This was definitely a cruder age.  There is none of the Victorian primness, and everybody consumes staggering quantities of alcohol.  The characters in Pickwick Papers are one or more levels lower on the social scale than Austen's.  Pickwick and friends have the trappings of gentility:  money, manners, leisure time, but Austen's characters would have given the side eye to Nathanial Winkle's connection to a Birmingham manufacturing family and Mr. Pickwick's business background.

Samuel Pickwick, Tracy Tupman, Augustus Snodgrass, and Nathanial Winkle are friends.  They decide to travel around England and take notes of all they see.  The story is a loosely bound string of adventures encountered on the road, and they spend a lot of time in stage coaches and inns.  They pick up a few interesting characters along the way, the two most notable being Sam Weller, who is taken on as Mr. Pickwick's servant, and Mr. Jingle, a con artist.  There are also several side tales--either stories told to them by people they meet in inns, or recorded on papers that Mr. Pickwick finds in his rooms.  These stories all have merit of their own.

Our four friends really do have some good adventures and silly mishaps and more than one brush with the law.  Indeed, Mr. Pickwick spends three months in jail.  It must have been a real sensation when it was published in installments in the 1830's, perhaps the Breaking Bad of its day. Pickwick Papers is a lighthearted book, but the language is a little sharp in the jail chapters which must have been written from bitter personal experience, as Dickens' father was confined in a debtors' prison.

Pickwick Papers is so rich in character and experience, that you really need to read it twice to take it all in.  Dickens was only about twenty-four years old when he wrote it, and it has a youthful exuberance, even though the main character is somewhat elderly.  Now I understand why Dickens' colorful characters are so beloved, and why it was my grandfather's favorite.

*I know that Jane Austen's era was technically not the 1820s, but I'm referring to the larger pre-Victorian era.

Monday, October 07, 2013

For when we move to the Casbah

Remember when my blog had actual content and wasn't just a catalog of what I did every weekend?  Yeah, me too.  I never lack for ideas, but lately it seems like my job takes up all my idea-making capacity.  A big part of my job is people saying to me, "Hey, can you figure out a way to make this happen?" and then me figuring out a way to make whatever it is happen.  I enjoy the creative and analytical aspects of my job, but I find myself thinking a lot about work when I'm not actually at work which leaves a lot less time for generating blog content.

I would prefer not to think about work all the time, but one's brain will wander where it wants.  I'm considering a meditation or breathing exercise at the end of the day to help banish the work thoughts.  I haven't mastered that technique yet, so all I have for you today is the following short tale, and the fact that I seem to have become allergic to my shoes. Oh, and Seamus has started a project in which he is cooking his way through the world's cuisine, and has started his own blog.  Check it out!

Last weekend our friend Jess stopped by with a "surprise" for our porch.  OK, I know he meant well, but getting new stuff out of the blue, especially large things like furniture, makes me anxious. With a fixed smile, I considered the list of objects that a friend who knows Jon much better than he knows me would think was "perfect" for our porch: a beer fridge, a cigar store Indian, a life-size Buddha, a live donkey.  It was with no inconsiderable trepidation that I waited for him to open the doors to the back of his van and reveal the surprise inside.

It was this:

Which would be perfect if we lived here.

But we live here:

But you know what?  It is growing on me. We were going to give it to Ian, who still needs furniture, but I think we will keep it.  It's like an inoculation against stuffiness.

Friday, October 04, 2013

Friday Reading Assignment: The Secret History

Do you remember the uproar in the early nineties when Donna Tartt's The Secret History was published?  The kerfuffle was related to the fact that a young unknown, writer would get such a huge advance on her first novel.  As an aspiring writer, I was fascinated.  Here was this graduate of Bennington College, only a few years older than I, with a novel published by Knopf, no less.  She was living the life I thought I ought to have.  In high school, it had been my dream to go to Bennington (my parents wouldn't even let me apply) and become a writer.  Indeed, around the time that The Secret History was published, I made a point of searching for books by young Bennington grads (Jill Eisenstadt, Brett Easton Ellis, Jonathan Lethem too, although I didn't read him until later).

The Secret History is set at a small New England college.  Richard Papen is from California and new to the college.  He doesn't feel like he belongs, but then is allowed to join an exclusive classics tutorial with just five other students, who are a society unto themselves.  Richard is invited into the group, but remains a bit of an outsider.  The others, we eventually learn, don't share all their secrets with him. There's a murder--two murders actually--and, if not suspense, a hunger to see the secrets revealed.  I apologize for the cliche, but The Secret History really is a page turner.  I've read only a handful of books that I couldn't put down and this was one of them.  It's also that relatively rare phenomenon, a best-seller with literary merit.

Donna Tartt also wrote The Little Friend--a few scenes from it continue to haunt me, though I read it years ago, and! and! I just learned that her third novel, The Goldfinch, will be published this month!  I am very excited to read it.

I admit, it feels a bit like cheating to write about a best-seller from twenty years ago, that you all have probably read.  It has been taking me forever to get through my current book, which I thought would be the "assignment" for today.  On the other hand, The Secret History is one of those books I reread now and then because it was so good.  Who has read it?  What did you think?

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

One Girl, 40 Martinis VIII

The final installment.  I have now drunk every single martini on the Bang menu.  It took just over a year. I don't know if I should be proud or ashamed.  Do I get some sort of prize now?
The Suave

The Suave:  Cucumber vodka, vermouth, mint, white grape juice.  Despite the grape juice, this one is more like a traditional martini, rather than a girly little fruit drink.  I liked it better than the martoni, an earlier version of Bang's cucumber vodka martini, which is no longer on the menu.  A good choice if you want to pretend to be sophisticated, but aren't quite ready for a traditional vodka martini.

Toasted Almond

The Toasted Almond:  I drank this on my birthday, in lieu of a cake.  Vanilla vodka, Kahlua, cream, and cinnamon, and another liquor I can't remember, but which must be the one with the almond flavor. Yummy and would probably be a good choice around the holidays.


Swingtini:  Vodka and gin with a twist and an olive.  I'm not sure if vodka and gin are meant to be mixed in the same drink.  This drink reminded me of my childhood and the smell of gin from my father's martinis.  Jon was similarly affected, saying that it reminded him of the concoctions he used to make when dabbling in his parents' liquor cabinet.

Tokyo Manhattan

Tokyo Manhattan:  A Manhattan with Saki, only I think this one has some juice in it too.  Consumed on a random Wednesday I had such a terrible day at work that I demanded that Jon take me out for a drink, and then we went to a friend's house and somehow four of us consumed two bottles of champagne, so you must excuse me for not having a clear memory of what this tasted like.  It's not among the favorites.  It didn't taste anything like a Manhattan.

Chocolate Martini

White Chocolate:  A good treat martini.  The glass comes drizzled with chocolate sauce.  Who would ever think that vodka and chocolate go well together?  I believe there's some Bailey's in there too.  The night I ordered this one, we amused ourselves watching the atrocious driving on Second and South streets.  What's with all the people who drive the wrong way down Second St?  Most people figure it out, or get yelled at by nearby cabbies until they turn around, but this woman the night of the chocolate martini determinedly drove the wrong way the whole length of the street, even in the face of cars coming at her going the right way.  Oh Charlottesville.

Wisteria Lane

Wisteria Lane:  The final martini.  Tart and fruity.  It reminded me of the pomegranate Cosmo I drank earlier in the summer, only more tart.  A good choice for someone who wants something easy to drink that isn't too sweet.