Posted in Altadena, Books, Friends

Bookishly Yours

My friend Karin passed away two months ago. She wasn’t one to share her troubles so her friends didn’t know she was ill. At her passing, we were gobsmacked. If you knew her or read her writing, you know how clever and funny she was.

She really was. She hated links in blog posts but she’ll have to endure this one: Altadena Hiker

Generally speaking, books–the physical things that have spines and pages and take up space–well, those wonderful objects now rest in the delicate balance between “These are the best objects ever” and “What ever will we do with all these?”

Karin departed with no plan for her earthly possessions. On the last day her house was being emptied, I rescued her books from the dumpster. I don’t have room for any more books so I’ve been driving them around in my car all week. Along with her dusty leather jacket and a London Fog raincoat she wore in the 80’s. And a wall hanging that covered a big hole in her bedroom wall. It looked as if she’d given that wall a good kick.

Her books: gardening, gardening in southern California, hiking, hiking in southern California, the history of southern California, cook books, classic novels, a coffee table book about Norway (her parents were emigrees), a sprinkling of favorite childhood books (Caddie Woodlawn, Betsy in Spite of Herself). Jhumpa Lahiri might be pleased to know that she was quite literally snatched off the dump-bound truck, along with “Making the San Fernando Valley: Rural Landscapes, Urban Development and White Privilege” by Laura Barraclough.

One of the guys cleaning out the house asked if I were going to give the books to a library. My mind flashed on the huge library sale scheduled for the weekend. Even libraries are shedding their books these days.

I don’t know what to make of a world without physical books. I don’t know what to make of a world without Karin.

Posted in Books, Current Events

C’mere C’mere C’mere

In an effort to break away from my recent obsession with Words With Friends (here), I thought I would start this holiday morning by reading the New York Times Magazine.  I started with the July 3rd issue’s letters to the editor.  They were all about Sarah Palin and the June 19, 2011 article in which Bill Keller writes about Palin, trying to divine the factors that contribute to her disdain for the media.

Of course it was not possible for me to stick one toe into the Palin pond without ending up face down and about to drown in the inch of water that is the Palin saga.  I haven’t paid attention to Palin for the past couple of years, but The Sarahscapades still give me cat scratch fever.  The statement below got me reading about her again (full article here):

Palin’s disdain goes beyond the bitterness of a public figure who has been burned by the press…Perhaps one key to Palin’s dislike of the news media is a streak of intellectual insecurity, or a trace of impostor syndrome.  Her best defense against being found shallow is a strong offense.

Another factor, I think, is that the humiliations she has endured in the media have been unusually invasive—including, at the lowest point, speculation that Palin’s youngest son, Trig, was actually born to her daughter, Bristol, and borrowed as a campaign prop. 

If we’re pointing fingers, Sarah Palin’s Lies (at and  Palin’s Deceptions (at  have done a good job of trying to ferret out what happened.  (Shout out to Palingates over here as well.)  There are probably others.  Again, I quit paying attention to Palin shortly after the 2008 election and carried on not caring when she quit being Governor to pursue a career in reality television.

Until today.  I won’t drag you point by point through what I’ve read today.  Let’s just fast forward to Bristol Palin’s appearance on Good Morning America, June 27, 2011.  You can see it here.  BP is on the publicity circuit to publicize her new book, Not Afraid of Life: My Journey So Far.

In the interview, Bristol is forthright: She is a single mother with a son to support.  This is why she appeared on Dancing With the Stars, and she says as much.  (Presumably it is also why she wrote the book.)  Bristol will star in her own reality show later this year.

Two comments:

1. Minute 2:00 — A photo is shown of Bristol holding both Tripp and Trig.  For those of us in the ‘Bristol is probably Trig’s mom’ camp, this was gasp-worthy.  Certainly someone is making intentional decisions about the photos that will be seen during the interview.  Bare minimum, if you are trying to fuel the rumor machine about Trig’s parentage, this was the photo to keep it going.  (The Scout noted that Trig bears a resemblance to Levi Johnston.  You make the call.)

2. Minute 4:45  — Robin Roberts mentions that Bristol writes in her book that she was “thrown under the campaign bus” — with little help from the McCain team.  Bristol confirms this.

Let’s have a quick look at Sarah Palin’s Lies:

Make no mistake here. What the McCain campaign did was nothing short of genius. Faced with some very reasonable questions about the circumstances surrounding Sarah Palin’s giving birth in April of 2008, they managed to diffuse the entire controversy without ever releasing a single piece of information about Sarah Palin or the birth.  Instead, the story was re-framed to be about a seventeen-year-old girl, and then, immediately became off-limits because, conveniently, families and children of candidates are off-limits. That they were able to get away with this switcheroo is astonishing.  It seems to occur to almost no one that it was the McCain campaign that threw Bristol “under the bus” to begin with. (emphasis mine)

Back to the interview, minute 4:45.  There’s the same “under the bus” language.  Language that apparently made it into  the book.

Kudos to those who prepared the GMA interview questions for doing their homework.  Duly noted.

Sarah Palin has a loose, difficult relationship with facts, whether they are the facts of her own family history or the facts of America’s history.  Bill Keller pointed out that Sarah wants our attention.  Well, count me in, because once again she got my attention.  I will have to choose another reprieve for myself after today.

* – * – *

Trash-or-Truth Talkin’ Super Bonus: Todd Palin’s paramour says she gave Sarah Palin a massage in early 2008 (here! over here!).  Paramour’s surname is Tripp.  You just can’t make this stuff up.


A photo of the Firth of Forth on this fourth…

Photo credit:
Posted in Books, Cool Stuff

Spy in the House of Love

Was (Not Was) – Spy In The House Of Love

Jeffrey Eugenides was on NPR yesterday talking about the book he edited, My Mistress’s Sparrow Is Dead: Great Love Stories, from Chekhov to Munro. I’ve leafed through this hefty tome at the bookstore and it looks fantastic. At the end of the interview, he mentioned that he and his wife do not celebrate Valentine’s Day. He referred to the day as the cheapening and commoditization of romance. When one is in love, one can celebrate the romantic aspects of that on any day, in any fashion (picnic springs to mind for me).

I’m inclined to agree with Mr. Eugenides, but I also appreciate an excuse to do something fun. So tonight, The Scout and I are going to The Orpheum to see Was (Not Was), Brian Wilson (yes, the Beach Boy) and Kris Kristofferson. A most lovely mash-up of fantastic musicians. (Many thanks to Metroblogging L.A. for pointing this out, though I’m crestfallen that I didn’t win tickets.)

Posted in Around Town, Books, Let's Get Visual

Angeles Forest Highway

Big deadline today so no time to write. Haven’t seen any egregious graffiti lately. (Well, except on the billboard that is on top of the buildings on the east side of Lincoln Avenue between Wyoming and Montana–right above where Ebony Huel was killed. It’s had a scribbly black line of graffiti for some time (which I reported to the graffiti people…nothing happened), and now someone has gotten up there and done some big yellow letters. The whole thing is peeling from the left side, so I expect it to be removed any day. Or am I being overly optimistic? I guess I need to call again…)

Trying to read Easter Island by Jennifer Vanderbes, the pick for the City of Pasadena’s One City One Story. It’s well written but a tad erudite for me—quite academic and a bit showy. Or maybe that’s what I think about the City of Pasadena and I’m projecting that onto the book. Is anyone else reading it?

Angeles Forest Highway, courtesy of The Scout.

Posted in Around Town, Books, Let's Get Visual, Writing

Steve Martin with Carol Burnett

Steve Martin and Carol Burnett were in conversation last night courtesy of Writers’ Bloc and Town Hall Los Angeles over at the Wilshire Theatre in Beverly Hills.

Steve & Carol

They swapped anecdotes and the occasional barb (all in good fun). Carol is charming, and Steve is a good sport for getting out there and talking about himself. Even though it is clear he will never return to stand-up, he seems curious about how a live audience will respond to him at this stage of his career—or even who that live audience is.

In the case of last night, the audience was a lot of 40ish and 50ish white folks who braved the elements and plunked down $20. The audience was enthusiastic and appreciative on the front end. The conversation went well, with both recounting tales of face-to-face negative fan feedback. In Carol’s case, it was a man in a hallway just after Carol had finished her performance. She knew she’d bombed, and she remembers looking down and seeing the tears on her shoes. “You stink!,” the man said. In Steve’s case, a woman in an antique store asked him if he was the one she had seen on Johnny Carson last night. When he said yes, she sneered, “EEEWWWWW.”

The Q & A session was pretty good too, but the lighting on stage made it almost impossible for Carol and Steve to see the questioners (even though the house lights were at least partially up). The facilitator didn’t notice that the audience was starting to leak out toward the end, so rather than a proper send off (Carol was more than ready to give a gracious bow) the evening ended rather unceremoniously. Middle-aged people love their icons, but apparently they loathe long lines even more. The audience quickly dispersed to the lobby to get in line for the book signing.

Martin’s latest book, Born Standing Up, chronicles his early career, from the magic shop Disneyland to performing at Knott’s Berry Farm. After a brief stint at UCLA in the theatre department, he got a job as a writer on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. When CBS canned the show, Steve pursued his stand-up career, meticulously recording what worked and what didn’t work (a practice held over from his magic shop days).

Operating from the premise that you can question anything, Martin questioned the very nature of stand-up comedy. He refined his show, developing a ‘no-punch line’ approach that was cumulative. Laughs would build and build, then roll. The houses got bigger and bigger; ultimately the arenas that Martin could fill were too big for his nuanced comedy, and he moved on to films.

SM 3

SM 4

SM - The Mighty Hand of Steve

The might hand of Steve reaching for yet another book. He signed hundreds, and was very gracious about doing so. Way to be, man.

Posted in Books

Books Fall Open…

…and I fall in. I love nothing better than diving full body into a book (not literally, silly). I love to be overtaken by another world, to walk through the world that the characters inhabit, to be transported to another place in time.

Books Fall Open

Recent transportation-via-reading has taken me to France in 1940-41. I’m reading Suite Française by Irène Némirovsky. The book is composed of two novellas. In the first, Parisians are fleeing their city just ahead of the Germans marching in. The urgency of flight coupled with characters’ varying dilemmas–I must take my manuscripts! I must take my ceramic collection! I must take mama’s fine silver and linens!–show the reader how dire situations magnify both strengths and weaknesses. The propensity of most of us is to stick with what is known, while the crisis unfolds more rapidly than we can imagine. In flight, the mayonnaise on the sandwiches gets runny and the sandwiches are thrown away. Hours later, there is no food to be had anywhere, for any price.

The second novella is about the German occupation of a farming town. The (mostly very young) Germans do their best to be humane, speaking in French, playing with the local kids, etc. Illustrating that most soldiers are made, not born, we encounter a musician drafted into the German army, mourning his “…music, still waiting to find expression. Musical phrases, delightful chords, subtle dissonances stand poised…wild, winged creatures frightened off by the crash of weapons.”

Still, deep distrust remains: not only between the French and the Germans (many French seem to remember 1914, and even 1870, like it was 5 minutes ago); but also between different classes of French society.

What is remarkable about this work is that it manages to look on the war from such a broad point of view that one would think it was written after the war was over. It is a heart-wrenching experience to read Némirovsky’s even-handed observations of the occupation, and then to know that she died in Auschwitz in 1942 (of typhus). Her husband Michel Epstein was killed in the gas chamber there one month later.

I Nemirovsky

Némirovsky with her daughter Denise Epstein


Site dedicated to Irène Némirovsky

L’Affaire Némirovsky by Benita Eisler

NY Times reviews Suite Française here and here too.

The Borzoi Reader (a publication of Alfred J. Knopf, the publisher)

Book Browse biography, which includes information about what happened to Némirovsky’s daughters during and after the war.

UPDATE: I will take this opportunity to reply to Susan’s 161 meme. The idea is to turn to page 161 of the book you are currently reading, and record the sixth sentence on that page. Here goes (I counted the partial sentence at the top of the page as #1):

“The passions he described, his feelings, his scruples, this history of a generation, his generation—they were all old, useless, obsolete.”

Now for the tagging (feel free to take your time, and feel free to ignore all together if you like)–
Cancer Banter
Red Stapler
The DHX (this is a two-fer!) Eye Level Pasadena & Kathy’s Blog may be a better way to do this tag though.
KP – (my lurker) you could post your response in the comments, anonymously if you like.

Posted in Around Town, Books, Let's Get Visual

4th of July

To celebrate the 4th, The Scout and I escaped the San Gabriel Valley heat and went to see a friend in Redondo Beach. I called her before we left. “There’s no sun!” she wails over the phone, “I want sun!” “We want overcast!” I tell her. The miracle of southern California is not that you can go skiing in the morning and spend the afternoon at the beach. The real miracle is that you can drive outta sunny 90 degree weather straight into 72 and overcast.

The Scout - Biking at Redondo

We biked north to The Strand, where gajillion people were gathered in the gloom to show off their tattoos and drink potent potables out of their Solo cups. The patios of the houses were packed (the photo above is not a good example) and the path was packed with cyclists, pedestrians, and skateboarders. “On your left, on your left,” became a constant refrain. As we biked along, I thought to myself, “I can’t believe I live here.” As in, ‘I don’t live at the beach but I can drive to it and it’s all part of the greater LA area, and look at this action.’ The Scout called it zoology.

Patriotic Muscle Man

On the way back, we were diverted off the bike path. One of the revellers had fallen from the patio-roof of a house onto the pavement. The ambulance was gone, and we could see soap residue from the clean up. “He might die,” a young, wide-eyed blonde guy told me.

I thought of Lucy in A Room With A View (link to the film because I saw it before reading the book). Lucy is travelling in Florence (quotes from the book):

‘Nothing ever happens to me,’ she reflected, as she entered the Piazza Signoria…It was the hour of unreality — the hour, that is, when unfamiliar things are real… Then something did happen. Two Italians by the Loggia had been bickering about a debt. ‘Cinque lire,’ they had cried, ‘cinque lire!’ They sparred at each other, and one of them was hit lightly upon the chest. He frowned; he bent towards Lucy with a look of interest, as if he had an important message for her. He opened his lips to deliver it, and a stream of red came out between them and trickled down his unshaven chin.

The 4th of July moment that had been about celebrating and wacky personal expression had been replaced by the specter of death…which of course is always with us. Days like the 4th are when we pretend hardest that isn’t so. Then some guy falls off the roof to remind us.

I can’t find anything on the Internet about what might have happened to the guy. I guess we would have heard if he died on the local news.

Then Miss Lavish darted under the archway of the white bullocks, and she stopped, and she cried: ‘A smell! A true Florentine smell! Every city, let me teach you, has its own smell.’

‘Is it a very nice smell?’ said Lucy, who had inherited from her mother a distaste to dirt.

‘One doesn’t come to Italy for niceness,’ was the retort; ‘one comes for life.’

The Scout Biking 2

Posted in Around Town, Books, Uncategorized, Writing

Putting the Me in Media

I didn’t make it out to UCLA for the LA Times’ Festival of Books this year. “Festival of Books” is something of a misnomer…the event could be called “Festival of Panels” or “Festival of Opinions” or even “Festival of Talking Heads.”

Anyway, here’s a link to a short article about the “New Media: Blogging and Beyond” panel. Kevin Roderick of LA Observed :

…commented on the transition from print to blogging. “I had to make a transition, learn to put more of myself in the writing ⎯ even in print because I think readers are hungering for much more of a connection with the writers and journalists they read.”

In this age of information, we crave community. Information is important, it is a tool for effecting change–but without community, information does not have a context.

We are all suspicious about where information comes from. In the early days of television, when it was time for a commercial, they used to say, “And now, a word from our sponsor.” At this point we know/feel that every word we hear on television has been approved by the sponsor. We get our news from someone trying to sell us something. Ugh.

That’s part of the immense popularity of political blogs. We get information that traditional media outlets don’t cover. The writer’s opinion comes through as well. It only makes sense that we would want to know a little about the person who is doing the reporting.

Posted in Books, Film, Food & Drink, Tennis

Making a List

Stuff I’ve done lately:

1. Watched Crash – only it was David Cronenberg’s Crash and not Paul Haggis’ Crash Ugh.  Who needs that much dysfunction?  Besides, the movie had very little structure, it was just an endless loop–a conflagration of sex and violence.  Still have Haggis’ Crash waiting in the wings…thanks to Netflix.

2. Watched a lot of tennis at the Pacific Life Open.  One of the most fun matches was Knowles and Nestor vs. Bjorkman and Mirnyi.  Knowles plays World Team Tennis in Sacramento, and a bunch of fans came down to give “Knowlesy” support.  We also walked right by Rod Laver…a nice sighting for any devoted tennis fan.

3. Started to read Kindred by Octavia Butler, the current pick for the City of Pasadena’s One City One Story program.  My book club is talking about it tonight…I won’t finish by then, but it is a good read.

4. I balanced the checkbook.  Someone’s got to care about the checkbook…it might as well be me.  Balancing my checkbook feels like my secret revenge–or perhaps it is just recovery–from all those math classes I really sucked at.  Ha ha, teacher I can balance my checkbook.  To the penny!

5. I walked three miles this morning.  The best thing about that is that I can spend the rest of today saying, “I walked three miles this morning” to myself whenever anything goes wrong.

Finally, a Random Observation:

Everyone complains about the price of gas, but has anyone besides me wondered why milk is more expensive than gas–even now?