Vanity Fair, to my great surprise

A long time ago I used to belong to the Quality Paperback Book Club. I would not even open the envelope when it came, so that when I got the book of the month in the mail it would be a surprise. As a result, I still have a bunch of nice paperbacks I've never read, ha ha.

One month the book was, oddly enough, Vanity Fair. I tried to read it. I really did. I got a quarter of the way through it. (I know because I found the page with the folded corner.) But you know what? It was so grossly sexist that I just couldn't stomach it. Usually, I am able to cut writers some slack if they were writing in a time and/or place with different cultural norms. But this was over the top and I just couldn't take it. For example, and this is the narrator, not a character, talking:
A woman with fair opportunities, and without an absolute hump, may marry whom she likes. Only let us be thankful that the darlings are like the beasts of the field, and don't know their own power. They would overcome us entirely if they did.
A couple of nights ago, my husband came back from the video store with the new movie. Yuk, I thought, not only because of the above but because in general I'm not a big fan of costume dramas. But what the heck, I was too fried to do anything more complicated than vegging out in front of a video. So. We watched almost half of it, and you know what? I got really into it. So much so that I went and found my QPBC copy of the book and started reading it again (starting from the beginning, of course). I was delighted to find lines from the movie, verbatim. And now I don't want to finish the movie until I've finished the book.

How do you feel about books that are sexist or racist or otherwise not-politically-correct, but whose author probably wouldn't have known any better?

One fried mommy

Over easy? Sunny side up?

This has been a week from you-know-where. One sick kid (or parent) after another. All week long. I was able to survive, barely, only because this week happened to be mid-winter break, and therefore my hubby the teacher was home, too. We’re not out of the woods yet. Daniel, Steve and I still have lingering symptoms, and Lena came down with a fever yesterday. So she probably won’t get to go back to school tomorrow. Oh, please don’t let it be chicken pox!

It’s weird how when you’re in the midst of this morass, even if you’ve been a mommy for nine years and ought to know better, you forget that life isn’t always like this. You forget that your toddler actually does know how to keep himself entertained. You forget that your six-year-old actually does know how to speak without whining. You forget that your nine-year-old actually does have interests besides watching videos all day.

Last night I went to bed super-early (around 9:30). I woke up at what felt like four in the morning, and it was only midnight! I was so happy I almost laughed out loud. I felt like I’d slept half the night, and I still had most of the night to go. I’m full of energy this morning. Time to go check out my daily rounds, and then the Bookworm is gonna come back and write about an actual book!

Charlotte Plummer Owen, 1918–2004

Mrs. Owen

I spent most of the afternoon at this woman’s memorial service. Mrs. Owen was my clarinet teacher. She taught me everything, starting with how to put the instrument together. “It’s been a long time since I’ve started from scratch,” I remember her saying at my very first lesson. She was a great teacher. Her students all got ones at Solo & Ensemble, and I was not the only one to win scholarships to music camp.

I wish I had known then what a remarkable woman she was. I knew vaguely that she had been in the U.S. Marine Band. In fact, I learned today, she was the conductor of the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve Band during World War II. There is no such band anymore; it existed only during that war. The band was formed so that the (male) members of the regular U.S. Marine Band could go off to fight. The Women’s Reserve Band played all over the country. They played for President Roosevelt and Admiral Chester Nimitz. Mrs. Owen was also the first woman to guest-conduct the all-male Marine Band. And here’s how she met her husband, to quote from the program at the service: “In 1945, Charlotte married Charles Owen, one of the three Principal Musicians of the US Marine Corps Band who had been sent to Camp Lejeune to help the women’s band get started.” A matter-of-fact sentence, but can’t you just imagine the romance? And here’s another thing: she turned down an officer’s commission because she wanted to continue living in the barracks with her sisters in the band. Someone ought to write a screenplay.

However, what I really wanted to write about, though my feeble words will never do it justice, is the actual memorial service. I doubt in my life I’ll ever experience anything like this again. It was long, over 2 hours, and part of the reason was because the last half of the service was, to quote again from the program, a “Marine Corps Ritual.” There were a bunch of Marines, some of whom had driven over an hour to get there. They were mostly older guys. I saw at least one WWII veteran’s license plate in the parking lot. And they were in uniform: red coats, bars and medals, bright blue pants with a red stripe, the little hats. After the Marine Chaplain read the 23rd psalm and spoke a bit, it was time for the Marines to (again quoting) “Pay Last Respects.”

What did this mean? Instead of a center aisle, the church was set up with two aisles down the sides. The Marines were lined up on each side. Two by two, they marched to the center where there was a table set up with flowers and photos of Mrs. Owen where a coffin would normally be. In perfect unison, they did the heel-click turn to face the photos and then in slow motion, saluted. Can I possibly convey to you the effect of these slow-motion salutes? It was like in those parades where there’s a horse with backwards-facing boots in the stirrups. Or when the fighter planes fly over in formation and one peels away. They were truly “paying last respects.”

Then two Marines unfolded the flag that was lying on the table with the photos. They held it up during the 21-gun salute. I said, the 21-gun salute. Just outside the church—and did I mention the weather? middle of a Michigan snowstorm—there were seven guys who shot three times. We couldn’t see them, but we could hear the commands: ready, aim, fire! I believe this was the first time in my life I’ve ever heard actual gunshots in real life. Then a bugler played Taps.

Next thing on the program: “Present Colors to Daughter.” They folded the flag back up into the triangle, just like in the movies, and presented it to her the way they do, holding it horizontally between the palms of their hands. They presented it to her on behalf of the President of the United States, the Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps, and the Washtenaw County Chapter of something-or-other. Then they saluted her, the daughter.

Finally, a bagpiper came through playing “Amazing Grace” and the “Marine Corps Hymn.” This afforded me a little comic relief, as I couldn’t help remembering a joke my son told me the other day. “Q: Why do bagpipers always walk while they play?” “A: To get away from the awful noise.” But this bagpiper was terrific. I think he was also a Marine.

This military stuff is not something I’m used to. There are no vets in my family of origin. We’re a bunch of liberal pacifist types (though we tend to be hawkish on the subject of Israel). As I mentioned before, I’d never even heard a real live gunshot before. But especially considering that I hadn’t seen this woman, or even though of her very often, since I was a teenager, I don’t think I’ve ever been to a more moving and beautiful memorial service.

Another recipe, a paean to P. O’B., and more on the ideal reader

I had my favorite thing for lunch today. Here it is: cut a pita bread in half across its diameter, then separate the sides so you have four half-moons. Cover each one with slices of pepper jack. Put ’em under the broiler until the cheese is brown and bubbly, about 5 minutes. If they burn a little, so much the better. For an extra special treat put some thin slices of ripe tomatoes straight from your garden under the cheese. Ahhhhhh.

Well, I’ve been eating this for years, and it only occurred to me recently that this is TOASTED CHEESE. Toasted cheese is deeply meaningful to me because it’s what my two best friends, Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin, eat all the time. They don’t have pepper jack (or pita bread, or a broiler, for that matter) but close enough. My husband and I were thrilled, thrilled, when they showed the toasted cheese thingy in the movie.

I’m so in love with those books. It’s sort of embarrassing. I have even experimented with cooking suet puddings (delicious, but not for the faint-of-heart). The reason this is sort of embarrassing is because I am most definitely not Patrick O’Brian’s ideal reader. Oh, I am so far from it. I probably don’t get three-quarters of every book. Mind you, I’m not sure it really matters all that much. I have no idea (for example) what really happens when the ship “broaches to,” but I do know it’s very, very bad. I don’t know what a “backstay” is, but I know it’s good luck to scratch one. “Futtock-shrouds?” No clue, but it sure sounds cool. And let me just say that the remaining quarter that I do get, well, it’s sublime. Can you imagine a series of twenty books that never get stale or repetitive? I’m hard-pressed to think of very many trilogies where all three are equally good. Let alone twenty!

Query: is there an author you adore but clearly are not the ideal reader for?

Hoppin’ on the pet photos bandwagon

Originally uploaded by Julie H.
This is Peter (black) and Jenny. Within the first week after we got Peter I vowed never again to have a solid black pet. He is just about impossible to photograph, especially against our dark blue couch. We have a dark brown leather chair that he loves to sleep in, too. I don't know how many times I've come this close to sitting on him because he's almost invisible in it. But he shows up pretty nicely against the calico. GuusjeM, I picked this photo for you. Does the arm around the shoulders pose remind you of any other kitty pics you've seen recently???

Did I say flu???

Originally uploaded by Julie H.
Look what developed this evening! Poor Joey! He's pretty freaked out by the spots on his tummy. I'm pretty freaked out because I never had chicken pox as a kid, and even once had a blood test to confirm that I'm not immune. Yikes.

I had a hard time explaining to Joey why I wanted to take this picture. "Well, honey," I didn't say, "I just want to post the photo on the WORLD WIDE web!"

I'm back, Doulicia!

I guess it has been a few days since I was last here. Couldn't help it. It's been a stressful few days. Yesterday was so bad that I actually asked my husband to stay home from work today. Which he did, bless his heart. "I'm sure glad I have a union job," he said as he prepared lesson plans for the sub. He was supposed to be giving a quiz today. I know those kids were so disappointed!

I don't think I've ever asked Steve to stay home from work to help me with the kids. He has stayed home when I'm sick, on his own initiative, bless his heart again, but I've never actually asked him to. For all you mommies out there, I don't have to go into detail. Just picture your typical overtired-but-won't-sleep, hungry-but-won't-eat toddler. Then add two tired, fragile older kids, one of whom, we now know, was on the verge of getting the flu (his temp this morning was 103.6), the other of whom I will discuss in a moment. Result: ONE TOTALLY FRIED MOMMY.

My poor little daughter is not enjoying kindergarten as much as I would like. We're paying, paying, for public school so that she could be in this class with this incredible teacher. (It's called Extended Day Option, and essentially we're paying for half a day of day care with the kindergarten teacher being the day care provider. For some reason, despite No Child Left Behind (ohhhhh, don't get me started, this isn't supposed to be a political blog), we don't have free all-day kindergarten for everyone in our district.) But Lena's a real mommy's girl and although she doesn't have trouble separating, she misses me hugely while she's at school. She's a little trouper, and doesn't complain much, but it's taking a toll on her. She's also not a super-energetic kid, and she's very tired at the end of the school day. (Her iron level is normal.)

What a good girl!

Originally uploaded by Julie H.
PLUS, I discovered yesterday, there is a girl in her class who is being mean to her. This girl, who clearly suffers from extreme social and economic disadvantages and still cannot write her own name, actually told my precious daughter that she (Lena) is a BAD GIRL. Furthermore, this girl told Lena that she plans to call her a bad girl EVERY DAY. I don't know what I'm doing blogging instead of emailing the teacher about this. Not only am I furious at this little girl, but so sad, too. I'm sure "bad girl" is something she hears a lot at home. So sad.

OK, time to go email the teacher now.

My trio

It's been a few days since I've been able to post. My grandmother, two aunts and an uncle all came down from "up north" for the weekend to see the final show of Brigadoon. We were supposed to host everyone at our house for brunch this morning. But it turned out we didn't have to after all, because Daniel came down with a fairly high fever. I'm not glad he's sick, but it was nice not to have to host the brunch. One of these days I'll post something detailed about my grandma, who will be 90 this June. She lives all alone out in the woods, subsists almost exclusively off her own garden, goes camping all by herself every year in godforsaken places like the Florida Everglades, and for exercise chops down trees with an axe. And to top it all off, she's a retired reference librarian. Now what could be cooler than that?

my trio
My trio
Originally uploaded by Julie H.
I wanted to post a picture of my lovely offspring for Valen- tine's Day, but I don't have very many pictures that include all three. This one has a sort of interesting composi- tion, don't you think?

Proud mama update

Before you read this anecdote, go back and read this.

My son was elected to student council the other day. His school has a rule that you can only run for student council every other year, and the membership changes every semester. He was also on it in first grade. I commented to him that maybe in fifth grade (two years away) he could run for president, since he’d be allowed to run again by then, and the president has to be in fifth grade. Please understand, I’m not a pushy mom. The only reason I suggested it to him, and he knows this, is because his dad, aunt and uncle were all student council presidents at this same elementary school. Family tradition, etc. “Nah,” he said, “I don’t want to be student council president.” “Why not?” sez I, curiously. After a pause, he says, in a fake but fairly realistic southern drawl, “As ah said, ah wanna live the stress-free life!” Duh. What was I thinking?

Why I don't have a tattoo

One of the moms at our little playgroup said this morning that she was thinking about getting a tattoo. I commented that although I like tattoos I would never get one because such an identifying characteristic would ruin my chances for a career as a secret agent. (When they carved SMERSH into James Bond’s forearm he had to get a skin graft to cover it up.)

Obviously, my chances of becoming a secret agent are slim at best, and I was joking around when I said it. But there’s an element of truth in there. I do like to have secrets. I tend to compartmentalize my life. But here’s a strange thing: although I like to compartmentalize and keep secrets, at the same time I cannot tell lies. Not that I don’t want to, or feel I oughtn’t, but I really can’t. I get extremely anxious, even hyperventilatingly anxious, at the thought of telling a lie. I even have a hard time with tactful stuff, like “gee, your new haircut looks great.” And my kids have never believed in Santa or the Tooth Fairy.

I also take a very dim view of other people’s lies. I had a dear friend in college, one of those once-in-a-lifetime friends. We shared an apartment for a year, a very intense, exhilarating, miserable year. After a while I realized that she was a compulsive liar, and she confessed to having told me two lies. The first was when she told me all her middle names. She is Catholic, and has her baptismal name, confirmation name, etc. She added an extra name into the list (it was Emily). The second was when she told me she had played in two pro tennis tournaments as a teenager (she had actually played in just one). Both lies totally pointless. But to this day I can’t get over it, and I haven’t kept in touch with her beyond the annual Christmas card. Interestingly enough, this friend grew up in a family full of secrets. For example, not until she was 17 did she learn that her dad was not actually in the foreign service, but, get this, was a CIA agent. I know what you’re thinking, but I’ve had independent confirmation of this; I know she wasn’t lying. Another interesting thing about her is that she’s a fabulous storyteller and writer. (Think about the word fabulous, too: fable, fabricate.)

* * *

Had some interesting responses to the ideal reader post. I was particularly intrigued by Suzanne’s choice of Carol Shields. I’ve never read anything by Shields, but last night on the way to the Y I stopped at the library and picked up The Stone Diaries. I started reading it standing right there in the stacks and boy, did it suck me in! Unfortunately I am persona non grata at the circulation desk right now because I have so many overdue books, so I couldn’t check it out. But I’m going to go back for it as soon as I can. Doulicia, you might like it too. It starts with a birth, heh heh heh!

The ideal reader

I came across this idea in the introduction to an anthology of short stories. The stories themselves were hit-or-miss, but the introduction was terrific. In it, Zadie Smith writes:
Ideal reading is aspirational, like dating. It happens that I am E. M. Forster’s ideal reader, but I would much prefer to be Gustave Flaubert’s or William Gaddis’s or Franz Kafka’s or Borges’s. But early on Forster and I saw how we suited, how we fit, how we felt comfortable (too much so?) in each other’s company. I am Forster’s ideal reader because, I think, nothing that he left on the page escapes me. Rightly or wrongly, I feel I get all his jokes and appreciate his nuances, that I am as hurt by his flaws as I am by my own, and as pleased when he is great as I would be if I did something great. . . . You might know three or four writers like this in your life, and likely as not, you will meet them when you are very young. Understand: They are not the writers you most respect, most envy, or even most enjoy. They are the ones you know.
Well, I confess, I am Robertson Davies’ ideal reader, and that passage describes my relationship with him perfectly. I can’t help it. He wrote the Deptford, Salterton and Cornish trilogies for me.

Who are you the ideal reader for?

A sensitive topic

All the teachers in our school send home a weekly newsletter. Today, I found this:
Now I need to write about a sensitive topic. Some third graders are really starting to grow up. After gym class our room is smelling very unpleasant. It may be time to introduce your child to deodorant!
Deodorant? But . . . but . . . but . . . they're only eight and nine! Is it possible?

* * *

Have any of you Blog Explosion surfers come across this guy yet? Oh ha ha ha!

In which the Bookworm goes to a show and gets surprised

Now wouldn’t that be a cute blog gimmick? To title every post in the manner of a 17th-century novel, “In which . . .”?

Anyway, I did go to a show last night. It was a community theater performance of Brigadoon, which I first saw performed during the summer of 1980 at my favorite place on earth. I loved it then—I was 13 and the guy who played Tommy was so cute. And what a romantic story, sigh.

My sister and her husband were both in this show. My brother-in-law had a part: Charlie. He's the one who sings “I'll Go Home to Bonnie Jean,” a great, fun song. My sister was in the chorus. It was a terrific production, and I have to impartially mention that my brother-in-law totally stole the show. Not only does he have a terrific voice (he was a voice performance major—opera—as an undergrad, though he's now a lawyer), but he’s an adorable actor and dancer, too. He also is 6'7". Whoa.

The afternoon before the first show my sister said I should watch out because there was going to be a surprise for me at the show. “What do you mean?” I asked. “A surprise just for me, out of everyone in the whole audience?” “Yep,” said Sissy, her voice full of suppressed laughter and excitement. Well, I was flummoxed. I had been agitating for years that this group should do Brigadoon, way back when the woman who happens to be the assistant producer was my study buddy in law school, like, more than a decade ago. But my little surprise didn’t have anything to do with that. It was really cute.

As you may remember, Brigadoon is about two guys who go to Scotland. (I haven’t spoiled anything by telling you this.) So, at the very beginning, they had this very brief scene of people rushing around with suitcases in an airport, cell phones ringing, etc. They had a woman backstage being the ticket attendant over a microphone, announcing flight departures and arrivals, and “paging passenger Julie Hathaway” (that’s me). Oh ha ha, not to be too narcissistic or anything, but I LOVED it! The woman who did the announcing is a very old friend of Sissy’s, and they concocted this plan together. They are going to say a different audience member’s name each night.

* * *

I also went to my first Introduction to HTML class yesterday morning. Did you notice something different about this post? DID YOU NOTICE IT?????

Curly quotes, and three em dashes.

Mrsd, I will happily tell you everything I learn, and thanks so much for your kind words of support, but please realize you are way ahead of me. I am eager to put a list of my favorite blogs on the side but have no idea how to do it. And, hey, if anyone out there knows a way to do curly quotes without laboriously typing the code each time, PLEASE TELL ME! Also, I’d like to know if I can globally change all the single- and double-quotes I already have. Can I just do a find-and-replace?

The internet is a great big monster

I used to despise the internet, back in my library school days. To tell you the truth, it freaked me out. It's so big, and so anonymous. Anyone can make an official-looking website and fill it with crap, and make it look like God's truth. It really felt like a monster to me. It still does.

Another thing I don't like about the internet is the feeling of sensory overload I get from all the millions of links. I like things linear, sequential. I don't like webs. For example, I recently googled the word "meme." I looked at Wikipedia, and boy! First I'm reading about a "self-propagating unit of cultural evolution" and then I clicked on a few links to find myself reading about types of jokes, smiley faces, or stomach muscles. And that's all within one site. Not only that, but let me digress a teeny bit and talk about Wikipedia. Have you ever been there? It's bizarre. It's an "encyclopedia" that anyone can edit! You can go in and add or subtract information at your own sweet will. See previous paragraph.

HOWEVAH, I've spent a lot of time surfing the web, particularly blogdom, in the last few weeks since I started blogging. I'll be danged, but I'm starting to fall in love with this great big monster. I really am. I think it's because I love humanity in all its teeming, crazy, glorious human-ness, and by gum! you could just substitute the word internet for the word humanity in that phrase.

And now I own a book about HTML, and I signed up for a two-day workshop on web design at the community college, starting tomorrow morning. I have already managed to change the style of the block quotes in this blog (she said, bursting with pride). Stay tuned for further changes . . . .

Caught by surprise

Oooh, I'm so happy. I just got a comment on something I wrote back in December. That means someone was interested enough in my current posts to go back and start from the beginning.

Anyway, it was a great comment. I had written about The Dark is Rising: "Please don't think it's a kids' book. It's not. It's a very sophisticated good vs. evil story, full of complexity and ambiguity." Arethusa said: "Well I am of the opinion that a book can be a "kid's book" and sophisticated at the same time."

So, what makes something a kids' book? I agree that children's lit can be sophisticated. The Hundred Dresses is based on a sophisticated idea -- that you can be culpable merely because you didn't try to prevent someone else from doing harm. And it's certainly a kids' book. It's part of the third grade curriculum here. And I have read "sophisticated" picture books for preschoolers, such as The Salamander Room and Grandfather Twilight, that I adore and will never tire of.

But there is something about The Dark is Rising. Last year I read the His Dark Materials trilogy, which is much the same genre. A friend of mine recommended it to me in such glowing terms that I went out and bought the whole series. And I liked it. But didn't love it. It felt like it was written for kids. It had some really cool ideas and gimmicks, but just didn't have the depth I'd hoped for, especially considering that so much of the plot was religion-related.

Here are some ideas I had for defining children's literature:

1. Empirical. How many kids versus adults liked it?

2. Author's intended audience.

3. Main characters are children. (I can already think of lots of books in this category that wouldn't be appropriate for kids.)

4. Half-serious: where the book is located in the library.

And, oh, what about "young adult" books? I know a lot of people consider Orson Scott Card (of all the Mormon science fiction writers out there, he's my fave) to be a young adult writer, but I know for a fact that Ender's Game is in the adult section of my public library. And I'd bet good money that Card didn't intend it to be a kids' book. And the main character is a small child. Hmmm.

Thoughts, anyone?

Ugh, ugh, and yet again ugh!

My husband, working on a Masters in History, is taking a course on History of Religion. He came across this sentence while reading The Protestant Ethic & the Spirit of Capitalism, by Max Weber:
Calvinism opposed organic social organization in the fiscal-monopolistic form which it assumed in Anglicanism under the Stuarts, especially in the conceptions of Laud, this alliance of Church and State with the monopolists on the basis of a Christian-social ethical foundation.
Oh, my poor hubby! I'm so glad I'm not in college any more!