April 23, 2011


[Hysteric – Yeah Yeah Yeahs; The Chain – Ingrid Michaelson; Rolling in the Deep – Adele]

Five years ago, I was on a plane headed to Arizona. I was in the very last row, in a window seat next to my sister. Across the isle, a handsome, dark-haired man a couple years older than me was in the window seat next to my dad. He kept looking over at me and at the book I was reading. He tried several times to strike up a conversation, but I was like, Dude, that man you’re sitting next to is my dad. Not going to happen.

My demure behavior not withstanding, he stopped me at the end of the flight as we were deplaning to ask if I’d read a book called The Shadow of the Wind. I hadn’t. “You’d really like it,” he assured me.

I take unsolicited book recommendations from strangers pretty seriously, so I bought the book the next time I was at Borders. I put it in a stack of books to read, and there it stayed for years. (Tragic, if you are familiar with the book.)

I started it once on a trip to Germany, but I was reading another book at the time that, bizarrely, began in a somewhat similar fashion. Unable to keep the two story lines straight, I stopped reading The Shadow of the Wind. This spring, I picked it up again. This time, I became enraptured.

I can’t think of the last book I liked so well, one that not only deeply resonated with me, but was extremely satisfying and quite smart. It is charming, lovely, insightful. 

This recommendation has none of the elegance or mystery that it ought to. All the same, should you decide the read the book, you won’t be disappointed.

You’d really like it. 

April 21, 2011


Kitten updates her blog daily, while I shoot for weekly. This led to TaxAnt saying recently, "I look at your blog and your sister's blog everyday....yours is a disappointment." (It was a, um, joke.)

It disappoints me when I let more than a week go by without posting anything, but SOMETIMES IT IS HARD TO BE FUNNY OR INTERESTING. Sometimes the bucket of creativity is empty. Sometimes it has been wastefully sloshed over a work project. Lately, I've been laboring to use my daily allowance of interestingness to complete final projects for my grad class—a paper on the distribution of the character of Satan in Milton's Paradise Lost to Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials, and a presentation on what Milton thought about extraterrestrial life (seriously).

So today, you're getting something curtesy of one of my favorite poets. In class we discussed the final two books of Paradise Lost. This led to a discussion about whether Milton accomplishes his goal—to justify the ways of God to man. (He doesn't, and the more interesting question is, Could he have?)

Then, by delightful chance, I happened upon this four-line poem by A.E. Housman in the supplementary material in the back of my Norton edition of Paradise Lost:

       O many a peer of England brews
       Livelier liquor than the Muse,
       And malt does more than Milton can
       To justify God's ways to a man.

More proof that A.E. Housman is completely underrated.

April 6, 2011

Restraining Order

I recently read John Warner's review of Kate Atkinson's most recent book, Started Early, Took My Dog. In said review, he calls himself a, "posters-on-the-wall, commemorative-magazine-with-exclusive-trading-cards fanboy of Ms. Atkinson’s books." I then spent half an hour googling Mr. Warner in an attempt to find out if he's single. 

You see, I am a posters-on-the-wall etc etc fan of Kate Atkinson. If required to produce my most embarrassing experience ever, I'd be hard pressed to come up with something more humiliating than the time I met her (though an incident in a high school gym class would put up a good fight). She came to a local independent bookstore when her book One Good Turn came out. I went, dragging a friend. I agonized over what to wear. A formal suit? Something casual? A clever t-shirt? I settled on the suit. In hindsight, this was probably a mistake, as I think it made my craziness more of an unexpected shock. 

I read Kate Atkinson's second novel, Human Croquet, when I was a freshman in high school. It changed my life. Too dramatic? I'm sure that's what Ms. Atkinson thought when I told her. But seriously. It was the first modular book I'd ever read. It took place in England. Much of it took place in a forest. It mentioned doppelgangers. It blew my mind.

Kate Atkinson's first few works were the slow unraveling of multi-generational family history. The events were dramatic, but the writing was indifferent—an accomplishment I found fascinating. Then, in a brilliant move, Ms. Atkinson took her talent for writing slowly unfolding family mysteries and began writing novels featuring a detective as the main character.

Even now, it would be too painful to relive many of the details of my terrifically awkward interaction with her. Manic laughter. Presenting a giant pile of books to be signed. Explaining excitedly that I'm currently reading one of her books. Pulling it out of my purse to show her. Talking about how I have a marked up copy of Human Croquet at home, but I brought the British version I got off ebay for her to sign because that's the version the library provided me with when I was 14 and I like the cover better anyway.

Eventually, she started backing away from me. The same way I'm going to back away from this blog post.