Monday, October 31, 2011

Here's the Inside of My Head

Remember the kids science show Beakman's World from the '90s? I grew up on that. I had a Saturday morning bowling league when my family and I lived in Coral Springs, Florida, and Don Carter Lanes was just over the city line into Tamarac. It was on at 12:30 on CBS, so I always made sure to tape it just in case I wasn't home by then.

Watch at least this first part of The Best of Beakman's World:

See those backgrounds, all that space filled up with all those props and those set designs? That's what the inside of my head looks like.

Where I Am Now and Where I'll Be for the Next Two Years

Over the weekend, I decided it was time to finally figure out what I want to research and write for the next two years. I have a cushion of a few months until my birthday in March and then it's real crunch time to try to be published again by the time I'm 30. I'd rather spend these next few months researching.

And I've decided: I'm going to research and write that 1930s Hollywood studio system book.

If I decided to work on the three presidential books I have in mind, I still have to figure out the angle for the principal one of the three which probably can only come from the books to read for it, whereas I know exactly what I want to do for that Hollywood book. I have to see if it's workable, if there are records kept for what I'm seeking, copious records at least. But I feel like I can do this. I'm not that far removed from What If They Lived?, since it was published in March. So it's best to tap into my experiences from working on that one, use them again, and then move on to entirely new territory.

By the count of November 1, I have two years, four months and 20 days left. Time to begin.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

A Battle with Depth

Today I tried The Provence Cure for the Brokenhearted by Bridget Asher. I left at page 24 because of its stubbornly impenetrable nature. I skimmed through the rest of a flashback and found that the featured wedding lasted for a decent-sized chunk of pages. Some details were beautifully written, such as the family property in Provence, France, but the entire book felt like it was written out of reach. You can observe the events, but you can't feel them. And if you try, the book moves further and further out of your grasp.

Frustrated by it, I moved on to The Kitchen Congregation by Nora Seton. Beautiful writing here too, tapping into deep wells of emotion of family, of cooking, of the descriptions of kitchens and Seton's mother's friends, which take up the first part of the book. She tries for poetic descriptions and accomplishes that sporadically, with some other passages feeling workmanlike, just a way to get to the next part of the thought.

I lasted until page 176. The book ends at page 246, and it's a better average than The Provence Cure for the Brokenhearted, which ends at page 422. I just shuddered a bit while typing that, imagining trying to get through the rest of it, which I probably would have done if this book had been around in my teens (Although actually, I probably wouldn't have, because I checked out more movie history books than any other kind back then). But I don't have the time now. There's so many books in the world, so much to explore, that if a book doesn't work for me, even after page 20, away it goes for good. If a passage pops up that makes me want to give it a bit more of a go, then I read through the next few pages and decide. My reading list isn't finite, but my life is, and I want to make these decades most enjoyable in reading.

I considered giving up on The Kitchen Congregation during the chapter on Senta, who lived below Seton and her husband "on the first floor of a villa in Zurich." Seton's writing is heartfelt at times, but it feels so removed. You try to reach in and you can't get close enough, not because there's a secret password to declare, but because Seton is so deep into her memories, the emotions conjured up by those memories, that it feels like she forgets to look up and see those who are reading about her life. We are welcome, but please, don't get too close. These floors, these walls, are sacred. Look, but don't touch. Learn, but don't feel as much as she has. Sentimentality shouldn't be mawkish, but it shouldn't make you feel like you have to either learn the secret handshake or beg to know about someone's memories, especially with what they describe in food. Clearly Seton is a fine cook, and loves the life she lives in the kitchen, but everything else here doesn't have the same feeling.

I first skimmed past where I had stopped in the Senta chapter while considering whether to leave this book, finding the same writing style throughout. What's established at the beginning isn't going to change. But the next chapter, "Two in the Kitchen", starts with this:

"When I first saw my husband chopping green beans into uniform inches, I thought the marriage would never last. It was so precise, so painstaking. It was the way his mother did it. He liked his green beans cut small, but then he went and married a woman who manhandled green beans--no knife, no ruler."

"Ok, ok," I thought, "I'll stick with it to see the differences between her method of cooking and her husband's method. I want to know about that."

Seton is a careful writer, and she's thought about these various passages a great deal. She wants her words to be as well-cooked as the dishes she produces in her kitchen. But it feels like she holds onto them too tightly. She doesn't want any to slip out of place and upend the entire production. Most of the time, her writing feels too gentle. When she describes the actions of her children Hugh and baby Maddie while she and they visit Ida, an elderly lively friend, she hits upon the kind of writer she should have been throughout the entire book, including Maddie eating many things such as a pocketbook. It's a welcome shot of amusement that should have been suffused throughout the rest of the sentences here.

By page 176, I became disenchanted with it again and couldn't read any more pages. I appreciate the gentleness of Seton's words, but I wish she had looked up, beckoning the reader to get comfortable and settle in. I felt like I was standing up the entire time, smiling in parts, but mostly watching. Just watching. Never feeling.

After giving it up, I opened up Consuming Passions: A Food-Obsessed Life by Michael Lee West, which was the first in my "First Lines" series of entries (, even though I hadn't read any of it beyond that first paragraph. I like it already and I think it's going to bloom into love because West isn't self-conscious about her words. She writes well, but she wants the reader to come on in right away, to get to know how she became obsessed with food after her grandmother's funeral, because her grandmother's recipe for buttermilk biscuits would have disappeared had it not been for her, urged by her Aunt Tempe to write down the recipe since she remembered it. So far (and I suspect it'll last through the rest of the book), West's writing is warm and genial. And it is full of good-natured Southern life.

My plan for the weekend had been a double header of Kitchen Chinese by Ann Mah and Angelina's Bachelors by Brian O'Reilly, since The Provence Cure for the Brokenhearted hadn't arrived by Friday. It came on Saturday, and by that time, I had given up on Kitchen Chinese because despite the delicious descriptions of Asian food, the story became very boring. There's no other way to describe it but just that and move on. I devoured Angelina's Bachelors afterward, and then came The Provence Cure for the Brokenhearted and the beginning of the entry you just read. So three books came into view this weekend, and only one survived. I'm never perpetually impatient with books, just those I absolutely cannot continue.

First Lines from Books I Love #5: Angelina's Bachelors

Since becoming a writer at 11 years old, I've learned so much about writing, and surely still have much more to learn that will sustain me through the rest of my life.

I've learned not to be so prickly about language. People will end sentences with prepositions. It's not a heinous crime against humanity. (I'm not against this, but I have seen disturbing militancy from others about it.)

Contractions are ok; they help keep word counts low and prevent stuffiness.

And if you take away colloquialisms, you take away culture and how people live every day in language. I was born in South Florida, and grew up saying "Yes'm," and "No'm." I have not and will never say "Yes ma'am" and "No ma'am." That's not how I grew up, and I want to keep that part of my heritage.

But what I also learned is that I'm not the one to decide if my writing is impressive. I write because I want to, and however it turns out is because of the ideas I have of how it should be, along with assistance provided by editors. When I wrote my essays for What If They Lived?, I wasn't nervous about it being my first book, but my writing sure was. I overwrote the introduction to my James Dean essay, trying to tie in a visit to Universal CityWalk in Los Angeles, to a magnet store there with ones of Dean and Marilyn Monroe, to Dean's lasting appeal. Phil Hall, my co-author, thankfully looked over my essays and rewrote that introduction. I made sure it conformed to my writing style (Whatever that might be, but I make sure I'm comfortable with the words expressed), but was relieved, because in hindsight, it was an introduction more suited to a blog entry. In fact, I may post it here soon as a reminder of the time I spent writing that introduction, reading those paragraphs over and over, hoping that they clicked together without fighting it. I'm never embarassed by writing from years ago or writing I've scrapped. I always have to start somewhere, and that's where I did.

When I read The Men Who Would Be King by Nicole LaPorte, I was excited at the thought of writing with that level of detail, resulting from so much research that I hope to undertake as well for my own projects. I'm passionate about these subjects, so that will be easy.

Reading Angelina's Bachelors by Brian O'Reilly, I want to write with that much care, that much love. And it's huge. This is not just the product of O'Reilly's experiences being surrounded by cooking for decades, with his wife Virginia O'Reilly having cooked since she was little, not just him being the creator of Dinner: Impossible on Food Network, but him having a true love for words and for reading. At the beginning, Angelina's husband Frank dies (There's no reason for a spoiler alert here because it's mentioned in the copy on the back of the book and it's the impetus for everything else here), and even though Frank is given only five and a half pages before his death, O'Reilly knows him so well that we're affected by this, not only because Angelina is going to lose a beloved husband, but he seems like a very good man.

After the funeral, and after a cooking spree that produces dishes and soups that are delivered to neighbors, as well as a lasagna to Dottie, her across-the-street neighbor, Dottie's brother Basil returns the empty lasagna pan and proposes to Angelina an arrangement whereby she'll cook him breakfast and dinner six days a week and he'll pay her for it, a sum to help her keep on living and not have to worry so much about future finances, as she is already.

I wish I had brought Angelina's Bachelors into Sprouts yesterday. I hadn't had lunch before my family and I left on afternoon errands with the hope that we might eat out (I've been thinking again about a pastrami sandwich and Ultimate Chili Cheese Fries (which just means diced onions and sour cream included) at Weinerschnitzel). No luck, so by the time we reached Sprouts, I was famished, and grabbed a few samples from the bulk items, including chocolate-covered peanuts, and chocolate-covered cashews, and yes, not ideal, so I made sure that in the bananas we bought was a ripe banana to eat while driving a very short few hundred yards to Target nearby.

Had I read Angelina's Bachelors while walking around Sprouts, after grabbing a few containers of my favorite lemon yogurt from Casacade Fresh, my favorite yogurt actually, I would not have been inclined to scarf down chocolate. The descriptions of Italian food and Angelina cooking each dish is glorious, reverent, and it feels spiritual, a real connection not only with food but also with the bonds it creates between people. Wait until you read about Don Eddie's connection to marrowbones and toast, and the memories it brings to Big Phil, his nephew. Phil is my favorite character because he doesn't say a word, at least until it matters the most. It makes the impact of his later gesture huge.

Angelina's Bachelors is going into my permanent collection. I need it for reference not only in the gentleness of writing, but also how each word matters most. Every single word keeps you in the neighborly and caring world that Brian O'Reilly has created. Humanity has found another magnificent ally.

And now, the first lines:

"Perfect," whispered Angelina.

Standing alone in the moonlit warmth of her kitchen, she stroked them each softly in turn and applied the slightest, knowing pressure to each. They were cool to the touch now, all risen to exactly the same height, the same shape and consistency, laid side by side by side on the well-worn wooden table. The dusky scent of dark chocolate lingered in the air and on her fingers."

Angelina's Bachelors is also a vacation. Take a few hours for it, and you will return looking at the world anew.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Pattern People: I Am Not One

A nonfiction book. Then a novel. Rinse and repeat. In theory, it sounded nice, a way to keep my ungainly stacks of books organized. No way was I going to bother organizing them further beyond how I had already stacked them, with most randomly placed and only one that could be considered organized with Las Vegas and Florida books within it, and this seemed like the right idea. At least my reading could be organized.

I started this notion with Like I Was Sayin'..., a collection of columns by Chicago god Mike Royko, and after that, I read O: A Presidential Novel. Then Sixpence House: Lost in a Town of Books by Paul Collins, followed by Sleepless Nights by Sarah Bilston, the sequel to Bed Rest, which didn't work for me past page 30, because the diary format that was employed in Bed Rest was ejected, because Q's sister was coming over from England to visit and see the baby, and Bilston wrote from her perspective as well. Plus, the first novel felt sort of stuffy, whereas this sequel was overly stuffy.

Instead, The Kitchen Daughter by Jael McHenry. Then Becoming Justice Blackmun: Harry Blackmun's Supreme Court Journey by Linda Greenhouse. Then How Sweet It Is by Alice J. Wisler, which I ejected after page 20 because of the awful writing, not much in the way of powers of description, particularly since Wisler couldn't simply say that the dog barked twice, but rather that the dog "produced two barks."

By this time, The Men Who Would Be King by Nicole LaPorte was eating at me, because it was time to figure out how I want to eventually write my 1930s Hollywood history project after all the research is done, and I wanted to see how LaPorte covered the story of DreamWorks SKG. I'm not as much interested in business practices as she is, but the level of detail she produced in this book is astonishing and will undoubtedly remain an inspiration for as long as this particular project goes on.

The breakdown of this idea of nonfiction then fiction then nonfiction and so on came as I was doing it, because of Angelina's Bachelors by Brian O'Reilly, which I had received in the mail and wanted to read so badly, but wanted to stick to my pattern. It's about Angelina, who cooks and cooks to try to deal with the death of her husband, and soon comes to a deal with her new across-the-street neighbor, a retiree who pays her to cook two meals a day for him, six days a week. And soon, other bachelors get wind of this.

This pattern is all wrong for me. I'm only organized where it matters, such as making my bed, washing the dishes, and my writing projects. With the writing projects, the only pattern for books for research is to keep reading them and taking notes until I have enough information for a book, while also seeking out other resources. That should not apply to my regular reading.

So I've finally had enough. I decided that if The Provence Cure for the Brokenhearted by Bridget Asher came today, I would make it part of a triple header for the weekend that would include Angelina's Bachelors and Kitchen Chinese by Ann Mah. It didn't come today, but it might come tomorrow, and even so, I decided to get started. Not with Angelina's Bachelors, as you might expect, but with Kitchen Chinese, which is a gently descriptive, yet mild debut novel. I don't feel completely enveloped in the Beijing that Isabelle Lee becomes accustomed to after moving there, and I want to be, especially with the descriptions of the different types of food there. But I like it enough to keep on reading. And after this, definitely Angelina's Bachelors.

I'm also reading The Agenda: Inside the Clinton White House by Bob Woodward, to see if I want the Hollywood project first or one of my presidential book ideas, but that's only sporadic throughout the weekend. These novels first. And I've also got The Complete Polysyllabic Spree by Nick Hornby, purely for endless inspiration, because he writes about books with such a passionate love that it makes me love books more than I already do. I read it column by column, as these words appeared in the McSweeney's magazine The Believer. So I don't feel the need to read it all at once, though it is often tempting.

This feels right now, and this is how it shall remain, to just go with what I really want to read right away.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

I Don't Miss It, But I'm Grateful for It

I was 5 years old when I saw my first movies: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Jetsons: The Movie. It was 1990.

I was 7 years old when, for some inexplicable reason, I copied onto a sheet of white posterboard by hand a review of the animated movie Bebe's Kids from the Orlando Sentinel. It was 1992.

It was 1999 when I began actually writing movie reviews, for the Teentime pages of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel's weekend Showtime section. I was nearing the end of 8th grade, and I had found a call for writers in those pages. I wrote two test reviews for the editor, Oline Cogdill (One review was of Analyze This, which I had seen at a sneak preview), and was deemed good enough to write regularly for the section. During my three years, I won, at the high school journalism awards that the Sun-Sentinel held every year at the Fort Lauderdale Museum of Art, 2000 Teentime Movie Reviewer of the Year, 2001 Teentime Movie Reviewer of the Year, and 2002 Teentime Reviewer of the Year. I still think that those awards were for sheer quantity, because I wrote a lot, and there were weeks when I didn't think my reviews were any good. Sure I wrote them, but I didn't feel so vested in them. Step one: Pour out opinion of movie into Word file. Step two: Send review to Oline. Step three: Repeat steps one and two.

No matter those occasional dry, dull weeks, I appreciate the experience because it taught me to write regularly. It gave me a routine about it. It began the process that led to where I am today, undaunted in the face of potentially massive writing projects. Don't mistake that for arrogance. I'm comfortable with the tasks, but it still entails a hell of a lot of work.

In 2002, my time with Teentime had ended because I had graduated high school. And one day, in February 2003, while attending classes at Broward Community College on the smallest campus they had (Which was diagonal from the Southwest Regional library in Pembroke Pines, part of the Broward County library system), I was in the computer lab at the Southwest Regional library and had come upon a website called Film Threat, which was looking for writers. I e-mailed the editor, Eric Campos, asked what was needed, and I sent along many sample reviews, silently praying that they would be good enough as I sent each one. And they were. And until 2009, I wrote countless reviews for the site.

In 2004, I applied for membership to the Online Film Critics Society, which Phil Hall, a fellow writer, had suggested. He was also a member of the Governing Committee of the OFCS. I was rejected because, as Phil had said, my reviews contained too much plot summary and not enough opinion. I made necessary adjustments to my reviews, and I was accepted the next year.

Then, in 2006, I decided to run for a slot on the Governing Committee and was elected. Phil was with me, and it was nice to be at the top. And I had also been impressed that at the end of the year, when Hollywood was pushing so many movies for Oscar consideration, we got screeners too since we had our own awards. Sometimes, movies that I wanted to see arrived this way. And then the entire membership sent ballots of what should be nominated, and a few weeks later, we voted on what should win our awards. In 2006 and 2007, I loved it. In 2008 and 2009, I was tired of it and it was partly why I was glad to eventually leave the OFCS.

It began to feel like a hamster wheel. The screeners were wonderful to have, but it felt like there was an obligation to watch these movies, to see if there were any performances, cinematography, editing, etc. that was remarkable enough to garner a nomination, and then the voting, and that was it for the year. Then it began at the same time the next year. I didn't mind the requirement that you had to have written at least 50 reviews for the year in order to retain membership. It was just this aspect that I slowly began to loathe.

At the same time I became a member of the Governing Committee, Jim Judy, the owner of Screen It ( posted a message on the private OFCS board looking for writers for his site. It was vastly different from other movie review sites, being that these reviews were geared toward giving parents the most information possible about a movie. Everything from alcohol and drugs to sex to violence and profanity was documented in each review.

I e-mailed Jim, very interested, because unlike Film Threat, Screen It paid per review. Jim e-mailed me back, assigning me two test reviews, one for Bad Boys II and another for Something's Gotta Give. Both were easy to get since I had a 3-DVDs-at-a-time account with Netflix at the time.

Bad Boys II, with the violence, explosions, and profanity was a nightmare. I quickly learned what was involved in documenting an "R"-rated movie and had worked so diligently on all of that, and it took so many hours, that I'd forgotten that a regular movie review had to be written in the "Our Take" section. By the time I was done inserting everything I had written down into the template Jim had provided, I didn't even want to think about what I had thought about the movie.

Jim e-mailed both files with corrections, pointing out what needed to be expanded in my descriptions, what wasn't necessary, and hired me. He wanted reviewers for pre-1996 movies (Screen It began in 1996), so it was a godsend for me since I didn't have to go out to the movie theater and try to get everything down without a pause button. I reviewed Ghostbusters, The Godfather, and Beverly Hills Cop, among others. Some reviews took a week because I was so thorough. Mom thought I was being too thorough, but I felt this obligation to get it all exact, no matter how many hours it took.

In early 2009, my final review for Screen It was Goodfellas, and I couldn't take it anymore. I wanted to write other things. Not only was it not possible for me to be a full-time film critic for a newspaper or a magazine, as I once thought I might be, I didn't want to be that anymore, and I also didn't enjoy movies anymore. I wasn't as enthusiastic about them as I was as a writer for Teentime.

It was in the same year that Phil and I lost re-election to the Governing Committee. After the results were known, he asked me if I wanted to join him in co-writing a book called What If They Lived?, about what actors like James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, Judy Garland and John Belushi might have done in their careers had they not died. It was the second book in his two-book contract with BearManor Media, which specializes in Hollywood history and other books about movies and television and radio. It was going to be published.

I didn't want to do it. It felt like too much work. So many books to read, notes to take, and I also had to find other sources, such as newspaper articles, and people to interview, to speculate about what these actors might have done.

Mom told me I had to do it. I would not get this opportunity again. This book was being handed to me. It was a gift other writers would kill for. I understood, and I told Phil I would join him.

Some of the research was very tedious. I especially remember the evening of July 4th in 2009, sitting at the dining room table while fireworks were shown on CBS, reading a 600-page biography about Judy Garland. Fortunately, I had been reading since I was 2, so I was a pro at speed reading, but having to take notes while reading slowed things down considerably, particularly because the first half of each essay was a straight-out biography about each actor, and I had to choose what I wanted to include about Garland.

The fun part was contacting people to interview about these actors. There was a publicist named Gilda N. Squire who had worked with Aaliyah, who graciously speculated about what her career might have been, believing that she would have become what Beyonce is. Considering what I had read, I believe it, because Beyonce is taking the same path with acting as Aaliyah was planning, and had already begun with Romeo Must Die and Queen of the Damned. The Matrix sequels would have been next for her, in the role that Nona Gaye played. And then she wanted the remake of Sparkle, and Some Kind of Blue, with her playing a woman dating a white jazz musician in a time when that was extremely taboo.

I appreciated that people like Squire gave time to talk about these actors. To talk movies with them was most welcome to me because as a writer, you do spend a lot of time alone, in front of a computer screen, trying to figure out how to make your writing work. To talk to others is always welcome, especially in the thick of a writing project.

After I finished writing and editing my share of the book, and sent what I had to Phil to be put together with his essays, I decided I was done with movie reviews. I would be much happier as a former film critic. I wanted to love movies again. I wanted to only know what was coming out by way of the commercials on TV and the trailers I saw online. I didn't want to request DVDs from publicists anymore, I didn't want to receive press release after press release; I just wanted movies to be one part of my life, not the dominant part anymore.

I don't miss movie reviews. I don't miss the wind-tunnel hype machine of awards season. I don't miss the sniping that went on during Governing Committee election campaigns within the OFCS. I don't miss my encounters with publicists after screenings when I wrote for the Teentime section. They were nice enough people, but you could never be sure if it was truly them or just their PR personality.

However, all these years taught me to write regularly and the book taught me how to do research, what was available to me, and it was the first time I wrote anything over 1,500 words. My reviews, save for Screen It, never went above that, and here I was, writing 8 pages about James Dean. It's difficult to do, but if you've got enough research material, it's bearable.

Without all that, I wouldn't be here as I am right now. Without Phil, I would not be so eager to begin writing books. And now I'm facing choices over what I want my second book to be about. I don't have a publisher this time. I'm going to have to become a salesman in addition to being an author. But now I have some of the confidence necessary to pitch myself because of those years of writing movie reviews, because of What If They Lived?. The rest of the confidence will come once I have a book I want to present to the world.

Here I go.

Feeling Like It Can Be Done

I don't know how many books I'm going to pore through this time for either that 1930s Hollywood history writing project or one of my presidential writing projects. I don't know how many newspapers I'm going to root through online, nor what libraries I'll need to get in touch with for records I seek, or, if it is one of those presidential writing projects, presidential libraries too.

I do know that I'm ready. I want to do this. It's going to be a lot of fun, whichever one it will be. But I have to get to work on it. After What If They Lived? was published, I vowed to be published again by the time I turned 30. I'm 27, and I'm going to be 28 in March. Two years left by then, so I still have some cushioning in these final months of 2011.

I finished reading The Men Who Would Be King early this evening, and instead of beginning The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh (The switch from nonfiction to fiction and back and forth), I began The Agenda: Inside the Clinton White House by Bob Woodward, documenting the first year of the Clinton administration's economic policy. I have three tall stacks of presidential books in the living room, and this one has been prodding me over the past week, even though I've had it since December 2009 ( Every book in time, I guess. As with The Men Who Would Be King, I'm reading this one to see what my enthusiasm is for those presidential writing projects. Is it higher than the Hollywood project? Or should I set it aside until I'm done with that one?

I love all these ideas, but I still have to pick one because it's the only way anything's going to be written. I don't think I could work on simultaneous projects. One book and then another. I'm not Danielle Steel.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

All It Takes is One Great Book

I have admitted before to being a lazy writer, and I stand by that. But give me one great book to inspire me, and I rush into action (as much action as a writer can be counted on for), considering so many ways that I could write a book.

I've found that great book. It's The Men Who Would Be King by master Hollywood journalist Nicole LaPorte, who documents the formation and dissolution of DreamWorks SKG, which was started by Steven Spielberg (S), Jeffrey Katzenberg (K), and David Geffen (G), all big Hollywood power players in one way or another, Spielberg most obvious.

The people interviewed for this book embrace the cloak of invisiblity, preferring to talk to LaPorte where they couldn't be seen by other Hollywood denizens and possibly ratted out to Katzenberg or Geffen. Piss off one of them, and your career is over even before you got to where you hoped you would be one day. Hollywood is a tight-knit town with sharp teeth.

LaPorte's writing is brilliant, bringing you right into the plans for DreamWorks, the press conferences held by SKG that touted how different DreamWorks would be from the Hollywood norm, how they fancied themselves the next generation from United Artists, which was begun by Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplin, and D.W. Griffith. Just as United Artists existed for the artists in Hollywood, so too would DreamWorks.

But the dream came with many costs, and flops from the start, before becoming a possible shining star with the releases of Saving Private Ryan and American Beauty. The acrimonous relationships written about here are utterly fascinating, but it's not LaPorte's expose style that inspires me; it's her level of detail, how she's so thoroughly researched her subject, interviewed what must have been hundreds of people at least, and gotten every single detail she sought that there is no way another book could match. There's no way another book could be written, because I don't think any other writer would have the guts that LaPorte has. This is immediately another classic Hollywood book.

I'm only on page 200, but I've been reading it with my jaw partway to the floor. I want to write my 1930s Hollywood history book like this, with as much detail as I can find to keep it interesting. I have a partial idea of where I might like to go with it, and I intend to see if it's workable based on the records I hope to find after preliminary research with a few of the books I got about the studio system back then. But reading LaPorte's book, I feel like I can do this. The research is going to be a lot of fun, and I can feel the laziness lifting.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Continuing Quindlen

Reading about Justice Harry Blackmun's overall impact on Roe v. Wade in Becoming Justice Blackmun: Harry Blackmun's Supreme Court Journey by Linda Greenhouse, a sentence in the first paragraph of Chapter 9, "Improbable Icon", struck me with a reminder:

"On Harry Blackmun's improbably journey, becoming a feminist icon was perhaps the most improbable destination of all."

Once again, reading one book led me to think about another author, being that Anna Quindlen, in her collection of columns entitled Thinking Out Loud, had written a touching tribute to Blackmun upon his retirement from the Supreme Court. Quindlen, a feminist, thanked Blackmun for all that he had done for women with that one opinion. And just then, I thought about how Quindlen matched the kind of writer I like to be, with it being ok to have a big heart, following your convictions with firm certainity while agreeably learning about all that's going on around you, open to other opinions.

After I finished reading Thinking Out Loud a week ago, I went to Amazon and spotted an interesting-looking cover for Quindlen's novel, Every Last One, two red flowers next to a framed photo of what looks like a woman in a willowy white slip. I read only the first page of the provided sample, and went to and ordered it. I didn't need to know what it's about. I wanted to see what Quindlen is like as a novelist.

I'm still waiting for Every Last One to arrive, and I may also partake of Quindlen's other novels, but now I also want to read Living Out Loud and Loud and Clear, two other collections of Quindlen's columns. And though I read How Reading Changed My Life in January of last year, I feel like I read it without really knowing who Quindlen was. I want to try again.

Before starting Thinking Out Loud, I read all of Celia Rivenbark's books from the end of September (Bless Your Heart, Tramp and We're Just Like You, Only Prettier), through four days toward the middle of this month (Stop Dressing Your Six-Year-Old Like a Skank, Belle Weather, You Can't Drink All Day If You Don't Start in the Morning, and You Don't Sweat Much for a Fat Girl). I liked her very funny observations, but thinking about those books, I don't remember an overall great deal of them beyond the life which I also lived in part as a resident of South and then Central and then South Florida again.

But I feel a kinship with Quindlen, observing everyday life, always wondering, always appreciative of the days given to live, with a big heart to match. I want to see what else she offers in her other columns, and now's the time.

Monday, October 24, 2011

"Delicious, Fresh Taste & Ready to Enjoy" - Apt Description

At the Walmart on Kelly Johnson Parkway yesterday with my family (The one overlooking Six Flags Magic Mountain), picking up a few things for lunch and dinner during the week, I reached the aisle that had canned tuna, and found the pouches that Starkist sells, including chunk light tuna salad, with water chestnuts and dill relish, among other ingredients. I bought one of these from Target two weeks ago, liked it, and wanted it again, especially since it was cheaper here.

Last night, toward 11 p.m., when the house was settling in for the night, Dad and Mom in their bedroom, Meridith in hers finishing Devoted by Hillary Duff (She's been a fan since Lizzie McGuire, and owns Elixir too), and me in the living room on the computer, I went to the fridge to get some water and looked at the pouch which was laying on top of four of the Yoplait Greek yogurts I had also gotten. I looked at the bottom of the pouch on the front, which has the only discernible copy anywhere on it: "Delicious, Fresh Taste & Ready to Enjoy." It is delicious, it tastes fresher than when my dad glops mounds of mayonnaise in the tuna salad he makes, and I would probably enjoy it again at lunch again today (I did). I liked that sentence because of its self-confidence, so sure of itself, as all products have to be when they're on the shelves. There has to be something to capture the attention of shoppers. For me, it was just that it was chunk light tuna mixed in with other ingredients without having to do all the work. And I'd never thought of water chestnuts in a tuna salad, but it works. It gives it a firmer texture.

That sentence also applied to me a little after 1 in the morning. For the past few months, I've always been on the computer until a little after 2 a.m. or about 20 minutes before 3. I don't do a great deal on it that furthers my life, at least in my pursuit of being published again before I turn 30, which is why I'm glad I'm still 27. I'm a lazy writer, but not so lazy to not realize that the next two years will not wait. I'm aware, and am reading a few books that focus on 1930s Hollywood history to see what has been done and where I want to go with my book.

I decided that I'd had enough on the computer before midnight. I love the web comic Unshelved because it takes place in a library, among patrons and librarians (, but there's only so much of its archive I can read in one sitting, since I'm on May 16, 2004 all the way from Saturday, February 16, 2002 (It's posted seven days a week). And I had read the Sally Forth and Rose is Rose comics for Monday, so there was nothing else, no reason for me to stay on any longer, not even to seek out more music for my desert soundtrack. It's a better pursuit during the evening.

Last week's episode of Hart of Dixie was still on the TiVo, and I went for that, laying on the couch and watching about 20 minutes' worth before I decided to delete it. I like the concept, about Zoe Hart (Rachel Bilson), a New York doctor who has moved to Bluebell, Alabama to take over the practice of a deceased man that she finds out was her father. It's Hollywood's view of the South, so I can live with that, but where is the charming, spirited show I found in the pilot? I think it left with Nancy Travis, who went on to Last Man Standing with Tim Allen after the second episode. Travis was the heart and soul of the show. She gave it honesty, and a slight, but warm edge that was a wonderful counterpoint to the miscast Tim Matheson as the owner of the other half of the practice who wants to push out Zoe and have the entire practice to himself. He was much better as Vice President Hoynes on The West Wing. I'll give this week's episode a little bit of a chance, but I can't keep going on with this and wasting my time, still hoping that I get that show that I originally saw. It was fun fluff. Now it's just a chore.

PBS aired the Ed Sullivan Comedy Special during the evening, and I TiVo'd it, so I watched about 20 minutes of Jackie Mason, Rodney Dangerfield, Jack Benny, Flip Wilson, and Moms Mabley, and had a much better time. Then I decided that it would be an interesting change to get to my room before 2 a.m., and I did. But I didn't feel like continuing Cold Souls or The Glass Menagerie, starring John Malkovich, one of my favorite actors. I just wanted to read, uninterrupted, and it was the perfect chance.

I had brought The Kitchen Daughter by Jael McHenry with me into Walmart to read while Mom stopped to look in the cosmetics section and in pharmacy and in other parts of Walmart before we reached the food aisles to get what we needed for the week. Didn't happen. The Sunday crowd was in every aisle, and I heard one guy, probably two years older than me, say to another guy, "Walmart is always an epic adventure." I want to go to whatever Walmart he's been to. Here, it's just necessity shopping, and the bargain book selection, except for the hardcover edition of Just After Sunset by Stephen King which I picked up at the Walmart Supercenter on Carl Boyer Drive, is reliably disappointing.

In my room, in that middle-of-the-night silence, I wanted to read as much of The Kitchen Daughter as I could, continuing from page 151. For me, part of the appeal of The Kitchen Daughter is that it involves details of food, and cooking. And I was completely inside the story, in that kitchen with Ginny, the main character. When I got to page 202, I saw that it was 2:51. I didn't care. I wanted to finish this. The end came at page 272, and it was 3:30. I didn't worry about it being so late, because lately, I've always gotten up at about 10:15, no matter if I go to bed at 2:20 or 3:30. I didn't think about the day to come. I only thought about having been inside this novel, having completely disappeared into the words, drinking it all up and wanting more and more and more and more. I felt totally refreshed, smiling as big as the world can make smiles. And I want to do it again. And I will. If I don't finish Becoming Justice Blackmun: Harry Blackmun's Supreme Court Journey by Linda Greenhouse by late tonight, my reading will likely have a different effect, one of intense concentration, since I'm still learning everything I can find about the Supreme Court. But there will still be joy, still deep satisfaction in uninterrupted reading time. In that time, I am the only one in the world, and I can travel wherever I want.

Delicious? Yes! Fresh taste? Always! Ready to enjoy? All the time!

(Addendum at 4:27 p.m.: Upon reflection in the shower (What better place to think?), my feelings about my middle-of-the-night reading are best expressed in one of the choruses of Major Tom (Coming Home) by Peter Schilling, my favorite song:

"Earth below us; drifting, falling
Floating, weightless; coming home.")

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Most Accurate Movie about Las Vegas Feels Mostly Wrong

Hollywood likes to speed up Las Vegas, portraying it as exciting, fast-moving, with such an overwhelming feeling of luck that it's possible for anyone to make it big, and those who don't are merely entertaining side characters.

Las Vegas is exciting, and depending on who you are, where you are, it can feel fast-moving, especially if you frequent its myriad nightclubs. And if you've got some really good hands going, then there can be an overwhelming feeling of luck. But Hollywood's Las Vegas is not the real Las Vegas. It doesn't move that fast. It takes time to get there, to settle in briefly before you head out on the Strip, to take in all that's around you, all the zippy colors, all the sounds, all that evidence, such as a smaller-scale Eiffel Tower that marks the beginning of Paris Las Vegas, that shows you will not find all of this anywhere else. And what you experience here is purely yours. You may be a gambler, or you may simply be content walking through the various casinos and eating at some of the buffets they offer. You may like to see some of the shows, such as Donny & Marie or Celine Dion or Elton John, or, who knows, you might be interested in the interior designs of Vegas bathrooms. Whatever it is, no two experiences are alike.

There is only one movie made by Hollywood, Warner Bros. specifically, that portrays Las Vegas with 100% accuracy. It doesn't seem like it's of Hollywood, since it was shuffled around so much on the calendar before eventually opening in a little-faith slot against Spider-Man 3 in May 2007. It's Lucky You, starring Eric Bana, Drew Barrymore, and Robert Duvall, with supporting roles filled by Debra Messing, Horatio Sanz, Saverio Guerra (Remember Bob on Becker?), Danny Hoch, and a cameo by Robert Downey, Jr.

Before I go further, I saw a lot of bad movies, and was ticked off by many of them when I wrote movie reviews for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel's Teentime pages (in the back of their weekend Showtime section every Friday) when I was in middle and high school, and for Film Threat ( The memories of what teed me off about those movies are gone. I can find my old reviews on the Film Threat website, and I can probably remember briefly why I was so mad, but that full-on feeling is gone.

There is one particular anger I remember vividly, though. I always went for novel experiences in moviegoing, especially advance screenings, which usually included movie theaters a bit of a drive from Pembroke Pines, one of which was AMC Aventura 24 on the third floor of the Aventura Mall. There was one Saturday morning screening there of Pokemon: The First Movie - Mewtwo Strikes Back about two weeks before its release on November 10, 1999. I don't know why I went, but I think it was one of the first invitations I'd received to an advance screening, so I wanted to see what this was about, what great fortune there was in regularly writing movie reviews. Being on a Saturday morning, the audience was made up entirely of kids, and parents who would rather be anywhere else. Some had won their tickets on the radio, but I had no trouble finding a seat since there was a row roped off for press, which meant me and a few other critics. But it didn't matter. I was angry after it was over. I couldn't understand how movies like this could be made for kids, movies without thought. I was 15, and had been a huge fan of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, and had liked Pogs, so I hadn't thought about the gobs of cash to be made by the studios that released these movies, Warner Bros. in this case.

After leaving the auditorium the movie had shown in and the theater itself, I went to the box office and found out on the digital showtime board there that The Straight Story was showing. This was also being featured at the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival, and I was thinking of asking my parents to take me there to see it. But here it was, no film festival crowd involved. Upon meeting Mom and Dad at the Johnny Rocket's across the way, I asked them if they could wait a little over two hours more so I could see The Straight Story. Then at least, Dad didn't like to spend a lot of time anywhere, so it was big of him to say yes, and Mom did too, and I got more money, and off I went.

The chance to see a movie about an old man driving his tractor from Laurens, Iowa to Mt. Zion, Wisconsin to see his estranged brother, because he could not drive a car anymore, was not one I was going to let pass by, especially since it was directed by David Lynch, never known for such gentleness in filmmaking. And it was so worth it. It completely washed away the ill will I had toward Pokemon: The First Movie. It's why the anger I had then is faded today, dull. I remember it, and then it doesn't matter.

I feel a kind of anger toward Lucky You that will never go away. I know Las Vegas, and though I haven't yet been to all the casinos, give me time when I finally have the time and much closer proximity as a resident. Lucky You is the Las Vegas I know, especially in one shot. The camera focuses on the Eiffel Tower at Paris, then pans diagonally down to the waterfalls at Bellagio before settling on Huck (Eric Bana) and Billie (Drew Barrymore). There is no music accompanying the shot. It is the pure atmosphere of Las Vegas. It is exactly what it feels like at 9 p.m., at 10 p.m. There is an underlying nervous energy, but it's very faint. Where do you want to go? What do you want to experience? But there is also such pervasive peacefulness. This is where you belong. Stay here. Take in the waterfalls. Listen. Listen. Look. Listen.

Lucky You is set in 2003 Las Vegas, and is about Huck, who wants a spot in the World Series of Poker, who, in the opening moments of the movie, is trying to pawn off a presumably untouched digital camera, still in the box. His monologue in trying to convince the grizzled pawnbroker (Phyllis Somerville) to take the camera is brilliant. He seems to have a confidence that shimmers around him, and yet, it's the egregious fault of the screenplay by Eric Roth and director Curtis Hanson that there isn't a great deal to him beyond what you see right there. However, the pawnbroker is one personality you're likely to see in the real Las Vegas, so that begins the movie's accuracy. When Huck drives his motorcycle to the service entrance of a casino on the Strip, that is the real Las Vegas around him, but there are no tricks to try to make it faster than it appears. Hanson seems to know intimately what Las Vegas feels like, and so it's quiet all around, save for the music during these moments.

Charles Martin Smith plays Roy, Huck's chief backer in his attempt to get into the World Series of Poker. Currently, he's better known as the director of Dolphin Tale, also released by Warner Bros. Roy wants this investment to pay off, and says to Huck at one point, "You want sympathy? You'll find it between "shit" and "syphilis" in the dictionary." You don't have to know anyone like Roy around Las Vegas, and yet you can sense people around you that are like him. They're around. Vegas births them.

There's also Saverio Guerra as Lester, who's known for oddball bets. Before the end of the movie, he takes on a bet that he can live in the men's bathroom for 30 days at Caesars Palace without leaving it. Lester is quite possibly the most entertaining character in Lucky You. The real Las Vegas is undoubtedly stocked with Lesters. They're as numerous as the Roys.

It's always nice to see Drew Barrymore in any movie, but she's saddled with so little to do as Billie Offer, who's moved to Las Vegas to try to be a singer. She meets Huck and gets involved with him, despite her sister (Debra Messing), likely an ex of Huck's, warning her off. I don't know if there's anyone like Billie in Las Vegas, not yet, and I wouldn't actively seek them. There probably is, but surely they're not saddled by the silliness the screenplay forces Barrymore to work with, such as when Huck is teaching her how to play poker. Despite my fondness for Barrymore, more moments with Lester and Roy would have been more welcome.

Huck's chief antagonist is his father, L.C. (Robert Duvall), though L.C. isn't the antagonist type. He just wasn't much of a father, and also happens to be the greatest poker player in the world, and shows it against Huck, but that's just how the game is. In Las Vegas, you have your money, you have whatever luck you're dealt, and for poker players, that depends on what cards you get. That's just the way it goes. But there's so many scenes between Huck and L.C. like this, resentment included, that it becomes tiresome.

Lucky You is so thoroughly squandered on the dealings between L.C. and Huck, and Huck and Billie, that sometimes the real Las Vegas is lost. The golf course scenes that include Horatio Sanz as the one who bets Lester that he can't do this or that (such as the Caesars Palace bathroom bet) don't feel anything like Las Vegas. Yes, there are golf courses in Las Vegas, but this feels disjointed. And yet, Las Vegas is still there somehow. The moments are fewer and fewer as it goes on, but you can still feel it. But then, maybe that's the intent. For a visitor to Las Vegas (which Huck isn't, but in the span of this movie, we are), it is so vivid when we get there, and we appreciate it as the days go on, but when we leave, there are only bits of it that cling to us. We can remember fondly what we did, but on that last day, it's time to pack, time to go home. We have to get back on the road, have to catch that flight.

Ideally, my kind of Vegas movie would have the scenery and atmosphere as Curtis Hanson has captured it, so close to the real thing that you could jump into the screen and be there if that were possible, combined with the Las Vegas segment in My Blueberry Nights, with Natalie Portman as a poker player too, who knows more about the odds and tells than about people as they are, whereas Norah Jones sees people as they are.

I'll always somewhat like Lucky You for finally getting Las Vegas right where so many others have gotten it wrong, but loathe it because of those missed opportunities for a better story. With the exceptions of Roy, Lester, and Robert Downey, Jr. holding down a telephone psychiatry service and other businesses across many phone lines at a bar, you can find more interesting characters at Serendipity 3 outside of Caesars Palace, known for its frozen hot chocolate.

But until you can get to Las Vegas, this is as close as you'll get to it in a movie. For the most part, this is exactly right.

(I thought about Lucky You while at Walmart today, walking from the bakery with a few free samples back to Mom and Meridith at the refrigerated yogurt case, and also wondered if I should get it on DVD for the scenes I like, or buy it from Amazon Instant Video to watch online whenever I feel like it. It's cheap enough both ways, a little over $3 from the sellers at Amazon Marketplace, though a bit bumped up for online viewing at $5.99. I know those scenes well enough, but what do I need them for? Is it because I want those good feelings about Las Vegas that I get when watching it being accurately portrayed? But surely I'll be there one day to experience it again, and again, and again. I'm conflicted, and then I'm not. And then I am again. Yes. No. Or maybe I'll stick with the Henderson Press for now, downloading all the back issues from the website and reading them, paying full attention to where I'll actually be, with Las Vegas comfortably nearby.)

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Tracking the Day's Music with The New Yorker

The October 24th issue of The New Yorker arrived today, always the first thing I look at at the mailbox, before I take anything else out of the cubbyhole and out of the parcel locker. I get news of the contents of the week's magazine in my e-mail, but I skim through it. I always like to see it in print because it's there, immediately accessible. No waiting for anything online.

The most promising issues to me have a review by Nancy Franklin, my favorite TV critic, and a review by Anthony Lane, one of my two favorite film critics (Josh Bell of Las Vegas Weekly is the other). This issue had both. All it needed to make it potentially perfect was a restaurant review by managing editor Amelia Lester, since she's the best at it. No luck. The review, of St. Anselm in Brooklyn, was by Hannah Goldfield, but now I will be looking for her name in these reviews just as much as Lester, because of a very funny three-quarters of a paragraph about the desserts offered at St. Anselm:

"St. Anselm (with whom Carroll's grandfather shared a name) was a Benedictine monk who made the first ontological argument for the existence of God. St. Anselm's dessert menu makes a less than convincing argument for the existence of a pastry chef. There is little appealing about a half-full jar of peanut butter surrounded by chunks of chocolate (unless, of course, you're stoned), and a plate of marshmallows, strawberries, and crumbled graham crackers drizzled in chocolate sauce looks like what happens when a four-year-old is left alone in a pantry."

Also stocked in this issue was an article about premature births and the methods taken to save babies who are prematurely born, a piece by David Sedaris about summers in the '60s spent on swim teams, and a profile of Jill Abramson, a veteran of The New York Times who was named the new executive editor.

This particular issue also served another purpose. Every day during the week, I have a purple index card next to me on the couch, and whenever I hear music I like on the Spa channel on XM Radio, I write it down and look it up either on YouTube or elsewhere to listen to it more closely and decide if it fits the desert soundtrack I'm creating (More details here:

The XM Radio in the living room was on when I came out after getting up at 11:20 this morning, and the mail came not long after, so I had this issue in front of me, but no purple index card with me. Two at the computer are still not all filled up, so I could have used those, but I didn't feel like getting them. Mom was on the computer anyway.

I had a pen with me for the purpose of circling those names that interest me in the "Contributors" section on page 2 to look up later (Their books especially), the plays that are listed under "The Theatre" that I want to read, if they're published, and anything else that I want to look up later, including references to some books in the Jill Abramson profile.

And then, while circling names in the "Contributors" section, I heard a flute piece that sounded familiar, that I probably had heard before on the Spa channel. I got up to see what it was, and it was, as listed, "The Dreams of Ch", by Shadowfax. I found out just now that the full title is "The Dreams of Children." It seemed like a bit of the desert to me when I heard it on XM. Listening to it now, it's less so, but it conjures up populated desert streets while driving to Henderson from Las Vegas, not far at all, and farmer's markets I've heard about in the area, that I want to go to.

Later, on page 34, in the middle of the piece about premature births, I heard "Fruits of the La" by Shinji Ishihara, very familiar to me. I hear this one at least twice a week on the Spa Channel. The full title, via YouTube, is "Fruits of the Land," and it feels like it fits the view of that ocean of desert seen from the large rock ledge near the Hacienda Hotel and Casino, the rippling of the heat that made it seem like it was coming closer and then receding, much like the actual ocean. Unfortunately, a search on Amazon and on Google reveals no way to download it. I need this in my desert soundtrack.

And so it went, also through page 44 ("Hakusha-Sonso" by Wall Matthews) and page 55 ("Come My Way" by William Aura). There are weeks when "The New Yorker" totally captivates me, and this came close with that first piece, David Sedaris' appearance, and the Jill Abramson profile. It rests on the steps to that Pantheon of New Yorker Perfection because of being right there when I needed space for music.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Late-Night Peace

It's yet another evening in which I've finished yet another book, Sixpence House: Lost in a Town of Books by Paul Collins. It's yet another evening in which I've started yet another book, Sleepless Nights by Sarah Bilston, the sequel to Bed Rest, which I read on Tuesday. And yet it's not just another night. If it were, there would be another day of my dad and Meridith going to work at La Mesa. But tonight backs up to tomorrow, Saturday, the weekend. The routine of the standard workweek is pushed away for two days. What shall we do? I need more bananas, but that's the extent of my weekend desires. Books are here, I've still got this week's episode of Hart of Dixie and four episodes of The Good Wife on the TiVo, and three questions comes to mind: Hart of Dixie and the season premiere of The Good Wife tonight? Or more of my Supreme Court hobby, watching the interview Charlie Rose conducted with retired Justice John Paul Stevens, and watching on YouTube what Stephen Breyer has had to say over the years? Or should I just chuck it all here in the living room, scurry to my room, and spend until 2 a.m. watching Travels with My Aunt for the fifth time, with one eye, while reading Sleepless Nights?

I don't know. And I'm content with not knowing, because I have what's left of Friday night, my favorite part of the week. In Pembroke Pines, Florida, coming back to our condo in Grand Palms toward a late Friday afternoon after Silver Trail Middle, and then Flanagan High, and then Hollywood Hills High, the sun took on this golden glow that was only apparent on that day, and it felt as if the universe was completely aligned, that everything in my piece of the world contributed to those moments after I got out of the car and noticed it and just stood there, amazed. Every time.

One of the only things I'll give Southern California credit for is that they know how to do sunsets. Every single sunset is special, no matter where you go, and there's one of those for every day of the week. I think it's because the sky seems wider here than it is in Florida. And it's not so much what the fading sunlight touches as it goes down (although it surprisingly gives depth to parts of Santa Clarita that have about as much depth as a frozen lake), but how it goes down. It looks like it hesitates, like it's not quite ready to go, but it knows that it has to because that's the way of the world, and it's slowly mulling over these opposite ends, while gradually accepting the inevitable. It must depart. The moon must rise.

I don't hold out much hope for weekends here. There's nothing we could possibly do that we haven't done already in eight years. And what we have done is either not worth doing again or in comparison to Las Vegas, well, it's not worth doing again. Plus, money for potential weekend excursions is best saved up for Vegas. Not to gamble necessarily (I'm a pussy gambler anyway, content with meditation of a kind at a penny slot machine, vegging out while the reels, real or computer graphics, spin), but to explore everything that our new home offers. Today was a minimum day at La Mesa, so Meridith had time to lounge online and told me on the phone that the Heart Attack Grill, which serves 8,000-calorie quadruple burgers, among other vastly unhealthy offerings, and was profiled on CBS Sunday Morning, opened on Wednesday at Neonopolis in Downtown Las Vegas ( This opens, and I'm still waiting for a White Castle. Yet there's many changes in Vegas every day, always something new to see, and always places to go back to. And I've no complaints about the weekend here only bringing about bananas. It just builds me up for when we go back to Vegas, and once we get back there permanently.

Ever since I rediscovered my passion for books, and saw clearly that it's my life, I've felt more peaceful. Not just in knowing most of who I am now (I always leave 10-15% as room to grow), but in the complete, boundless pleasure of reading. I'm always excited by the truth that I will never run out of anything to read. For the rest of my life, I have such a wealth of books to choose from. And I'm ok with not being able to read everything, because I don't want to read everything. I know what my interests are, such as with the presidents and the Supreme Court, I know what I'm always curious about, such as vending machines, flea markets, and Vegas and Nevada history; I know that I enjoy writing in novels that pulls me in right away and keeps me in those worlds and for some time after I'm done, and I know that doesn't encompass all books. And it's easy that way.

Despite what the time stamp says on the bottom, Saturday is gaining on Friday with three minutes left until midnight. The house is silent, Mom and Dad asleep and probably Meridith too, and I have no idea where the dogs are. They're not anywhere in the living room, so they might be with Meridith. And here I am, content. Life's nice like this, and I won't let it take any other form.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Book Jackets Off

I started O: A Presidential Novel by Anonymous a little after two this morning before going to bed, and I've spent most of today reading the majority of it (I've got 68 pages left). It's a nice, dreamy fantasy about Obama running for re-election against a Republican four-star general, former CEO of a defense contractor, and former governor who vows to run a civil campaign and sticks to it. Toward the end now, it's getting heavy on the Republican candidate's end, with his son getting involved against a belligerent reporter, but it's so nice to read about calm, measured campaigning as examined by former McCain speechwriter, Mark Salter, who was revealed to be its author. Pure fantasy, of course, though Salter has it right in some respects about Obama's shortcomings as president, but eventually does not let his fictional Republican candidate glide above the waters.

In the late morning, when I continued reading it, I became increasingly frustrated by the book jacket, this being a hardcover book, continually fitting it evenly on the covers. I finally took it off, I'll put it back on after I'm finished, and I've decided that for future hardcovers bearing book jackets, those are coming off too. I like to open a book and just read without that kind of annoyance.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Mulling Over and Adjusting an Arrangement

I'm not intimidated nor pressured by the sheer number of books I have in my room, the 10 stacks across from the right side of my bed, the clustered stacks in front of my nightstand to the left of my bed. I'm always excited about the possibilities they present, and I like seeing the books I want to read soon. But I like some order in it, even though my organizational skills say otherwise since none of the stacks are really ramrod straight. Some are fierce competitors against gravity as they teeter at times. Some probably intend to tip over when I'm not looking, but they're just fearful of my glare.

The order that I seek is reading order. Before, I'd just pluck whatever book out of whatever stack that interested me. Finished with one, go back for another. Before that even, I'd have three or four books going which turned out not to be a good idea because even though I'd enjoy what I was reading, I'd never feel close to those books.

So I want to give equal attention to fiction and nonfiction, and I decided that I'll have one novel (or book of short stories) and one nonfiction book always at hand, and when I finish the novel, I'll move on to the nonfiction book, and back and forth. For example, yesterday I finished reading Bed Rest by Sarah Bilston, a novel about a British New Yorker ordered to bed rest for the final three months of her pregnancy and what transpires from it. Then I moved on to Like I Was Sayin'... by Mike Royko, a collection of his columns from 1966 to 1984, across The Daily News, the Chicago Sun-Times, and the Chicago Tribune. I replaced Bed Rest with O: A Presidential Novel by Anonymous (the author's identity was revealed not long after publication in January), about Obama's re-election campaign against Tom "Terrific" Morrison, a four-star general and one-term governor who is the Republican nominee for president, and though privately he does not like Obama, he vows to run a clean, civil campaign and sticks to it. In light of what the real-life Republicans are offering up as candidates, I'm going to read this and dream. After I finish Like I Was Sayin'..., I'll move on to this. And I'll replace Like I Was Sayin'... with Sixpence House: Lost in a Town of Books by Paul Collins, about he and his family moving from San Francisco to Hay-on-Wye, a small town in Wales, England which has 1,500 residents and forty bookstores. My kind of book, and though I'd be tempted to move to Hay-on-Wye just for the bookstores, I'm doing well enough on my own and I've got so much I want to accomplish in my own country anyway.

There are exceptions to this arrangement. Research for my presidential books and my 1930s Hollywood history book, and a few others, can go forth with as many nonfiction books as necessary. And today in the mail, I received, among other books, Oy Vey: More! - The Ultimate Book of Jewish Jokes Part 2 by David Minkoff, and Word of Mouth: Poems Featured on NPR's All Things Considered, edited by Catherine Bowman. Joke books and books of poems don't take me long to read, so they can drift by as often as I want to read them.

Though I tend to read nonfiction much more than fiction, there are authors such as Ann Beattie, Anne Tyler, and others who I want to get to know more, and this is the best arrangement for it. And since last week, I've felt much closer to my reading.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Impatient for the End of October and Bits of November and December

I want the end of October to come already, October 27th precisely. That is when MTV will finally begin airing the return of Beavis & Butt-head. There will be both beloved dumbasses (My favorite is Beavis), there will be Cornholio, there will be my 10-year-old self next to me watching with glee (I remember Christmas Day 1996, I was 12, Dad was in New Jersey, and Mom took Meridith and I to the movies at GCC Coral Square Cinema 8. She went with Meridith to whatever they saw, and I fairly ran into the theater that was showing Beavis & Butt-Head Do America). The new thing for the show is that Beavis and Butt-head will not only be commenting on music videos. There will be clips of Jersey Shore for them to do proper justice to (One clip has one of the girls of Jersey Shore saying, "I'm a whore, hello!" and Butt-head remarks, "That's how she answers the phone."). And there will apparently also be clips from 16 and Pregnant and YouTube, the latter of which doesn't make sense to me because even though we're in a far more advanced technological age than when Beavis & Butt-head first aired, the two don't seem like the kind to use computers. Better that they keep on watching TV.

Why can't I have November 1st yet? I need it! James Garner's memoir, titled The Garner Files, is coming out. It being only 288 pages is a little disappointing at first, but I'm hoping that he spends a good number of pages talking about Maverick, The Rockford Files, and especially Victor/Victoria, one of my favorite comedies. It also has an introduction by Julie Andrews.

I'll trade you a few of my DVDs if I can have November 15th right away. Toward late September, I read in The New Yorker an excerpt by Ann Beattie of her forthcoming book, Mrs. Nixon: A Novelist Imagines a Life, and I went online right after and pre-ordered it on Amazon, since it squarely hit my passion for the history of the presidency and all those involved in it. Plus, it made me addicted to Beattie's writings, spurring me on to order her first short-story collection, Distortions, her first novel, Chilly Scenes in Winter, and The New Yorker Stories, a compilation of all the short stories Beattie wrote for The New Yorker.

Can someone please push November 22nd closer to me? Like pressed right up against me? 12 Angry Men is finally getting a proper DVD release as part of the Criterion Collection, which, in a two-disc set, includes Franklin J. Schaffner's 1955 TV production of Reginald Rose's play. There's also a TV production of Tragedy in a Temporary Town, which was written by Rose and directed by Sidney Lumet, who directed 12 Angry Men, and aired a year before 12 Angry Men was released in theaters. After this one, I'm hoping that Barfly, written by Charles Bukowski and starring Mickey Rourke, is released by the Criterion Collection.

And oh please oh please oh please oh please, someone just give me November 22nd right now, because scrolling through these pre-orders on Amazon, I just found out that Look I Made a Hat: Collected Lyrics (1981-2011) with Attendant Comments, Amplifications, Dogmas, Harangues, Digressions, Anecdotes and Miscellany by STEPHEN SONDHEIM, one of my heroes, is coming out on the same day, the second volume of his vastly detailed books of lyrics, the first being Finishing the Hat: Collected Lyrics (1954-1981) with Attendant Comments, Principles, Heresies, Grudges, Whines and Anecdotes which came out in late October last year.

And I think I want to see Tower Heist when it comes out in November, chiefly because of Alan Alda, but also because it looks funny. Nice to see Eddie Murphy back as the way he once was.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Favorite Quindlen Passage

I couldn't squeeze this into my previous entry about reading Talking Out Loud this afternoon. This needed to be here, in its own space, a part of Quindlen's column from July 8, 1992 about the United States Olympic men's basketball team, especially because of her stated equivalent:

"Somewhere in the contract of the male columnist it is written that once a year he must wax poetic and philosophic about baseball, making it sound like a cross between the Kirov and Zen Buddhism. This covers the baseball profundity axis more than adequately, which is a good thing. The connection between a base hit and karma eludes me.

But basketball is something different, sweatier and swifter and not likely to be likened to haiku, thank God. And this Olympic basketball team is something different entirely. It is the best sports team ever, the equivalent of rounding up the greatest American writers of the last century or so and watching them collaborate: "O.K., Twain, you do the dialogue and hand off to Faulkner. He'll do the interior monologue. Hemingway will edit--no, don't make that face, you know you overwrite. And be nice to Cheever. He's young, but he's got a good ear. Wharton and Cather can't play--they're girls." On television they were running down the lineup: Larry Bird. Patrick Ewing. Michael Jordan. Magic Johnson. When they got to Christian Laettner, the student prince of college basketball, I almost felt sorry for the guy because he was so outclasses, a mere champion among giants. We don't see giants often, even one at a time, never mind en masse and in skivvies."

Amen, Reverend Quindlen!

An Ideal Afternoon Lived

For now, in Santa Clarita, I spend as much time as I can reading, which during the week means large stretches of the afternoon given over to it. And I read with no expectation of doing anything else, doing anything better, because this is better. This is best.

Throughout this afternoon, I read from page 33 to the end of Thinking Out Loud by Anna Quindlen, a collection of her columns. I love newspaper column writers because the great ones teach you about succinctness, of packaging all your thoughts about any topic into a short number of words. Blogs don't have the limit that newspaper space does, but I don't like to pontificate for 182 paragraphs when far fewer will do. 180. Maybe.

In fact, my favorite aspect of my writing is knowing when to stop, an instinct honed from beginning to write when I was 11, all the way through to working at The Signal for two years, and beyond that to today, just as a voracious reader. Whenever I write anything here, it starts from an idea that pops to mind during the day that I just have to put into a lot of words. Then I start, and eventually, I get to that point where I think I've done all I can for that certain topic. The 10 floors of the Fairmont Hotel in Newport Beach ( require more than recounting weekend errands.

In the case of reading Thinking Out Loud, many things were going through my mind, first that Quindlen has a huge heart and an innate understanding of people. Real people. Not politicos who claim to have solutions that turn out only to suit them. Not famous people who are as far removed from daily life as a polar bear is from outer space. You and me and the babies that have changed Quindlen's life and outlook, for example, as well as columns about politics and the human faces of abortion, not just conjecture, and sweet columns about her children.

I also thought about other books I have that I want to read, such as that which I received today, including Supreme Conflict: The Inside Story of the Struggle for Control of the United States Supreme Court by Jan Crawford Greenburg, a biography of legendary film critic Pauline Kael by Brian Kellow, and Second Lives: A Journey Through Virtual Worlds by Tim Guest, about those who live in and for computer-generated environments. I will never run out of anything to read, and this makes me the happiest over anything else in my life, although the attempts to be published for a second time and hopefully so on always compete with that.

Most of all, I just sat there on the couch, deeply satisfied at where I was and what I was doing (It comes with feeling like you're floating a bit, even though you're just sitting). I was reading a book, a particularly good one. That's all I needed. These are my ideal afternoons.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

John Le Carre, By Way of Tallahassee

Sara, a former 9th grade crush (my first serious crush at that), my most trusted friend, and well on her way to becoming a great human rights lawyer as a student at Florida State University College of Law in Tallahassee, sent me an e-mail last Wednesday, wondering if I'd read any of John Le Carre's novels. She heard of him through the film adaptations of his books, and 40 pages into The Honorable Schoolboy (her first Le Carre novel), she's a huge fan, describing each sentence as "taut and vivid," and the characters being lifelike.

I replied, telling her that during the years I had been a patron of the Valencia library when it was part of the County of Los Angeles library system, I picked up the first and second novels of the George Smiley series, A Call for the Dead and A Murder of Quality, in one book, but had only read the beginning of A Call for the Dead before other books got in the way, as they always did, since I always reached the 50-item limit of my library card, always all books.

When Sara recommends books, I look into them right away, because she has the same mindset as I do about books. She loves them just as fiercely. So I told her I'd read A Call for the Dead soon, ordering it from, as well as The Russia House, of which I had seen the first few minutes of the Sean Connery/Michelle Pfeiffer movie adaptation via Netflix, and had been interested in it then.

A Call for the Dead arrived yesterday, shortened to Call for the Dead, as this 2002 trade paperback printing indicates. I liked it right away because there was an introduction by Le Carre and there seems to be Le Carre introductions for each of the Smiley novels in these Pocket Books printings.

I told Sara by e-mail after I had come home from Walmart Supercenter today, where I finished reading Call for the Dead, that I'm at a great advantage right now because I don't have a local library, not until we move. Therefore, I've fashioned my own library of sorts, made up of books I really, really want to read, but not encumbered by any limit on a library card. I take time for every book, unless it gives me reason to give it up. Plus, there being no due date, there isn't that minor pressure either. So I was able to take the time for Le Carre, and I can truly say that Call for the Dead is some of the best writing I've ever read. Le Carre is so descriptive by being so minimal with his words. He chooses each one carefully. He doesn't seem like the kind of writer who would agonize over each word choice, but he's clearly taken time to figure out what he wants in each sentence, each paragraph. Sara's right about the vividness of his sentences, which extends into clearly-drawn characters. His descriptions are never overdone, including of physical appearances, which only serves to bring you deeper into this moral-gray spy world. This is my kind of spy novel, which I never really got from Ian Fleming. The movie James Bond is my Star Wars, but upon reaching Doctor No in my attempt to re-read the novels, it was disappointing, not containing any of the low-key excitement found in From Russia with Love. But Le Carre, that's where my spy love lives.

In the first chapter of Call for the Dead, there is this sentence:

"That night he stayed in London at somewhere rather good and took himself to the theatre."

Le Carre not only gets deep into the British Secret Service, but also in his sentences. You can't merely read that sentence and move on. You have to think about it for a moment. To me, "rather good" indicates that either he's stayed in London before and accomodations have never been reliable, or wherever he has stayed elsewhere has not been all that good. "Took himself to the theatre" is Le Carre's interesting way of saying that Smiley went alone, since theatergoing is usually in pairs or as a group. Only he went. He was his own date, but not much.

This next passage is from chapter 6, 'Tea and Sympathy':

"It was still raining as he arrived. Mendel was in his garden wearing the most extraordinary hat Smiley had ever seen. It had begun life as an Anzac hat but its enormous brim hung low all the way round, so that he resembled nothing so much as a very tall mushroom. He was brooding over a tree stump, a wicked looking pick-axe poised obediently in his sinewy right hand."

"Obediently" is what I love here, since the pick-axe was obviously aimed at the stump, sharply aimed.

This is the second-to-final paragraph in Call for the Dead. Maston is (or was) Smiley's boss, and Smiley is on a flight to Zurich:

"Soon the lights of the French coast came in sight. As he watched, he began to sense vicariously the static life beneath him; the rank smell of Gauloises Bleues, garlic and good food, the raised voices in the bistro. Maston was a million miles off, locked away with his arid paper and his shiny politicians."

Descriptive in such a short set of words, well-chosen ones at that. That's one of Le Carre's greatest talents.

Sara's recommendation led to Call for the Dead (I preferred to start at the beginning of the series), which led to me ordering A Murder of Quality and The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, the next books in the Smiley series. I intend to read all of Le Carre's novels, the non-Smiley ones not in any order. But so far, this is my favorite paragraph in a Le Carre novel, particularly because of the subtle humor at the end. This is the start of chapter 3, 'Elsa Fennan':

"Merridale Lane is one of those corners of Surrey where the inhabitants wage a relentless battle against the stigma of suburbia. Trees, fertilized and cajoled into being in every front garden, half obscure the poky "Character dwellings" which crouch behind them. The rusticity of the environment is enhanced by the wooden owls that keep guard over the names of houses, and by crumbling dwarfs indefatigably poised over goldfish ponds. The inhabitants of Merridale Lane do not paint their dwarfs, suspecting this to be a suburban vice, nor, for the same reason, do they varnish the owls; but wait patiently for the years to endow these treasures with an appearances of weathered antiquity, until one day even the beams on the garage may bost of beetle and woodworm."

There are books I blast through as a speed-reader, sometimes done in a day and on to the next. Some, like American Original: The Life and Constitution of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia by Joan Biskupic, which I finished last night, I still speed-read through, but I slow down because the information is important to me. With Call for the Dead, I kept in mind at the beginning what Sara had said about the sentences of a Le Carre novel, and then after the first page, I was out on my own. She was right, and I slowed down to take in each sentence, to turn each wonderful phrase over in my mind, to admire the mystery in it. In his introduction from March 1992, Le Carre writes:

"When I had written the book, I feared that my troubles had just begun. I had talked to nobody about the proprieties of writing a spy story while I was still inside the spy business, and nowadays, I am told, new entrants have to sign away their literary lives before they are allowed to join. Certainly I knew enough about the subterranean connections of my service not to attempt to publish without official consent. So I sent the book to the Legal Adviser, Bernard Hill, who had always seemed to me to be the dullest old stick in the whole outfit, and he returned it a couple of days later with a note saying how much he had enjoyed it. He asked for one change and I made it. Not for security reasons: he thought it might be libellous. He also asked me to use a pseudonym. He thought it wiser and, sucking on his pipe, he wished me luck.

When Victor Gollanez accepted the book, I asked Victor what sort of pseudonym I should choose. He recommended two Anglo-Saxon monosyllables---something like Chuck Smith or Hank Brown. I chose le Carre. God alone knows why, or where I had it from, but I didn't like Victor's advice. When people press me, I say I saw the name on a shop front from the top of a London bus. I didn't. I just don't know. But never trust a novelist when he tells you the truth."

David Cornwell is his real name. Smart move, because Le Carre adds more mystery to what's in store, the dank spy world most of us can only know through books.

Moral of all this enthusiasm? Always trust book recommendations from your closest friends.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Victor Fleming, from Lisle, Illinois

Whenever I ordered books from, the first listings I'd usually see for any book, were "ex-library" copies. I avoided this because despite them being listed as "Good," I couldn't be certain of exactly what was contained within that condition. Was a page or two stained? Were there markings through and through to the detriment of trying to read the book? I don't mind a tear or two if it doesn't interrupt the book, but what kind of guarantee was I getting by "good"?

Now, having stopped buying books for a long while because I'd like to maintain some semblance of a savings account, upon reflection, I wonder why I didn't go for library books more often, especially in light of receiving today Victor Fleming: An American Movie Master by Michael Sragow. This particular hardcover edition, sold by Better World Books in Mishawka, Indiana (; though I always order from, comes from the Lisle Library District in Lisle, Illinois, with the book jacket tightly preserved in plastic, as is the standard with good libraries. And on the inside flap, under the plastic covering, there was a checkout receipt for this book, checked out on "March 03, 2009 8:38:15 PM," as indicated on the receipt, with a due date of "3/24/2009".

On the dedication page, written in pencil is the Dewey Decimal number for the book, and on the far left side of the page, written vertically in pencil as well is "1/16/09," likely when this book was entered into the Lisle Library District. So now it's October 2011. And on the very back blank page, there is a red stamp of "WITHDRAWN" on it. Perhaps this wasn't a book for the district. Maybe patrons were more inclined to check out books about actors than about 1930s directors like Victor Fleming, famous for The Wizard of Oz and for directing Gone with the Wind for a time until he left for The Wizard of Oz. That kind of directorial switch fascinates me.

Two things motivated me to buy this book, besides not having a steady library right now, which would save me money certainly, but I'm not going to wait to read: One, out of all personalities in Hollywood history, I'm most interested in directors. I wrote about actors in What If They Lived?, but I like knowing about the directorial power on the set, the quirks, the artistic beliefs, the drive. The same kind of thing stands with my equal passion for learning about the presidents and the Supreme Court. I've never thought about it at length, but perhaps it stems from being curious about how power affects a person, how they use it, whether executive power, judicial power, or power on a movie set.

The second reason is for my preliminary research for my 1930s Hollywood history book. I want to see how other authors cover the period, what they focus on in writing about their subjects, such as Sragow about Fleming, Scott Eyman about Louis B. Mayer, and other authors' books I have about the studio system itself. I seek tour guides to show me how they've covered the period so I can determine where I want to go, though undeterred by what's been covered before.

I love how this book jacket's been preserved in plastic, how clean this book looks and feels. That's of course because it's still relatively new, not having been touched or handled all that much, but it's still remarkable to me. What's even more amazing is that I looked at the inside jacket flap and the list price for this book is $40. I got it from Better World Books for $5.25, free shipping. 645 pages for $5.25. I always take pleasure in such bargains. Saves me a hell of a lot of money and there is potentially great value in the reading to come.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

From a Bum Joke to Joe Pesci in "With Honors"

I subscribe to this e-mail service called Arcamax (, which sends comic strips by e-mail the night before their publication in newspapers nationwide. I've rediscovered Curtis, my favorite comic strip when I was a kid, and I love getting Andy Capp, my favorite comic strip now, every evening.

They also provide columns such as Dear Abby, and political columns and cartoons, and also jokes, among so much else. I received the jokes e-mail just now and found this one at the top:

"The bum on the street

A bum asks a man for $2. The man asked, "Will you buy booze?"

The bum said, "No."

The man asked, "Will you gamble it away?"

The bum said, "No."

Then the man asked, "Will you come home with me so my wife can see what happens to a man who doesn't drink or gamble?"

It's funny, but right at the start, I wasn't thinking about the joke. I thought about Joe Pesci's role as the charismatic, homeless Simon Wilder in With Honors, which I've grown to like over time, mainly because Wilder, when he's introduced, is living in a boiler room under Widener Library on the Harvard campus, and clearly loves books.

Again, a boiler room. Under a library. Not my ideal living space, but Wilder is essentially living in a library. That is until Monty (Brendan Fraser), so worried about his Very Important Thesis that Wilder has gotten hold of, calls the campus police on Wilder and he's thrown out and arrested.

After Monty pays contempt-of-court fines leveled on Wilder during an appearance before a judge, Wilder hawks newspapers to passersby in a town square and then pointedly asks Monty what he sees. Monty replies, "A man," and Wilder fires back, "No, you see a piece of shit, Harvard." Monty answers, "I see a man who needs a home." Wilder replies, "I had a home. I had a warm place to sleep. 17 bathrooms and 8 miles of books. I had a goddamn palace."

Every time I hear the "8 miles of books" part, I get a little lightheaded (as if the shots of the inside of the library later aren't enough). I'm also reminded of the Strand Bookstore in New York City that I'd like to dive into one day, after visiting the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum in Hyde Park. 18 miles of books at the Strand, as its reputation maintains. It's the kind of dream that makes me hope to win big in Vegas one day, somehow (even on penny slots), so I can charter a few jumbo jets to cart books home from the Strand.

And all this from one joke.

Hi 8-Year-Old Self! It's Me, 19 Years Later!

I've come to the understanding that I'm never going to stop buying books. No matter what I do in my life, I always want books with me. I think my penchant for purchase will lessen considerably once I have steady, reliable libraries in what Henderson offers through its Henderson Libraries network, and what Las Vegas has in its Clark County system. But if a book I read from the library is special enough to warrant inclusion in my permanent collection, then I'll buy it. Mind you, one of my lifetime goals is to own every Andy Capp book ever published, but as always seems to be the case, other books get in the way. One of these days I'll focus entirely on that.

Last week, I went on a search on for Cold Fire by Dean Koontz, and The TV Kid by Betsy Byars. The former is because I don't think I have my years-long copy anymore, and I need it back in my permanent collection. The latter is because it was my favorite book when I was a kid. I was hooked on it when I was 8 years old and it was always with me as I grew up. I didn't own it, but I checked it out from many school libraries.

The hardcover illustration from The Viking Press, circa 1976, has a large facial profile of Lenny, the same profile in shadow on a TV set with knobs next to the screen, and a snake coiling itself around one leg of the set, its head on the shelf underneath. The story involves Lenny's addiction to TV, the dullness of his life at the Fairy Land Motel, which his mother owns, and his desire for something television-like in his life, which leads to an empty summer house and that snake.

I watched a lot of TV back when I discovered The TV Kid, and played a lot of Nintendo, so I was immediately attracted to it. And I loved the barren atmosphere of the Fairy Land Motel, as evidenced by the first page and a following paragraph:

"Lennie was in front of the motel washing off the walk with a hose. He directed the spray on a chewing-gum paper and some grass and twigs. He watched as the trash went down the drain.

A truck passed on the highway, building up speed for the hill ahead. Lennie glanced up. He watched until the truck was out of sight.

"Aren't you through yet?" Lennie's mother called. "You've got to do your homework, remember?"

He turned off the hose. "I'm through."

He started toward the office. At that moment his mom turned on the neon sign, and it flashed red above his head. THE FAIRY LAND MOTEL--VACANCY.

Lennie paused at the concrete wishing well. There was a concrete elf on one side and, facing him, Humpty Dumpty. With one hand on Humpty Dumpty's head, Lennie leaned forward and looked down into the wishing well. On the blue painted bottom lay seven pennies, one nickel, and a crumpled Mound wrapper."

I decided it should be in my permanent collection. As I get older, I always take with me what I've collected in previous years, as I imagine everyone does in some way. But it took some time to find this particular hardcover edition because I didn't want the latest paperback of it from 1998, which doesn't have illustrations. I wanted what I knew.

And I found it on from Thrift Books in Auburn, WA. It had been listed in good condition, and all I cared about was that it said "Viking Press, 1976" in the listing. I received it today, and I am very happy at what I've found.

This is a discarded copy from "Simonds School Library", an elementary school, I'd imagine since The TV Kid is geared toward elementary-school kids. I Googled it and found one Simonds Elementary in San Jose, California, another in Madison Heights, Michigan, and another in Warner, New Hampshire. I'm thinking it may have come from the San Jose Simonds, because of it being relatively closer to Auburn, compared to Michigan and New Hampshire.

On the inside page after opening the cover, there's a "Date Due" slip of paper glued to the inside of a due-date card holder. And there are dates stamped, and crossed out, though the year isn't listed. And it turns out that it did come from the San Jose Simonds because at the bottom of words stamped in red, below the reasons it could have been taken out of circulation, it says, "Deselected based on EC 60500 and BR 3275."

The regulations come from the California School Boards Association. And EC 60500 ( states: "For the purposes of this chapter, governing boards shall adopt rules, regulations and procedures for prescribing standards for determining when instructional materials adopted by them and either loaned by them or in their possession are obsolete, and if such materials are usable or unusable for educational purposes."

So this school determined that it had no use for this copy of The TV Kid. And I'm glad for that because it's found a comfortable retirement in caring hands. I won't let it go ever again.