Monday, December 29, 2008

Why Do Men Have Nipples?

By Mark Leyner and Billy Goldberg, M.D.

An informative little book that answers those quirky questions you'd like to ask your own doctor but don't. As for the title question, according to the authors, the male fetus starts out as female and when it switches to male at about six weeks of development some female characteristics remain.
The book is divided into nine chapters dealing each with a specific category of questions, starting with 'You are what you eat,' which addresses questions like "Does it really take seven years to digest chewing gum?" and "Can carrots help improve your vision?" and ending with, appropriately, 'Getting Older,' which answers questions like "Why does hair turn gray?" and "What's up with the ear hair?"
This book is packed full of answers to questions that you never even knew you had, like "Can you die from chasing Pop Rocks with Coke?" and "Is it dangerous to hold in a sneeze?", two things I had never thought about or considered. To find the answers to these and much more, delve into Why Do Men Have Nipples?, it is interesting, funny and informative.

New Words

Autodidact: a self-taught person. 'He [Leyner] was a medical autodidact with an astonishingly bizarre and encyclopedic store of arcane medical knowledge.'

Conflate: blend; mix together different elements. 'Leyner: I love when you conflate urology and heavy machinery.'

Focal seizure: also called partial seizure; it is a seizure which affects only a small part of the brain. 'I mistake Leyner's gesticulations for a focal seizure and I run across the room to administer first aid.'


By Neil Gaiman

Richard Mayhew is a successful young man living in London. He has a fiancee, Jessica, who is ambitious and very sure of herself and not too popular with Richard's friends. Her true character is revealed one weekend night when she and Richard stumble across a young, injured street person and Jessica sees no reason to involve herself in the injured woman's troubles. Richard, despite Jessica's protests, helps the girl, whose name is Door. Richard, involved with Door, fails to show up to an important dinner with Jessica and her boss and Jessica breaks off the engagement.
Trying to help Door get somewhere safe, Richard is introduced to Door's world, which is called London Below. It seems there is a vast other city, invisible to London Above, where people of strange appearance and strange abilities live out their lives in the sewers, subways and basements of London Above. Richard delivers Door safely but when he tries to go back to his normal life he finds that he has become unreal to it. He no longer exists and everyone who knew him has forgotten him. His credit cards are invalid, his bank account has vanished, his apartment has been rented and he is forced to retreat to London Below just to survive.
Tracking down Door, Richard is desperate to get his old life back. Once he finds her, he becomes involved in her problems which could cost him his life as Door is a marked woman, being hunted by two ruthless and very creepy killers, Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar. Door leads Richard on a perilous adventure through the filthy, gloomy byways of London Below as they flee the two deadly assassins and Richard struggles to get back to reality and London Above.

This book started out as a series on British TV. The landmarks and locales of London play an important part in the story and were probably a lot more meaningful to British viewers than they could be to a person who is not familiar with the sights and locales mentioned. For example, the angel Islington, which is an angel named Islington in the book which is probably a lot more charming and amusing if you know, which I did not when reading the book, that there used to be, long ago, an inn in Islington named the Angel and that there is no actual angel in Islington. So, yeah, those kind of details totally meant nothing to me, unfamiliar as I am with the streets of London and its surrounds.
But not only that, the whole depiction of the street people lifestyle just didn't appeal. Bit of a spoiler here: but when Richard gets his normal life back he finds himself bored and dissatisfied. I couldn't relate, better boredom that eating alley cats and wearing the same unwashed clothing for weeks at a time. Give me a hot shower, a soft bed, clean clothes and a good meal over excitement any day. I found the characters too grubby, too creepy and too elitist. Nevertheless, Gaiman presents a fascinating netherworld full of strangeness and strange people and it is a lot of fun to picture such dwelling places beneath the streets of our big cities, as the book makes clear that all the big cities of the world have their hidden counterpart just out of sight. So, though it had it problems for me, I still liked reading about Richard, Door and London Below.

New Words

Arbalests, mangonels, trebuchets, glaives and knobkerries: An arbalest is a crossbow; a mangonel is a catapult; a trebuchet is also a catapult; a glaive is a long-handled blade or a broadsword; and a knobkerry is a club. 'He made his own, out of whatever he could find, or take, or steal, parts of cars and rescued bits of machinery, which he turned into hooks and shivs, crossbows and arbalests, small mangonels and trebuchets for breaking walls, cudgels, glaives and knobkerries.'

Inhume: to bury; place in a grave or tomb. '"We should butcher the bitch. Annul, cancel, inhume, and amortize her."'

Grimoires: a grimoire is a book of instructions in the use of magic, especially summoning demons. 'But the shelves were filled with a host of other things: tennis rackets, hockey sticks, umbrellas, a spade, a notebook computer, a wooden leg, several mugs, dozens of shoes, pairs of binoculars, a small log, six glove puppets, a lava lamp, various CDs, records (LPs, 45s, and 78s), cassette tapes and eight-tracks, dice, toy cars, assorted pairs of dentures, watches, flashlights, four garden gnomes of assorted sizes (two fishing, one of them mooning, the last smoking a cigar), piles of newspapers, magazines, grimoires, three-legged stools, a box of cigars, a plastic nodding-head Alsatian, socks ... the room was a tiny empire of lost property.'

Fuliginous: pertaining to soot; sooty. 'At the apex of the bridge, another monk was waiting for them: Brother Fuliginous.' [Brother Fuliginous is one of the Black Friars.]

Kris: a double-edged, wavy-bladed knife or short sword designed primarily for thrusting. 'It was made of a bronze-colored metal; the blade was long, and it curved like a kris, sharp on one side, serrated on the other; there were faces carved into the side of the haft, which was green with verdigris, and decorated with strange designs and odd curlicues.'

Friday, December 26, 2008

Rabbit, Run

By John Updike

Rabbit Angstrom used to be the star of the high school basketball court. Now he is just another schmuck stuck in a boring job, married to a woman he doesn't really like, with a small son and a baby on the way. What he would really like to be is that high school kid again, sinking those winning baskets.
Coming home from work one day, and after a petty quarrel with his wife, Rabbit gets in his car, supposedly to run an errand, but ends up driving all night, headed to the southern sun and a warm ocean beach. When morning comes, he has second thoughts, and returns back to his home town where he contacts his old high school basketball coach. The coach hooks Rabbit up with a call girl and Rabbit ends up at the call girl's place, spending the night. After that night, Rabbit thinks he is in love with the girl and moves in with her.
Later, when his wife goes into labor, Rabbit returns home to take care of his family, abandoning Ruth, the call girl, who now pregnant with Rabbit's kid. Feeling romantic, Rabbit tries to talk his wife into having sex, even though she has just given birth a couple weeks ago. When she refuses, he goes off in a snit, leaving his wife to deal with the baby and their young son by herself, with dire consequences. Returning to deal with the aftermath, Rabbit once again shows his true colors and ends up running away again, back to Ruth who tries to talk him into making some kind of stand, but, of course, he can't.

It really hard to like a story about a person who is so despicable. This is what he says to his very pregnant wife when he hears she was trying on bathing suits in anticipation of the day when she can again fit into one.
"What the hell ails you? Other women like being pregnant. What's so damn fancy about you? Just tell me. What is so frigging fancy?"
Real nice guy, that Rabbit.
Once he moves in on the call girl, Ruth, he won't let her use a diaphragm because he doesn't like the way it feels, so naturally she gets pregnant. Later when he is back with his wife after she has given birth, he wants to have sex and she can't as she tries to explain to him:
"No I can't. Even if I wasn't all tired and confused from Rebecca's crying all day I can't. Not for six weeks. You know that....Why can't you try to imagine how I feel? I've just had a baby."
"I can. I can but I don't want to, it's not the thing, the thing is how I feel. And I feel like getting out. ... You can just lie there with your precious ass. Kiss it for me."
What a swell guy.
So, yeah, reading about this child in a man's body didn't have much appeal for me. In fact, if anyone should have died in this story, it should have been Rabbit. I think the only part of the story that I enjoyed was Rabbit's aborted drive south to the ocean, which called to mind the pleasure of driving just for fun of going somewhere.

New Words

Suntans: a type of pants; chinos. 'In frightened haste he takes clean Jockey pants, T-shirts, and socks from a drawer, three shirts in cellophane and blue cardboard from another, a pair of laundered suntans from a third, draws his two suits and a sports shirt from the closet, and wraps the smaller clothing in the suits to form a bundle he can carry.'

Exegetical: exegesis is an explanation or critical interpretation (especially of the Bible). 'To know him back in seminary you would never think he would take all this so seriously; he and his friends sitting in their drafty old rooms lined with handsome blue exegetical works made it all seem an elegant joke.'

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


By Vladimir Nabokov; annotated by Alfred Appel, Jr.

Humbert Humbert is a pedophile from Europe. He lusts after young girls which he calls nymphets, claiming these youngsters have a come-hither and alluring appearance. Possessed of independent means, Humbert leaves Europe and heads to America, looking to prey on some child there. He finds a home with Charlotte Haze who has a daughter, Dolores, who is twelve and of whom Humbert becomes obsessed at first sight. Figuring that being married to Charlotte will give him better access to Dolores, with whom Humbert has only had limited contact so far (one particularly nasty session occurs when the girl innocently lays her legs in his lap and Humbert rubs himself to climax against her legs while singing a loud, silly song to cover what he is doing), Humbert marries the eager Charlotte. The jig is up, though, when Charlotte finds his journal in which he details his lust for her daughter and his scorn for herself. In her agitation and distress, Charlotte rushes out of her house and is struck and killed by a car, leaving Humbert as the sole guardian of Dolores.
Humbert hits the road with Dolores after taking her out of summer camp and without telling her of her mother's death. He has his cruel way with the girl then spends the next year traveling the country with his captive. Eventually he wearies of the constant travel and they settle down in a town where Dolores attends school. Humbert keeps Dolores in his control with threats and lies, leaving her to believe that she will be in as much trouble with the law as he if she turns him in and being a naive kid she believes him. Still she resents and despises Humbert and she becomes involved with another man behind Humbert's back. Humbert suspects this but can't prove it so he pulls Dolores out of school and they start traveling around again. Dolores maintains contact with her lover behind Humbert's back and eventually gives Humbert the slip and runs off with the other man, a fellow called Clare Quilty, who is as twisted and as sick a bastard as Humbert himself.
The last part of the novel is mostly about Humbert's desire to hunt down Dolores and to kill Quilty for stealing her from him. As he progresses he finally admits to himself just exactly how much damage he did to an innocent child and how much she has lost because of him.

This book was a giant pain to read. Going into it, with some preconceptions, it turned out not to be so much erotic as it was difficult. It is stuffed full of French phrases, hard and obscure words, and literary allusions up the wazoo. Frankly, if I didn't have the annotated version I doubt I would have read it past the first few chapters. Even with the annotated version the literary references were just too much. This book is not light reading! The Annotated Lolita was put together by Alfred Appel, Jr., and it was super helpful.
Despite its intellectual slant, the subject matter is sad and depressing and upsetting. Humbert was scum and reading about his abuse of Dolores was not fun. Humbert and Quilty get theirs in the end but Humbert's regrets and capture and Quilty's murder are not enough to make up for having to wallow in their filth. I didn't like the book but apparently it does have its fans. For another review see The Atlantic.

New Words
Usually, when I put a word on the new word list I include the sentence from the book that contained the word. However this book had so many new words that I am not going to include the pertinent sentence, it would just make the list much too long.

Solecisms: a solecism is a mistake in grammar; an idiom.
Etiolated: etiolate means to deprive of strength; weaken.
Apotheosis: A glorified example, the apex of perfection.
Paleopedology: paleopedology is the study of geologic soils.
Aeolian harp: a harp having strings tuned in unison; they sound when wind passes over them.
Lycée: a French academic high school.
Solipsism: the philosophical theory that the self is all that you know to exist.
Plage: the beach at a seaside resort.
Beetle-browed: sullen or unfriendly in appearance.
Manqué: Unfulfilled due to some inherent flaw or an often uncertain constitutional lacking of some kind.
Uranists: a uranist is a homosexual.
Pastiches: a pastiche is a work of art that intentionally imitates other works, often to ridicule or satire.
Mympholepts: A nympholept is a person suffering from nympholepsy, which is a frenzied state of (usually erotic) emotion, especially concerning something or someone unattainable.
Fascinum: an ivory phallus used in certain ancient erotic rites.
Axillary: of or having to do with the armpit or underarm areas.
Frétillement: movement; wriggling.
Grues: a grue is a prostitute, a slut, a drab.
Pot-au-feu: a stew of meat and vegetables.
Estampe: a print or engraving.
Coruscating: glittering, sparkling.
Favonian: pertaining to the west wind; mild, gentle.
Phocine: pertaining to a seal; seal-like.
Nates: the buttocks.
Charshaf: the veil worn by Turkish women.
Pederosis: pedophilia.
Monogrammic: of, pertaining to, or resembling, a monogram.
Iliac: Iliac refers to the ilium, which are the large, wing-like bones of the pelvis.
Catullus: a Roman lyric poet remembered for his love poems to an aristocratic Roman woman (84-54 BC).
Neuralgia: severe sharp pain along the course of a nerve.
Incondite: unpolished, unrefined, referring to literary works; jumbled, long winded.
Cretonnes: Cretonne is a heavy unglazed cotton, linen, or rayon fabric, colorfully printed and used for draperies and slipcovers.
Congeneric: Congener means a member of the same kind, class, or group.
Saporous: tasty.
Acrosonic: This word was coined up by Nabokov and it meant a noise reaching to and past the sonic barrier.
Olisbos: a dildo.
Argent: the heraldic color silver or white.
Glaucous: sea-green or pale blue-green.
Tombal: like a tomb.
Lentigo: lentigo is a freckle; a small brownish spot on the skin. Plumbaceous umbrae: Latin for leaden shadows.
Mägdlein: German for little girl.
Purblind: having poor sight; slow in understanding.
Backfisch: German for an immature, adolescent girl; a teenager.
Lentor: slowness, slugishness; viscosity.
Antiphony: an antiphon is alternate, or responsive singing by a choir split into two parts; a piece sung or chanted in this manner.
Nebulous: in the form of a cloud or haze; hazy; vague or ill-defined; relating to a nebula or nebulae.
Emeritus: retired or honorably discharged from active professional duty, but retaining the title of one’s office or position.
Callypygean: also spelled callipygian, it means pertaining to or having finely developed buttocks.
Clathrate: having a lattice-like structure pierced with holes or windows.
Swooners: Nabokov coined this word and uses it to refer to some type of clothing that was worth swooning over.
Trochaic: one stressed syllable followed by unstressed syllable.
Gouache: a thick, opaque watercolour paint; a painting made with this paint.
Inutile: lacking in utility or serviceability; not useful; unprofitable.
Samaras: a samara is a dry fruit with one or two flat wings attached to a seed, as on ash trees and maples.
Teleological: of or pertaining to teleology; showing evidence of design or purpose.
Canthus: either of the corners of the eye where the upper and lower eyelids meet.
Kurort: German for health resort, spa, watering place.
Lanugo: soft down or fine hair, specifically as covering the human fetus.
Pollex: Latin for thumb.
Viatic: of or relating to traveling, a road, or a way.
Natatoriums: a natatorium is a swimming pool, especially indoors.
Pavonine: like a peacock; iridescent.
Oculate: relating to the the eye.
Raffish: cheaply or showily vulgar in appearance or nature; tawdry; low-class; disreputable; vulgar.
Leporine: of, relating to, or resembling a hare or rabbit.
Salutory: Salutary. Unpleasant, but ultimately providing a useful lesson; promoting good health; wholesome; curative.
Orchideous: like an orchid.
Habitus: Latin for moral condition, state, disposition, character.
Mythopoeic: giving rise to myths.
Dackel: a dachshund.
Remises: carriage houses.
Envoy: An envoy (or envoi) is a short stanza at the end of a poem used either to address an imagined or actual person or to comment on the preceding body of the poem.
Ballade: not to be confused with ballad, a ballade is a a poem consisting of three stanzas and an envoy.
Tesselated: marked with little checks or squares, like tiles.
Tyros: a tyro is a novice: someone new to a field or activity.
Wimbles: a wimble is any of various hand tools for boring holes.
Syncope: in phonetics, syncope is the loss of one or more sounds from the interior of a word; especially, the loss of an unstressed vowel. Syncope is also a brief period of fainting or collapse.
Purling: gently murmuring, as a brook.
Alembics: an alembic is a kind of flask used by alchemists for distilling.
Fatamorganas: mirages.
Erlkönig: the king of the elves, from a poem where an elf king pursues a little boy traveling with his father.
Mordant: a substance used in dyeing to fix the coloring matter.
Gitanilla: little gypsy girl.
Maquette: a small model of an intended work, such as a sculpture or piece of architecture.
Telestically: with the projection of a purpose, with a definite end in view, inwardly expressed.
Logodaedaly: the arbitrary or capricious coining of words.
Logomancy: Nabokov's coined word, logo (word) plus -mancy (divination).
Undinist: a person who derives sexual pleasure from urine and urination.
Bodkin: a dagger or stiletto.
Ancilla: accessory, aid.
Appended: Append means to hang or attach to, as by a string, so that the thing is suspended; to add, as an accessory to the principal thing; to annex; as, notes appended to a chapter.
Lithophanic: lithophane is a porcelain panel with a relief decoration that is visible when light passes through it.
Turpid: Foul; base; wicked; disgraceful.
Physiognomization: Physiognomy is the art of judging human character from facial features; divination based on facial features.
Penele: a coined word, penele means penis-like.
Selenian: of or relating to the moon.
Flavid: yellowish or tawny.
Herculanita: heroin.
Palearctic and Nearctic: one of the four world faunal regions which is subdivided into the Palearctic (Europe and Asia) and the Nearctic (North America).

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

On Beauty

Zadie Smith

Howard and Kiki Belsey live in a suburb of Boston where Howard is a college professor. They have three kids, two in college and one younger. Howard teaches a course about art appreciation, or it might be better to say art unappreciation, as he strives to strip the romance and symbolic meanings that have been traditionally attached to our perceptions of art. He especially likes to go after Rembrandt, pointing out that Rembrandt was just a guy trying to earn a living painting what his wealthy patrons wanted him to paint and that's all.
Howard and his wife are liberals, believing all the usual liberal tenets. Their son Jerome is a born-again Christian, much to Howard's dismay. Howard's enemy and nemesis is Sir Monty Kipps, a conservative Christian who despises liberal doctrines and whose mission is to take the "liberal out of liberal arts".
Howard's oldest child, Jerome, briefly worked for Monty and had a short affair with Monty's beautiful and wayward daughter, Vee. The news that Monty and family are moving to the Belsey's hometown and that Monty will be lecturing at Howard's college doesn't make anyone in the Belsey family happy, especially Howard. To Howard, Monty stands for everything that Howard despises, and vice versa.
To complicate things, Howard and Kiki are going through a rough patch in their marriage due to Howard's infidelity. Theirs is a mixed marriage, Kiki is African American and Howard is white and from England. Their youngest son, Levi, is suffering from an identity crisis and trying to identify himself with the hip-hop street culture of which he really has no experience, being a child of privilege. He ends up hanging around with a gang of Haitian refugees and, in his efforts to ingratiate himself with them, gets into trouble. And Kiki starts a friendship with the enemy when she discovers that she really likes Monty's wife Carlene despite their differences.
Howard's and Kiki's daughter, Zora, who goes to the same college her dad teaches at, becomes enamored of a young street poet, Carl, and comes into conflict with Monty's daughter Vee over this handsome young rapper. Howard also finds himself entangled with Vee and trying to conceal it from his wife. Meanwhile, Howard and Monty are engaged in a power struggle at the college.
Everyone in the Belsey family ends up feeling betrayed. Howard feels betrayed by his wife's tolerance and friendship for the Kippses. Kiki feels betrayed by Howard's continuing infidelity. Jerome feels betrayed by Howard's relationship with Vee. Zora feels betrayed by Carl's relationship with Vee. And Levi feels betrayed by his parents, who are not poor and not street and don't understand, he thinks, what it means to be Haitian.

This is a very interesting and often amusing book about a modern college family, a family of mixed race and mixed culture with an intellectual father and a non-intellectual mother and three kids who are like them and yet different. Lots is going on in this story and it was rather sad watching Howard destroy his marriage. I kept hoping Howard and Kiki would work it out, but how can they when Howard keeps cheating on his wife, a woman he claims to love. Kiki tries to keep it together but finally admits that her marriage has run its course and that she has had enough of Howard Belsey. I do wish Murdoch had played a larger part in the story, I really enjoyed reading about Kiki's little dog. This was a good story about a family and a failing marriage.

On a side note, I was reading Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov at the same time as I was reading On Beauty and, in a strange coincidence, Lolita is mentioned in the book:
"She jumped off the bed and into his lap. His erection was blatant, but first she coolly drank the rest of his wine, pressing down on him as Lolita did on Humbert, as if he were just a chair she happened to sit on. No doubt she had read Lolita.

New Words

Gnomically: in a gnomic manner -- mysterious and often incomprehensible yet seemingly wise. "'It's just what it is,' he said gnomically."

Pulvinate: cushion, cushion-shape, flattened pads or pad-like. "Their pulvinate bellies were red satin, and it was here that the needles pierced."

Crepitations: clicking, rattling, or crackling noises. "The Boston primness Howard associated with these kind of events [concerts] could not quite survive the mass of hot bodies and the crepitations of the crickets, the soft, damp bark of the trees and the atonal tuning of instruments -- and all this was to the good."

Cernuous: having branches or flower heads that bend downward; drooping. "Walking up Redwood Avenue with its tunnel of cernuous willows, Levi found he had lost the will even to nod his head, usually an involuntary habit with him when music was playing."

Vol-au-vent: a small canapé - circular pieces of puff pastry with a small hole which accommodates various fillings. "'You know, I wasn't really in the mood to stuff three hundred tiny little vol-au-vent cases with crab paste,' she said, following her brother through the open front door."

Decline: in certain languages, to give the inflected forms of a noun, pronoun or adjective. "'You can decline a Latin noun, but apparently you can't even --'"

Aperçus: discerning perceptions; insights (plural form of aperçu). "He segued into Aristotle's praise of friendship, and from there to some aperçus of his own."

Lido: a public outdoor swimming pool and surrounding facilities, or part of a beach where people can swim, lie in the sun or participate in water sports. "A sprawling North London parkland, composed of oaks, willows and chestnuts, yews and sycamores, the beech and the birch; that encompasses the city's highest point and spreads far beyond it; that is so well planted it feels unplanned; that is not the country but is no more a garden than Yellowstone; that has a shade of green for every possible felicitation of light; that paints itself in russets and ambers in the autumn, canary-yellow in the splashy spring; with tickling bush grass to hide teenage lovers and joint smokers, broad oaks for brave men to kiss against, mown meadows for summer ball games, hills for kites, ponds for hippies, an icy lido for old men with strong constitutions, mean llamas for mean children and, for the tourists, a country house, its façade painted white enough for any Hollywood close-up, complete with a tea room, although anything you buy from there should be eaten outside with the grass beneath your toes, sitting under the magnolia tree, letting the white upturned bells of blossoms, blush-pink at their tips, fall all around you."

Windrush: As a result of the losses during World War II, the British government began encouraging mass immigration for the first time in order to fill shortages in the labor market. This included Poles and Italians from Europe, however to provide the numbers required the government turned to the countries of the empire and commonwealth countries. Many West Indians were attracted by better prospects in the United Kingdom. The ship Empire Windrush brought the first group of several hundred immigrants from Jamaica to Tilbury near London on June 22, 1948. The 492 passengers from Jamaica were the first large group of West Indian immigrants to the UK after the Second World War. "A few minutes later the children filed out again, feeling a degree more confused as to the true character of the person whose obituary was to appear in tomorrow morning's Times: Lady Kipps, loving wife of Sir Montague Kipps, devoted mother of Victoria and Michael, Windrush passenger, tireless church worker, patron of the arts."

Eglantine: sweetbrier; Eurasian rose with prickly stems and fragrant leaves and bright pink flowers. "Standing in the pebbled forecourt under the bare branches of a cherry tree, Howard could almost imagine the busy main road completely vanished and in its place paddocks, hedgerows and eglantine, cobbled lanes."

Concameration: an arch or vault. "Howard alone looked up into the simple concameration of the roof, hoping for escape or relief or distraction."

Flâneur: French for stroller; a person who strolls walks the city in order to experience it. "At this distance, walking past them all, thus itemizing them, not having to talk to any of them, flâneur Howard was able to love them and, more than this, to feel himself, in his own romantic fashion, to be one of them."

Halal: a halal butcher shop is one where the meat is prepared in accordance with Muslim ritual and laws. In Islam, halal is an Arabic term meaning lawful or permissible and not only encompasses food and drink, but all matters of daily life. "Whatever the fear or force that had thrust him from Carlene Kipps's funeral out on to these cold streets was what now compelled him to make this rare trip: down the Broadway, past the McDonalds's, past the halal butchers, second road on the left, to arrive here, at No. 46 with the thick glass panel in the door."

Dyad: any two entities regarded as some kind of unit; two units regarded as a pair or opposite in a whole. "'There are,' said Jack, bringing his hands together, 'a dyad of reasons why last month's meeting was delayed, rescheduled ... maybe in fact it would be more accurate to say repositioned, for this date, for January tenth, and I feel that before we can proceed with this meeting, to which, by the way, I warmly welcome you all after what I sincerely hope was a pleasurable -- and most importantly -- a restful Christmas break -- yes, and as I say, before we do proceed with what promises to be a really rather packed meeting as far as the printed agenda is concerned -- before starting I just wanted to speak briefly about the reasons for this repositioning, for it was, in itself, as many of you know, not entirely without controversy.'"

Mythemes: in the study of mythology, a mytheme is the essential kernel of a myth, an irreducible, unchanging element, one that is always found shared with other, related mythemes and reassembled in various ways or linked in more complicated relationships. "'And publications next year will include Dr J. M. Wilson's "Windmills of My Mind": Pursuing the Dream of Natural Energy Branvain Press, which is due for publication in May; Dr Stefan Guilleme's "Paint It Black: Adventures in Minimalist America, Yale University Press, in October; Borders and Intersections, or Dancing with Anansi: A Study in Caribbean Mythemes by Professor Erskine Jegede, published by our own Wellington Press this August ...'"

The Noah Confessions

Br Barbara Hall

Lynnie is turning sixteen and is sure she is getting a car for her birthday. It's what every one gets on their sixteenth at the upscale high school she attends. It never crosses her mind that it will be any different for her, after all, her dad is a successful lawyer and can certainly afford to get her a car. But she doesn't get a car. She gets a rather beat-up charm bracelet that used to belong to her mom, who died some years ago. While this is a sentimental and meaningful gift, it sure isn't a car. Yet Lynnie's dad can't understand why his daughter is a little peeved. He gives Lynnie a letter that her mom wrote when she was about Lynnie's age, hoping it will enlighten his daughter as to his reasoning; Lynnie thinks she didn't get a car because her mom died in a car crash.
Her mother's letter to Noah, a boy at her school, reveals a nightmare family. Lynnie's grandfather was a sociopath and her grandmother was depressed and losing touch with reality. Lynnie's mom witnessed her father commit several crimes and it blighted her whole childhood even to the point of blaming herself for her father's acts.
After Lynnie reads the letter, she is very upset at her parents for keeping this sad family history from her. As she faces up to the truth she begins to understand and accept the choices her parents and especially her father have made for her, even though it takes a near death experience along the way.

This novel wasn't what I hoped it would be. I guess I misunderstood the blurb that said, "And so Lynnie begins the journey to Union Grade, Virginia, into the world of her mother." I thought this meant she was going there physically. Instead she just reads her mom's letter. I thought this story would be about the contrast between her wealthy California lifestyle and the down home, back east lifestyle of a more rural setting in Virginia. It wasn't that at all. I was also hoping, since the blurbs went on to say that the author had worked on the TV shows Northern Exposure, Chicago Hope, and Judging Amy that the book would be in a lighter, funnier vein. It wasn't. So I was doubly disappointed.
It also seemed to me that Lynnie got upset way out of proportion when she discovered her mother's dodgy past. So her parents didn't tell her the whole truth of their backgrounds. What law says children are entitled to know all the family's dirty secrets? Some things are best left unsaid until the child has reached adulthood. It's better for the kid and better for the family.
Finally, I never really got what her mother's hardships had to do with Lynnie not getting a car. If her dad felt she wasn't mature enough to have a car, why not just say so: "Lynnie, I just don't feel that you are ready for the responsibility that comes with having a car." Enough said. I'm sure lots of teens have heard those words whether they are rich and privileged or have to earn the money for a car themselves.
Bottom line, this preachy novel just didn't engage me.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Kitty and the Midnight Hour

By Carrie Vaughn

Kitty is a late night talk radio host and her topic is the weird and strange, the supernatural, which is a natural for her since she is a supernatural: she's a werewolf. Nobody else knows except for the members of her werewolf pack and a few of the local vampires. She hasn't even told her mother.
Kitty was attacked one night, first by her date and later on by a werewolf. She was taken in by the attacking wolf's pack and thus became the youngest member of the pack, which works just like a real wolf pack, with all the dominance and submissiveness, and the crawling and whining that is typical of wolves. As the newest member of her pack, Kitty is subservient to all the other werewolves. Not only does Kitty find herself at the bottom of the pack, she also has to turn a portion of her work earnings over to the alpha male and female, Carl and Meg.
Since Kitty started leading the talk on her radio show to the supernatural, ratings have soared and her show is being broadcast by more and more stations and Kitty starts to make more money. This makes Carl happy and yet unhappy. He likes the extra money but he doesn't like the extra publicity and neither do the local vampires. Kitty manages to win Carl over to her side, briefly, but some one has hired a hitman to take Kitty out. No only does she have to protect herself from the hitman, she has to discover who hired him and also try to track down a rogue werewolf who is attacking women and making the werewolf community look very bad at a time when humans are just finding out about them, thanks to Kitty spilling the beans on her radio show.

This was an OK story. The wolf pack interactions were very wolf-like, uncomfortably so. I kept waiting for her to say, "Now wait a minute, I'm not really a wolf and I refuse to act like one." She does eventually come to a similar conclusion although it is not so clearly stated. Another problem I had was the indifference the human world showed to the revelation of werewolves and vampires in their midst. This would be a huge story, generating a media circus this likes of which would rival baby Jessica in the well (for those of you old enough to remember that) but in Kitty's world it hardly even raises an eyebrow. Another problem I had was how easily the police accepted Kitty's werewolf activities. At one point Kitty eats a fellow werewolf's throat out and kills him and the cops pretty much just let her go home, no questions asked. Very understanding cops for ones just introduced to whole idea of werewolves and vampires. Also, I found the book a little too violent and gruesome for my taste. From the ending I would say that this book is definitely intended to be the first in a series. Even though I had a quite a few problems with the story, I will probably continue to follow the adventures of Kitty if the next books in the series happen to come my way.
The book cover features a woman dressed rather provocatively and a few blurbs that describe the novel as sexy. However, the sex was rather minimal (I can only recall one sex scene and one almost-sex scene) so if you are looking for a sex romp, this is not it.

For another review of the story, see Publishers Weekly.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Wit's End

By Karen Joy Fowler

Rima is recovering from the loss of her family: her mother died when Rima was little, her brother died in a car accident not that long ago and her father died recently. When her godmother invites her out to California, Rima gladly accepts, eager to get away from her tragic home.
Rima's godmother, Addison Early, is a famous and prolific mystery writer who hasn't published a new Maxwell Lane (her fictional detective) in about three years. Fans and friends are worried that she has run out of ideas or has writer's block. Whatever the problem is, Addison is not talking about it.
Addison is a bit of an odd duck. She has no relatives and has never been married. She lives in a beautiful seaside home called "Wit's End." Her home is filled with miniature tableaus depicting the scene of the crime of almost every one of her mystery novels. She has two wiener dogs and two young people who come every morning to walk the wiener dogs. She is also a person who keeps her own counsel.
Rima comes to Wit's End hoping to find an answer to something that has puzzled her for a long time. She wants to know just exactly what Addison's relationship to Rima's dead father was. Rima suspects they were lovers, which would explain the animosity her parents seemed to hold toward the woman they choose to be Rima's godmother. So Rima set out to solve this mystery and to try to develop some kind of relationship to this woman who is really just a stranger to her.

I came to this novel with two expectations. First, since it was written by the author of The Jane Austen Book Club, which was a highly successful novel that was made into a movie, its author could probably be relied upon to tell a good story. Second, it was in the mystery section, so I assumed it was a mystery novel. I disappointed on both accounts.
I found this novel hard to follow. So much that occurs seemed to me to be just hinted at, creating bogus suspense, suspense that could have been easily resolved if Rima would have simply asked Addison, "Hey, what was the deal with you and my father?" Or when Rima saw the box in the attic with her dad's name on it, why didn't she just ask if she could look in it? Why all the pussyfooting around this woman Addison? It's not like Rima was stuck in Wit's End, dependent upon the largess of her godmother.
Another problem I had was, since I thought this was a mystery novel, I kept waiting for someone to be killed. Yes, there is a murder, but it happened decades ago and the murderer is never brought to justice or the murder even really solved, although what happened is pretty much guessed towards the end of the book.
This book was kind of like one of those TV soap operas where all the misunderstandings and hurt feelings could be cleared up with a little openness and honesty. I never did understand why Rima was so careful of Addison's feelings. I just didn't understand these characters. I especially didn't understand why Addison was so coy about her background. So what if her family was screwed up? Whose family isn't? To me this whole novel was mountains out of mole hills.

For another review see The Washington Post.