Monday, July 25, 2016

Tails and Tales

A terrible ratting-tatting woke me around mid-night  - sounds like hail on the skylight, or gunshots.  The attack lasted way too long to go unchecked. Figuring the sight of me in mismatched pajamas would scare off intruders, I bravely checked around the house and in the basement.  Nothing, yet the noise continued. Rhythmic, so I ruled out gunshots. But it kept getting louder.  Noting it seemed to be close to the head of my bed which is on an outside wall, I grabbed a flashlight to check outside. By this time I was too annoyed to be scared any longer.  

I arrived at the side of my house in time to see the remains of a mouse being chewed violently by the air conditioner fan.  Believe me, I have never been a fan of the mouse family, but this was an awful sight. Mystery solved and I figured once the execution was complete, the noise would end.  Wrong.  The little guy's tail dangled just within reach of the fan blade and clicked with each spin.  In time, the sound ended, mostly likely due to the appendage being clipped off.  

So, if I make less sense than normal, blame the beast.

One of my book discussion groups has chosen this book for August (yup, Steve, I know that earlier I reported the new book to an Alice Munro piece.  I stand corrected.).  Needing to finish The Bolter  for an on-line group, I didn't get far with this one.  But, aren't blistering hot days (and below freezing days) perfect for binge reading?)  The haunting cover drew me in and the first few pages hold promise.  

Young Coralie opens the story explaining her life as the daughter of a freak show exhibit owner in Corney Island in the 1920's.  Even though her father refers to both the living and preserved curiosities as "wonders', he forbids Coralie to look at them.  With great respect and sadness, she reveals how the working individuals hide themselves in public since there are no laws to protect them for harassment, and worse, from attack.  She looks upon them with near reverence, saying that their differences tell us they have been touched by God.  

I can't help but think about a troubling movie called Freaks which featured real life circus exhibits, and of course, last year's installment of American Horror Story:Freak Show.  I think these types of roadside attraction have begun to fade away which is good.  However, they have been replaced by the train wrecks offered to us by Jerry Springer, Maury Povich, and the enigmatic Kim and Kanya et al.  I can't figure out the popularity of these shows, but I will say they - and their popularity - frighten and unsettle me.

One more unsettling note, I recently received an ARC (Advance Reader copy) of Anthony Bourdain's new cookbook to be released in October.  As expected, he includes many international recipes, lots of appetizing ideas.  But, why on earth does he introduce each chapter with photos of dead chicken parts?   Really. The book is filled with photos of chicken feet, chicken legs, some with feathers, some with the dimply skin exposed.  Somewhere you will find a picture of a salad or a noodle but not accompanying the recipe for roast chicken with lemon and butter.  Nope.  There we get two chicken feet, innards , the chicken head and neck along with a butcher knife.  Appetizing.  There's a guy in full camo with a rifle, a burning wishbone, and next to the recipe for sausage gravy with biscuits we have an creepily lit picture of Bourdain himself, dripping white gravy like a rabid dog.  Oh, did I mention the dusting of f-bombs throughout the narratives?  It will be interesting to see if his intended audience gets behind this unconventional offering.

Thanks for stopping by.  

Monday, July 18, 2016

Three Special Ladies

A few weeks ago I stumbled across a curious Britcom called Mapp and Lucia (pronounced in the Italian tradition - LuCHEEa).  At first I didn't know what to make of the two battling divas, but by the third episode, I had decided to embrace them and dedicate myself to a summer filled with their competitive and devious antics.  Well, wouldn't you know, Mapp and Lucia was not a series, rather was a simple, three part adaptation of Benson's books - and from the reviews I read, the adaptation was not well received.  It was the second attempt to bring these two women to life; neither worked.  

Still, I was intrigued and decided to follow up by reading one of the books upon which the TV show was based.  Not far enough to say much, other than the style is as ostentatious as the characters, and from what I can tell, Mapp and Lucia each have been given the dignity of separate novels and don't appear to intersect as the show did.  

This is what I know so far...comedy of manners in the tradition of Sheridan and Goldsmith plays set in English village society of the 1920's and 1930's.  Lucia dominates the art scene in Riseholm, setting villagers straight on what they should and should not embrace when it comes to music, painting, flower arranging and interpersonal relationships.  She indeed regards herself as the center of all that is important in the village, acting as her own spin doctor and  staging opportunities for the masses to speculate about her and her motivations. 
The author's father was Archbishop of Canterbury.  E.F. Benson amused himself with associations the likes of Henry James and Oscar Wilde.  He published over 100 books but is best known for the collection of characters occupying the pages of his many Mapp and Lucia novels.  More next week.

Sigh.  Fine Print on a Monday has one less reader today.  Pat Chermak took her final bow early Sunday morning.  Pat was quick to contact me if FPoaM didn't appear by the time she was up and ready to read it.  I explained that if I wasn't deep enough into a book sending out a basically empty, vapid post seemed silly.  "Just one paragraph.  That's all we need."  Didn't want to disappoint so I tried to follow the one paragraph rule when I could.  Pat was an insatiable reader and frankly, I was often embarrassed to say "No"  way too often when hit with her barrage of  "Have you read....?'.  I'll miss you Patsy Ann....

Monday, July 11, 2016

Orphan Train Surprised Me

I have done my share of book blasting in the past, and if ever there was a book worthy of a big blast, Orphan Train is it.  Clearly, Christina Baker Kline knows my list of novel no's and applied them all just to annoy me.  First, there is the contrived framework.  Molly, a young woman, tossed from foster home to foster home, finds herself doing community service hours by helping an elderly woman clean her attic. Together they open boxes and the story of Vivian's orphan train experience emerges.  A straight forward telling of Vivian's  story might have been more effective, especially since the juvie girl is painfully underdeveloped and the parallels between her life and Vivine's come off trite and contrived.

Several underdeveloped characters wander through the novel, adding to the overall weakness of presentation resulting in logic gaps.  Then there's the portaging metaphor, and that old "it's the journey, not the destination" message.

Despite all that, along with flaws piled upon flaws, I must say that I liked the book.  It has stuck with me. Vivian's resilience - probably more stubborn than resisilant - makes this 90-ish storyteller a powerful protagonist. Success stories like hers were likely few; her success, no matter what the circumstance, is due to who she is and the choices she makes no matter how hard.

I learned so much from this book which is something I never expected.  Anchoring the simple story is the solid foundation of time in history I knew little about, a time filled with suspicion, poverty, class division, and social systems that failed due to blind eyes. 

 I thought a lot about why we keep what we do and how a life with less could bring greater clarity.  I thought about how importatant it is to know we can rely on the kindness of strangers, and how important it is to be that stranger whenever possible. I wondered how many people I know are or have been broken and have chosen to stay strong and not prop themselves up on the crutch of disaster.  Lots to think about.

Final thought?  Simple book.  Huge impact. word for the events of the past week...just sad.

Thanks for stopping by.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Anyone Want to Help Me Write a Play?

Script reading season has begun.  I have decided not to do an adult fall show at UW-Manitowoc, but I will direct a children's play for January.  Of all the projects I sign on for, the kid's show tops the list.  The Manitowoc Public School bus in all their kindergartners and some first graders as well.   A few day care centers join in the fun, along with some groups of challenged and fun-loving adults.  Seeing (and hearing) the theatre filled to bursting with wiggly little ones clarifies why I do this.

For many, our show is the first live performance they have ever seen and some aren't quite sure what they're watching.  After last years production of Snow White, a young girl stopped me, hands on hips and asked, "Now, were those puppets up there, or real people or what?"
"What do you think they were?"
"And that mean lady, she looked like my principal (student was correct in that discovery) and sometimes she didn't look like her."
"Don't you think that Mrs. Burish is at work taking care of your school."
"Sure,  Now, about those puppets..."

Another little boy told me that our show was the best "movie" he had ever seen. Throughout the show, teachers did their best to capture wee ones attempting to run down isles and up steps to check on poor Snow White.  "I warned you,' one little guy shouted as she bit into the apple and then fainted. We saw tears when the show was over and everyone headed back to the buses.  Most rewarding are the comments we hear after the fact about kids going back to school, building simple sets with chairs and boxes, throwing a towel-cape around their necks and revving up their creative motors to put on their own rendition of our show.

Finding a script isn't easy.  Many are roughly written, with sloppy story arcs and lots of name calling.  Really, does Red Riding Hood have to be called a "brat"?  There's lying, abduction and murder.  Not right for our audiences.  Really, the wolf eats LRRH and grandma?  Of course, the production notes give no indication of how to depict that on stage...just the simple stage direction saying "wolf eats RRH."  The same goes for Pinocchio's nose which grows somehow in front of the audience.  I generally read about fifteen scripts before I come up with one that fractures the story in the right places, giving it a fresh, playful spin.  Is it too much to ask for tap-dancing billy goats?  How about stepsisters that aren't ugly but have eccentric personalities instead?

After a fortune spent on scripts and a weekend of reading, I have nothing.  I will take one more stab at it, but my gut tells me this is the year I will write my own little script.  I'm thinking about "Red Riding Hood: The Wolf Tells All."  Anyone want to brainstorm with me?

Monday, June 20, 2016

An Early Apple Harvest

If this lush cover doesn't have you rushing out to buy or -better yet - visit an orchard to pick apples for apple butter, pies, and sauce, you will do so after reading Chevalier's intense portrait of apple growers in the 1800's.  My first thought was "How tedious".  That was speculation about the book itself, not about the business of apples.  But, my first bite sealed the deal, so to speak, and I found myself learning about hardship and determination, and the struggle to survive each and every day.  I leaned how easy my life really is.

Often, Tracy Chevalier uses art as the starting point for her work.  Who hasn't read and loved The Girl with a Pearl Earring?  But there is no fine art in this book.  Instead, she writes about the art of apple growing. Yes, there is science to it as well, but James, the surly, abusive orchardist, invests knowledge beyond botany to cultivate the 50 trees he must have on his land in order to be considered a permanent resident of the swampland in Midwest Ohio.  That is where his family wagon got stuck in the mud, and that is where they settled.  

This slow plotted book sure has stuck with me despite the he main characters being totally unlikeable.   In fact, identifying James as the protagonist is questionable since he acts in antagonist ways all too often.  On the other hand, his wife, Sadie, drinks too much hard cider, and has such anger built up that her greatest joy comes from plotting and carrying out attacks on his apple orchard even though doing so will harm her and the children as well as James.  Children die, spouses cheat...there are fights and murders and prostitutes and Johnny Appleseed.  

With him comes news of giant redwoods and the miracle that accompanies coaxing life from humble seeds. Chevalier researched.  Even the story of her research placed at the end of the book is fascinating.  Thank you to my friend, Johanna, for suggesting this book that I never thought I would like.

Oh, I did get one good chuckle when a character commented that a "dead body in a hotel  room isn't good for business."  I expect that is a universal truth.

Thanks for stopping by.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Lovely Little Visitors...and more

"Is that poetry?" Nina asked, flipping through one the inviting, fun-size editions of Hummingbird that she spotted on my counter.  "Why, yes it is," I responded piquing her interest even more.  "I love poetry", she said.

And so, I gave her a copy and explained how she could submit her own writing.  Cliff, Hummingbird's editor, stops by once a year to drop off the freshest edition of this charming poetry collection.  We chat, and he reminds me to share the poetry books as I see fit.  

Phyllis Walsh founded Hummingbird in 1990 and Cliff keeps its spirit alive and lively with two volumes each year.  Short forms, mainly haiku, fill the pages, but some poems stray from the perceived strict rules of the deceptively simple Japanese poetry.  As poetry should, these touch all levels of life and emotions - some are light-hearted, while others startle and inspire despite their brevity.

You can subscribe to Hummingbird by contacting CX Dillhunt at 7129 Lindfield Road, Madison Wi. 53719.  $10/year or $18/two years.  This is also the address you can send submissions to.  Info at the back tell us "While we admire the short poem in its many formalized incarnations, we are also drawn to experimental and contemporary forms and non-forms. We're looking for work that expands out understanding of the short poem."  So, writer friends, have at it!

I can't close today without commenting on the events in Orlando, although there will be many whose words will resonate with greater clarity and eloquence than mine.  In the next days and weeks, we will witness much head shaking and and be bombarded with powerful rhetoric.  My hope is that now...after Columbine, after Peducha, after Sandy Hook, after Orlando, after too many others...the rhetoric will end and action will be taken. When will the gun lobby open its ears and eyes to the painful cries of anger, fear, frustration and sorrow that we experience far too often?  When will our political leaders stiffen their backbones stand up against whatever it is the NRA holds over them  and do the right thing to protect people against the continued physical and emotional threats that exist at the end of assault weapons?  Of course this isn't a single part solution, but when, I wonder, will be the right time to begin making changes?  Let Orlando be the last time.

What am I reading?  At the Edge of the Orchard by Tracy Chevalier.  I joined a second book group - just five of us - and this is our first discussion title. Chevalier strays from her familiar art related themes by taking us to the life of early settlers in Ohio.  Main characters are a driven, abusive husband and his vindictive, conniving wife.

Thanks for stopping by.

Monday, June 6, 2016

And the Tony Goes to......

Sunday night's Tony Awards will surely be an all Hamilton celebration.  How great to see a show with substance and significance racking up record ticket sales.  The show's creator and star has announced that he will be moving on soon, resulting in astronomical ticket prices for his final performances.  I won't pretend to understand the economics of B'way; what I do know is that B'way stars are generous artists, giving time and sharing talent freely with many deserving groups.  They work hard to keep the dream of a thriving, artistic community alive.  Beyond the individual contributions to schools and social programs, Broadway as a whole supports outreach and education programs, among them being Broadway Cares, EQUITY Fights AIDS.  There is richness and hmainity to the theatre experience that spreads far beyond the borders on NYC. 

The latest example of the crossover  influence of the performing arts is the rebirth of interest in Ron Chernow's book.  I lifted the comments below from my daily communication from my trade association.

"Lately I cannot escape references to the Broadway musical Hamilton. From mentions on podcasts to small talk at the salon, that name is on many people's lips. So, I thought I'd go back to the book responsible for all of the hubbub and name Ron Chernow's biography Alexander Hamilton this month's book buyer's pick.

"Hamilton's fascinating life is deftly made real by Chernow's superior writing skills. The resulting 832 pages offer an even-handed look at how important Hamilton was in the formation of our country. What I love most about the rekindled popularity of this book is that its brains and newly found street cred make it a book the whole family can enjoy."

Perhaps watching the Tony's on Sunday night will inspire me to attempt the daunting task of reading this book. In the meantime, because I liked Shotgun Lovesongs so very much, I picked up Nick Butler's short story collection, Beneath the Bonfire.  The two stories I have read so far could not be more different.  The first one shocks a time or two with adult themes and scenes, while the second tenderly captures  a quiet snapshot  moment shared between a grandfather and grandson.  Butler sure has range.  You can catch Nick reading, discussing and signing next Monday, 6:00 at the Manitowoc Public Library.

Thunder. Lightening.  Blowing. Rain.  I guess most of you will be staying in today and not stopping by to visit.  That means I'll have to do some real work for a change.

LaDeDa Bev

Monday, May 23, 2016


Having lived through the 60's I remember the awful Charles Manson situation.  Morbid curiosity led me to Bugliosi's book on the crime spree, Helter Skelter.  Now, here we are again.  One the Manson's girls is (was?) up for parole and the story is being told one more in this fictionalized form.  The book is getting plenty of attention. but I haven't read enough to  give an opinion, so.....  

here's what the back of the book teases....

Northern California, during the violent end of the 60's.  At the start of the summer, a lonely and thoughtful teenager, Evie Boyd, sees a group of girls in the park, and is immediately caught by their freedom, their careless dress, their dangerous aura of abandon.  Soon, Evie is in thrall to Suzanne, a mesmerizing older girl, and is drawn into the circle of a soon-to-be infamous cult and the man who is its charismatic leader.  

Hidden in the hills, their sprawling ranch is eerie and run down, but to Evie, it is exotic, thrilling, charged - a place where she feels desperate to be accepted.  As she spends more time away from her mother and the rhythms of her daily life, and as her obsession with Suzanne intensifies, Evie does not realize she is coming closer and closer to unthinkable violence, and to the moment in a girl's life when everything can go horribly wrong.

...razor sharp precision and startling psychological insight....

We'll see...

Thanks for stopping by.
We'll be close next Monday.  Memorial Day.  Thank a Vet, please.

Monday, May 16, 2016

From the Trade show floor

I wish you could have all gone to Book Expo America with me.  This trade show, which is generally held in NYC, moved to Chicago for 2016, and gives publishers, distributors and authors an opportunity to strut their stuff.  Break out sessions throughout the day keep booksellers informed on the latest trends and offer problem solving advice.  Authors present their newest work at formal breakfasts and lunches, and meet informally at their publishers' booths throughout the day. Of course, along with all of this comes the opportunity to place orders from over 2600 exhibitors.

The pictures at the top don't begin to cover the who's who that turned up to celebrate writers, writing and books....John Grisham, Richard Russo, Terry McMillan, Mary Englebreit, Jody Picoult, Kate many opportunities to meet and chat.  Truthfully,  you just never know who will sit down at a table with you
or next to you in a lounge area and strike up a conversation.  When my credential arrived in the mail a few weeks back, I was surprised to find that I had been issued a VIP pass - a mistake for sure.  Although I didn't take advantage of that VIPness, it could have gotten me into many ticketed events where I could have spent quality time drinking champagne and eating little fancy things with the hottest writers on the market.  I knew better than to try and pull off fitting into those circles.  Instead, I walked the isles, browsing and bumping.

Plenty of people stood in lines just to have their pictures takes with authors,  That's not my style.  I prefer to capture them smiling and signing.  Kenny Loggins and Kristi Yamaguchi both have children's books releasing in the fall and Kareen Abdul-Jabbar discussed his newest book Writings on the Wall.  The fourth picture gives you a little overview of a portion of the sales floor.  It also proves that I really was there!

Jamie Lee Curtis signed her books as well.  I've been angry with her for many years now - not that she cares.  Once, on the Rosie O'Donnell show, she announced that children should be raised in a realistic world and should know from early on that Santa is not real.  Not good considering that Rosie often included segments on her show that appealed to young kids. 

Why is the picture so blurry?  Well, no one could get close to her without being jostled out of the way by one of her entourage.  She showed up with a full staff of body guards.  Right.  As if a bunch of booksellers were going to hurt her.  I guess it's all about the image. 

I'll be skipping the October regional trade show in Minneapolis this year - one road trip is enough for me.

What am I reading?  Just finished Shotgun Lovesongs.  If you're a native Midwesterner, you will enjoy this book.  I started re-reading an old favorite to see if it has held up over the years...Like Water for Chocolate,  Still good stuff.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Off to a Trade Show

It's trade show time!  This year we get to go to the big one...the whopper...the mother of all trade shows...Book Expo America!  This is an international trade show and is usually in New York.  This year, it's in Chicago.  So....

LaDeDa will be closed
Thursday, May 12
Friday May 13

We'll be back on Saturday at 10:00