Tuesday, November 07, 2006

I Stand Here iPodding - Part Three

What you needn't have and what you must--a favorites list.

There is one more program that is a must if you want to convert streaming media into mp3s for your iPod. Audacity is great for recording the audio from all kinds of streaming media. All you do is select "Stereo Mix" as your input source to take your computer's audio output and channel it back through as input. Then you can easily chop off the beginnings and the endings to get a clear track without unnecessary silence or jabber. Export the resulting project files to mp3 format and you are done! However, you are recording in real time, which means you don't want to be doing anything that could interfere with the media stream or compete with the sound you are trying to record. That means, for example, no web surfing or downloading of email while you record.

Now for my list of favorites:

Municipal and Other Public Libraries

The Library of Congress maintains an index of poets, novelists and other writers whose work is broadcast on the web.

The San Francisco Public Library has over 1200 downloadable audio books (free account needed) and the New York Public Library also permits download of audio material.


University webcasts are ubiquitous these days but here are some I favor:
The University of Pennsylvania's archive of literary webcasts, Penn's larger list of media links, and Penn's digital poetry archive.

UC Berkeley, mentioned in Part Two, has an archive of downloadable media in various formats. Also check out the webcast.berkeley Courses Schedule.

Similarly, MIT has OpenCourseWare and video lectures. There are Princeton event videos. There are Stanford free lectures. Purdue has complete lectures of select classes.

Columbia University's Fathom Archive offers access to a wide range of free content, including lectures, articles, interviews, exhibits and free seminars. You can also find some great lectures about literature here: http://ci.columbia.edu/ci/subjects/literature.html.

Stores and Publishers

Barnes & Noble's Meet the Writers Podcast features many hours of video and audio interviews. Also check out the Amazon Wire. The Tattered Cover, a splendid independent bookstore, features a podcast I mentioned previously, called Authors on Tour. As for publishers, there is The Penguin Podcast. Simon & Shuster's got one, too. Also check out the one by Canada's Raincoast Books.

TV, Radio, and Newspapers

Booknotes, on CSPAN, has 15 years of televised book interviews. NPR has a host of audio material relative to books. Also check out the wealth of downloadable material on writing, poetry and books from the BBC. ABC Radio National in Australia has a daily book show that's very good, The Book Show. Michael Silverblatt is a terrific literary interviewer, and there is a podcast of his KCRW show, Bookworm, here.

Another worthy archive features Don Swaim's conversations with prominent writers. His show, Book Beat, aired on CBS radio (AM stations) from 1982 to 1993. Short segments can be downloaded from the Dom Swain website, while full-length, unedited recordings can be downloaded from Ohio University's Wired for Books.

For an exhaustive list of public radio (and TV) stations that feature live web broadcasts and podcasts, including literature and drama programs, see Public Radio Fan.

As for newspapers, there's the New York Times' Books podcast, and from the UK, there's the Times Online Books Podcast.

Authors and Publicists

Bill Thompson maintains a growing list of author websites on his podcast's website here, and many of these authors post readings and interviews or links to them that can be downloaded. Publicists are getting in on the podcast act also. TriCom Publicity, Inc. has one featuring its clients, called Authors in Your Pocket, and it's an excellent model.


The Lannan Foundation podcasts are superb. Also check out Lannan.org for more downloadable audio, and video, too, including archived interviews conducted by Michael Silverblatt.

The Academy of American Poets hosts a podcast as well as an audio archive. You can find them both here.

Also check out Nextbook , which was established to be a gateway to Jewish literature, and features a podcast and lots of downloads.

Not many literary reviews publish podcasts. I mentioned PodLit previously, and now I've found The Chattahoochee Review podcast. The Chattahoochee Review is a literary quartly published by Georgia Perimeter College. Their podcast is a mixture of interviews, readings and lectures, of varying lengths. There are also audio downloads at The Paris Review, but no official podcast.

Additional Goodies

This isn't a podcast but I found it while looking for one at The Paris Review. Thanks to an NEA grant and other support, The Paris Review now has an archive called The DNA of literature, containing over 50 years of their "Writers at Work" interviews, and they are all available online, for free. What a tremendous resource.

This isn't a podcast either but I want to mention it here anyway: LibraryThing. It's an online service that helps you catalog your books. You can access your own catalog from anywhere, even a web-enabled phone. LibraryThing connects people who own the same books, and comes up with suggested reading. You can have a free account and catalog your first 200 books for free. After that there is a modest fee. Just enter the book's ISBN or a keyword and up pops the rest of the indexing data. LibraryThing fills in the blanks from public sources like Amazon and the Library of Congress. Then just click on the book to add it to your catalog. You can even create notes -- such as links to relevant digital media. It's extremely cool. You'll find it a lot easier than using Excel or home library software -- and now you know what I was referring to when I said what you needn't have in the title of this piece.

Ruth's Chris

A Restaurant Review

Ruth's Chris has a new place outside Ocean City, Maryland. Store No 95 they call it. I am quite sure it is just as nice as Stores 1 through 94. The enterprise went public this year.

It looks like a deluxe paddock inside, or maybe a ski lodge, with a loft and an open floor plan. Let's go with paddock, because ski lodge implies there is a mountain outside, and this place does not have one. It is flat out there, flat as a pancake, except for the manufactured lumps that grace the golf course, a golf course that stretches as far as the eye can see, over the filled-in wetlands leading out to the Bay. Turning right from the highway on Maid at Arms Way (across from the Home Depot and the Wal Mart), the expanse reminds one of an enormous cat box, with ribbons of asphalt threaded through it. Or a landfill.

While we were waiting for our table at the restaurant an impossibly long stretch limo drove up, and it was black with decorative red and yellow flames air brushed down the side of it. Several people weaing laminated name tags got out and were escorted immediately to somewhere we could not see.

The restaurant is luxurious, and the people are so very nice!

Our waiter, for example, was very knowledgable about the menu. With the cheerful persuasive skills of a man who most likely sells time shares (to married couples only!) in rural Virginia during the day, he told us with great care about the enormous lumps of corn-fed beef that you could purchase, a la carte, along with large platters of a la carte mashed potatoes, potatoes which sit in about a half a pound of melted garlic butter. Mmmm. And you can start with their signature a la carte "chop" salad, which has a vertical structure and as far as we can tell, is comprised principally of mayonnaise, with a lovely chiffonade of french-fried onions on top.

On this occasion my father had a gift card worth $80 to spend, which bought us two of those luscious a la carte steaks, oh boy! We chose the petit filets, the smallest on the menu. We could have split one between us, actually. My daughter, who is ten years old, ordered the boned chicken, which was a whole poussin with all of the bones removed except for its cute little drumsticks, and it came wrapped around about ten ounces of melted Boursin "cheese." Our meat came out on plates we were told were five hundred degrees so don't touch them! To be fair our server then made a big deal about transferring my daughter's chicken to a cooler plate without even being asked to do so, but I suspect he was engaging in a bit of performance art at this point on behalf of his tip.

I should tell you that we went there under false pretenses. My father made the reservation under the name Jones, because he is 81 years old and is getting tired of having to spell S--------- every time he calls someone on the phone who wants to write down his name. This resulted in our being called Mr. and Mrs. and Miss Jones all evening, and my daughter kept asking things like, "Why do they keep calling us Jones?" or "Why do they have to call us anything?" or "Why didn't you just say Bob if you didn't want to spell S---------?" or "What are you going to do when the check comes and you are trying to pay the bill with a credit card with the name of this guy S--------- on it?"

The Mrs. Jones part was pretty funny though. I guess we made an interesting couple, Dad and me.

So my dad, who was getting a bit grumpy at all of the name business, said, "Why do they need to call you by name in the first place? It's not really a country club." It's a gated community without a real gate. It's called Glen Riddle, but it's not really a glen either. It's named after the guy who used to train those famous race horses. Actually his name was Sam Riddle, a textile millionaire, and he named the place Glen Riddle after the town he came from in Pennsylvania. Which in turn is a famous old name in Scotland that has something to do with winnowing wheat and rye. Indeed much of the physical structure of the once-great stable was used in the design of the restaurant. There are delightful touches like old stall doors that have been polished and turned into tables in the bar and grill.

If you buy one of the $600,000-plus houses constructed by the Centex Corporation on the Glen Riddle Fairway site, you can choose from two popular models, the Man O'War and the War Admiral. Don't worry if you can't qualify for a bank mortgage, because Centex provides that, too! And don't forget Centex's HomeTeam Pest Defense. Should undesirable vermin invade the homeland, these houses are designed with a built-in system to facilitate their extermination! Unfortunately we haven't met any of the people who live in these warring houses, nor are we likely ever to meet them, since we don't play golf. But at dinner they seemed nice. In fact, my daughter was so impressed with their grooming, she said at one point, "Mom, why do all of the women in here look like they come from soap operas?"

While waiting for our meal we noticed that an awful lot of the men wore tennis shoes and leather jackets and displayed beepers or cell phones on their waists while eating their supper. Truly we don’t belong to any real country clubs, and with a name like S--------- it was highly unlikely that my parents would ever have been invited to join any when I was a kid, but now I know what you are supposed to wear.

When the check came we were given a gargantuan plastic carry-on bag bearing the famous Ruth's Chris logo (in red, black and white) to transport home our enormous uneaten lumps of leftover red meat, which had been cooked to absolute perfection and the bits we were able to eat had practically melted in our mouths. Before being placed in the bag, they also had been carefully wrapped, separately, in generously-sized No. 6 black plastic clamshells.

When we got ready to leave, I noticed a young woman in the unheated entryway. She had long chestnut hair and long, muscular legs, which were bare, although it was about 38 degrees at that point. She was wearing one of those miniscule lacy black acetate slips, with a black push up bra underneath. The bra straps were just a bit shorter than the spaghetti straps on the dress. Focusing on her legs again, I noted this dress could not possibly have been any shorter. On her feet were enormous black platform shoes with heels higher than anything I had ever seen south of New Jersey. There is, in fact, a term they use for shoes that look like this in New Jersey, but we don’t use that kind of language on our beach down here. She was on her cell phone for a very long time, swinging her big red forelocks as she shifted from one foot to the other, like a gamine stuck at the gate. It looked like she was getting cold.

All in all, it was a great evening. We waved a cheerful goodbye to pretend soldier in the little house on our way out. For some reason, on the way home, driving through Berlin, Maryland with my father's handicap tags swinging to and fro from our rear view mirror, I found myself humming, "Tomorrow belongs to me!"

Friday, September 15, 2006

I Stand Here iPodding - Part Two

Put Streaming RealMedia on your iPod

Perhaps you thought you couldn't do it, but you can. Streaming media can be captured and converted into formats that are iPod (or other portable device) friendly. Let's start with RealMedia. There are many freeware and shareware programs out there which can capture and convert these files.

The one I use most often is Rawavrecorder. It's free, it's small, it's simple and it works. This program converts media with files ending in .ra, .ram and .rm. To find the actual file your RealPlayer is playing (the link on the web page may be to a pointer file), click on the file name that appears in your RealPlayer window. Copy the address it reveals. Paste it into the Rawavrecorder. While the file downloads and streams, the program converts it to a .wav file. When complete, drag this new file into your iTunes library and then convert it, or, use Windows Media Player or other music software to convert the .wav file into an .mp3. Easy -- except that the first step, the conversion into .wav, is done in real time. Meaning if you have a lot of shows you want to convert, you need to line them up and run them in batch as you sleep or while you are at work. Rawavrecorder lets you batch them. But if you do this in the background while you are seated at the computer you won't be able to listen to anything else.

I use this program most with segments that are streamed in RealAudio from public radio websites, and with lectures or readings that appear as webcasts on univeristy sites.

Also, you can take RealVideo segments and Rawavrecorder will spit out just the audio. The only thing worse than talking heads on a big screen is talking heads on a 2½-inch one. So, okay, maybe I'll want to watch a video while waiting with a bunch of other women in pink gowns for my turn to be tortured on the mammography machine. But I'm more likely to be reading then. So usually what I'm interested in are programs I can listen to while doing some house or garden chore, or driving (using my car's aux jack). You don't want video then.

Still sound like too much trouble? Here is a sample of what's out there. It proves RealMedia content is worth finding, capturing and converting for your iPod:

Chicago Public Radio - Stories on Stage
A large archive of short stories, performed by actors from the Chicago area. Some old, some new. Featuring authors such as Lorrie Moore, Alan Gurganus, Bernard Malamud, Alice McDermott, and many more. Does having an actor read a writer's story change the experience of it? Yup. Sometimes for the better, sometimes not. The series even includes, from 2005, a four-part reading of Jane Smiley's novella, The Age of Grief. Wow. How she draws the characters, how she explores and develops their joint lives! Compare the marriage depicted in Smiley's tale to that sketched out by Tobias Wolff, in Say Yes (scroll down). Granted, you can't do a whole lot in a 14-minute piece (I'm guessing it was under 2,000 words), but both of the characters and the relationship itself have cleverly executed arcs. All downloadable for free.

Exploratorium Webcast - Memory Lectures
Six lectures from San Francisco's Exploratorium. Lecturers include Lewis Hyde, Robert Sopolsky, Elizabeth Loftus, and others. If you are writing about a character's memory, particularly if that charater is very old or very young, or using memory in other ways as a creative writer, these are great resources. After listening to the Lewis Hyde lecture I went out and read a couple of his books, and also Frances Yates' the Art of Memory. I already had Robert Sapolsky's A Primate's Memoir, and he was fascinating also. Especially when he talked about his relationship with his aged, memory-impaired father. Knowing the science of memory helps you shape an accurate literary narrative.

Book-TV on C-SPAN2
Many of these programs become webcasts after they appear on television. Like this one from September 3, 2006, in which Gay Talese, author of A Writer's Life, talks about the importance of listening to the stories of ordinary people, and encourages writers to write about them It's nice to see him in his beautiful suit, but you don't really need the video. He doesn't do impersonations, draw pictures, or dance. He just talks. Perfect for .mp3.

Lannan Foundation Archives
The Lannan Foundation has an archive of its Bookworm interviews and its Readings & Conversations going back to 1998. Although Lannon's Bookworm podcast, with host Michael Silberblatt, can be subscribed to on iTunes and downloaded directly to your iPod, Lannan has a great deal more to offer on its website, in RealMedia format. Like this Reading and Conversation with Rikki Ducornet from 2005. I adore the sensuality of her language. I went out and bought Ducornet's The Fan Maker's Inquisition after listening to her read from it.

Slate's meaningoflife.tv
Meaningoflife is sponsored by Slate, and hosted by Robert Wright, author of Three Scientists and Their Gods, The Moral Animal and Nonzero. He interviews the English-speaking world's leading thinkers. Karen Armstrong. Edward O. Wilson. Daniel Dennett. Steven Pinker. And on and on. He's a bit nudgey, particularly with Karen Armstrong, and sometimes he tries to impress his guests too much with his cleverness. But by and large the interviews are great.

BBC4's In Our Time with Melvyn Bragg
Melvyn Bragg converses with the leading thinkers of our time, investigates the history of ideas, and debates their application in modern life. Although the past year's program are available by podcast, shows prior to that are available only as RealMedia archived on BBC4's website. Here's a good one about the nature of the human imagination.

Berkeley Webcast Archives
Berkeley has great podcasts and webcasts, but, once again, a lot of the archival material is not available in .mp3. Such as this RealVideo clip from the Graduate School of Jounalism, in which Michael Pollan talks about his book, The Omnivore's Dilemma, as well as "the narrative laundry line," participatory journalism, and how to pitch a story about "agriculture." The video is not essential… but Pollan is a charming, entertaining guy. He also has a nice smile.

So what do you do if you want to put the video on your iPod? Well… you Google around for a converter. Like the ones Boilsoft sells.

Monday, September 11, 2006

I Stand Here iPodding - Part One

Or, a Playlist for Writers Who Have to Do Laundry

I bought my first iPod a few months ago. Not long after, I visited the iTunes Music Store directory and navigated towards Podcasts→Arts→Literature. There I found many offerings whose quality ranged from bad to dreadful, but also a surprising number of worthwhile programs. Not all of the good ones were on iTunes, though. I found them all over the web.

Here are the best podcasts that are of specific use to writers. (On another day I'll list podcasts for literature lovers generally.)

I've supplied links to the relevant websites so you can decide for yourself how and what to download.

I usually start my writing day with Garrison Keillor's The Writer's Almanac. Don't you?

Then I may check for updates on these others:

The journal Creative Nonfiction offers a podcast, called PodLit. In this segment, CNF's founder and editor Lee Gutkind talks with Dinty W. Moore, founder and editor of Brevity, the journal of "extremely brief nonfiction." (I'm a Dinty fan, BTW. I have a piece featured in Brevity right now.) Gutkind has produced ten episodes so far. Some segments are lifted from writers' conferences, some are interviews, and some are creative nonfiction pieces read by actors.

Barbara DeMarco-Barrett, author of Pen on Fire, hosts a weekly program on the writing craft and the business of writing. Writers on Writing can also be accessed from this blog and from the iTunes directory. Just yesterday, I listened to her interview of California writer Carolyn See, whose novel, There Will Never Be Another You, I just finished, and whose 2002 nonfiction book, Making a Literary Life, I read before that. (I've started corresponding with Ms. See, who is also the Friday book reviewer for the Washington Post, and she's delightful.)

The Writing Show is produced by Paula Berinstein ("Paula B"), author of a number of nonfiction books and a veteran researcher. Her show explores the craft of writing and sometimes she exposes her own foibles in a humorous way. She showcases the successes of those who have tried novel approaches to publishing. In fact, as soon as I finish writing this, I am going to find out how to make money on my blog. And then, I am going to listen to today's show, with Jean Tennant, which will tell me how to get published.

There's one from NPR, a podcast called On Words. It's culled from radio segments recorded by the late poet laureate John Ciardi. (A writer should be interested in etymology.)

Poets&Writers' podcast features readings and interviews, and the occasional group discussion. Don't miss it. Boy is this episode good: How to Publish Your Short Story: A Panel Discussion (2.01.06).

And then there are daily podcasts from The Poetry Foundation, featuring recordings of poems, interviews with poets, and poetry documentaries.

Finally, PEN American Center has a podcast. PEN is the world’s oldest international literary organization. Like other media hosts, PEN does not give you everything via the podcast. There's lots more audio to download, but you have to get it directly from the website.

Next time, I'll talk about audio and video formats that aren't iPod friendly, and what you can do about it. I'm no geek, mind you, but i have figured out a thing or two.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

I've Submitted to Third Coast!

I've just submitted a short (2:30) audio piece, entitled, "School Mothers," to the 2006 Third Coast International Audio Festival. The festival is sponsored by Chicago Public Radio. They've accepted it and posted it on their website! To listen to it, follow this link and scroll down to #43: http://www.thirdcoastfestival.org/99ways.asp.

Contest criteria appear at the top of the page. I've submitted my piece in time for it to be selected as one of the four whose producers will be invited to Chicago (all expenses paid) to attend the TCF Conference in October and present work there. If it's chosen, my piece would also be featured separately on the Third Coast Festival website.

I've never produced an audio piece before, so the sound is amateurish. My lovely friend Bill Kaplan kindly gave me some sound clips to use as background, so I could meet the contest criteria, and I mixed it up myself using a program called Audacity, my home PC, and a hand-me-down mike. But I'm really hoping it's the writing that counts.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Veils and Scape Goats

Alas, I have not yet read Azar Nafisi's book, Reading Lolita in Tehran. (See this earlier post.) It is still on the table that is next to the table that is next to the bed. Shame on me. At least it should be on proximal table, not the distal one.

I seemed to go on a bender after reading Lolita last spring, delving into both fiction and nonfiction about cultures headed for self-destruction and people who themselves self-destruct and then maybe resurrect themselves. As in the novels of Michel Houellebecq, which my husband and I read, one after the other, during spring break. As in Rick Moody's The Black Veil. (I didn't care that Dale Peck didn't like it.)

Of course, I had to read the original story, The Minister's Black Veil, by Nathanial Hawthorne, which Moody kindly includes in the back of his book. Despite not having read Nafisi's book, I was developing, apparently, some sort of veil fetish. Which wasn't helped by suddenly deciding to re-read Paul Bowles' The Sheltering Sky, with its sexy blue-veiled Tuareg tribesman who carries Kit Moresby deep into the Sahara and ravishes her to the sound of camels braying (is that what they do?), next to piles of steaming camel dung.

And then I got all fixated on the Tuaregs, their matriarchal culture, which keeps the men but not the women veiled, and their written language, used only by the women, which resembles Phoenician, and is used by them to compose beautiful poetry, and on their legendary queen, Tin Hinan, whose remains were dug out of a cave in the southern Hoggar in the 1920s by Count Byron Kuhn de Prorok, who was looking for Atlantis. I read his dusty books. Discovered connections with Frenchman Pierre Benoit's novel, L'Atlantide, in which an adventurer is captured by the Tuaregs. Benoit also relies on legends about the lost kingdom of Atlantis. And I read of the controversy over Benoit's alleged theft of plot from a similar novel, H. Rider Haggard's She. I learned that Haggard's mythology "can also be seen as a precursor of H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos stories."

Now we're having fun. Because Houellebecq wrote a book about Lovecraft. Co-winky-dink? No, no. There's a connection. In this translated extract from the book that appeared 4 June 2005 in The Guardian, Houellebecq writes:

From his journeys to the penumbral worlds of the unutterable, Lovecraft did not return to bring us good news. Perhaps, he confirmed, something is hiding behind the curtain of reality that at times allows itself to be perceived. Something truly vile, in fact.
(Emphasis supplied.) Veils again. I noted that Bowles' Moresby is herself a metaphor for a colonialist culture attracted to the sweet nothingness of self-destruction and that this culture, like Moresby, ignores myriad opportunities for retreat. Moresby effects her retreat by plunging forward, through the veil, into that sweet nothingness which her Turareg offers. And I wonder... perhaps this is the only way to proceed. Like Kali, the dark goddess of India, under whose command the world renews itself only by ghastly destruction. To keep the flame alive, must we as individuals continually propel ourselves straight forward into oblivion?

Does it turn out better if, as with the Tuaregs, and with Hawthorne's character, it is the men, rather than the women, who are veiled? I suspect not. It's the graven defining of otherness which gets folks into trouble, because of the misguided assumption that what we know of ourselves is as certain as the veils that we use to wall off the other. These veils achieve nothing but self deception.

Walling oneself off from the one who knows us most intimately is what Hanif Kureishi's flawed protagonist does in his novella, Intimacy. Somehow that book slipped into the reading pile ahead of Nafisi also. You see, walling himself off from someone who has intimate knowledge of him is what Humbert is trying to do in Lolita when he kills his rival, Quilty. But unlike the original scape goat ritual, which served to restore order in man's earliest troubled societies, Humbert's projection of his own flaws onto Quilty merely effectuates his own destruction. Otherwise he would have gotten away with his foul crimes against Lolita. It was Quilty -- the character who spent most of the novel veiling himself from Humbert -- who knew Humbert the best. And Humbert could not bear it.

So here's another lesson, courtesy of Kureishi and Nabokov: we erect veils between others and ourselves because we cannot bear to be known. Worse, we cannot bear to know ourselves.

Perhaps our preoccupation with this fellow Karr (getting back to the JonBenet thing) is just another version of Humbert's fixation on Quilty. It's the scapegoat reaction. But then, there's a whole nother reading list, about various Fall-guys, like Jesus, and Fall-women, like Eve, and before we know it we're back to Hawthorne, rereading The Scarlet Letter in the guest room, which is where we shelve the novels. And then onto a couple of the other books, like Rhawn Joseph's The Transmitter to God (see below), with, inter alia, its descriptions of the Catholic Church's sponsored torture and gender-cide of women in the 1400s. The amygdala. The limbic system. The reptile brain lurking inside us all, ready to connect us to murder and sex and fear and domination. And on, to the web to read more about mimetic desire. And on, to a couple of radio interviews with Rene Girard from last season, which you can still listen to online.

Along the way I also read The Call of Cthulhu, and some other Lovecraft stories. Hubby and I had a blast watching the movie Dagon, which is based on Lovecraft's tales. Lovecraft named his creature after the ancient Middle Eastern deity, Dagon. Dagon, once a god of grain, and before that a fish-god, is a sort of fall-guy, but he's also a projection of our own inner slithering god-demon. Our inner jailer. Our shadow selves.

All of these ideas are rolling around in Houellebecq's novels, whose characters are tormented up front and center by the worst aspects of their own makeup, and the worst aspects of their own culture. And yet there is some sweet precious thing lurking, just out of his characters' reach, beyond the curtain of Houellebecq's worst dystopias. The possibility of love. If only Houellebecq's character, Daniel, and Nabokov's Humbert, and Kureishi's Jay -- all middle-aged writers -- could go about it without fucking everything up.

Now it's time for a fresh look at the creature behind the veil. It's time for Nafisi.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Summer Reading List

We went last week to our timeshare at Massanutten, which is near Harrisonburg, Virginia, in the Shenandoah Valley. I did little writing, but lots of reading, playing with Tarot cards, and cooking (I brought a big carton of tomatoes to can that would not wait a week until we returned).

In no particular order, and because it's now Labor Day, here is a list of the books I read during the Summer of 2006 (sorry for not providing links):

Making a Literary Life, by Carolyn See
There Will Never Be Another You, by Carolyn See
Crescent, by Diana Abu-Jabar
The Pillowman (a play), by Martin McDonagh
Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdon, by Rachel Pollack
The Forest of Souls, by Rachel Pollack
The Transmitter to God, by Rhawn Joseph
Metaphors We Live By, by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson
The Moviegoer, by Walker Percy
The Message in the Bottle (essays), by Walker Percy
I'm Not the New Me, by Wendy McClure
Arthur and George, by Julian Barnes
The Hole in the Universe, by K.C. Cole
Dancing in the Flames, by Marion Woodman and Elinor Dickson
Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, by Jeanette Winterson
Essential Acker: The Selected Writings of Kathy Acker, ed. Amy Scholder and Dennis Cooper
The Serpent and the Rainbow, by Wade Davis
A Round-Heeled Woman, by Jane Juska (bought it twice by accident, and her new book has just come in the mail)

My favorite part of our yearly trip to Virginia is not viewing the scenery along Skyline Drive, or hiking, but visiting the Green Valley Book Fair. We even pack a lunch and picnic outdoors. We return home with crates of books. We use collapsable wheeled carts so we don't have to suffer shopping baskets with metal handles that dig into your arms.

I learned recently that there is such a thing as "bookstore tourism." So we are not the only loonies out there who go from book sale to book sale and buy more books than we possibly can read.

At a conference recently someone asked me what sites I use to find the lowest prices for new and used books online. Here's my list:

Daedalus (a new one's near me with coffee next door)
eBay - Books (often the cheapest for recent releases)
Powells (great website, why is the store so far away?!)
The Tattered Cover (this big independent bookseller successfully resisted gov't subpoena for customer records, yeah!)
Wonderbook (not far away - Frederick, MD - and it's huge. USA Today thinks it's one of the 10 best used bookstores in the country)

Notice I have not listed Barnes & Noble or Borders. I get emails from them all the time - and I read them. I do visit their stores. And even buy books there. But it's not where I go to find good used books or new ones cheap.

Then there's the download-it-for-free sites, e.g.:
World eBook Fair
Free Classic AudioBooks
Project Gutenberg

Of course every Baltimorian who loves to peruse stacks of used books in search of treasure needs to visit the annual Smith College Book Sale. We take our wheely carts there, too. And wear our comfortable shoes.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Friday, August 25, 2006

American Dream

"JonBenet had been strangled to death with a garrote made from supplies found in the home, her skull fractured and her mouth duct-taped. Forensic evidence suggests she had been sexually assaulted." -- This headline struck me as a warning. The persistence of the JonBenet story is evidence that American culture is becoming increasingly self destructive. As suggested in Nabokov's Lolita, we Americans are on intimate terms with our jailer. We invite him in. Our convoluted desire is for the abnegation of self and we are in denial over it. We want someone else to blame, zip-free. It is even Kabalistic -- "From the forest itself comes the handle for the axe," sings Matisyahu, although his use is from the Tanya. Anyway, last year I finally read Lolita, and I also wanted to read Reading Lolita in Tehran. I was embarrassed not to have read either book yet, especially since Azar Nafisi teaches right here in Baltimore, at Hopkins.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

What Am I Writing Now? Here's a Taste.

For a moment the only sound is that of steam squeaking as it escapes from the waffle iron. Then there is the click of its thermostat, and the light turns green. Steaming waffle quadrants improve a platter beside me. I shuttle between it and the gas cooktop, where sausage sizzles in a pan.

My parents are visiting. She sleeps upstairs; he sleeps down. They are both in his room now, and he is getting her dressed. The door is closed but I hear her protesting. She cries these words: "No!" "Don't!" "Whooaaah!" He is growling at her in a much deeper voice than the one he uses with the rest of us. I cannot make out his commands.

Suddenly the door opens and he comes through the small foyer and into our kitchen.

"There," he says, as though this first task of the day has completely exhausted him, and perhaps it has. He is flushed. He takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly. He has carpal tunnel syndrome in both wrists, compressed nerves in both elbows and both ankles, and in his prescription shoes he walks like Frankenstein. Now there is also talk of a pacemaker. They say he needs a 24-hour monitor, but his small-town cardiologist has two broken ones so he couldn't get it fitted this week. Do they know she couldn't call 911, even if she recognized she needed to?

He approaches the counter near the growing pile of waffles. He pulls over the comics and sits to read them on our new red step stool with its padded seat and back. The stool I bought at Target. The stool I bought because it is identical to the one my parents had in their kitchen when I was growing up.

In the 1950s, I sat on a red stool identical to this one and my mother fed me mashed fruit with a spoon. In the '60s, when the seat got a burn hole in it, my father patched it with reddish epoxy. In those days he would also get brown melt holes down the fronts of the short-sleeve polyester shirts he wore to his job as an accountant. By the early '70s, the epoxy was partly ripped like a scab on a wound that had not quite healed. Around then, he quit smoking. By the time I finished college the stool was gone and all of his shirts were new.

Now he has a fat mechanical pencil in his hand and he is doing the Jumble. The pencil is fat because his hands work more like paws. Anyway he does not actually use the pencil. It is only for emergencies. His new trick is to do the Jumble completely in his head and then challenge me to do the same. Perhaps this is some baseline mental test for me, to see if I am headed down the same path as my mother, but more likely he is doing it just to prove he is still smarter than me. I do not try my hardest so he wins. This pleases him greatly.

"Did you save me some fruit?" His eyes loom large behind thick glasses.

"Yes. Be careful, it's hot over there." With my sausage tongs, I am pointing towards a bowl of fruit behind the waffle iron.

He pulls a plastic device from a shirt pocket and begins pulverizing my mother's morning pills. I lean over the cooktop and hand him a small spoon and a custard cup. He works quietly, using half of a banana. The resulting goo is grey, with nubs of blue and green sticking out.

"Has the green light come on yet, Dad?" He peeks inside the waffle iron.

"No, but it looks like they are nearly finished."

A few mornings later the house is empty except for my husband and me. I am sitting on the red stool, working the morning's Jumble with a pen. My husband comes in. I do not look up.

"Why have you suddenly taken up the Jumble?" I do not like his cheerful tone.

"Shut up."

I am stalling on the third word. I write down six letters alphabetically, forcing them into a circle. I tap the pen from one letter to another. Nothing is suggesting itself to me. At the edge of my vision my husband is looking for something on the counter where the waffle iron sits.

"We're out of bananas," he says, and lifts with his thumb and middle finger a half eaten one that is entertaining a halo of fruit flies.

"There are strawberries in the fridge."

He leans over my shoulder. The smell of dead banana wafts between us.

"Trough," he says.



He heads for the trash can under the sink; I throw him a black look. A moment later, from behind the opened fridge, he speaks again:

"And the fourth word is…"

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Roland Park in the News, Sort of

Roland Park Pictures is the producer of the Sundance Channel's new six-part documentary, "The Hill," which premieres tonight. The series examines the personal and professional lives of the staff of Congressman Robert Wexler (D., Fla.). The film company was founded by two women, Elizabeth Holder and Xan Parker, who went to The Bryn Mawr School, in Baltimore.

Monday, August 21, 2006

untitled poem

A work in progress:

I stepped inside the thing I thought I wrote and found it wasn’t there.
I stepped inside the thing I wrote and found ?
I stepped inside the thing I wrote and found a mirror
I stepped inside the thing I wrote and found my mother’s face
I stepped inside and looked in the mirror and I was not smiling
Why was I not smiling?

I stepped inside the thing I wrote and found my father, hanging a chandelier
I stepped inside and found it clunky
It had red lampshades
It hung too low over the table
I smiled and complimented him on his taste

I stepped inside the thing I wrote and found my mother wandering around, undescribed
In some new place
Lost in time and space
Lost in setting, in geography,
Like my father, without her

Friday, August 18, 2006

Pocketful of Mumbles

An essaykin of mine appears in the Summer 2006 issue of Brevity.

I've put the link over here in a new section just for links --->

and here it is again:

Pocketful of Mumbles

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

A Poem - "Biscuit"


i watched you coming on to me
you were not too tough at first
some clever words, a slow advance
i said, we must have lunch

my growling bear, my salad eater
i met you in the kung pao shop

i, standing by the window
you, pretending to be shy
you brushed my breast as you walked by
and apologized
you thought I might not like you
but I did

then in my car i touched your arm
i met your gaze, we kissed
unsatisfied, penultimately
i put your fingers in my shirt

now take me swiftly, take me deeply
and i will take you on, my man

yeah, noodle man, come take me down
take me with your patois, pate
puree of soul and mince
take me down where you want me
and spill some new words in my mouth

your fruit soup, your watermelon bisque
and when you take me down my panda man
i sure will take you on

you leave me lightheaded, asphyxiated,
groping for the beige banquette
where i first dreamed you, whispering to me
and i woke up laughing, weeping.

"Biscuit," you had said.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Rejected by McSweeney's

On a whim I submitted a goofy piece to McSweeney's Reviews of New Food. They didn't like it enough, so I'm publishing it here. It's not like I could turn it around and send it out to the Gettysburg Review, now, is it? Anyway, as Rebecca Skloot said the other day at the Mid-Atlantic Creative Nonfiction Summer Writers' Conference, if you're a freelance writer, you need a blog. So here's my blog.

I live in Roland Park, in Baltimore, which is a real neighborhood, and it's where some of Anne Tyler's characters live. (I should have known -- of course she doesn't have a website so it was pointless to try to turn her name into a hyperlink. But Googling her led me to a lot of cool links, including failbetter.com, which boasts an actual interview with her and I got so distracted that I nearly didn't finish this post.)

Oh, right, the food thing:

My mistress is annoyed.

Last evening when no one was looking she ate a whole tub of Fresh! Hot Salsa with a crowd-pleaser bag of salty chips, then devoured a large chocolate bar with hazelnuts. (She did not give me any of it.) This made her drink a lot of water. She couldn’t sleep, I suppose because of the chocolate and the water, so she got up, went to the bathroom, took ibuprofen and acetaminophen together, and drank another large quantity of water. Then she slept until 10:30 and woke up groggy, downed four cups of black coffee, and sat here at this screen staring, apparently unable to work. She kept pressing on her belly with her arms folded. She went into the bathroom several times, fiddling with something or other. Around two, she got dressed but found she could not force her feet into any of her favorite shoes, so she settled for a pair of pink and green flip-flops that had lots of pretty buttons and exotic silk flowers sewn on them, and the bottoms were hand painted with little paisleys and polka dots. When she came back, this screen had gone black and in the reflection, she saw something that bothered her in the middle of her cheek and began picking at it. She moaned, and went back to the kitchen to make more coffee.

I wiggled the mouse with my nose and saw the word Fresh! on the screen in an email addressed to McSweeney’s but there was nothing written after it.

The flip-flops were under her chair. My gums were itching.