Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A Creature Uniquely Designed for Reading

'The salient fact of an adolescent girl’s existence is her need for a secret emotional life—one that she slips into during her sulks and silences, during her endless hours alone in her room, or even just when she’s gazing out the classroom window while all of Modern European History, or the niceties of the passé composé, sluice past her. This means that she is a creature designed for reading in a way no boy or man, or even grown woman, could ever be so exactly designed, because she is a creature whose most elemental psychological needs—to be undisturbed while she works out the big questions of her life, to be hidden from view while still in plain sight, to enter profoundly into the emotional lives of others—are met precisely by the act of reading.'
--from What Girls Want, the latest Atlantic Monthly article from the scary-good pen of literary provocateur Caitlin Flanagan. We've been reading her work so closely, for so long and with such interest that we simply can't believe we've never mentioned her here before now. We hope our gentle readers will be merciful in this holiday season, and consider that serious omission to be more misdemeanor than felony. We can't help but wonder what our friend Christine, the former next-gen librarian and savvy arbiter of all things YA (young adult), would make of all this.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

What Happens After You've Achieved
Muscle Memory In Your Chosen Craft

'I felt in this movie that I'm dancing more effortlessly than I ever have.'
-veteran actor Dustin Hoffman, on the Charlie Rose show last night. He's making the same point that his thespian colleague Sir Ben Kingsley made.

Monday, December 29, 2008

A Late Entrant for Best Magazine Article of '08

For the better part of the year, we've considered this lively and illuminating piece from The Atlantic's March issue to be the one to beat. At least until we read this sizzling profile of the writer Naomi Klein a few weeks ago in the New Yorker. Actually, we love them both. So which would you vote for (and by all means, don't hesitate to nominate your favorite)? You can review our choice for best piece of 2006 and our favorite in 2007.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas, Everyone

Frosty days and ice-still nights,
Fir trees trimmed with tiny lights,
Sound of sleigh bells in the snow,
That was Christmas long ago.

Tykes on sleds and shouts of glee,
Icy-window filigree,
Sugarplums and candle glow,
Part of Christmas long ago.

Footsteps stealthy on the stair,
Sweet-voiced carols in the air,
Stocking hanging in a row,
Tell of Christmas long ago.

Starry nights so still and blue,
Good friends calling out to you,
Life, so fast, will always slow
For dreams of Christmas long ago.
--Jo Geis

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Need That Last-Minute Gift for the Person
On Your Holiday List Who Has Everything?

We've got just the thing: Why not consider giving them a gently used space shuttle? NASA has opened the bidding for three of its shuttles, expected to be retired in 2010. We think this gift would really break through the clutter of ho hum holiday presents and really get your loved one's attention. Sure, it'll set you back a few quid, but you can't really put a price on love, can you?

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Books as Medicine

'I write because writing is the gift God has given me to help people in the world. I came with curly hair, green eyes, and the ability to shape and tell stories in a way that a certain kind of person finds helpful, and funny. I love to make people laugh, because nothing is more life giving. I love to help people feel a sense of connection in their lives, by sharing the truth and details of mine — this seems to greatly decrease people's feeling of isolation. I try to write the books I would love to come upon, that are honest, concerned with real lives, human hearts, spiritual transformation, families, secrets, wonder, craziness — and that can make me laugh. When I am reading a book like this, I feel rich and profoundly relieved to be in the presence of someone who will share the truth with me, and throw the lights on a little, and I try to write these kinds of books. Books, for me, are medicine.'
--The writer Anne Lamott, responding to the question "why do you write," put to her by Powell's bookstore in Portland, Oregon. You can review several earlier mentions of Lamott here. I've mentioned the sublime Powell's bookstore earlier, here.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Round of Congrats Are In Order
For Cleveland Writer Sarah Willis

Who says you can't glean important news from blogs? I happened to stop by the blog of the prominent Cleveland-based novelist Sarah Willis over the weekend, and learned that one of her stories had been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She also mentioned she's begun working part-time in one of our favorite book spaces in the region, Loganberry Books on Larchmere, just north of Shaker Square. A couple years ago I was on a panel with Sarah, and found her to be extremely thoughtful about all things connected to the writing process. Anyway, congratulations to Sarah.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Traveling in Place

'Writing is traveling, even if you never leave your room.'
--Boston Globe columnist Alex Beam, in the acknowledgements section of his new book, A Great Idea at the Time--The Rise, Fall, and Curious Afterlife of the Great Books.

Friday, December 19, 2008

On Being Young, Republican & Sure About Life

There's an old line of reasoning that goes something like this: if you're not a liberal as a young person, you have no heart. If you're not a conservative as an older person, you haven't really lived. While I don't subscribe to all of this, there's nevertheless some underlying truth in it. I do know that the whole idea of a "young Republican" has always made me cringe in a way that being a Republican later in life, while not my cup of tea, never would.

When I lived in Washington D.C. during the Reagan presidency, the town was awash in this curious strain of humanity. Reagan's capture of the White House was something of a restoration for his party, and these young eager beavers flocked to Washington as if answering the distant call of some whistle pitched at a frequency only they could hear. But there were so damn many of them. The place was lousy with them, and they were easy to spot. The guys always wore a suit, or at least a sports coat, with the obligatory rep tie and tassled loafers. The women wore skirts and smiled a lot. We treated them as an oddly compelling form of local color, studying them mostly from afar. We took stock of these people not unlike we might have appraised a fascinating cult group or an ancient lost tribe we had stumbled upon in the outback. They seemed to have something to teach us about the world, however far from our experience they might be.

Anyway, I thought of all that when I came across this page of the Greater Cleveland Young Republicans' site. Four of the five officers have Jesuit educations, including three from my college alma mater, John Carroll. How sad, I thought, that their supposedly enriching educations had left these people with hardened attitudes about life and politics at such an early age. How much inquiry and exploration of a strange and invigorating world they're likely to miss by thinking they know most of the answers early.

Okay, so there they are: my political biases, on display for all to see. Have at me, Republican readers.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Blackwater's Slimy Influence

You gotta love the timing of it all. On the very day that Bill Clinton's foundation finally releases its list of donors (only because it was forced to as a condition of Hillary being named Secretary of State), among which is the shadowy private security contractor Blackwater USA, the State Dept.'s Inspector General issues a report noting that Blackwater may lose its license to operate in Iraq due to its small problem of slaughtering apparently innocent civilians. Blackwater, which has been called everything from George Bush's Rent-An-Army to "the elite Praetorian Guard for the global war on terror," has been a key cog in the Bush Administration's strategy for privatizing our military. The North Carolina-based company has won a cool $1 billion in defense contracts from the U.S. during the Iraq war. The company was the subject of this scathing book (which I haven't read). But credit the L.A. Times' T. Christian Miller for some of the best early work on this story. Too bad that paper is being systematically ravaged by its owner. The Clinton Foundation's website, by the way, has apparently crashed today from the crush of visitors eager to finally see that list of contributors. Do make a point of stopping back later to check it out. Just know that, true as always to his slippery nature (you'll recall his infamous comment "it depends on what the meaning of the word is is"), Slick Willie has only provided broad ranges of dollar figures for his donors. Some things never change.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A Woman Who Won't Take No for an Answer

If you live long enough, you'll see just about everything in the news. Last week in Louisiana, which has historically been home to some odd situations and odder folks, a 19-year-old woman was apparently intent on having a romp in the hay with her live-in boyfriend nearly twice her age. He's not in the mood and resists her advances. She gets violent, bloodies his lip, and lands in jail, where the authorities take her mug shot, bad hair moment and all. The police blotter-besotted Smoking Gun site has all the gory details. As for me, well...I'm just kind of left shaking my head over this one.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Tuesday Stuff

A Wet Dream for Nerds Everywhere. More than a century's worth of issues of Popular Mechanics, available free online.

The College Gravy Train. Earlier this year, I caught Ohio State president Gordon Gee's presentation to Akron's version of the Cleveland City Club. Sure enough, the subject of his pay came up (he's among the highest paid college presidents in the country, and the highest paid among public universities, at more than a million dollars a year). He dealt with it mostly by deflecting the question, which he no doubt hears often. But with higher education budgets now under pressure everywhere as never before, how do these folks defend their ridiculous pay levels? After all, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reports that at least 21 states have implemented cuts to public colleges and universities, resulting in faculty and staff cuts, and tuition increases of 5 percent to 15 percent. Don't you think it's perhaps time to share in some of that larger pain, dear presidents?

Here's An Interesting Idea...Borrowing a device from movie promotions, someone is promoting the idea of making video trailers for new books. It couldn't hurt.

Half Geek, Half Scribe. My friend Dan Hanson, a.k.a. Great Lakes Geek, held his annual holiday gathering last week, an event at which he gathers his unique assortments of Cleveland characters. The Chinese buffet was good, and the company even better. You can check out the photos here.

Finally, we end as we began, on a wet note, as we bring you this heartwarming story, about teenage KFC employees using sinks as hot tubs. It's sure to cause Colonel Sanders to turn over in his grave.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Are You Interested in Power or Influence?

'Power lasts ten years. Influence not more than a hundred.'
--old Korean proverb

Sunday, December 14, 2008

What Ever Happened to
Roger Clemens' Case?

The legendary pitcher, a seven-time Cy Young award winner and once a sure bet for the Hall of Fame one day, got caught up in allegations that he used banned growth hormone drugs. The ESPN Enterprise Unit does a good job of gathering up the loose ends of the case.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Lincoln: The Twain
Of Our Politics

'For Lincoln, words mattered immensely. His increasing skill in their use during his lifetime, and his high valuation of their power, mark him as the one president who was both a national leader and a genius with language at a time when its power and integrity mattered more than it does today. His was a personality and a career forged in a crucible of language. The novelist William Dean Howell's claim about his friend Mark Twain, that he was the "Lincoln of our literature," can effectively be rephrased with the focus on our 16th president: Lincoln was the Twain of our politics. Since Lincoln, no president has written his own words and addressed his contemporary audience or posterity with equal and enduring effectiveness.'
--from the introduction to Fred Kaplan's Lincoln--The Biography of a Writer, one of the more interesting new entrants to the endless stream of books that continue to add to our understanding of our greatest president.

Friday, December 12, 2008

A Reminder that Love Knows No Age

A tragic story from England: A woman in her 90s is left by her younger lover. "I have never felt more devastated," she writes. "If anyone had told me that a woman in her 90s could feel this depth of loss, I would not have believed them." Readers of The Guardian newspaper provide some sympathy.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

How the Industries Receiving Bailouts
Say Much About A Nation's Priorities

'The world is bailing out banks and car companies. Italy is coming to the rescue of parmigiano cheese.' The Wall Street Journal has the story.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Working Till You Drop

'I'm Scottish--we die in the mines. Hey, I like to work.'
--Jay Leno, explaining to NBC's Brian Williams why he wanted to continue his show, albeit at an earlier hour and under a different name.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

'Experience Tells
Me What Not To Do':
On Lessons Learned
From a Long Lifetime
Of Practicing A Craft

'Q: As you look at your career, at 64, what are you doing now that you didn't do at 45? What do you value in your mid-sixties that you didn't value quite enough before?

A: I hope that I'm getting more economical between 'action' and 'cut.' I'm trying to do less in front of the camera, trying to find that economy that will tell the story with greater accuracy by adding less. So that with fewer brush strokes I'll be able to get the tree, the mountain, the two men fishing, the sun setting. Experience tells me what not to do.'
--Actor Ben Kinsley, in an interview with Film Comment magazine (alas, it's not online). His observations had some interesting echoes from a conversation we were having here just a few days ago with the formidable Art Durkee, one of our favorite readers.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Visual of the Week

Here's a graphic depiction of Iceland's confounding financial meltdown. Just click on the image to make it large enough for closer reading. And if you can make sense of it, please let us know, because we remain a tad mystified by it all, the visual notwithstanding.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Amid All the Coverage About Less Shopping
Over the Holiday, This Was Totally Ignored

“Despite Challenging Economy, Black Friday Traffic To Online Shopping Sites Grows 10 Percent Year Over Year, According To Nielsen Online...Even with the weakening economy, an unstable stock market and a rising unemployment rate, Black Friday traffic to online retail sites grew at a double digit rate this year,” said Ken Cassar, vice president, industry insights, Nielsen Online. “Consumers are continuing to shift their holiday shopping to the Web for the convenience of not having to fight the crowds and to further stretch shrinking budgets.' You can read more about it here.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

We Happen to Think This Idea Applies Not Only
To Writing, But Also to the Rest of Life's Pursuits

'Sometimes when I was starting a new story and could not get it going, I would sit in front of the fire and squeeze the peel of the little oranges into the edge of the flame and watch the sputter of blue that they made. I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, “Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.”'
--Ernest Hemingway, in A Moveable Feast. Thanks to the incomparable Jenny Rough for bringing this to my attention at just the right moment. While you're at it, check out her recent musings in the L.A. Times on seasonal affective disorder, which certainly (as she notes) impacts people in these parts who are affected by the endless gray skies and lack of sunlight of Northeast Ohio winters. She lived for several years on the west coast, and now lives in the D.C. area, but she grew up in Ohio.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Best Lead of the Month

'It took the better part of two decades and cost $621 million, but Congress has finally solved one of the great problems of our time: smelly tourists on Capitol Hill.'
--from a recent Washington Sketch column by smart aleck Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank. You can go here to review earlier best leads.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Tuesday Stuff

Herein, a post-holiday quick romp through some things that have caught our attention lately.

What's Changed? On World AIDS day, the BBC asks the question: have a half-million AIDS deaths in the U.S. in the last 27 years changed the country? The gay community, meanwhile, remains in an uproar over last month's Prop 8 vote in California, which outlawed same-sex marriage. It prompted this fellow to pen the memorable phrase "no more Mr. nice gay."

Need Help Decoding What Just Happened in India? The New Yorker's Steve Coll slices through some of the confusion.

Sex Spells Trouble. Says the Dalai Lama. But we already knew that, didn't we?

Watershed Moment. Digital sales finally surpass CD sales at one venerable record company. But I suppose we need to stop calling them record companies, now that that's a reference to technology used not just one but two generations ago.

An Eye-Opener. The Boston Globe illustrates how vanished cotton plantations in the south still drive voting patterns!

Former Brown Hocks His Heisman. Like many former NFL players, running back Charles White has had a tough go since retiring from football, though his situation seems to be particularly rough. Please include him in your prayers, if you're into that sort of thing.

The Slow Death of Alternative Weeklies & Newstands Continue. How sad this is. And this too.

Okay, Enough Doom & Gloom. We end on a high note. Tipping our hat to the latest Bond movie, now out in theatres (alas, it's not as good as most of its predecessors), we bring you a photo gallery of the famous "Bond girls." With all due apologies to his majesty, the Dalai Lama...

Monday, December 01, 2008

The Economy's Effect on Holiday Parties

The next two weeks would normally be the thick of the holiday party season, but there are reports everywhere (here, here and here, for instance) that lots of parties are being cancelled or severely downsized as a result of the difficult economic times. That's a pity, we think. There's nothing that cheers our spirits more than a good holiday bash, where we're surrounded by friends we might not see much throughout the year. That's why we're happy that the annual Cleveland communicators' holiday party, set for this Wednesday evening, wasn't among those that have been cancelled. We love it for many reasons, including the fact that it's the result of a collaboration between several professional associations and because of its unique venue. Cleveland's Hermit Club, tucked just behind the theatres of Playhouse Square, is a venerable spot (it would be second only to the even older Rowfant Club as the most appropriate venue). It's just the right place to renew old friendships and make new ones during the holiday season. Hope to see some of you there.