Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Step into my office, if you please

During my usual mid-afternoon procrastination journey through Google Reader, I happened on the latest post at Contractually Obligated to Like Books, in which she gives us a tour of her writing space. This led me to examine my editing space (hey, editors have spaces, too!). And THAT led me to just completely hijack Jam's idea.

I spend a lot of time here in my little cubbyhole, so I thought maybe you might like to see it? Come along with me on a journey of magic and merriment.

Here's the whole shebang: the cozy little corner where split infinitives and dangling modifiers regularly meet their bloody end, on a desk from IKEA.

Now I shall zoom in on some key features for your edification and general amusement.

I've mentioned that Sleeping Beauty is my alter ego (never mind that I look nothing like her and prefer blue to pink . . . we agree on the things that matter: the virtues of sleeping a lot and the joys of dancing barefoot in the forest). I've also mentioned that my husband is a Superman fan boy. Well, in this particular rendering, Prince Phillip appears to be playing the part of Superman, which caused me to SQUEE when I saw it. Plus, it was an anniversary gift from my mom (thanks, Mommy!).

Those lovely books Aurora and Phillip are propping up are some of my favorites, which is why they have a place of honor at my right hand. I found Return of the Native in Sydney, Australia. The three volumes of Les Miserables are from my first visit to The Last Bookstore in Los Angeles, which immediately thereafter became my favorite place in ALL of Southern California. The Mill on the Floss and Silas Marner are from Devonport, New Zealand.

Directly above the pretties is this monstrous stack of textbooks.

These are SOME of the fruits of my editing labor. I keep them to remind me that the seemingly inauspicious Word document I'm editing at any given time will eventually be transformed into a tome of intellectual magnificence on some topic or other. Glancing at that stack helps me on the days when my role in the publishing assembly line seems especially insignificant (which is pretty much every day . . . one of the side-effects of working in a corner).

And this is what hovers just above my head.

That is my grandma's Woodstock typewriter, which my mom thinks MAY be the one she first learned to type on? I actually had to bid on this at my grandparents' estate auction. I was terrified I wouldn't get it, so I loitered next to it all day and glared at everyone who wandered too close. Maybe that's why no one bid against me? One woman DID get a little catty and asked if I was planning to disassemble it to make jewelry. As you can see, snarky auction lady, Woodstock is NOT jewelry, and he's happy here with me, his rightful owner . . . and another Sleeping Beauty and those books from my childhood.

This is a finger painting my dear husband gave me a couple of years ago. I kind of want to put it in a drawer somewhere, but being a wife sometimes means proudly displaying heinous works of art. I guess, in that sense, being a wife is not so different from being the mother of a small child.

This is the actual editing portion of the editing cave, complete with tax registration certificate (stupid city of Los Angeles and your stupid requirements for the self-employed). This part is boring. Let's move along.

Oh, here's what's behind me . . . part of what makes up the room known as "my office."

This is by far the most gorgeous chair I've ever owned. It's not at all comfortable and rarely has an actual person on it . . . BUT PRETTY. And those crazy paintings are courtesy of my mom. She whipped those up for me when she last visited because I needed art to go above my couch. If I remember correctly, those particular pieces were created in a hotel bathroom (perhaps one of the few good things ever to happen in a hotel bathroom).

And last but not least on this tour of my workspace is my pride and joy and one GIANT obstacle between me and getting any work done ever again.

My precioussssssssssss.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Blindness, or the reason I gazed hungrily at a flower for 15 minutes

How to describe Blindness?

OK . . . let's try this: Imagine the zombie apocalypse, because of course you know what that looks like (and if you don't . . . you're clearly ill prepared, and I will NOT be sharing my weapons with you). Once you've formed that mental picture, just replace the zombies with disoriented blind people. And that's Blindness.

One day, a man is sitting in his car, staring at a stoplight and waiting for it to turn green. It's a day just like any other day, and this man is just like any other man (it could be YOU . . . but it couldn't be me because I'm not a man). That red light is the last thing he sees before his vision is swallowed by an opaque whiteness. This inexplicable "white blindness" travels from person to person, and government officials, ascertaining that they have an epidemic of blindness on their hands, quarantine all those affected. A closed mental asylum is chosen as the initial quarantine facility . . . and that is where most of the crazy happens in our story.

Saramago gracefully (and unapologetically) rips apart every aspect of our lives that we take for granted and exposes the ugliest and most beautiful actions of humans under crisis. Although the phenomenon of sudden blindness seems far removed from the world we know, Saramago expertly grounds his premise in reality, the reality of human nature and the workings of government . . . the way of the world in general. Also, the characters remain nameless. Saramago sets them apart using descriptors ("the girl with dark glasses," "the first blind man," "the boy with the squint," etc.), which makes their experiences universal. They are just placeholders . . . perhaps for us.

The writing style is a little exasperating. Here's the thing about Saramago: He doesn't use punctuation. Well, that's not true . . . he DOES use periods and he is CERTAINLY fond of commas. But that's it. Nary a question mark or quotation mark, and very few paragraph breaks. The result is incredibly disorienting, which works for this book but resulted in me rereading everything six times before I could figure out who was saying what and where this person's dialogue ended and this other person's began and WHERE IN THE NAME OF ALL THAT'S GOOD AND HOLY IS THE END OF THIS SENTENCE BECAUSE I HAVE TO FEED THE DOGS SOMETIME TODAY AND ALL I SEE ARE COMMAS.

That being said, this is what people call "an important book." And people are right about that. These problems, aside from the literal blindness, could be (and in many cases ARE) our problems. And there are some really gorgeous moments. I will leave you with my favorite one:
"You were never more beautiful, said the wife of the first blind man. Words like that, they deceive, they pile up, it seems they do not know where to go, and, suddenly, because of two or three or four that suddenly come out, simple in themselves, a personal pronoun, an adverb, a verb, an adjective, we have the excitement of seeing them coming irresistibly to the surface through the skin and the eyes and upsetting the composure of our feelings, sometimes the nerves that cannot bear it any longer, they put up with a great deal, they put up with everything, it was as if they were wearing armour, we might say. The doctor's wife has nerves of steel, and yet the doctor's wife is reduced to tears because of a personal pronoun, an adverb, a verb, an adjective, mere grammatical categories, mere labels, just like the two women, the others, indefinite pronouns, they too are crying, they embrace the woman of the whole sentence, three graces beneath the falling rain." (pp. 281282)
And here's a picture of José Saramago reading to a sleepy doggy:

SOURCE: Saramago, José. (1997). Blindness (G. Pontiero, Trans.). Orlando, FL: Harcourt.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Hey, Presidents! Today is your day!

Happy birthday, George!

And, Abe . . . thanks for freeing the slaves and, you know, handling that vampire situation.

Here's an article about a group of historians' bookish tribute to the only my favorite honest president: "Forget Lincoln Logs: A Tower of Books to Honor Abe."

Shopgirl: Perpetuating negative stereotypes about L.A. since 2000

As it turns out, Steve Martin the writer is not nearly as delightful as Steve Martin the actor. Steve Martin the actor defeated a Mexican overlord with singing. Steve Martin the writer put an entire city in a box using ink and paper.

Where have you gone, my little buttercup?

Shopgirl  is just a wee little novella, but 130 pages never felt so long. The story: Mirabelle is a sweet girl from Vermont who works behind the Neiman Marcus glove counter in Beverly Hills (because rich people gotta buy their fancy gloves somewhere). She is a little fragile and a lot shy and perpetually in danger of being chewed up and spit out by the big bad city. Even though Mirabelle is 28, this bears all the marks of a coming-of-age story. She is helped in her journey of self-discovery by a boy in a man’s body, Jeremy, and a divorced gentleman of more advanced years and lots o’ money, Ray Porter.

My biggest problem with this book is Steve Martin’s obvious distaste for the entire city of Los Angeles (despite the fact that he lives here).* His so-called masterpiece of wit and wisdom is just one loooooong stereotype, mostly of the negative variety. The people who thrive in the city are portrayed as shallow and devious in comparison with Mirabelle’s small-town innocence. If she is a delicate butterfly struggling to float above the muck, they are the dung beetles reveling in it. I could give you so many examples of these unabashed stereotypes—the WHOLE BOOK is an example—but here are just a few:
“At twenty-six, Jeremy is two years younger than Mirabelle. He grew up in the slacker-based L.A. high school milieu, where aspiration languishes” (p. 7). Oh, HA-HA! Los Angeles public schools produce losers with no hopes or dreams.
“The variety of alteration is vast, except when it comes to breasts. Breasts are made large only—and in the process misshapen—and the incongruity of two bowling balls on an ironing board never seems to bother anyone” (p. 12). It's funny because everyone in L.A. has giant fake boobs and thinks giant fake boobs are THE BEST.

And Mirabelle’s only friends in the whole city, whom she depends on for all non-work activities, are inconsiderate flakes . . . and their names are Loki and Del Rey (because all people in L.A. have silly names).

STEVEN! DO YOU EVER LEAVE BEVERLY HILLS? You really should try it. The burritos are great out here.

Things I liked about this book? (1) That it was written in the present tense and (2) this paragraph about cats:
“Mirabelle has two cats. One is normal, the other is a reclusive kitten who lives under a sofa and rarely comes out. Very rarely. Once a year. This gives Mirabelle the feeling that there is a mysterious stranger living in her apartment whom she never sees but who leaves evidence of his existence by subtly moving small round objects from room to room.” (p. 4)
*Disclaimer: I also live in L.A. and metaphorically clutch it to my bosom with great fondness . . . so maybe I'm taking this all too personally. Whatever. It's my blog.

SOURCE: Martin, Steve. (2000). Shopgirl. New York: Hyperion.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

In which I compare Lou Ford to Patrick Bateman, even though they're nothing alike

This noir classic is narrated in the easy Southern drawl of Lou Ford, deputy sheriff of a small Texas town. The people in town know him as gentle-mannered and a little dumb, but he is hiding a dark secret, something he calls "the sickness." He has kept it at bay for 15 years, but it's about to make a comeback . . . because this would be a pretty boring story if it didn't.

In my head, I've been comparing this book to American Psycho, which is a problem because they're not much alike . . . aside from the killing, of course. The Killer Inside Me came first, by a lot, and must have been quite shocking for its time, but it looks so tame next to Easton Ellis's bloodbath of a book. And Patrick Bateman is an unapologetic sociopath, but Lou Ford falls more on the side of psychopath, because he does have a conscience . . . even if he chooses to ignore it most of the time.

I think what keeps bringing me back to Bateman is the hint of humor, twisted though it may be. In this book, the inappropriate giggles are caused by the way Lou Ford suppresses "the sickness" while keeping up his doddering deputy sheriff routine. He wants to hurt people, but he knows he can't HURT them hurt them, so he inflicts pain by the most benign means imaginable: He bores them to tears. Seriously. He tortures them with corny cliches. You know the kind I mean: "Every cloud has its silver lining." "Haste makes waste." "Look before you leap." He's a MONSTER.

Oh! I thought of another Bateman/Ford similarity: They both hate women. And can we talk about the women in Lou's life? Behind Door No.1, we have Joyce, a prostitute who likes to be beaten and doesn't care about anything but getting out of town with Lou. Behind Door No. 2, we have Amy, the town sweetheart who ALSO likes to be beaten and doesn't care about anything but getting Lou to marry her. I know . . . so many layers to explore. I'm sure some people would argue that these women are strong but just can't flex their muscles within the restrictions of their time and place. I think these women are idiots. Would you care for a more concrete example? Happy to oblige.

The setting: Amy is mad at Lou because he kept her waiting at his house. Amy is nagging him, as we pesky women are known to do.
"All she had to say would take her the rest of her life to finish; and I wasn't even halfway in the mood for it. I reached out and grabbed her by the crotch. . . . I lay down beside her with my clothes on. I had to do it, because there was just one way of shutting Amy up." (p. 59)

What Lou is saying doesn't offend me, because Lou doesn't like women. That's the character. What bothers me is that his tactic totally works on her. On numerous occasions, when Amy gets indignant about something (often rightfully so), Lou just waves something shiny in front of her face until she loses her train of thought.

But do you know what I LOVE about this book? (A) The Southern-isms: "You know I've just been busy as a chigger at a picnic" (p. 30). (B) The noir-isms: "Baby didn't know it, but baby was dead" (p. 14). Good enough for me.

SOURCE: Thompson, Jim. (1991). The Killer Inside Me. New York: Vintage Books.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Playing blog tag: I'll show you mine if you show me yours

I was all settled in at my desk, finally ready to get some work done (stop laughing) . . . and then I saw that Alley from What Red Read tagged me for this fun bloggedy doodad. So now I'm doing this instead of anything remotely productive. Let the procrastinating begin (or continue, as it were)!

Here's how this works
1. Post rules.
2. Post 11 fun facts about yourself.
3. Answer questions from the person who tagged you.
4. Make up 11 questions for people you tag.
5. Tag 11 people.
6. Let them know they've been tagged.

"Fun" Facts About 

1. All through college, I worked at a cage-free doggy day care. The majority of my job was to stand in a room full of dogs and make sure they didn't kill each other . . . and also to clean eleventy-million puddles of pee and piles of poop and the occasional vomit (a lab once regurgitated an intact pair of extra-large cotton panties). Another part of my job was to serenade the dogs with hits from the '90s and today. I loved that job.

2. In junior high, I was first-chair violin in the school orchestra. Even the band geeks were cooler than me.

3. I've been playing drums since I was 15. I have a Toca djembe, a Roland e-kit, and a gorgeous set of Zildjian cymbals that are of absolutely no use to me until I can afford another acoustic drum set (I had to sell my old one when I moved out here).

4. About 3 years ago, I drove from Melbourne, Florida, to Los Angeles, California, in my '91 Honda Accord (named Don Juan, may he rest in peace). And then I stayed.

5. My husband is an actor. If one more person asks me if he's been in anything they've seen, someone is going to get hurt.

6. Celebrities terrify me. I don't know how to behave around them, and each encounter is followed by several hours of me remembering what I said and regretting every wretched word of it. My first week in LA, I met Milo Ventimiglia at a film festival, and all I could think to say was, "I watched Gilmore Girls with my mom." To which he replied, not even bothering to veil his sarcasm, "Oh, yeah . . . how great was that show?" This picture says it all. I look crazed.

And then this happened.

I have so many regrets.

7. I have an unhealthy attachment to my two dogs. I would probably choose them over my husband.


8. I've been a vegetarian since I was 8. I realized one day that I didn't really care for meat, and there was no reason why I should go on eating it. My parents hoped it was a phase. It wasn't. I don't preach at people (my extreme carnivore of a husband probably wouldn't have married me if I did), but I do glare disapprovingly at America's factory-farming practices and fervently wish that the way we treated meat were healthier for us AND the animals. (Full disclosure: I started eating fish a few years ago, so now I'm actually a pescetarian. And, no, I don't approve of our fishing practices either.)

9. I live in a purple house.
Maybe it's closer to periwinkle.

10. I closely identify with Sleeping Beauty because I, too, enjoy sleeping for days on end and frolicking with woodland creatures. My husband is a die-hard Superman fan, so we incorporated both into our wedding. My ridiculously talented brother designed the invitations.

11. When I travel, I buy antique books as souvenirs. My favorite is probably the pocket-size, leather-bound copy of Silas Marner, dated 1946, that I bought in Devonport, New Zealand.

And now for Alley's questions . . . 
1. What's your favorite bookish movie? (Movie based on a book, movie with literary tendencies, whatever)
I loved Midnight in Paris, but I'm not sure if it's my FAVORITE bookish movie. I hate picking favorites.

2. How often do you re-read books?
Hardly ever. I've read Jane Eyre and Gone With the Wind multiple times, but they're an exception.

3. What's your favorite reading spot?
On the porch swing in my front yard. I try to read outside whenever possible because my work keeps me indoors most of the day.

4. Which season is your favorite?
I grew up in Florida, which has no seasons, and now I live in Southern California, which has no seasons. But spring is my favorite, from what I've heard.

5. What's your profile picture?
It's cropped from one of our engagement pictures. We were arm wrestling. I was winning with minimal effort, of course.

6. What's your ideal meal?
A dragon roll followed by a rice nugget followed by a spicy tuna roll followed by miso soup followed by another dragon roll.

7. What's your guilty pleasure TV show, movie, book?
I am a stereotype . . . a woman who loves romantic comedies. Not ALL romantic comedies, just the good ones. If I'm having a down day, I'll pop in How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days or The Holiday for a pick-me-up. But I also like action movies . . . so back off this.

8. How do you like to spend a rainy day?
READING. This is such a boring answer, but I have to be honest, don't I? I can't very well say I hop in my Toyota Yaris and go drifting on canyon roads.

9. Do you have any good Tumblrs to recommend?
I'm most familiar with all the ones ever created that have anything to do with Ryan Gosling.

10. If you like to cook (or bake), what's your favorite thing to make?
I don't cook very often, much to my husband's dismay, but I DO make pretty good chocolate chip bars. I undercook them a little so they stay nice and squooshy.

11. Do you have a big TBR list? Or do you wait until you're done with your current book to buy (or borrow from the library) your next reads?
Do I wait until I'm done with a book to buy/borrow another? PAH! Absurd concepts are absurd. I can't ENTER a bookstore without buying three books, and I'm not very good at staying out of bookstores. So the TBR pile in my house is gargantuan, and that's nowhere near as massive as the one on my Goodreads account, which doesn't even compare to the one in my head. I'll never catch up if I live to be 150.

And now MY questions *puts on thinking cap*
1. Are you a city mouse or a country mouse?
2. Where in the world would you live if you had the choice?
3. Zombies are attacking, what one book do you take with you when you flee into the wilderness?
4. Do you have any unusual hobbies (e.g., collecting butterflies, building model cars, searching for Big Foot)?
5. What's your favorite book of those you own, based on cover design only?
6. What's your favorite Disney character (come on, everyone has one)?
7. What's your favorite comic book character?
8. What is your dream car, and what would you name it?
9. Team Edward or Team Jacob? JUST KIDDING. More seriously, Team Angel or Team Spike?
10. What is your favorite piece of artwork (you don't have to own it)?
11. Have you ever performed anything in front of an audience?

TAG! You're it. (I am NOT picking 11 people. That's silly. I will pick 5.)

Rayna from Libereading
Wallace from Unputdownables
Brooks from Forever Overhead
Darlyn from Your Move, Dickens
Emily from As the Crowe Flies (And Reads!)

Friday, February 10, 2012

Show me complete objectivity and I'll show you...I don't know, something pretty awesome

Literary Blog Hop

It's time again for the Literary Blog Hop, hosted by The Blue Bookcase. And oh, hey . . . look at me participating again!

The question:

In the epilogue for Fargo Rock City, Chuck Klosterman writes:
"It's always been my theory that criticism is really just veiled autobiography; whenever someone writes about a piece of art, they're really just writing about themselves."
Do you agree?

Why, yes, I do agree. I see truth in this statement because I don't think individual opinion can ever be separated from the individual. In short, complete objectivity doesn't exist.

Objectivity isn't in this picture? It must have stepped out.
When I was just a bright-eyed student in journalism school, my opinion about having opinions was that you shouldn't. And for some reason, I thought being sans opinion was actually feasible. Journalists, more than others, are expected to suppress judgment. And we do all kinds of crazy things to appear objective. Some journalists, for example, choose not to register with a particular political party (thus sacrificing their right to vote in the primaries) because that information can be accessed by the public . . . which means it can be used to fuel an argument against them if they ever write a story that appears to favor one party over another.

Objectivity is certainly a necessary and worthy goal in all fields, not just journalism, but in my experience the reporters who most stubbornly claim objectivity tend to be the most likely to let their personal opinions sneak into print. If you want to take a shot at being objective, you have to confront and accept your personal views. They will inevitably color your view of things, but you'll be aware of how they are changing your perception and in a better position to control the outcome.

If the elusive nature of objectivity holds true in journalism, which is a science, I imagine it runs rampant in art criticism. I mean, art is meant to elicit emotion . . . and what's more subjective than that?

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Book Thief made me ugly cry

I confess, my biggest fear going into this book was that I wouldn't cry. It's worrisome being practically the last person to read something that has made everyone else weep. What if I'm the ONLY person in the world impervious to the trials of a little girl in Nazi Germany? WHAT IF I'M DEAD INSIDE?

I needn't have worried. I cried alright. In my front yard. In the middle of the afternoon. On Super Bowl Sunday. People walking by with boxes of beer and family-size chip bags were treated to the sight of a girl blubbering into the grass.

If you are one of the few who haven't read this one yet, it's about Liesel, a young girl trying to navigate the usual obstacles of youth and the added strain of growing up under Hitler's thundercloud. It's also about the power of words, for good and for evil. Our narrator is Death, which is perfect for a lot of reasons, not least of which that we get passages like this:
"It was a year for the ages, like 79, like 1346, to name just a few. Forget the scythe, Goddamn it, I needed a broom or a mop. And I needed a vacation. . . . They say that war is death's best friend, but I must offer you a different point of view on that one. To me, war is like the new boss who expects the impossible." (pp. 307, 309)

We've all grown up with the knowledge of WWII and the horrors contained therein. We know so much about it, in fact, that the horror has started to lose its sharp edges. It's good to remember that humans are capable of the worst atrocities, and this book does some reminding, but the real value of The Book Thief is in how it puts a human face on events in a way that doesn't seem engineered to make the reader ashamed to be human. Death is a fair narrator, and all sides are represented. And, anyway, the evil acts aren't what makes this book so heartbreaking . . . it's the kind ones.

Now here's an ending that makes me feel better.

SOURCE: Zusak, Markus. (2005). The Book Thief. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Happy belated borrowing to me!

I've lived in this apartment for more than 3 years, and I just now finally today went to the library down the street. Isn't that awful? You don't have to tell me. I KNOW.

But today I got off my lazy, book-buying butt and walked three blocks because I heard they just GIVE AWAY books there. FOR FREE.

I present to you the tiniest library in all of Los Angeles.

Isn't he cute? He was born in 1916.
And he's designed in the new Italian renaissance style. Fancy.

It may not look tiny on the outside, but inside, it's just one room . . . most of which is filled with DVDs and books in Chinese. The entire fiction collection is contained in one row, and some of the shelves in that row are empty . . . . and six of those shelves are filled with romance novellas (not even Danielle Steele).

But I managed to find three happy books to balance out the marathon of sadness that has been my reading life lately.

Shopgirl by Steve Martin. Claire Danes! Jason Schwartzman! Yeah, I know that's the movie adaptation. Leave me alone.

Him Her Him Again The End of Him by Patricia Marx. This book is orange. That's the reason it's in my living room right now and not on the sad fiction shelf down the street. The title is a tad inconvenient, but we'll give it a go.

Moral Disorder and Other Stories by Margaret Atwood. It's true . . . I've never read Atwood. Her books are long, and this came home with me because it is short. This could be my gateway Atwood.