Thursday, January 31, 2008

New picture books for February

new picture books early Feb 2008

There come a soldier by Peggy Mercer, illustrated by Ron Mazellan
Not a book glorifying war, not a book excoriating war, but a book paying tribute to the author's father, a soldier who fought in the Battle of the Bulge. Told from his point of view, it enumerates the ways that his rural childhood taught him bravery, compassion, fortitude, and other qualities he draws upon during hardship. And beautiful. With lovely vernacular language.

Delicious! a pumpkin soup story by Helen Cooper
Picky eater Duck won't even try the fish soup, mushroom soup, and beet soup concocted by his friends Squirrel and Cat - he will only eat pumpkin soup, which is orange. (Dances With Chickens, are you reading this?) So his friends make squash-and-carrot soup, which is orange, and basically trick him into eating it, which he does, and loves it.

The fine and fanciful illustrations in this book conquer my uneasiness about the age-old ploy of disguising food as something palatable to a child so that he or she will try it. I tried that once with Big Man, telling him an orange piece of canteloupe was cheese, and I felt pretty bad about eroding my child's trust in me that way. And he didn't like it, and he still doesn't like canteloupe. Plus my friend Sarah, who has (professional) experience with eating disorders, told me that it's common to find that habitual overeaters were conned like this as children. Still! Cute illustrations!

Sojourner Truth: Preacher for freedom and equality, by Suzanne Slade, illustrated by Natascha Alex Blanks
Wow! Color! This picture book biography is well worth adding to any library's collection. This picture makes it look ugly, and it's not.

A Poet's Bird Garden by Laura Nyman Montenegro
Cutie. I love that when Natalie's bird Chirpie gets out, she and her friend call upon the poets to come to the rescue. Full of the mythical Boho spirit of the Lower East Side.

A Fishing Surprise by Rae A. McDonald, illustrated by Kathleen Kemly
BEAUTIFUL, lush chalk and colored pencil illustrations surround the simple text. Lots of fun onomatopoeia for little kids.

Jon Scieszka's Truck town: Smash! Crash! written by Jon Scieszka, characters and environments developed by David Shannon, Loren Long, David Gordon
Not sure what that's all about, but Jon Scieszka is the new Library of Congress Ambassador for Children's Literature or something, and he can pretty much do no wrong in my eyes. What strikes me about this truck book is that it's totally a Beginning Reader. Word count, number of words per line, etc... if it can hold a first grader's attention, that first grader can read this book. Hmm. Large-format Beginning Readers - why don't we see more of those?

Josephine wants to dance by Jackie French, illustrated by Bruce Whatley
Ah. Fish out of water story. Kangaroo on the ballet stage. Not unlike the dancing hippo story, the dancing polar bear story, or the dancing javelina story. But I love Bruce Whatley's style - cartoony but not flat, with lovely, expressive faces and gestures. And the text is lovely too. Josephine bounces with the brolgas and leaps with the lyrebirds.

oooh! Matisse by Mil Niepold / Jeanyves Verdu
Big blam-blam closeups of Matisse cutouts prompt the question "What is this?" and as the pages turn, the perspective pulls out, different answers are proffered, until you see... a leaf, a dove, a star, a flower. Simple, brilliant.

The Crocodile Blues by Coleman Polhemus
What is WITH all the crocodile books this year? Love 'em! This one, nearly wordless and done in 3 colors, is a graphic illustration dream - a bit surreal and yet perfectly understandable.

The art book for children Book Two, text by Amanda Renshaw
Oh to have the assignment from Phaidon to make this book. Take a beautiful repro of a work of art, and ask some questions about it. Use as many detail photos as you want. "How fast do you think these boys are running?" "What kind of school could this be?". Discuss.

123 I can Paint! by Irene Luxbacher
Basic color theory, materials and painting technique. Completely fun and accessible for young elementary school kids.

123 I can Sculpt! by Irene Luxbacher
Just as good, but more project-based... how do you not, when it's sculpture? A good range of simple sculpture techniques are illustrated in the creation of a whole batch of animals.

Knock, Knock! Jokes by fourteen wacky and talented artists inside!
Hells yeah. My boys love knock-knock jokes, so much that I might cheerfully detach my head and hold it outside of the car sometimes, if I didn't think it would seriously impair my driving. Here are old ones, repeaters, sight gags, and a tribute to Maurice Sendak:
Knock knock!
Who's there?
Verdi who?
Verdi vild tings are!
That might also be a Simms Taback tribute, I don't know. Brought to you by the same lovable gang of idiots (actually, mostly a whole lovable new gang of idiots) who gave us last year's Why Did The Chicken Cross the Road?

Maya Angelou: Poetry for young people
I might have to do something with a few of these stanzas for Black History Month.
There ain't no pay beneath the sun
As sweet as rest when a job's well done.
I was born to work up to my grave
But I was not born
To be a slave.
Go, Miss Maya!

One Million Men and Me by Kelly Starling Lyons, illustrated by Peter Ambush
The author attended the Million Man March as a journalist in October of 1995. Recently she spoke to a group of young people who had never heard of that important event. If for no other reason than that, it is good that we have this book. However, it's also well written, with that journalistic eye for detail and texture, and very nicely illustrated in realistic watercolors.

When Randolph Turned Rotten, a story by Charise Mericle Harper
Love Charise Mericle Harper. Love Flush, love Fashion Kitty, love love love The Monster Show. Her sense of humor and faux-naive illustration style are to love. And When Randolph Turned Rotten is the best yet! Every panel, every page will make my kids helpless with laughter. The moment when Randolph turns, he goes from Best Friend Randolph, with 'rainbow-filled-with-love-insides' (there's an arrow pointing to where his insides are), to Nasty Randolph, with 'stinky rotten insides' (and also, 'mad hands'). Spoiler: he turns back.

Sam Tells Stories by Thierry Robberecht, illustrated by Philippe Goossens
This is the same story as The Show-and-Tell Lion. Kid is a big liar, gets caught, is forgiven, decides that his lying is a big TALENT and embraces his storyteller-ness. Hrm.

Jenny found a penny by Trudy Harris, illustrations by John Hovell
It's a sweet one, with addition, coins, earning, and a child's first purchase. And computer illustrations that are somehow not lacking in warmth.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Giuliani's out

Maybe if Ackroyd and Ramis had orchestrated his campaign... naw, he'd always be the petty, lipless, sepulchral squeegie-man castigator he was in New York.

I feel just like Bill Murray at the end of the clip above: "I'm gonna miss him...!"

So will the New York Times. Man, you get the feeling they have been waiting a LONG TIME to write this:
As Mr. Giuliani ponders his political mortality, many advisers and political observers point to the hubris and strategic miscalculations that plagued his campaign. He allowed a tight coterie of New York aides, none with national political experience, to run much of his campaign.
and this:
“His numbers were built on name recognition and celebrity,” this adviser said. “He had so many of his old friends around him, sometimes it was like he was running for president of Staten Island.”
I can't get enough:
Mr. Giuliani also relied on a New York-style approach to photo-friendly crowds. “Rudy went very heavy on Potemkin Village stops, working what I call ‘hostage audiences,’ “ Mr. Cullen said. “It looked like he was campaigning, but he didn’t know who he was talking to.”
This the most gleeful autopsy I have ever seen. If I feel like Bill Murray, I think the Times feels like Belushi dancing on Gilda Radner's grave.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The legendary Irony-Free Zone

Last night at work, I came upon Token Boy and Dances With Chickens hunched over a glowing monitor.

"Find a female dwarf. With an axe," commanded Dances With Chickens. "A two-handed axe," she clarified. "No, that one doesn't look drunk enough."


Making fun of avatars is dirty pool. It's like pushing a baby out of a swing - inexcusably heartless, because it's just too easy. Any time a person creates an avatar, he or she is solemnly trusting the forbearance of the rest of the human race. For example, my Second Life avatar is eight feet tall and wears a skin-tight tuxedo. Make of her what you will.

However. Once Token Boy started scrolling through the miniatures representing human wizard characters, I just couldn't resist.

"There's got to be something in here about getting this fucking thing off my hand."

This guy... throws birds at people? That doesn't seem to be a real special power.

"I remember... I remember... clapping."

"Get that Balrog offa my lawn! I'm not cleaning up after that thing again!"

Being a wizard is still no excuse for the pornstache. Plus, this guy's name is Garish MacRae.

Oompa Loompa? or balding Mae West?

"Wait for the light."

"My tumor, let me show you it."

"My pipe wrench, I will smite you with it."

"Where's that can of tuna? I found the opener."

Token Boy's character is a young mage, so he was in the market for a wizard without a beard (and, presumably, without a bird, a can opener, fire instead of hands, or a terrible mustache). This young fellow was the closest thing. Unfortunately, his name is "Marcus Starsong," which I'm pretty sure is D&D code for, "Our community embraces people of all orientations," and, while it's true that role-playing games such as D&D offer people an opportunity to explore personae that they will never inhabit in real life, I don't believe Token Boy is working that particular side of the cobblestoned alley.

Dances With Chickens said, "Not this guy, he's kind of geeky." Right.

Or possibly "I select," "I recite," or "I steal"

Yesterday was the 50th anniversary of the patent on LEGO. Some facts:
  • "LEGO" is an elision of the Danish words for "good play," "LEg GOdt". In Latin, "lego" means "I bring together". Just a coincidence.
  • The world's children spend 5 billion hours a year playing with LEGO bricks.
  • My children account for about 3 billion of those hours.
  • There are some awesome stop-motion LEGO fiends out there.
Some are Polish:

Some are Harrison Ford fans:

Some of them seem to believe that Han Solo and Chewbacca REALLY know their ship:

And then there's actual genius:

Monday, January 28, 2008

All you fascists are bound to lose

heartthrob, originally uploaded by your neighborhood librarian.

This one, the one who's eating his soup with a fork, talked me into buying him a black camouflage hoodie over the weekend. And matching cargo pants. He looks like he's just been released from Central Booking, and he's in first grade.

Oh but who am I kidding? With that long hair and the missing front teeth, he looks totally cool in that outfit. Ordinarily, they look a little homeless - almost all their clothes are hand-me-downs, which explains this green sweatshirt from a preschool with which we have no affiliation, and I let them pick out their own clothes, which explains combos like this one.

A bunch of us moms are kind of against camouflage. Speaking for myself, I just don't like little kids dressing up like soldiers. And it seems violent. I can't actually put my finger on what I find distasteful about it, and I think that's why I caved on that hoodie. That, plus it was six bucks at Old Navy.

You put the jitterbug into my brain

Of course there's going to be a George W. Bush Presidential Library. I mean, lots and lots of people voted for him - twice - so he's president, and presidents get presidential libraries, no matter how ridiculous it might sound. It would help, I think, if they called them archives, since after all they are mostly repositories for unique documents, and thus centers for scholarship (as distinct from education).

Anyway, The Chronicle of Higher Education is holding a Back-of-the-Envelope Bush Library Design Contest for the GWB POTUS Library. I believe they may be expecting a great deal of sarcasm in the entries they receive.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Attention all planets of the Solar Federation

Isn't it lucky that Rush never made some kind of horrendous narrative video of side one of their album 2112? Think of it.

Oh my god it could have been great, though - Geddy Lee playing all the parts, just with his hair done differently: naive longhair Geddy discovering a guitar in a cave; uptight ponytailed reduplicated Geddy as the priests smacking down the youngster; Neil Peart smirking in the background. Misty shots of Alex Lifeson with his satin-pants camel toe whaling on that guitar could be little Geddy's dream of a more culturally democratic world.

This is where fanfic comes from, doesn't it? I guess minus the choking with laughter part.

No, really, we're lucky. These guys are musical geniuses, but their visual sense is atrocious. Look at the album covers. And the concerts - I never saw more smoke and purple lights until the Jesus and Mary Chain toured the U.S. And even Jesus and Mary Chain didn't wear satin pants.

My brother and I and a few of his friends were giant Rush fans in high school (and beyond). I saved my ice cream scooping money to buy the albums and concert tickets. My brother would put A Farewell to Kings (speaking of wince-worthy visuals, and smoke, and you know, damn it, I'd like to wear a satin kimono to work sometimes too) on the tape deck in his room, hit the repeat button, and fall asleep that way, pissing my father off gigantically. He did that with ELP too though... "Hoedown" is really nothing that young unconscious minds should be exposed to.

Yes, we loved our pretentious '70's arena rock. We were never quite as inspired as this guy though.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

It ain't easy to be bold in an unknown city

sky, originally uploaded by your neighborhood librarian.

Yeah, yeah, we all know the Classic Signs of Depression. (Or maybe we don't - I just had to look them up. Interesting. Plus, god damn it, I thought I had lost weight because I am so fine and virtuous and here the Mayo Clinic explains that my pants are fitting better for the same reason that I can't get up in the morning. Well, shit.)

But I have a set of easily recognizable Un-Classic Signs of Depression.
  • You realize that the cheap shampoo you switched to is killing your hair, and you keep using it anyway, just to finish the bottle.

  • You listen exclusively to The The for a few days straight (Liblif, you were totally right - a little Matt Johnson goes a long way).

  • Blog posts slow to a trickle.

  • Island or peninsula? Or nook? You obsess over the design for the kitchen renovation, convinced that if you don't make the right decision, you will regret it, maybe not today, but tomorrow, and for the rest of your life.

  • You read Vanity Fair magazine - cover to motherfucking cover (except for the big political article, of course). And despite what you're thinking, this is not an activity entirely without value: did you know that the new Indiana Jones movie includes Shia LeBaeiouf, brings back Karen Allen and may be about space aliens? Well I do, because I read Vanity Fair cover to cover Tuesday night.

  • You sign up for a children's literature reading group that has on its reading list Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You by Peter Cameron. Blurb:
"Not since The Catcher in the Rye has a novel captured the deep and almost physical ache of adolescent existential sadness as trenchantly as the perfectly titled Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You."

Oh, god.
And one sure sign that depression may be abating:
  • Joking about it.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

We could be heroes

SpeedMan, originally uploaded by your neighborhood librarian.

Who is that?
That's me!
And what superhero are you being?
And what is your power?
To run really fast in the woods and then turn into a lantern and then hang from a tree and my arms and legs are in the lantern and when I hear the bad guy I stick my legs out and touch my belly to the bad guy and sting him and the bad guy who didn't get stinged runs away and the bad guy who did get stinged just lays there and goes
"Aaaugh! aaugh! aaugh!"

And who's this bad guy, what's his name? A-Hole?
No, he's Black Hole! A-Hole must be his brother. And we don't have an A-Hole around here so we'll have to make one out of LEGO.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Oh, the irony.

By way of Maughta at Judge a Book by its Cover... one day this September, Steph at Natural/Artificial got into a fit of giggles with a co-worker about Just. How. Terrible. the new James Patterson book, You've Been Warned is. One Amazon review reads:
"All the paragraphs.
Are written.
Like THIS!
and she compiled all the last lines from each chapter. It is some damn funny reading.

All this was prompted by the discovery that, at the time, this stinker was at the top of the NY Times Best Seller list. As Mr. Patterson himself might comment:

"Utter. Freakin’. Amazement."

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Today's new picture books - mid-January

today's new picture books

The only boy in ballet class, written by Denise Gruska with illustrations by Amy Wummer.
Hey! Billy Elliot, his own story! No. Good lord. It's a wonderful and heartwarming story about a boy who loves ballet and who gets picked on and teased until one day when he... wins The Big Game. The other kids see that the jetés and chassés that they derided as poncy and fey are effective strategies for avoiding defensive linemen. Kind of stretching it a little here.

Llama llama mad at Mama by Anna Dewdney.
I may be the only mom, and certainly the only librarian I know, who ever didn't fall in love with Llama llama red pajama. As for this one: aw, no. Llama llama pitches a fit at the supermarket and throws all the crap out of the cart and instead of indicating her displeasure at his behavior, Mama suggests that they work together as a team to get the shopping done. Go on, pull the other one. Still, the rhymes and pictures are excellent, and I could see reading this to a three year old and saying, "Oh my gosh! Isn't that a terrible way to behave?"

The Nutcracker Doll, written and illustrated by Mary Newell DePalma.
Just in time for Chri- .... oh, I've made that joke before, haven't I? Wouldn't it be nice if our holiday books were processed in time for the holiday in question? This is a nice little one, for all the ballet-mad girls. Kepley gets to be onstage in a production of The Nutcracker. Pretty straightforward, and as it turns out, that's because it's a true story about the author's daughter. If it were me, I'd have included that tidbit on a page at the beginning or end. Maybe it was there but I missed it.

Br'er Rabbit Captured! A Dr. David Harleyson Adventure, by Jean Cassels.
Cute, cute, and more cute! It's fractured Br'er Rabbit! The narrator's uncle is trying to catch up to Br'er Rabbit to paint his portrait, and he is aided by the other characters in the folktales. Told in epistolary multiple first person narrative, a favorite for fractured stories (think Hoodwinked), we get to hear many of the tales retold in the course of trying to find the rabbit. Really fine art.

Magic Night, by Isobelle Carmody, illustrated by Declan Lee.
Don't let your adult fantasy readers get their hands on this - it'll never get back to the children's section. A pixie-like thing gets into the house and things start transforming weirdly, with only the cat to see. BEAUTIFUL illustrations, the kind that make you look at a coffee mug full of pens and wonder what it would look like if it came to life. My Big Man is going to love it, and any other Spiderwick fan is too.

Ivan the Terrier by Peter Catalanotto.
Just like Mélanie Watt's cat Chester, Peter Catalanotto's dog Ivan takes over this book, interrupting every story the narrator tries to read. The cover, a straight-on portrait of Ivan, is the best thing about this book, and I'm not being bitchy.

The Mine-o-saur by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen, illustrated by David Clark.
Sharing. Dinosaurs. But! David Clark, we love that guy! He illustrated Gakky Two-Feet, which was super-weird, but worth it for the pop-eyed hominids (it's the only picture book I know about natural selection) and the smart colors.

When dinosaurs came with everything, written by Elise Broach, illustrated by David Small.
Now, why aren't all picture books written like this? The mom is very mom-like, and the kid sounds just like my 6-year-old, who, when asked the other day if he bugs the kid who sits next to him with too much talking, said, "No. Sometimes I ask him, 'Dude, how's it going?' but that's all." The kid in this book, upon learning that he gets a dinosaur instead of a sticker after his checkup, crumples slightly, knees together, throws back his head with his arms up, and cries, "YESSS!" And I LOVE the scratchy pen and ink and watercolor illustrations - David Small also illustrated The Gardener, one of my all-time happy weepie picture books. I even love the typeface, the same one used in 17 Things I'm Not Allowed to Do Anymore. In other words, unless In Jesse's Shoes turns out to be an unexpected superstar, I think we have our Book of the Day!

Keep love in your heart, little one, by Giles Andreae, illustrated by Clara Vulliamy.
No, no. Shut up. How am I going to know that I can't stand books like this unless I read one every now and then? Well, I have to say, if you're going to take home this kind of book, Keep love in your heart is a good option. The illustrations are quite beautiful, with lovely little details. And it's not pure schmaltz... it's more like... lemon curd. Probably because it's British.

In Jesse's Shoes: Appreciating Kids with Special Needs, by Beverly Lewis, illustrated by Laura Nikiel.
Yes, that Beverly Lewis, the one who writes the "dirty Amish books", as one of my Monday-night patrons calls them. That explains the heavy God content of this otherwise perfectly ordinary, maudlin book about Allie and her developmentally disabled older brother Jesse, who she feels guilty about being embarrassed by. Sort of like Al Capone Does My Shirts for a younger crowd. And with divinely-inspired guilt in addition to ordinary empathy-deficit guilt.

Ziba came on a boat, written by Liz Lofthouse, illustrated by Robert Ingpen.
Afghan(?) refugee child. What it was like in her village before everything went to crap and what it was like when it went to crap, plus Ziba's dreams of freedom. So many questions, starting with: what's she doing on a boat? What part of which cold, mountainous, headscarf-wearing, goat-eating country - it certainly appears to be Afghanistan, an impression that is backed up by the author's short biography - do you flee in a boat? Too distracted by that one question even to enjoy the lovely illustrations by the always-classy Robert Ingpen.

Punk Farm on Tour by Jarrett J. Krosoczka.
You know I just want to love everything JJK does: Bubble Bath Pirates was such a fave at our house a couple years ago, partly because the mom is a pirate too, and besides, the man is just so damn funny. But when I took Punk Farm (this book's predecessor) home, it got a totally ho-hum response. Aaaand... I'm not sure this one's gonna rock the house either. The band covers "Wheels on the bus"... that's kind of never a good sign.

Chester by Ayano Imai.
What do you call this kind of book? Underappreciated family member runs away from home but does not find comfort anywhere else and then comes back home and now they love him. Do you call that Wizard of Oz? Goldilocks? Whatever you call it, it is Oh My God So Very Done. I'll forgive Ayano Imai because she has spent most of her life in Japan and maybe it's not such a tired trope there, and besides, her pictures are just excellent.

Romeo and Lou Blast Off by Derek Anderson.
Well, it's cute. Romeo and Lou are a penguin and a polar bear (do you get as cheesed-off as my six-year-old does when people put penguins and polar bears in the same environment? Even when it's a silly book, it's still just Not Right.), anyway, an Arctic mammal and an Antarctic bird build a snow rocket that magically takes off and crash-lands them in a city. As they try to figure out how to get home, they interpret the city sights using their native vernacular: they think two guys with mustaches are walruses, kids in bright-colored swimsuits are fish, etc. Kind of a dud.

This is the day! Adapted by Phillis Gershator, illustrated by Marjorie Priceman.
I don't always go for Marjorie Priceman's sort of Chagall-y work: I know it's meant to be gestural, but it often falls over the edge into slapdash for me. But boy do her willowy women and 1950's wirework furniture work in this book, an adaptation of an old song that goes "Monday's the day we give babies away with half a pound of tea. Here comes a lady who wants a baby. 'I'll take this one,' says she..." It's an irresistible song, light-hearted and with an adoption theme, and the illustrations are sunny and swingy and the whole book just really works. Besides the fact that a different song with the same title is one of my favorite songs of all time. ALL TIME. THE THE ROCKS, PEOPLE. (And oh my, wasn't Matt Johnson cute back when he had hair!)

Friday, January 11, 2008

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

We're on the road to paradise - here we go, here we go


My driver's license is suspended in North Carolina.

When the young woman at the DMV who was trying to renew my license for me this morning looked up from her computer and asked, frowning, "Have you ever lived in North Carolina?" I knew exactly what was up.

In the late 1980's, I worked in the insurance industry - I worked for a company that serviced the customers of the state insurance funds, to be exact. If you get too many tickets or accidents and the regular insurance companies don't want you, if you want auto insurance, you have to get it through the state. This is true in most states. Those rates are HIGH, and, at least back then, the state funds did not offer a payment plan. So there is this secondary constellation of little finance companies that offer financing to the desperate youngsters and hard luck cases who need to drive so badly that they will pay thousands and thousands of dollars a year to remain insured. Needless to say, the interest rates were incredible. We couldn't do business in Michigan because they had strict(ish) usury laws. Usury! How often do you get to use that word?

It wasn't a shady company, exactly, but the people who made their way through it were not, as a rule, career insurance people. We had the ex-soccer player who is now the manager of a professional team in New Jersey. We had the guy with the Super Bowl ring who held all his "meetings" at sports bars. We had programmers whose IBM System 36 expertise was not in great demand elsewhere.

And we had my boss, a terrible human being who had moved from company to company, always in an executive position, dogged by harassment charges but possessing the kind of brash, incorrect sense of humor that made him a hit with the other upper-management guys, who all seemed to yearn for the days when they could make a pass at a secretary with impunity.

That guy once put his hands on my ass to steady me as I stood on a chair, then leered over his shoulder at the head of HR (HR!), "Ten more seconds of this and I'm probably liable for $10,000!"

I am very proud of myself that I replied, "Tick-tock, motherfucker."

Although they laughed - and he didn't move his hands. They thought I was cute, their little punk-rock mascot. I only wish I'd ever been asked to testify against him.

Anyway, he wasn't a terribly good strategist either. At one point, he lowered our rates and attracted so much business that all of a sudden the company had no more money to loan. He announced to the entire sales and marketing team that we were to do no work for a month. "Go play golf!" he decreed. And the rest of 'em all went to play golf. Yuck.

This was summertime, and I lived in an un-air-conditioned apartment in southwest Baltimore. Staying home wasn't too appealing, and I had no money to go anywhere. I did have a car, however, and a gas card, so one afternoon I got in the car and drove to Delaware. I slept in my car at the National Park beach. When I woke up, I drove to a diner and had a grilled-cheese sandwich. Then I drove south to the National Park on Assateague Island. When I got hungry, I found another diner and had another grilled-cheese sandwich. I drove south. I slept in the car. I danced on the beach. I ate grilled-cheese sandwiches, sometimes with a fried egg. I got as far south as Ocracoke Island.

I spent a night at a hotel in Nags Head, mostly to take a shower. I remember that shower. Five days of sunscreen, sweat, salt water, and mosquito repellent washed off me and out of my hair - I remember wondering where their graywater went, and feeling sorry for whatever was downstream.

At one point I left the Outer Banks and drove through Dare County. The sun went down while I was driving one of those two-lane state roads that arrowed straight through a swamp. It was DARK. I was nervous. Locals kept whipping along that road, pulling up right behind me, and then passing me with a roar in their pickup trucks.

Now, I know that some people are scared of cities. Perhaps rightly so. I've been mugged and broken into, and had cars stolen in cities, granted. But I'll wager that just about anyone who is not from the South can get really creeped out down there. We hear Creedence in our heads, and think of poor Ned Beatty, and we suspect that behind the wheel of every pickup truck rides a crosseyed inbred redneck who will drag us from the car, hold us captive in a tarpaper shack, and invite his legions of cousins to perpetrate unspeakable things upon us.

So, eventually, when the third or fourth pair of headlights came up fast and rode my bumper, I sped up... and of course, that was the cop.

He pulled me over, I gave him my license and registration, and he told me to close my window back up because of the mosquitos. Oh, the mosquitos on that trip are a whole 'nother story.

When I got back home, I sent Dare County a check to pay the ticket. Months later, I got a notice from them that they had suspended my license, along with my returned check. I called. Money order only, or I could pay in person. I got a money order and paid it. What a pain.

So today, when I called the North Carolina DMV to find out why they are still reprimanding me almost 20 years later, I find I have to pay a "license restoration fee" of fifty dollars. Can I pay over the phone with a credit card? No. "Do you know anyone in-state who can come in and pay it for you?" You've got to be kidding. Bob says I should have said, "Just you, ma'am - you're my only friend in North Carolina."

It was a great trip though.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

'Cause nobody loves you when you're old and gray

Photo by David Yellen, from Hair Wars.

And just when my faith in humanity was all but shot, along comes Hair Wars. This knockout of a book, with sparkling, precise photographs by David Yellen and sunny, informative text by Johanna Lenander, documents and celebrates the Detroit-based Hair Wars tour, a showcase of outrageous feats of hair styling.

There are showgirl outfits made entirely of human hair. There is a monster truck made of human hair perched atop a woman's head. There are spiderwebs, there are bats. There are crowns, birds, helmets, a fishbowl, the Olympic rings.

Detroit Metro Times photos/George Waldman

The color! The eyelashes! The outfits! The models: beautiful real women, mostly African American and mostly not teenage stick figures. I imagine it takes stamina to sit for these hairdos. Lots of glue. Lots of glitter.

Lots of respect to the publishing company that put the money into this beautiful book, powerHouse Books of (where else?) Brooklyn, NY.

Monday, January 07, 2008

x 24

x 24, originally uploaded by your neighborhood librarian.

I am not thinking about a post-apocalyptic world.

That is a lie. Whenever I am not thinking about a sci-fi novel (and sometimes when I am), I am thinking about a post-apocalyptic world.

The littlest thing can set me off - an ailanthus tree growing out of an alley crack, an air-raid siren perched on a firehouse, Quonset huts, Daniel Day Lewis. Shouldn't he be the guy when they make the movie of The Road? Face like his, he looks like he's stared down plenty of cannibals.

Certainly I've always loved the post-apocalyptic fiction. A Canticle for Liebowitz - I invoke it every time I recommend microfilm as a preservation medium. Riddley Walker, possibly my favorite novel of all time. Love in the Ruins by Walker Percy. Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood. The Stand by Stephen King. Mmmm - I would STILL read that book, even though it's hell long and I know how it ends (ludicrously) and I'm getting the idea that his son is a better writer. I even slightly enjoyed the first book of the Left Behind franchise because of the authors' vision of the Earth after the Rapture (don't get me wrong - it's offensive, reactionary bullshit, but it surely qualifies as "speculative").

Plus the movies and the TV: the Yangs and the Khoms episode of Star Trek; Planet of the Apes; that scene in Twelve Monkeys when Bruce Willis meets the bear in Philly... the world laid waste has great visual appeal. I'm even looking forward to seeing I Am Legend, even though I hate zombies.

So it's no surprise that Alan Weisman's "thought experiment," The World Without Us, was a real page-turner for me. The book attempts to describe how the planet would recover (or not) were the human race to disappear all at once. What would happen to the nuclear power plants? The hole in the ozone? The squirrels in the Bronx? His description of how a house would disintegrate, teased apart by moisture, succumbing to gravity, oh, I'm practically a big old Goth girl, I love that so much.

But more objectively, this book belongs on my Favorite Non-fiction Books of All Time list because the author allows his curiosity to lead him the length and breadth of the planet and from one end of the Dewey Decimal System to the other. His research plumbs history, paleo-history, geology, geography, weather, anthropology, zoology, physics, taste, economics, chemistry, and habitat ecology. He goes to the middle of the Pacific ocean, Poland, Kenya, New York, Arizona, and South Korea, among other places.

Something for everyone, in other words. Plus, it's a clear-eyed, sound, well-researched discussion of the extent of the environmental damage we have done so far and what will happen if it does not cease. I'll tell you what: no more plastic water bottles in our house, not after reading this book.

I have a list, by the way (what a surprise), of Favorite Non-fiction Books of All Time. In fact, I used to only read non-fiction: Jaime once wondered how anyone could expect me to do adult reader advisory when all I read was books about disease and natural disasters. But I've branched out, and the reason I feel ok about presenting this list now is that The World Without Us touches the subject of each and every one of these books (except The Professor and the Madman. And possibly Homicide.).

Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey. Desert ecology.

Tornado Alley: Monster Storms of the Great Plains by Howard B. Bluestein. Tornados.

Blood on the Tracks by Miles Bredin. Africa.

In the wake of the plague: The Black Death and the world it made by Norm Cantor. Bubonic plague.

Ecological Imperialism by Alfred Worcester Crosby. Ecology.

Nickel and Dimed: On (not) getting by in America, by Barbara Ehrenreich. Economy.

A Gap in Nature, by Tim Flannery, pictures by Peter Schouten. Extinct animals.

King Leopold's Ghost by Adam Hochschild. Congo.

Magical Mushrooms and Mischievous Molds by George W Hudler. Fungi.

Isaac's Storm by Erik Larson. Hurricane.

The Soul of a New Machine. Tracy Kidder. Computer design.

Arctic Dreams by Barry Lopez. The Arctic.

City on Fire by Bill Minutaglio. Texas City refinery fires.

A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush by Erik Newby. India.

The Rape of Europa: The Fate of Europe's Treasures in the Third Reich... by Lynn H. Nicholas. Art in WWII.

The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan. Economy, agriculture.

Stiff by Mary Roach. Corpses.

Honey, Mud, Maggots and Other Medical Marvels by Robert Root-Bernstein. Folk medicine.

Garbage Land by Elizabeth Royte. Garbage.

Low Life by Luc Sante. New York City crime.

A Primate's Memoir by Robert Sapolsky. Baboons.

Homicide by David Simon. Baltimore crime.

Rats by Robert Sullivan. Rats.

In Siberia by Colin Thubron. Siberia.

Envisioning Information by Edward Tufte. Visual display.

Bones: A Forensic Detective's Casebook by Doug Ubelaker. The original forensic anthropology story collection.

Krakatoa by Simon Winchester. Volcanic eruption.

The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester. Oxford English Dictionary.

Rats, Lice and History by Hans Zinsser. Cholera.

Most honorable mention must be made of Commodify your dissent: Salvos from The Baffler, edited by Tom Frank and Matt Weiland. Anyone who's ever caught themselves buying an EXXtreeme Mountain Dew instead of a regular one should read this book and cringe.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Here, hold these and try not to look...

at the farm, originally uploaded by your neighborhood librarian.

... like you look.

I don't know. Sometimes when I'm weeding the Easy Nonfiction I find real gems, and other times I end up with... something like this.

And is it less scary inside?

to market

It is not.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Bow down before the one you serve


Christmas is going, the goose forgot his hat,
Please throw a penny at the old man's cat.
If he hasn't got a cat, then throw it at his head -
If you throw it at his head then he might be dead.

I love my husband. Funniest son of a bitch in Baltimore.

I swear, I haven't cooked a meal since Christmas day. Ok granted, on that day I cooked an eleven-pound fresh ham, hoppin' john, rice and greens, mashed sweet potatos, broccoli, sauerkraut, bread pudding and hard sauce... but still, it's been a solid week, 3 meals a day, and we've had enough parties, open houses, impromptu gatherings, and family dinners to keep us fed without me lifting a finger. A FINGER. Not even THIS one (and yeah, you know who you are).


For example, just today we were invited over our friends' house for breakfast. We had two open houses to attend later in the day, but we certainly wanted to hang in the A.M. with our home crew.

Good breakfast. We just got home from their house an hour ago - at 6:30 pm. It was like The Big motherfucking Chill over there: or, like, you know those mid-Pacific gyres? The horse latitudes where all the plastic garbage on the planet ends up? Hey, don't get me wrong, I'm not calling Molly & Sam's house a garbage slick - but nobody could leave that house today. There was champagne, coffee, O.J., waffles, potatoes, sausages, bacon, bean soup, pork & sauerkraut, apples, chocolate, biscuits, pasta, green beans, beer, schnapps... eleven kids having a terrific time, and 14 grownups cracking each other up and showing off their swearing skills whenever the children were out of earshot. Wow.

We have met some of the greatest people since Big Man started school. I can't believe how lucky we are.

When you don't have kids, you can have a fun raging late-night social life, but it often devolves into who's sleeping with whom and competing to see who has the worst neuroses. (and I'm not sayin' that's not fun!) When you have kids though, whenever the conversation lags, you can complain about your kid, and man, that's ALWAYS funny. Kind of like a poop joke.


booty booty booty!