Monday, May 18, 2015

Mike Perry is Back

Life is suddenly full of drama for low-key Harley Jackson: A woman in a big red pickup has stolen his bachelor's heart, a Hummer-driving predatory developer is threatening to pave the last vestiges of his family farm, and inside his barn is a calf bearing the image of Jesus Christ.

Harley's best friend, Billy, a giant of a man who shares his trailer house with a herd of cats and tries to pass off country music lyrics as philosophy, urges him to avoid the woman, fight the developer, and get rich off the calf. But Harley takes the opposite tack, hoping to avoid what his devout, dearly departed mother would have called "a scene."


Then the secret gets out--right through the barn door, and Harley's "miracle" goes viral. Within hours pilgrims, grifters, and the media have descended on his quiet patch of Swivel, Wisconsin, looking for a glimpse (and a percentage) of the calf. Does Harley hide the famous, possibly holy calf and risk a riot, or give the people what they want-and raise enough money to keep his land-and, just possibly, win the woman and her big red pickup truck?

Harley goes all in, cutting a deal with a major Hollywood agent that transforms his little farm into an international spiritual theme park-think Lourdes, only with cheese curds and t-shirts. Soon, Harley has lots of money . . . and more trouble than he ever dreamed.

Funny, I can hear Mike's voice in my head as I read this fictional tale of the eccentric residents living in and around Boomler.  Funny how so many of them resemble the "real" characters he honors in his essay collections.  Methinks that for Mike, the line between fact and fiction is about as fluid as cow muck in a pasture after a driving rain.  Gotta love this guy and all the folks in his real and imagined lives.  

What am I reading?  Today I switch over to script reading for a little Hypothetical project a few friends have been tossing around.  We'll see....

Thanks for stopping by.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

More Vampires

Still plugging away at Vampires in the Lemon Grove.  Heart-A-Rama slowed my reading down and I haven’t been able to get back at it.  Doing the undone (cleaning, laundry, answering chatty emails) has taken some time and today, I need to find the owners of all the left behinds.  Each year, after the show closes, a couple of us return to the venue to dismantle the show.  Somehow, I always end up being the custodian of left objects.  This year I have several cooking/baking items, a tennis racket, stuffed animals, aprons and more – all of which need to find their rightful owners.  So it goes.

As far as the book goes – right now I’m thinking we will have a short discussion on Friday. This isn’t a book for a casual discussion group, like ours – not that there’s anything wrong with that, we just don’t get too far into analysis of styles, symbolism and other rhetorical concepts.  We like to focus on plot, character, and motivation, believability.....

This is just a totally different piece, odd for sure, but packed with meaning that needs studied reading to appreciate.  I am enjoying the exercise.  A book hasn’t challenged me like this a long time and it feels good to know I can still read at a deeper level.  I find myself noting pages, phrases, jotting down questions and hopping on the computer to validate what I believe are literary, social, historical and cultural references in each story. 

This entire collection of short stories is unified by the themes of flight and transformation.  Russell even uses forms of  the word “metamorphosis” in various selections, an obvious nod to Kafka.  The second story - about women morphing into silk worms in duty to the state- (told you it was odd) echoes philosophies put forth by Karl Marx in The Communist Manifesto.  In fact, Marx even used a silkworm analogy to describe the importance of people knowing their place in a society. 

The third story has Greek influences including the wheel of fortune and fate.  The Greeks believed that we are all cold cocked at some point in our lives, but if we wait long enough, the wheel of fortune will spin in a more favorable direction.  They also believed that we cannot escape fate, which is exactly what the young man in the story discovers.  Choices will be presented to us and we have the freedom to choose from a number of alternatives.   However, the choices we make will always lead us to the inevitable pre-determined outcome – be it good or bad.  There’s also the whole search for self theme that comes through, but not as strongly as the other threads.

That’s as far as I have gotten, partly because I need catch-up time and partly because these are challenging stories that need some digestion.  Hopefully, I will be able to chew on a few more pages before our group meets on Friday.

Thanks for stopping by.

Monday, May 4, 2015

I Thought We Were Done with Vampire Stories!

To begin with, I have only read the first story in Karen Russell’s latest collection.  The story puzzles me.  Like most short stories, the opening is quick, characters appear fully developed on page one, no need to watch for great development throughout the action arc.  For sure, I know that this is the type of story I would have enjoyed teaching – sharing first the exquisite language with just the right amount of ornamentation, and then moving on to discovering the meaning behind the words.

Don’t let the vampire theme in the title story fool you – this is not about emotionless, blood sucking uglies that travel by night searching for innocents to induct into their secret society.  Instead, this story is a kind of meditation on the comforts of sameness and the challenges of change.

Clyde and his wife, Magreb no longer suck blood; it is no longer effective for them so they have sought substitutions finally settling in a lemon grove in Sorrento.  There they live on the juice of fallen lemons along with others secreted for them by a young grove worker whom they suspect understands them.  Long ago, Magreb taught Clyde that book generally held beliefs about vampires is inaccurate and so the couple  lives openly in the sun, sleeping wherever they can, but never in a coffin.

However, Magreb is restless and hints that it is time to move on.  With that simple suggestion, Clyde finds his world turned upside down, something which has become difficult in his advanced age - hanging upside down that is!  The comfort of his past calls to him and he chooses to act upon what he believed to be true for many, many years.  OK...a stronger resolution would have been more satisfying, but I’ll wait to see if soft endings are a theme throughout this collection.

Short stories.  I have always enjoyed them and am looking forward to reading more of Russell’s work.

What am I reading next?  Time for another Hemingway novel, I guess - but there's an inviting ARC on my desk called The Book of Speculation.  Both will have to wait until I finish a few more short stories.

Thanks for stopping by. 
Spring arrived.  Enjoy.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Commas, Prepositions and Lots of other Wordy Goodness.

I always understood that English evolves with time.  But my college Linguistics classes and my IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) theatre class never went into the fascinating detail covered in Mary Norris’s new book. 

Her fierce, at times academic, delivery of the information was challenging (maybe even boring) at first, but in no time, I found myself drawn back to the book time and time again, eager to get another small lesson in the life of our language. 

Who knew that, in addition to birthing a nation, many of our founding father’s invested time into the development of a language for our new England?  Here’s a passage that explains that:

Benjamin Franklin, who was already in his eighties when he befriended Webster (Noah) and who advocated spelling reform, had encouraged the younger man to adopt his ideas.  Franklin proposed that we lose c, w, y and j; modify a to u to represent their different sounds; and adopt a new form of s for sh and a variation of y for ng as well as tweak the h of gh to distinguish the sounds of”thy” and “thigh”, “swarth”, and “swathe.”

Wow.  My IPA studies provided a basic understanding of diacritical marks in order to use or teach accents and dialects to those who are not lucky enough to have refined ears.  I never gave thought to the fact that somebody had to actually study sounds and break them down to tiny components and then devise a way of to symbolically distinguish one sound from another.  Surly a myriad of uses exist for this knowledge other than theatre.  Think about how valuable intonation and inflection in pronunciation must be to the CIA and the FBI. 

This book is packed with information, including a look at the detailed work that goes into each edition of the New Yorker, where Mary Norris worked at a copy editor and where she learned to examine literary works with bionic eyes.  She brings that attention to detail to every subject in this book.   Norris devotes over ten pages alone to a discussion on gender neutral words and all the acceptable variations of s/he, his/hers and sheesh

If this sounds interesting but perhaps a bit much for an intro to language, try Richard Lederer’s The Miracle of Language.  Leaderer covers much of the same material but in a more playful and digestible fashion. 

As for me, my appreciation of  our language is growing along with my understanding that, like many things in life, sometimes even the traditional, time-tested ways of doing, being or saying need to be examined challenged, and YIKES! maybe even changed.  My greatest wish is that this book will finally drill into my head how to properly use commas.

Thanks for stopping by.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Charley's Aunt or ont...or awnt...or ant

Heart-A-Rama time - that means my reading has been reduced to Entertainment Weekly and the backs of cereal boxes.  Incidentally, those cereal boxes are worth taking a look at. Skip the nutritional info and move right on to the little quizzes, games and bits of trivia.

HAR did inspire me to re-read one of my favorite plays,  Charley's Aunt.  Of course, the play I could see and/or direct over and over is Harvey.  I love how kind Elwood is to everyone, even those who appear invisible.  His "It's our dreams that make us real" mantra is one I try to live by - always dreaming and scheming about the next project on my list.  

I've always wanted to direct Charley's Aunt, but the costume and set budget alone scare me.  Then there's matter of the word aunt.  Do we pronounce it ont? awunt?  or like that annoying little picnic pest - ant?   And, could I really find a male lead willing to wear the necessary corset for the bulk of the show? Structurally, this play is in three acts and that doesn't fly with modern audiences.  It is looooogh. To make myself happy, I used the plot as the basis for this year's HAR musical "Chuck Needs Money; Chuck Wants Romance; Chuck Gets Brand New Underpants".

The original plot revolves around Jack and Charley, private school  boys in love with Kitty and Amy and hoping for a bit of a weekend tryst.   However, when the expected chaperon for the boys' dates is delayed, they persuade a fellow student, Lord Fancourt Babberley, to don a stuffy aunt persona and fill that role.  All sorts of chaos ensues when Jack's father falls for the ersatz companion.  The chaperon, by the way, is from Brazil, "where the nuts come from" - my favorite line in the play.

This is a photo from the very funny movie version starring Jack Benny as Charley's Aunt.

Our HAR version does not stray far from the original and our twisted couple have been having all sorts of fun flirting and flouncing.  Of course we updated and our four students are a microcosm of today's kids - an  involved, annoying  activist, a disinterested punk, the popular girl, and the overly enthusiastic kid who tires but always misses the mark.  There's giggling, sarcasm and the most pitiful rendition of "Ain't No Sunshine" sung by our heartbroken lover.

A lot of people find reading plays awkward.  They miss the narrative elements providing details about setting and direct statements about characters moods' and motivations.  Plays give readers the opportunity to imagine those details as long as they are consistent with whatever hints the playwright provides for us.  I can read a play quickly, generally in one sitting.  That's a good thing at HAR time.  Now - gotta go - still deciding if I'm should torture my male lead with a corset.

Thanks for stopping by.

Steve - better get your cable reinstalled.  Tonight we're going to find out where Castle was when he went missing!

Monday, April 13, 2015


OK...I know this the second week in row without a post. My apologies.

 Here's the scoop, I'm on some crazy meds and nothing I write makes any sense.  I started a post on Tom Maltman's visit to the Manitowoc Public Library tomorrow night and got it so hosed up there was nothing I could do to correct it.  Numerous attempts at cutting and pasting resulted in a post so miserably out of order that I have decided to stop trying.

My freind, Pat, always says "At least write one paragraph about something" - and so that is what I have done.  My Maltman post included lots of good stuff about being a Philosophy minor, Aristotle's Poetics, and what makes a book "good".  Maybe I'll be clearer for you all next week.

Monday, March 23, 2015

GB and the Buddha

Today is National Puppy Day, and can you believe it - You-Know-Who didn't want me near the computer.  I had to pull out my best trick - ignoring her.  I just turned my back, refused to respond when she called me, didn't chase after my stuffed Lamb Chop which is just like the one Sharie Lewis had only smaller; I turned my nose up at multiple treats.  Finally she gave in, and here I am, clicking keys on National Puppy Day.  I know I'm not a puppy any longer, but my heart is still young, and the years have taught me a thing or two.  I observe.  I take it all in and on Sunday I was very interested in what YKW was reading since it involved me.
YKW was reading a book called Siddhartha by Herman Hesse.  It is something about the Gautama Buddha.  Now, I'm  an admirable, disciplined animal.  I keep to a schedule and every night before the big hand gets to eight, I like getting a long, vigorous scratch.  She picks me up and every night says "Time to rub the Buddha belly."   My vet says I am "well insulated."  This book is obviously about me and I paged through it when she put it down.  
This story takes place in Nepal.  My peeps come from Tibet so there's another connection.  A young boy named Sid (Siddhartha takes too long to type with my short fingers) leaves home and goes on a spiritual journey.  I take those once in a while.  When spring arrives, I like to march around our house every morning to smell what's new.  Sid does a couple things different from me, however.  He fasts - something that seems just plain silly - he meditates (not sure what that is but it might have something to do with watching birds) and he gives away all his stuff.  Me, give me a couple good bowls for food and water, a bed in the living room, a pillow by the deck door, a blanket next to the couch, a front door with a window for watching air and stuff, plenty of fuzzy stuffed things and I'm good to go.  
Sid meets and has a few chats with this Buddha guy but doesn't like everything he has to say so he decides to go about his journey alone to find out what is important in his personal world.  Sid has lots of adventures and some misadventures; he becomes rich.  Near the end of his life, he figures out that those things have not fulfilled him.  I guess  that  Buddha fellow was right after all.

Siddhartha is all well and good, I suppose as far as minor philosophies go.  But if you want some solid, practical life lessons, look no further than this little gem.  No author listed.  Perhaps the writer is just too modest.  Perhaps the writer wants readers to believe that these wisdoms come from the heart of an Everydog sort - like me.   (Paws can't get the computer to stop centering.  GRRR.).
You'll find lots of dogie thoughts here, things that can be used today, tomorrow and well into next week.  Each page has a picture of one of my peeps; and even better, each page is a postcard.  You can take it out and mail it to one of your human friends who might need a little help getting his or her tail wag on.

So, that's it for this edition of The Dog Blog.  Remember, today is National Puppy Day.  Write your congressman today so we can make this a year long holiday.  Puppies of the world UNITE.

Monday, March 16, 2015

My New Character Crush

Lucky for us everyone in our group is sensible, polite, and best of all, brave.  Our discussion of The Life List required all three characteristics.   We were evenly divided - love/hate - no in-between on this one.  You already know where I stand, so I won't go into that again.  The best part of this night was that those who loved the book stood their ground.  Us haters hated vigorously, but when we wrapped things up and moved on to our Academy Awards night fashion commentary, all was forgotten.  Our next selection is a collection of short stories called Vampires in the Lemon Grove.  I prefer short stories to most other type of reading, and look forward to this oddly named book.  Hopefully the discussion will be as jolly as last week's.

One of my frequent drop-in-for-a-random-book-discussion customers has been raving about Clive Cussler for years and this weekend, I gave him a try.  Somehow, I got it into my thick head that all Cussler's books take place on submarines during WWII which is not to my liking.  But I do like books set in Africa so I grabbed a copy of Sahara.  Good choice.

My new book crush, Dirk Pitt, is scrounging around in the Nile hoping to find the remains of a funeral barge.  While in Africa, he runs into Dr. Roja who is trying to discover the source of a plague that is threatening to knock out entire villages.  She is also in danger of being murdered by a group of extremists from Alexandria.  It's all too exciting - filled with death, madness, cannibalism, chase scenes, and yes, romance.  All very Indiana Jones-ish.

Of course, the bigger than life characters need a bigger than life conflict, and Cussler provided that alright.  Unless the source of the contamination is found and stopped, the entire world is in the path of this environmental  terrorism.

This is good stuff.  The fast paced action scenes kept me reading at lightening speed, and I always  knew that Pitt would be able to take on whatever confronted him - no matter how many swords, knives, or machine guns he had to battle single handedly all at the same time.  Escape reading at its best.    What a guy.  Yup, I have converted and am on my way to the presidnecy of the Clive Cussler fan club.  Wanna join?

What am I reading now?  This morning NPR had a discussion on fairy tales, so that's where I'm headed next - or at least within the next couple weeks.  Then it's back to Hemingway.

Thanks for stopping by.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Two Books and a Boy

My little friend Joey stopped by on Saturday.  He had a great time trying out all the kid-size chairs, spinning anything that would spin, rearranging the rubber ducks, and, most importantly, getting acquainted with books. Joey's mom, Em, sent this picture shortly after they got home.
Because you're a reader, you already know the many benefits of being swept away by that special book.  Here's a bit of an article from  

A study recently published in the journal Research in Social Stratification and Mobility found that just having books around the house (the more, the better) is correlated with how many years of schooling a child will complete. The study (authored by M.D.R. Evans, Jonathan Kelley, Joanna Sikorac and Donald J. Treimand) looked at samples from 27 nations, and according to its abstract, found that growing up in a household with 500 or more books is “as great an advantage as having university-educated rather than unschooled parents, and twice the advantage of having a professional rather than an unskilled father.” Children with as few as 25 books in the family household completed on average two more years of schooling than children raised in homes without any books.

 Not every book suits every reader, and this book discussion selection did not suit me at all.  While I know that others in our group liked it, I found  it lacking substance, repetitive, predictable and unrefined.  That's all

Today I started The People of the Book, a novel a customer has been challenging me to read for at least two years.  I regret having waited so long.  It reminds me a little of Susan Vreeland's The Girl in Hyacinth Blue, the story of a painting's history.  In this novel, Pulitzer Prize winner Geraldine Brooks follows the life of a mysterious illuminated Hebrew manuscript that was rescued during the shelling of Sarajevo's library.  A rare book expert is hired to gently bring the volume back to life, and in doing so she discovers the journey the book has taken from 15th century Spain to the present.  Packed with history, ritual, museum techniques, and politics.  Now that's substance.