Monday, October 5, 2015

Books to Film

A customer convinced me to read this book several months ago, before all the buzz about it started. Sci-fi...not my thing, but I picked it up took a trip I never dreamed of. I went to Mars with brave, engaging, inventive, irascible Mark Watney.  Last weekend I saw the movie adaptation and despite the almost three hour showing including way too many pre-show commercials and trailers, this movie more that surpassed my expectations.  $34 for two tickets to the 3D screening, two small drinks and a medium popcorn.  $34!  And that was at the old fart afternoon showing.  Good Grief.

The 3D was worth it at points, especially on the panoramic views of the Mars landscape.  If you're on a tight budget, the standard version will be just fine. Of course the movie differed from the book, but not enough to change the course of events.  My prediction....this film will win Emmys for cinematography, screen adaptation,  and directing.  Ben Affleck will be nominated as best actor, but he may have a uphill battle against Johnny Depp in "Black Mass".  Chiwetel Ejifor could get a supporting actor nomination.  I didn't always understand the science of he situation, but even more than that, I didn't understand Kristin Wiig's character or Kristin Wiig's presence in this film.  Her ineptitude distracted. Couldn't stand her flat, bullying characters on SNL... sophomoric in bridesmaids... and clearly out of place in this movie.

If you're in the mood for a bit of silly - try "Paddington".  The only similarities the movie shares with the book is the the bear's name, and the fact that he is naked.  Doesn't matter.  The slapstick business in this movie stands up to the best scenes in any screwball comedy I have ever seen.  Don't bypass this one thinking it's just for kids.  "Paddington" will entertain just about anyone.  And...don't forget to read the books about this charming British bear.

This is my traditional week to worry about travelling to my trade show.  If you know me, you know that getting me to go just about anywhere is challenge, let along going to another state.  This year the show is in Chicago instead of the usual Minneapolis.  The stress and anxiety are the same no matter where I have to point my car.  So, if I actually go to the show this weekend, I'll let you know what there is to know.

Thanks for stopping by.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Red Moon Revenge and Walt Again

Last week's pre-blood red moon madness culminated with a visit from a customer who shared some defiant words with me.  Having time to chat and get to know customers and their tastes is one of the perks of being a small indie in a neighborhood rather than existing in Manty's bustling 8th street mecca!.  Eventually, she boldly pointed out two books amid the many offerings we have on display.   First, she called my attention to a shirtless mermaid on a book cover, "That's inappropriate".   She followed that by vigorously tapping the cover of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, a long respected Penguin edition of the book with a naked Frank, seen from the side, curled in a fetal position - "And that is inappropriate."

  Up to that point, my conversation with Sister Mary Inappropriate had been civil without a trace of judgement or hint of unpleasantness.  But when the Puritancal criticism surfaced, it took my by surprise.  Did I mention that SMI is all of nine years old!  No more fancy moons for a while, please.

Oh, one more little tidbit.  It didn't take long for one our our younger customers to discover the piano.  Two or three time a week she gives me call to say she is working on a new vocal - usually something by Whitney Houston -and would like to practice it as I play.  So far she hasn't noticed that my playing is not so good, but when she does, I'll let you know how that goes.

Now.  Longmire.  For years former Manitowoc resident/friend/novelist/guest blogger, Steve, pushed me to give Craig Johnson books a try.  I resisted.  Westerns?  Not for me.  Steve wrote blog posts.  He sent info from Johnson's website.  He copied and pasted words from email blasts sent by Johnson (or his publicist) making it seem as if the Longmire author was writing directly to me.  None of that worked.  But when I discovered the A&E series based on the books, things changed.  The characters pulled me at first, and the plots were good.  As I developed into a dedicated watcher, it seemed clear that an hour TV show could not do justice to this complex character and so I tried book one in the Longmire series.  To be honest, it was OK.  I passed it on to another Longmire TV fan in my book group.  She and I have similar taste and when she gave it a thumbs I figured I must have rushed through it.

So now, since the Longmire series is only available on Netflix streaming, I find myself working my way through yet another Craig Johnson book.  Thumbs up this time.   With books I generally drawn to style first, characters second and plot third.  If the style doesn't wok for me, I rush, I skim, I walk away.  In this case, all three component work for me. Walt Longmire, Henry Standing Bear and Vic form the triumvirate that keeps the plot moving and  the long, eloquent narrative passages mesmerize.  These aren't shoot 'em up westerns or cowboys vs Indians.  These stories are anchored by conflicts more mental and spiritual that physical. Magically,  Johnson allows me to feel the long silences that characterize Walt's skill of saying the most he can in the least number of words along with Henry Standing Bear's the wisdom born of pain.  Vic - she's the Everyperson  - she is us.  

A Craig Johnson book once a year sounds reasonable - and manageable unlike my plan to read a Dickens novel and a Shakespeare play each year.  And then there was the years of Hemingway that wasn't.

If you plan to pick up a Craig Johnson book let me make this suggestion.  Wait for a snow storm.  A day when you can't escape.  Open a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle's bourbon and take advantage of the long, quiet hours with Walt and the diverse citizens of Asaroka, Wyoming.

Up next...If Walls Could Talk ...the history of a home

Monday, September 21, 2015

Hemingway, Elvis and a Couple Fights

Yup!  Another Hemingway checked off.  Of course, I will not accomplish my goal of reading all his work this year.  This stuff is exhausting.  "Snows" may be a short story, but Hemingway packed it full of artistry. Much of this semi-autobiographical work is told through stream of consciousness sequences in which the main character ruminates - with great bitterness - about the missed opportunities in his life.  Harry is dying of gangrene due to an untreated scratch he received while on safari.  The fever and the fear death feed his need to philosophize.  Regret regret regret - loves unfulfilled, women used and tossed. books unwritten, talent not used...and the biggest regret of all - nothing stood in his way except himself.

Harry is the typical cold, unhappy, callous Hemingway man.  Interestingly, most of the women in "Snow" display whispers of strength, but seldom do they assert themselves enough to press either themselves or Harry into action that could take them away from the seedier sides of life.

Symbolism? Oh yes.  More than I recall in other Papa H writing.  The frozen leopard atop the mountain, vultures, hyenas and the mountain itself.  For me, a symbol has to be purposeful and in this case, they are. Sure, I can see where debate is possible, and in some cases the symbols have multiple layers, but theses are not so cryptic as to render them little more than pompous displays of "Look what I can do."  

Time to pick up a happier book.

On the LaDeDa front...things were hopping around here on Friday beginning with a customer altercation. Oh my goodness.  Such exciement.   A brother and sister stopped in after school for Italian sodas.  The little brother announced that his sister has a new boyfriend.  She screamed!  She shouted.  He laughed.  He didn't take the hint when she told him to stop or else.  When he continued to shout out the boy's name "or else" happened.  The sister got him in the best 4th grade girl  head lock I have ever seen.  You go girl.  When little brother refused to stop calling out the boy friend's name, she suddenly unlocked the death grip. She snapped to attention and I saw tears well up. Then she ran and locked herself in our bathroom and cried.  Between sobs she managed to inform me that she was never coming out.  I went to the car and told mom. Soon the door was unlocked and off the siblings went.  I can only imagine what that ride home was like.

Then, of all things, an Elvis impersonator walked into the store.  It seems he has written a couple books. In one, he recounts his 50 years of entertaining as a faux Elvis and another is a murder involving Abraham Lincoln.  The third book has three titles : Elvirus! Elvi-Geddon, Dawn of the Elvi Invasion.  Rather than me trying to explain, here's what the back of the book has to say....

Elvis is everywhere.  Elvis impersonators are taking over every facet of our society.  T.V.  Movies.  Social Media.  Education and even Politics.  A group of 100 Elvi in 1977 has grown to over 100,00 with no end in sight.

There's more, but that gives you an idea.

Later that night, our book group met to discuss Peyton Place.  Fireworks!  I can't remember the last time we had such emotional disagreements.  For the record, most of the group enjoyed the book, including me and yet the points of contention got...well... contentious.  This isn't the first time I have left a discussion thinking that I don't belong in a book group.  My taste is often different for others, and as a result I walk away wondering if my logic and my view of the world is warped.  Maybe we have grown so close that we have left any pretence of politeness behind and can  disagree more like sisters than the group of strangers were were 8+ years ago.  Still, that's a tough concept for an only-lonely like myself.  Anyway....

Thanks for stopping by.
What am I reading now?  Not sure.  I just received an Advance Reader Spy of a little mystery set in Lily Dale, that quirky new age community  in New York that I wrote about a few months back.  Realistically though, I think it's time for me to read I am Malala.  We'll see.....

Monday, September 14, 2015

Spirit of the Rivers

Last week my friend Karen and I peeped into the windows of Skip Wallen's studio where he and his brother are working diligently on an impressive piece of public art. We sure were surprised when Skip unlocked the door and allowed to to nose around.  

Although I am not fond of the overused word "awesome" that seems to be the most appropriate description of what we saw that day.  Awe.  The photo at the left is a prototype of what will eventually be a 16 foot sculpture paying homage to the Lakeshore's early history.  I spent a long time simply looking into the emotional faces that had emerged from once stoic and unformed blocks of clay.  Skip has coaxed life from something lifeless.  The monument is scheduled to be completed in 2016.    Here's a bit of information from the Spirit of the Rivers web page -

Spirit of the Rivers is a monumental bronze sculpture group to be situated on the Lake Michigan shore between Manitowoc and Two Rivers, Wisconsin.  Celebrating the culture and history of the earliest inhabitants, the monument reminds us that people lived on this shore for countless generations before the first axe struck timber to develop our present cities.  The birch bark canoe, held aloft upon the shoulders of the portageur, stands as a tribute to the first vessels to ply these waters and foreshadows our rich maritime history.
The beauty and grandeur of Spirit of the Rivers will bring pride to area residents and attract visitors to our lakefront for generations to come. It will be a newsworthy undertaking as a collaborative public art project between the cities of Manitowoc and Two Rivers and serve as an educational resource for the communities.
For more information and additonal pictures of the work in progress go to

In celebration of the project, the Spirit of the Rivers Educational Committee is hosting author Helen Frost who will speak about the connection between the diamond willow and the monument.
October 23
Spirit of the Rivers Studio
822 Franklin Street
We have books in stock and will be at the event 
selling books with Helen.

What am I reading?  "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" -a Hemingway short story that seems so familiar that I think I read it in the recent past...or is is simply that all Hemingway mean and women share similar characteristics?

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Peyton Place...again

This interestingly ironic note turned up in my inbox today from our friend, writer, and guest blogger, Steve.

today is a significant one for peyton place fans and readers - garrison reported this morning it is the birthday of Grace Metalious - here's the write-up

It's the birthday of novelist Grace Metalious (books by this author), born in Manchester, New Hampshire (1924). She wrote the scandalous novel Peyton Place (1956) about a small New England town that is filled with sex, rape, murder, and suicide.

Metalious was a stay-at-home mother of three children, and she wrote the novel to help her husband pay the bills. She got the idea for the book in the middle of the night and wrote it in 10 weeks. It was the first work of fiction she ever published. She based part of the book on a town secret about a woman who murdered her father, and when the book became a best-seller, the locals in her town were horrified. It was banned in libraries across the country, and the public library in her hometown didn't have a copy until the 1990s.

After her death, the book was made into a TV series that became the first ever long-running primetime soap opera, and all primetime serials since then have been based on its example.

now isn't that interesting?

No kidding that's interesting, especially if you read last week's mini-post saying that my book group is reading PPlace as our September book.  Let me start by saying this wasn't the best book I have ever read, but it wasn't the worst either.  Not having read other pop fiction from this era, I have no benchmark. The late 60's saw the rise of many existential writers, mostly playwrights like Pinter and (my fave) Beckett.   But pop fiction - maybe Please Don't Eat the Daisies or a few titles by Victoria Holt or whichever of her multiple pseudonyms she was using a the time.

On Sunday afternoon I canned tomatoes, pickles and peppers for the fist and last time in my life.  While veggies bubbled and boiled on the stove, things bubbled and boiled in Peyton Place as well.  If you decide to read this book, don't let the 400+ pages scare you.  Dialogue helps move the plot along nicely, and face it, we aren't talking Faulkner here.  I would describe Metalious'  style as simple and old-fashioned.  At times her character descriptions are painfully overworked, and Metalious uses far too many similes and hyperboles for my taste.  Give me a solid metaphor metaphor any day but those hover on the cusp on symbolism and may not have been her forte.  At first I was annoyed by the the meandering prose of the opening sequence, but then it dawned on me - she's painting a Norman Rockwell portrait of Peyton Place.  Then just at the right moment, Metalious shifts her attention to two locals sitting on bench observing and passing judgement - passing judgment mostly on women.

From there the book shifts into high gear, the clown car of social issues revving, exploding and more often than not backfiring into the lives of those living up and down Elm Street.  There's incest, rapr abortion, murder, dishonestly, political corruption, womanizing, alcoholism suicide. lust, pre-marital sex, and more.  Of course, with each of these come big questions, ethical questions to be considered and, in some cases, re-considered.

I understand why this book was shocking in 1957 and I must say that Metalious was near genius when it comes to planting those explosive scenes.  Her sense of when and where to startle us with language or gasp-worthy dalliances is impeccable.   "Have things changed?" I asked myself more than once.  You know, if we all look at a simple 5 or 10 square mile section of our own towns, I bet we'd find many of the same situations that caused such a stir in Peyton Place.  My hope is that we have matured to a point where we look at those situations - which frankly are none of our business - with kinder eyes.

Thanks for stopping by.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Things that go Poof in the Night

Well...I just spent a goodly amount of time justifying Peyton Place as my choice for our next booksdiscussion.  I was pretty pleased with what I had written for once.  Then I hit a wrong key and POOF!  I deleted the entire post.  I'm too mad at myself to attempt to  re-create it so please be patient and wait until next week.   

 By then I should be finished reading it and will be able to give a more reliable account anyway.  but remember, Monday is Labor Day so the post probably won't go up until Tuesday.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Time to Hit the Books

A while back, while I was still writing a book column for the Herald Times, I featured books about teachers. Since this is the big back to school week for my teacher friends, I decided to share a modified version of that essay with you.  Here goes....

For years I measured my life partially based on the successes, failures, frustrations and happy moments of my teaching career.  My life is still marked by an internal educational calendar.  I cannot shake it.  Although I no longer have to shift gears every 47 minutes, I still experience the myriad of emotions associated with opening weeks of the new "season".  And so, as the beginning of the school year approaches, it feels right to celebrate those who continue to honor the profession with their service.

Writers have acknowledged all types of teachers - the good, the bad, the silly and the non-traditional.  Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird exuded integrity,  He is noble, honest and strong. The unpredictable consequences of his decisions haunt Atticus yet he is wise enough and brave enough to make them.

The impetuous Annie Sullivan struggles to teach blind and deaf Helen Keller in William Gibson's, play, The Miracle Workerhe . We all know the story. Yes, Annie does teach Helen, but Helen also teaches Annie.  Helen teaches Annie to see the world through new eyes and to listen to life's murmurings with patience and persistence.

Several books about teachers and teaching endure despite being set in eras when lecture was the primary teaching technique and young scholars toted tomes outlining the intricacies of Latinate grammar.  Up the Down Staircase, Bel Kaufman's account of a nervous but passionate teacher's first year, along with To sir with Love and The Blackboard Jungle depict what can be accomplished with commitment and idealism trump defiance and doubt. Good Morning Miss Dove and Goodby Mr.Chips tell the stories of charming and resolute individuals whose classroom expectations earned them a place among literature's most beloved characters.

Filling the top spots on my teacher/teaching book list are The Art of Happiness by the Dalia Lama and Dr. Seuss" Hooray for Diffendoofer Day.  This little known Seuss piece applauds creative teachers who irresistible exuberance entertains and inspires.

Every day educators inspire and motivate.  They celebrate success with their students, brush off the dust of failure and try again.  They remember students when they see graduation pictures, engagement announcements, or the unformed portraits of those who serve our country.  Classes move on but teachers keep them close, fitting them into hearts and minds grown full from years of chalk dust, red pens and planning.  Teachers teach forever - every hour of every day - and when the final bell rings on the last day of the year, why not stand, raise a glass of wine and toast someone who has taught you....a parent, a friend, a neighbor, a brother, sister, babysitter, theatre director, novelist...anyone you can call your teacher.

In June, my glass will be raised to Karyl Enstad Rommelfanger, my Germane teacher to whom I would say "Ich kann mein gummischuhen nicht finden". Not so sure about the spelling by I am quite confident that means "Yikes!  I can't find my boots." Although I have retained little of my not so fluent German, I thank Karyl for being demanding, fair and realistic and most likely the reason I became a teacher myself.

My second glass will be for Paul Ingvolstad, my high school theatre director who teasingly shouted at me during rehearsals - "Hey Bev, don't sing so loudly, someone might hear you."  He tied each aggressive and fascinating lesson with a huge bow.  A gift to each of us every day.  I suspect Paul is lurking in the creative halls of Seuss' Diffendoofer School

Lastly, there was the feared and revered lit diva, Sister Salome from my college days. While other professors said I misinterpreted assignments, Salome said I reinterpreted them.  When some declared beyond question that my undestanding of key literary passages was 100% wrong, Salome siad that I found the irony in the works.  She taught me that the word "obtuse" has meaning outside the scary pages of a math text.

Together, teachers and students comprise America's most significant work force.  No one spoke with greater eloquence of the tremendous opportunity, responsibility and honor it is to teach than Christa McAuliffe, and American citizen and educator who died in the1986 challenger disaster.  "I touch the future.  I teach."

Thanks for stopping by.  Now go and learn something new today!

Monday, August 17, 2015

Another Pulitzer for Stacy Schiff?

Blogger is playing games again...this time with some weird highlighting.  Sorry.  I will try to coax a change, but....there are simply days when Blogger and I do not get along.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Cleopatra, the #1 national bestseller, unpacks the mystery of the Salem Witch Trials.

It began in 1692, over an exceptionally raw Massachusetts winter, when a minister's daughter began to scream and convulse. It ended less than a year later, but not before 19 men and women had been hanged and an elderly man crushed to death. 

The panic spread quickly, involving the most educated men and prominent politicians in the colony. Neighbors accused neighbors, parents and children each other. Aside from suffrage, the Salem Witch Trials represent the only moment when women played the central role in American history. In curious ways, the trials would shape the future republic.

Every year as I prepared to again teach The Crucible to groups of high school students eager to read what they though would be a Halloween type story, I  did background research to deepen our classroom discussions. While Arthur Miller's play is actually a thinly veiled commentary on the McCarthy hearings, I tried to balance info on that event with the stuff that kept the kids coming back for more.  We covered a lot of history during that unit, but not nearly as much or with the intensity of Stacy Schiff's new book.  At first I figured I would spend at leasettwo blog posts on this book, but even that would not be sufficient.  You just have to read this one for yourself.

Schiff's exhaustive research and skilled retelling of the events in Salem over a period of sasingle year are alarming and puzzling at the very least.  She doesn't limit her work to the colonies, however, instead weaving in historical references to similar occurrences throughout Europe.  At times, the absurdity of it all gives the Puritans  the appearance of being, as Schiff implies, on low levels of some mind altering substances.  But, she puts the events into perspective by rigorously describing the conditions in which they lived and the belief system under which they functioned.

As I read I bend corners for you - only in proof copies! - pages that have something I want to share.  Far too many this time.  Let me give you one example.  I figured that if these people accepted certain medical practices as logical and beneficial then yes, I see that they could also explain the unexplainable via a belief  witchcraft.

A basic medical kit...consisted of beetle's blood, fox lung and dried dolphin heart.  ....snails figured in many remedies. ...The fat of a roasted hedgehog dripped into the ear constituted an excellent cure for deafness...for epilepsy of wolf skin girdle worked wonders as did ashes of black cow dung or frog liver powder administered five time daily.  A Salem physician treated hysteric with a brew of breast milk and the blood from an amputated tomcat's ear.

 Yes, a belief in witches in certainly plausible.  

I don't want to give the impression that this book is simply filled with stories, facts and suppositions about oddball beliefs, or midnight visitations by neighborhood women who took to flying into bedchambers upon magical stick.  Frighteningly, portions of this book make tons of sense given our current climate of religious provocation, paranoia, and transparency of our public and private lives.  

This book hits the stands on October 27 - not sure if I like the blatant connection to Halloween.  If you read an marveled at Schiff's Cleopatra - well - you will want to read this book as well.

The piano rolled over safely thanks to the strong arm strength of some HAR peeps, as well as my home and store neighbors.  It sure is a nice sounding instrument.   Thanks to my store neighbor, Shelly, for the more than generous gift.

Monday, August 10, 2015

A Short Musical Note

No post today...
I have to
 get the store ready 
for the piano delivery!  
That's right,
...I said 

Monday, August 3, 2015

On the Road with Albert

Oh how I wish that everyone who loves books and reading could have me life!  Really, days are filled with interesting, chatty customers, happy people who tell me about all the books I "must" read.  I add those titles to my list and actually read some of them.  Sometimes it takes years, but I try.  Then there are the ARCs - the Advance Reader Copies that come in the mail - sometimes in a package of a singe book, but more often in a box with many inviting titles.  They pile up nicely.  Waiting.  I try to match them up with the perfect reader. Post it notes come in handy when ear-marking an ARC for a particular customer who I know might like the book.   I ask you, how can life be bad when you get a treasure like the one above?  

Here's the info from the back of the ARC since I haven't read the book yet and wouldn't be good at pretending I have.....

Elsie Lavender and Homer Hickman (father of the author) were classmates in the West Virginia cornfields,** (see note at bottom) graduating just as the Great Depression began. When Homer asked for her hand, Elsie instead headed to Orlando where she sparked with a dancing actor named Buddy Ebsen, (yes, that Buddy Ebsen).  But when Buddy headed to New York, Elsie's dreams of a life with him were crushed and eventually she found herself back in the cornfields, married to Homer.

Unfulfilled as a miner's wife, Elsie was reminded of her carefree days with Buddy every day because of his unusual wedding gift: an alligator named Albert she raised in only the bathroom of their house.  When Albert scared Homer by grabbing his pants, he gave Elsie an ultimatum: "Me or that alligator!" After giving it some thought, Elsie concluded there was only one thing to do" Carry Albert Home.

What fun. The newlyweds traveled 1000 miles to return the alligator.  What's curious to me is that the sell sheet says everyone knows this story.  It's new to me and probably new to many of you as well. The first page photos of the main characters include Homer, the younger and the elder, Elsie, and Albert.  There is also a rooster with this parenthetical disclaimer (Whose presence on the journey is not entirely understood).

So now I am faced with a dilemma.  Do I read this book which promises a "sweet and tragic tale" or do I stick to the plan and read Compulsion?  Years ago I read this true crime novel based on the infamous Leopld and Loeb murder case that changed the course of American justice, and I have seen the movie several times. As a Philosophy minor, I was attracted to the story of two socially awkward college boys obsessed with Nietzsche's concept of the super human. That Philosophy minor, by the way, did little other than provide me the auspicious privilege of wearing a toga and declaring "I think".  But dang it, the book was re-released a while back and finally worked its way to the top of the pile.  So which will it be...alligator tripping or a tragic attempt to commit the perfect crime? 

**Oh and YES, the editor who wrote the blurb for the back of the book actually said they went to school in a cornfield!