Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A Great Day for the Legendary Cow Skulls1

The January/February issue of The Rambler arrived yesterday:

The Rambler published my first essay. This issue is notable because it includes essays from not one, but two of my writing group colleagues: "An Accounting," by Julie, and "Flight," by Cindy2. Having read both these pieces in draft, I'm absolutely thrilled to see them in print. The Rambler has done its usual excellent job of selecting artwork to accompany each piece. Pick up a copy and see for yourself.

Congratulations, Cindy and Julie!

1 Who are the Legendary Cow Skulls and how did they get that way? The Legendary Cow Skulls are my writing group: Julie, Cindy, Kevin, and Carol. Most of us met six years ago in a Grub Street memoir class taught by Michelle, which course is a story in itself. We have a name because I insisted we have a name3—everyone had book ideas they were working on4 and when you publish your book you have to thank your writing group and it's better, and funnier, if it has a good name. The "cow skulls" part comes from the exterior frieze on the Somerville Public Library. The "legendary" part comes from Michelle. Someday we will all have matching T-shirts that look like this:

2 Why, yes, we do rock...

3 I'm the bossy one.

4 Everyone except me—I'm the sole sprinter in a group full of writing marathoners.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Tattered Cover

Any visit to my parents in the Denver area must always include at least one trip to the Tattered Cover Book Store. I got some book money as a Christmas gift from the dog and the cat (don't ask), so it was our first stop on the 26th.

The Tattered Cover is one of the legendary indie bookstores. Founded in 1971, it has three locations in the Denver area. The 16th Street location, where we went, covers three enormous floors and includes a space for author events, a cafe, and a magazine section that boasts the largest collection of literary magazines I have seen anywhere, ever. There's no discernable organizational principle to the layout, and all the signs are hand-written in faded ink. I always have to ask in order to find anything I'm looking for, but that's actually one of the great pleasures of this place: the staff are knowledgeable and enthusiastic and will not only tell me where a book is located but will take me over to the relevant section and find it for me. There are semi-ratty chairs and tables all over the store, dogs are more than welcome, and the whole place is like a big, shabby, disorganized Church of Reading. I love it.

Above all, however, I love the Tattered Cover for its commitment to freedom of expression. In 2000 the store resisted, on First Amendment grounds, a search warrant for a customer's purchase records. The customer was suspected of illegally making methamphetamine and the police were trying to connect him with books they found on manufacturing the drug. The case went all the way to the Colorado Supreme Court and was ultimately decided in the bookstore's favor. At the customer's request, the store later revealed that the book in question was a volume on Japanese calligraphy.

That's right: your phone company will sell you out in a heartbeat, but your local independent bookseller will go to the state Supreme Court to protect your privacy. More reason to love them, were any needed.

So we went on Friday, with me hemming and hawing the entire way about how I already had a lot of books I needed to read and had gotten several more that I was dying to read from various relatives for Christmas, and, really, I couldn't actually think of anything I wanted to read that I didn't already have. I would probably go in and then leave empty-handed.

I picked up: Last Night at the Lobster because I read an interview with Stewart O'Nan and it sounded interesting; Animal, Vegetable, Miracle because I missed when it came out in paperback this spring; The Wordy Shipmates because I adore Sarah Vowell and will buy anything she writes; Old Friend from Far Away because I am constitutionally incapable of resisting how-to books on memoir; and Unstuck ($4.98 in the bargain bin) because, okay, the truth is that I am constitutionally incapable of resisting any writing advice book.

I also got his beautiful blank notebook:

I'm not ordinarily a fan of fancy-shmancy blank notebooks—my college-rule cardboard-covered notebooks exert much less pressure to write Deathless Prose. But this looked so good it was practically edible, and we're coming up on the new year and fresh beginnings, so I decided to try something new. About which, more later.

My "On My Bookshelf" list has gone from worrisome to completely-out-of-control, but hopefully I've also improved my bookstore-related karma enough to end the year in the black.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Snowy Weekend Dog- and Cat-blogging

Some days it's not clear why we call it a "dog bed"...

... then we remember.

At least one of us loves the snow—the one who doesn't have opposable thumbs and is therefore exempt from shoveling.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Harvard Square Holiday Fair

This Saturday, at the suggestion of Ed, who takes care of Lily Beth, I went to the Harvard Square Holiday Fair in the basement of the Unitarian Church on the corner of Church Street and Mass. Ave., right in Harvard Square.

Though this annual fair has been around for a while, this was my first visit. It's small enough so you can see it all in less than an hour, and it's full of interesting craftspeople from New England and New York, all of whom were unfailingly nice and more than happy to talk about their work. I saw adorable handmade baby clothes, gorgeous ceramics, cool lighting made from recycled cans, and tons of jewelry. I bought some wonderful scented soaps and bath salts—including one called "Sore Muscles" in honor of my new workout regimen and one called "Amber Love" because it contains frankincense and when I asked what that smelled like the woman who made it replied "It smells like the Catholic Church."

I also bought this choker from Ed's wife, Jen, whose Parrish Relics is exhibiting there:

I think I was 16 the last time time I wore a choker, but this tickled me and, besides, recent hair issues have me experimenting with all aspects of my appearance these days.

I came home and showed Ben and he smirked.

"You're not really very wicked," he said.

"I know," I replied. "It's ironic. That's why it's funny!"

Still looking for something one-of-a-kind, local, and handmade for someone on your holiday gift list? The fair's last days are Thursday through Tuesday, December 18th through the 23rd. Stop by the Parrish Relics booth and tell Jen that Lily Beth sent you.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

"Catch and Release" Published in The Fourth River

My essay, "Catch and Release," was just published in Issue 5 of The Fourth River. The issue's TOC isn't up on the magazine's web site yet (I'll update the link when it is), but my author copies arrived on Saturday. This was my first acceptance and it's a piece I finished up about four years ago, so it's a thrill to see it in print—and a relief to see that the footnotes aren't all in italics the way they were in the page proofs.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Poetry Slam

I've started writing poetry. Don't ask.

I showed one of my first efforts to Ben, who sees everything before my writing group.

"It's good," he said.

"Really? It's, like, my first poem. Good? Really?"

"Yeah, it's good."

I basked in his praise for a few hours before I thought to ask a follow-up question.

"What, exactly, was good about it?"

"Your poem? I understood it."

"You understood it."

"Yeah, you know, some poems you can't understand. I was able to read yours."

"So your standard for 'good' in poetry is (a) written in the English language and (b) intelligible?"

"It makes me sound like a philistine when you put it that way."

I stopped basking and got back to work.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

New Design

I spent today switching blog templates. I liked the old one, but this one lets me get a lot more in the way of lists and other stuff into the sidebar in a space-efficient manner, so I'm going with it. I'll probably continue to tweak it for a while longer—comments and suggestions welcome!

The photo in the header is actually of the tree behind our house. I took pictures with our digital camera, imported them into iPhoto, cropped one to fit the new design, punched up the color a smidgen (OK, three smidgens), and voilà! I do love my Mac.

Monday, October 13, 2008

In Which I Realize What a Bad Person I Am for Patronizing a Chain Bookseller

"Hi," I said, walking up to the employee at the desk on the second floor in the literary nonfiction section of the big chain bookstore out by the mall. "Do you have the new Best American Essays?"

"Is that, like ... a book?"

Yes, my good man, it is exactly like a book. In fact, it is a book! Even though it is National Sarcasm Awareness Month (and thanks to the fabulous Miss Conduct for the notice!), I keep this observation to myself. I really want that ... book thingy.

"Yes, it's a series that's published annually. I think this year it will be Best American Essays 2008."

He types it in on the computer, with Ben and me looking over his shoulder.

"Yep, it's in stock," he says. "It's downstairs by the main information desk."

I sigh audibly for his benefit (I am a jerk) and head down the escalator. How can you not have at least a copy or two of Best American Essays in your essay section? I realize I am about to support, though my patronage, both this bizarre shelving scheme and the hiring of employees who have to think about whether something called Best American Essays is a book. I feel even worse because I heard this volume was available though the email newsletter of an independent bookstore that I love, but that is also a good 40 minutes from my house. I am a jerk, and lazy, and a bad, unreflective consumer.

Two take-aways:
  1. Best American Essays 2008 (yes, I did buy it) totally rocks, about which more soon.

  2. Find and patronize your local independent bookstore. Do it even when it's inconvenient and more expensive. The aggravation (and guilt) you save may be your own.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

The Final Top 10 For 2007

Safekeeping, by Abigail Thomas
A Three Dog Life, by Abigail Thomas
Here If You Need Me, by Kate Braestrup
Tell It Slant: Writing and Shaping Creative Nonfiction, by Brenda Miller and Suzanne Paola
Housekeeping vs. the Dirt, by Nick Hornby
The Polysyllabic Spree, by Nick Hornby
"Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?", by Beverly Daniel Tatum
The Namesake, by Jhumpa Lahiri
The Stones of Florence, by Mary McCarthy
(Not that You Asked): Rants, Exploits, and Obsessions, by Steve Almond

2007 was, as is often the case for me, a year of author jags: Abigail Thomas and Nick Hornby both had multiple books in the top ten. There's a fuller discussion of Thomas's work here, but let me take a moment to sing the praises of Nick Hornby. Both titles on my list are collections of his book reviews for The Believer. I would love Hornby forever on the basis of his appreciation of Marilynn Robinson alone, but in addition to that he is everything one could want in a reviewer: opinionated, funny, forthright about his prejudices, willing to be pleased, and, above all, firmly on the reader's side. He talks about books the way your best-read friends do—as if he has discovered something he knows you'll love and can't wait to tell you about it.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Excellent Technical Blog Post on Writing

I subscribe to a lot of technical blogs for work. This post was on one of them, Signal vs. Noise, today: [On writing] John Gruber, Paul Graham, Joel Spolsky, and Judge Judy. Well worth reading.