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The table I like best at The Atheneum is tucked into stacks of old books about Massachusetts cities and towns. On one particularly distractable days, I realized that if towns like Dedham and Deerfield were in front of me, Fairhaven might be behind. I figured I'd pull out the two-volume history I knew so well and look at photos of Fort Phoenix and John Manjiro and the high school and feed a little winter nostalgia. I nearly cried out in surprise when I found a small volume of my town's history that I had never before laid eyes on. I... Continue reading
Posted Feb 6, 2013 at Notes From the Sock Drawer
I wrote a poem for an exercise today. The constraints were thus: The poem will have 55 words; ten in the first line, nine in the second, eight in the third, and so forth. A wispy thing, it reminds me of a fun summer morning too many years ago. I want to share it. Ten to One for Daisy With bare hands, you pulled a snake from the lake. I, from a chair on the shore, watched you. Another mother whispered, "That can not be safe." I shrugged and prayed she was wrong. Your friends shrieked. The snake writhed. It... Continue reading
Posted Jan 27, 2013 at Notes From the Sock Drawer
When I finished NW last night, I threw it down on the couch next to me. The end was such a disappointment. Up until the last fifteen pages or so, when it became clear that the tying up of all these interesting ends wasn't part of the author's plan, I enjoyed the reading. Smith writes about friends Leah and Keisha who grow up together in a housing project in northwestern London. The story opens when they're in their early 30s and the narration follows Leah for a while. She tells the story fairly traditionally in this section, although in a... Continue reading
Posted Jan 20, 2013 at Notes From the Sock Drawer
I love the show "Parks and Rec." I love Amy Poehler, and I love that it's all about people working in a government office. I've worked in a lot of government offices. The character which comes closest to me is Ron Swanson, of course. The folks in the Pawnee Parks office hate libraries and librarians. Some of it has to do with Ron's ex-wife, an evil librarian, and some of it is departmental competition. It makes me laugh, because I have some anti-library feelings of my own, surrounding both overdue books and behavior issues. I have a long list of... Continue reading
Posted Jan 17, 2013 at Notes From the Sock Drawer
This post is just for you, Bucky. I miss you. I hope you're enjoying the little flat in Boston on your own. I'll join you soon. Having Daisy at home to recover from the flu is a real treat for me. We're lazing on the couch watching television and drinking tea. By the way, all this sitting around works in your favor, as you can see in the photo above. Continue reading
Posted Jan 15, 2013 at Notes From the Sock Drawer
So many Best of 2012 book lists put Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl among last year's best books. I felt silly not having read it. St. Gina, whose reading time is constrained by the size of her brood, tore through it and loved it. She must have mentioned it to me a dozen times, but I had other things on my plate. So dumb. I started it in Captiva and finished it on the plane. It's the kind of book you can't put down. In short, a woman goes missing and her husband is the prime suspect. The chapters alternate perspectives:... Continue reading
Posted Jan 9, 2013 at Notes From the Sock Drawer
I've decamped to someplace warmer than home, and most of my time is filled watching little birds scamper. I listened to a great story the other day (actually reading it might have been beyond my vacation capabilities) and thought you friends might enjoy a listen. "Love" by William Maxwell is the current offering at The New Yorker Fiction Podcast. It's a sweet story, appropriate for every audience. Before and after the story, reader Tony Early talks about what makes it special. Early is a regular contributor to The New Yorker; author of Jim the Boy, a book I loved; and... Continue reading
Posted Jan 8, 2013 at Notes From the Sock Drawer
I think Shakespeare's Scarf might be a good book title. The one above is what the knitting world calls The Gaptastic Cowl in Lamb's Pride Extra Bulky. As knitted goods go, it satisfies. I knit two this Christmastime, and gifted a pink model to Alzer Dalzer. The one above I gave to St. Gina, for many reasons. A knitter herself, she understands the depth of investment a knitter makes in her work. A few weeks ago, I told her she ought to have a party, and she did. Even though everyone in her house was sick for the week before,... Continue reading
Posted Jan 1, 2013 at Notes From the Sock Drawer
The Yellow Birds is the last book I'll finish in 2012, barring any odd behavior of the time-space continuum. It is a worthy place to end. Kevin Powers, himself an Iraq war veteran as well as a poet, writes about young men in the war in exquisite language. In its 208 pages, Bartlett, the first person narrator, tells about his friend Daniel Murphy, who didn't make it home. Sections alternate between Nineveh in 2004 and Bartlett back here at home five years later. The Yellow Birds is a book high school teachers will put on the curriculum for years to... Continue reading
Posted Dec 31, 2012 at Notes From the Sock Drawer
Thanks to a Wall Street Journal article on a Beltway list of the year's best, I ordered Stag's Leap by Sharon Olds just after Christmas and finished it today. It's a collection of poems about the dissolution of Olds' marriage. Only one of the pieces is rhymy and poemish; the book reads like a long short story or a spare novella. It is lovely, although so full of pain it is hard to read. Olds' husband left her, without giving much warning, and in describing her emotional response she does the best job of describing what love feels like that... Continue reading
Posted Dec 29, 2012 at Notes From the Sock Drawer
A few weeks ago, a bout of insomnia led me to listen to an episode of The New Yorker's fiction podcast featuring Mr. Parker, a story by Laurie Colwin. Mr. Parker is a piano teacher, and at the tale's open he loses his wife. The mother of his teenaged student is reluctant to let her continue to study with him. I loved the story. Mr. Parker had a way of teaching students not only the mechanics but the beauty of great music. And, I was reminded of a teacher who for no apparent reason moved my lessons from the practice... Continue reading
Posted Dec 27, 2012 at Notes From the Sock Drawer
Happy Christmas Eve! I've just finished with The Magicians and want to record some thoughts straight away, before the season hustle and bustle carries me off once again. The Magicians is a school-for-wizards tale, and every reviewer compares it somehow to Harry Potter. Enough similarities make it a fun reader for a Potter fan, but the tales are quite different. The wizards in Grossman's school (in New York State, though infused with British-isms) are college age, no longer exactly kids. More than half of the book takes place there, at Brakebills, and in that part it is indeed Hogwarts for... Continue reading
Posted Dec 24, 2012 at Notes From the Sock Drawer
The photo, from the Noanet Woodlands in Dover, a property of the Trustees of the Reservations, is unretouched. Those beautiful rainbows came straight out of the camera. Yesterday, I finished two novels. The first, The Cat's Table by Michael Ondaatje, was a pleasant read. At first I thought it was light and rather plotless, but things built. The story follows a boy and his mates as they make their way from Sri Lanka to England via cruise ship. The other novel was my own. For the second year, I took up the National Novel Writing Month Challenge and put 50,000... Continue reading
Posted Dec 1, 2012 at Notes From the Sock Drawer
Like so many others, I have signed on to NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, in which one commits to write 50,000 words in the month of November. This is crunch week, and I am stuck, stuck, stuck. Moreover, I'm not sure about the 42,000 I've got. I wrapped up most of the action of my story yesterday, but I still need another 8,000 words. This morning, after fruitlessly banging the keys a little, I decided to sit in my comfy chair and read. I picked up A Writer's Paris by Eric Maisel, knowing I had only a few chapters... Continue reading
Posted Nov 28, 2012 at Notes From the Sock Drawer
Daisy has been home for the holiday, and she brought with her a book from a class she'll take this winter on modern satire, Unincorporated Persons in the Late Honda Dynasty by Tony Hoagland. Her first evening home, we sat on the couch by the fire and read aloud from it. Many of the poems made us laugh, many delighted us. We were drawn in by "Poor Britney Spears" which begins, "is not a sentence I expected to utter in this lifetime." Hoagland's reflection on celebrity is thought provoking and fun to read. My favorite stanza: Is she a pink,... Continue reading
Posted Nov 25, 2012 at Notes From the Sock Drawer
Bucky ran his 5K with 10,720 other turkeys Thanksgiving morning, finishing in 32 minutes and 42 seconds, and in the top half of the pack, and what else could I do when faced with such athletic prowess than hit the ground running myself. I took on Mr. Penumbra's 24-hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan and finished in less than the titular time. The novel is jam-packed with goodies: secret codes, modern-day wizards (both techno and retro), Googlopolis, a quest, a verticle library, an underground library, a little romance, a high-tech millionaire. Best of all, on page 59, comes this description of... Continue reading
Posted Nov 23, 2012 at Notes From the Sock Drawer
Asta in the Wings by Jan Elizabeth Watson, the story of a seven-year-old girl who leaves a happy, sheltered existence to live in the big world of school and social workers, makes me think of something I heard in a writing workshop once: The end must balance the beginning. For example, as I remember Ann Hood explaining, if you start with abundance, you must end with scarcity. Hood had written a novel that involved knitting. The book opened with a character with an armload of newly purchased yarn and ended with the yarn shop burning down. I've thought a lot... Continue reading
Posted Nov 18, 2012 at Notes From the Sock Drawer
A shoot-'em-up novel with drug running and a psychotic butcher figuring prominently is nothing like my usual fare. Last night in a binge of page turning, I finished Urban Waite's The Terror of Living, and I'm glad I did. Waite's novel chronicles a drug running operation gone bad along the Washington State-Canadian border. I just couldn't put it down. The prose was clear and often lovely, and I needed to see which of the characters would make it through. Many didn't. Waite's book has a lot of blood in it. I found the book by chance. Ages ago, I read... Continue reading
Posted Nov 14, 2012 at Notes From the Sock Drawer
While enjoying a battering from the outer edge of Hurricane Sandy, I managed to finish up Object Lessons: the Paris Review Presents The Art of the Short Story. Editors Lorin Stein and Sadie Stein (Noteworthy: They're not related.) asked some of their favorite fictionists to choose a favorite from the journal's archives and write an introduction on what makes the story so great. I liked the notes and I liked the stories, by and large. I'll confess to not finishing two, although I'm loathe to say which two. One simply bored me, and really that could be frame of mind.... Continue reading
Posted Oct 29, 2012 at Notes From the Sock Drawer
On her annual Acadian holiday, Stampa burned through a lot of books. She passed a few on to me, including Elisabeth Tova Bailey's precious little hardcover The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating. Note the descriptors I used: "little" because the book itself is about the size of a short stack of new iPads, the ones that have just come out, and "precious," because how could a compilation of reflections on a snail found on a potted plant be anything but precious? I want to return to "little." The book is small, the pages are few, and on each page,... Continue reading
Posted Oct 28, 2012 at Notes From the Sock Drawer
I can't take credit for this photo of Captain Babajo. Johnnie took it on Caution II's recent repositioning cruise. He captured the spirit of a fall sail, don't you think? Continue reading
Posted Oct 26, 2012 at Notes From the Sock Drawer
Bucky and I closed up the cottage by the shore today, and Johnnie showed me how to take a panoramic photo with the iPhone. What a thing! I'm hoping you can click on the image and see it big. Each and every one of our neighbors made it in the shot! Today's beach report: the marsh was a marvelous orange, and the tide came up big. Continue reading
Posted Oct 20, 2012 at Notes From the Sock Drawer
I'm not going to make it to a hundred books in 2012. I know that even though I can't find the little Moleskine notebook in which I record what I've read. I made the goal knowing I read more than 50 books last year, and knowing I was committed to spending more hours with my glasses on this year. I suspect I may have doubled my time on task. Problem is, I'm reading bits from here and there. Finishing books hasn't been a priority. The pile next to my bed is a good example of my wanton ways with printed... Continue reading
Posted Oct 8, 2012 at Notes From the Sock Drawer
Johnnie, Babajo, and I visited Mystic on a warm and sunny Friday in October. We looked at boats. We like to look at boats. We ate lobster rolls on a shady lawn. We like lobster rolls. The docents at Mystic Seaport, like docents everywhere, drove me nuts. It's an agenda thing. My agenda, when approaching a docent, varies. Often, I'd like directions. Sometimes, I'm looking for a specific piece of information. The agenda of the eager docent is to dispense their own knowledge, regardless of whether the knowledge they hold crosses with the information I'm looking for. I like signs.... Continue reading
Posted Oct 7, 2012 at Notes From the Sock Drawer