My 10 Best Books of 2009

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on December 29, 2009 by tigereye

So far during 2009, I’ve read 142 books. I say “so far” because I’m still working on three, at least two of which I’ll probably finish over the next week, barring unforeseen circumstances such as full concentration on work. Out of these 142 books, 22 have been rereads. I haven’t counted exactly how many of these books were written during 2009, but I can tell you it’s fewer than usual for me. Near-bankruptcy has placed some constraints on my lifestyle, mostly by way of preventing me from buying many new hardcovers.

Still, I managed to come up with my annual and, I’m sure, deeply important and cherished (bankruptcy hasn’t done much to dent the sarcasm, anyway) Top 10 List of the best books from 2009 that I read this year, with the usual honorable mentions. Notice it’s a little light in the nonfiction category this year: sorry. I’ve mostly limited myself to discounted titles, and there wasn’t much in the way of cheap nonfiction that I wanted to read.

South of Broad by Pat Conroy. My beloved Pat Conroy would really have to screw up to stay off this list, and this year he made me happy once again with another dysfunctional family/love story set in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, Charleston, SC. (I’m not biased: I’m not even particularly fond of most cities in my home state, which makes Charleston that much more remarkable.) Conroy has said this novel could’ve been over 100 hundred pages longer, and that would’ve been fine with me. There are childhood memories, present-day love, forgiveness and lack thereof, and a cameo appearance by Hurricane Hugo. While it’s not as transcendent as The Prince of Tides, it’s great nonetheless.

Home Safe by Elizabeth Berg. It’s rare for Berg to disappoint, too, although her last couple of books were less than amazing. She’s back to her usual form with this story of a widow who learns of a secret kept by her late husband. If you haven’t read Berg, she’s as gifted as Anne Lamott when it comes to finding words for the often amorphous thoughts in our own heads about our everyday lives. I’d recommend most of her fiction. This was the first knockout book of the year for me.

Into the Beautiful North by Luis Alberto Urrea. I’m not sure what I expected from this, but after reading Urrea’s lovely novel The Hummingbird’s Daughter, it wasn’t a picaresque novel loosely based on “The Magnificent Seven.” In fact, if I’d known that, I might have hesitated before using any surplus money on this book. I’m glad I read it anyway. It’s a laugh-out-loud-funny story of three young women and a friend from a small Mexican village who sneak into the United States illegally to find seven ronin to save their town from a couple of criminals.

The Story Sisters by Alice Hoffman. Hoffman is, like Conroy and Berg, a usual suspect for this list. This is one of her darker novels: it’s the story of three sisters, troubled in different ways, and how they make disastrous mistakes and then patch their lives back together. Hoffman writes beautifully about love, loss, craziness, family, and magic, all of which are old territory for her but are newly revisited in this terrific novel.

The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister. I’m not even sure why I picked up this short first book, and less sure what prompted me to buy it, but I’m glad I did. It’s a novel in stories about the lives of a cooking school proprietor/restaurateur and her students, and although it doesn’t startle or break any new literary ground, it’s a quick, lovely night or two of reading that I’m sure I’ll go back to over the years. Note: it’ll make you hungry and wistful at the same time, which in combination will keep you awake and roaming the kitchen early in the morning. It’s worth it. It almost made me want to cook.

The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death by Charlie Huston. If you haven’t read him yet, Charlie Huston is the heir apparent to Elmore Leonard: he’s prolific, has fascinating if similar characters, will make you laugh and horrify you, and wanders freely between genres (his vampire series, starring undead screwup Joe Pitt, is not to be missed, even if you don’t care for vampires – they’re more like noir that happens to involve vampires). This novel is the story of a guy who goes to work for a company that cleans up after various human disasters: suicides, unobserved deaths, hoarders. There’s also a rival post-disaster cleaning team and a weird unexpected love story, and several inappropriate laughs. His new novel is out in January 2010. I’m already waiting for it.

The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood. If I had Atwood’s imagination I would never read anything – I’d just stay inside my own head all the time. This is almost but not quite a sequel to Oryx and Crake, although you don’t have to have read that novel to fall headlong into this one. It’s an eerie imagining of the end of civilization, and possibly the beginning as well, none of which is farfetched enough to make you write it off as science fiction: parts of it are almost like prophecy. Oh, and if it doesn’t at least temporarily make you think twice about fast food, you didn’t pay attention. Brrrr.

Homer’s Odyssey by Gwen Cooper. Two years in a row, I’ve been unexpectedly enchanted by what you’d think would be overly sentimental stories of notable or exceptional pets, which instead turn out to be moving and fascinating human/animal tales. This is the story of a young woman who takes in an eyeless kitten (his eyes were removed due to a life-threatening infection) and their life together. I was suckered into this one because I have a disabled cat myself, and couldn’t put the story down: Homer the cat has a more interesting story than a lot of humans do, and the author writes about it with the sentimentality of any pet owner, but never descends into sap.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett. Usually, when a writer lapses into dialect, my neck stiffens up, especially if it’s southern: almost nobody outside the south (and not nearly enough writers in it) has much of an ear for how people really talk. Kathryn Stockett is the exception. This is the story of a privileged white girl in segregated 1960s Mississippi who takes an interest in the lives of black domestic servants who work for her family and friends, and the story of the black women themselves, told in a mostly dead-on dialect that never made me cringe. This is a long novel, but took only me two nights to finish. You’ll love the characters, the story, and the discovery of a new author who steps outside the silly Ya-Ya Sisterhood/Sullivan’s Island trend so many southern female writers settle for, and hits this debut out of the park.

Rocket Men by Craig Nelson. I’ve been a NASA moon shot junkie since I stumbled onto The Right Stuff as a college student. This novel will revisit a little of what you already know – the Soviet contribution to the space race, the failures that preceded the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs – but reaches deeper into the lives of the three men who first went to the moon than anyone has before. I knew a lot of this history, and it didn’t matter: I was still fascinated. At least once, Nelson turned up some detail that reduced me to tears. I can’t think of a better book to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the moon landing (although if you’re a fellow moon shot nerd, watch “In the Shadow of the Moon,” a documentary that’s even more breathtaking than this book).

As usual, there are a few honorable mentions as well, some from 2009 and some other great finds that I stumbled upon late for one reason or another:

Awakening by S.J. Bolton. This is a debut mystery/thriller about a British wildlife veterinarian and the horrible secret of her village. I was fascinated from the first page.

My Dead Body by Charlie Huston. Yes, that same Charlie Huston. This is the last of his Joe Pitt vampire noir novels, which settled several old scores, made me laugh explosively more than once, and tempted me to reread the whole batch since there won’t be more. (The first of this terrific series is Already Dead.)

Alex and Me by Irene Pepperberg. If you have a pet you suspect is smarter than it’s given credit for, this memoir by the scientist who worked with Alex the gray parrot for 30 years will pin you in your chair to finish it in one sitting. Pepperberg made the whole world think twice by what she revealed about learned language in a creature with “a brain the size of a shelled walnut,” as well as learned animal behavior in general.

The King Must Die and The Bull From the Sea by Mary Renault. I’ve never included rereads in this list before, but it had been almost 20 years since I last read these novels based on the myth of Theseus, and I’d forgotten how absolutely extraordinary they are in terms of research, characterization, and human understanding. Wow. They’ve lost nothing over the years, and I hadn’t realized how much I missed them.

BONUS: a surprise movie to end this list. The best film I saw all year – in a year, by the way, that offered the remarkable “Up,” “Valkyrie,” and “Inglourious Basterds” – was “Zombieland.” Laugh yourself silly and forget the real, un-zombiefied world for an hour and a half, and then go home and make sure you have a houseful of weapons and junk food, just in case.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Freak Show Has Now Closed: Michael Jackson

Posted in Slices of Life (add $1 for ice cream) on June 27, 2009 by tigereye

It’s not unfair, I think, to say Michael Jackson died as he lived: in the middle of a circus.

Not only was this literal – Bubbles, Neverland, toys, fawning and slightly unbalanced fans – but he caused a circus in death, too, and like that last rube out of the freak tent, I couldn’t quit watching. I was glued to NBC when I should have been working, watching a chubby-cheeked, talented black kid grow up into that rare creature in the ’80s — a star who actually had talent — and then that star as he turned into something whiter than me, with a wig a drag queen would have envied and pajama pants and enough money to buy himself out of being a pedophile.

I’m not mourning Jackson, in case you’re wondering. I gave up on him while I was still in my teens, when he released the substandard “Bad” on the heels of the truly phenomenal “Thriller.” If it was possible to give up even more, I did this too, in the ’90s, when he started fondling kids. My old boyfriend, N.J. (Not John), and I used to tell the kids who worked for him that Michael Jackson used to be just eccentric. They joked back that we were making it up.

But I have to say I miss something, and I’ve missed it for a while: the rare and few good moments of my childhood.

I miss the kid who got the “Off the Wall” album for Christmas and played it ’til the grooves wore down, dancing spastically in front of my parents’ stereo to “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” when they were safely two rooms away. I miss the 12-year-old who saved her allowance to buy “Thriller,” which was, no kidding, the only redeeming feature of seventh grade, when I was thrown into a school where it was wrong to be poor and smart and ugly. “Thriller” sort of saved my life, which is pathetic. I fell into that album the way a lot of kids fell into Goth. It was a brilliant distraction.

I loved that album, and I guess I loved the Michael Jackson 2.0 who released it. It was hard to argue with him back then. Even my mom, who doesn’t own a freak flag and wouldn’t fly it if she did, watched that Motown special where he glittered and moonwalked, and said, “He’s really talented, I have to give him that.” (I also recall her adding, thoughtfully, “But he seems kind of weird.”)

I played the living daylights out of “Thriller” like I’d never played a non-Elvis album before. There wasn’t really anything you could criticize about it. Michael Jackson lucked into Quincy Jones and produced what I still have to say is a work of art. Speaking of Jones, let me clear something up: anyone who’s out there comparing Jackson to Elvis should shut up right now, because you can’t compare them. Elvis changed the world. Elvis made Michael Jackson possible. And Elvis stopped at “eccentric” and didn’t wander on down the freak show to climb into the “lunatic” cage. Michael Jackson, without Quincy Jones’ brilliance added to his talent, might never have been more than “good.”

My dinky town didn’t get cable ’til 1989, so I missed the premiere of the massive “Making of Thriller” video and had to wait, itching with impatience, for my favorite uncle to tape it for me. Of course I loved it. I watched it until my parents complained and then I got up late at night when they were in bed and watched it again.

I didn’t know it, but that was the height of Jackson for me; the roller coaster went straight downhill after that. He got weird. He got white. He got plastic surgery and Brooke Shields and a chimp and, God help her, Lisa Marie Presley, whose daddy would have warned her off him if he could. I was done with him before he started inviting kids to Neverland, kids who always seemed to be from marginal, troubled, kind-of-trashy homes. This wasn’t out of sympathy for their circumstances but, as it turned out, because those kids’ parents didn’t mind putting them in harm’s way for a million or two… kind of like Jackson’s own father, with his own ruined, troubled kids. In the end, not only did he prey upon children, he preyed upon the poor, and if one hadn’t been enough to finish him off for me, the combination was fail-safe.

I don’t miss Michael Jackson, who died at 50 of cardiac arrest brought on by God only knows what combination of pharmaceuticals. I feel weird about anybody who does. But I wish I had known, 25 years ago when my uncle gave me the “Thriller” video on tape, that it was the last thing I’d ever see by the guy who made two brilliant albums. I would have mourned him then, just as surely as if he’d dropped dead while walking down the midway, where his seat onstage in the freak show awaited him.

I would have mourned this: Michael Jackson, star of “Thriller” and “Off the Wall” and the Apollo Theater, died yesterday. He was 25. The cause of death is believed to be fatal, irreversible changes that occurred in his heart.

Pegasus

Posted in Slices of Life (add $1 for ice cream) on May 16, 2009 by tigereye

All the great ones are freaks, after all.

They’re bigger than other colts their age sometimes: Man o’War was massive. His jockeys almost never let him run as freely as he wanted to, and he fought them, straining against the bit all the way as he won and won and won. Ruffian, fifty years later, danced in the paddock to get back to the track and run again. She, too, towered over fillies and colts alike. Secretariat, who shared Man o’War’s nickname of “Big Red,” was often the biggest colt in the field, and would languish at the back of the pack for a few strides before springing to the front and staying there.

Some of the greatest, though, don’t look like winners. Seabiscuit was small and barrel-shaped, the size of a saddle horse… until you put him on a track, when his spirit and drive made him into a champion. Kelso, the great gelding, was often described as “deerlike,” but he won carrying astonishing weights, claiming five Jockey Club Gold Cups in five years. They weren’t larger than life until they started to run, and then they became something else, something greater, before our eyes.

Sometimes we don’t get them for long. If you’ve watched Ruffian or Barbaro, you won’t forget it, the way they wanted to fly, and nearly did, right up until the end. Sometimes they run for years, like Seabiscuit and Kelso, winning and winning at ages that seem advanced in comparison to the three-year-olds we watch every year, and live a long time. Man o’War made such a mark after two years, his name is still mentioned today when he’s in a horse’s bloodline, even though he raced in 1919 and 1920. Secretariat, caught on film in many of his victories, looks like a special effect – no horse could really do that, could he? Is it possible to win by 31 lengths?

They were all freaks. But what’s the difference, really, between a miracle and a freak? They were like steps forward in the evolution of the animal, so much faster that the others could only catch up. Sometimes nature allows us to see what’s coming next, a faster horse, a more competitive horse, a little more beauty and amazement than we think is possible. We get a closer look at perfection.

Watch them, coming down the stretch. Watch them pulling away – see how easy it is for them. They’re trying to take flight. You can see the beginnings of their wings.

Ten Books that Changed My Life

Posted in Imaginary Book Club with tags , , , , , , , , on October 4, 2008 by tigereye

My friend Anners Scribonia had a great, great idea: list ten of your favorite, or most influential, books and tell the world why you love them or why they had the effect they had on you. Well, this idea has Tigereye written all over it. As many of you know, I could, and often do, yap on about books for a day and a half without getting tired or noticing that my audience has either run away or dozed off. So here goes. These are ten of my favorites, picked in no particular order, with this common theme: I’ve read them over and over throughout my life, and with good reason.

1. Dance the Eagle to Sleep by Marge Piercy. It’s a crying shame and a loss to the world that this book is out of print. I was 15 when I first discovered it, on the bottom shelf at my favorite local bookstore, and I’ve read it every year or few years since then: it continues to speak to me as much as it did when I was a teenager who felt utterly cast out of society. It was written in the early ’70s, and is a futuristic story of a United States gone ultra-militarized and regimented, and a hippie-ish resistance movement called the Indians, led by a visionary named Corey, a rebel named Joanna, and a musician named Shawn. Oh, hell, that makes it sound silly and simplistic, and it’s anything but: it’s one of the most feminist novels I’ve ever read, beautifully imagined, tragic, with fascinating, flawed characters. It’ll give you a chill to think of this book being written in the Nixon era and still ringing true in the Bush years. You’ll never look at the late sixties the same again after reading this. I never looked at anything quite the same.

2. Watership Down by Richard Adams. This is another one I’ve reread so often I can quote large passages from it, not to mention many of the quotations preceding each chapter. I first read it when I was eleven, and I think it was the second great book I discovered in my life, right behind The Call of the Wild. To say this is an adventure story about rabbits is like saying The Great Gatsby is about a rich man: it’s an epic, every bit as compelling as either of Homer’s works and sometimes as violent. Again, the characters are key here. You become totally absorbed in the interplay of one pers– uh, one rabbit with another, you worry with them and laugh at them and, toward the end, page frantically along hoping all will end well with them. There are a lot of books published with the hopeful tagline, “In the tradition of Watership Down…” It’s never true. Accept no substitute.

3. Fool on the Hill by Matt Ruff. I feel the need to lighten things up a bit, and among other selling points, this book makes me laugh out loud and convulsively, almost 20 years after I first unpacked it at work. I was a college sophomore, now employed by the same bookstore where I’d been a regular customer since childhood (and where I’d bought Dance the Eagle to Sleep), and I read it in two days, then immediately started rereading it a few hours after I’d finished it the first time. It’s a love story, a fairy tale, and a fantasy, set mostly at Cornell University in a world that keeps sliding back and forth between reality and either imagination or great drugs or both. The players are a writer named S.T. George, a group of funky nonconformists called the Bohemians, a talking cat and dog, and a world of sprites inhabiting the campus. I laughed, I cried, I read it for about the 16th time last year and plan to do it again this year. I’ve always wanted a sequel.

4. The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle. Like other nerdy kids my age, I saw the animated movie version of this in, I think, sixth grade, and was so utterly enchanted my parents got me the book for Christmas. I think it’s the first fantasy I ever read. I still have that original copy, cover yellowed and tattered, the unicorn resembling a deer, the terrifying harpy above her head. I don’t think it had occurred to me that fantasy could be funny, or could reference the modern world, and this did both and more, shattering the boundaries between the story’s world and mine, and wrecking every fantasy I’d try to read for the next 10 years by comparison. It’s the story of a unicorn who hasn’t seen others in what seems a long time, even to an immortal beast; she sets out to find them, and along the way finds a hapless magician, a fierce friend, an evil king, and an entirely unexpected kind of love. The last chapter makes me weep unabashedly, all these years later; this is one of the best presents anyone in my family ever gave me. It’s just beautiful.

5. A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving. I’d read Irving since high school, and enjoyed him mostly because he was funny and macabre and made all things sexual utterly hilarious, but this one changed the game. I bought it while working at the aforementioned bookstore in college, and quickly learned I couldn’t read it during my down time at work because I laughed so hard and so uncontrollably, I disturbed the customers and embarrassed myself. It’s the story of a boy who lost his mother and his weird messianic friend, but again, that can’t do it justice. The Christmas pageant! The Volkswagen! The armadillo! The war… As much as I’d howled with laughter all the way through, I sobbed at the end. Just thinking of the last sentence, and nothing more, always brings tears to my eyes. In a perfect world, everyone would read this book.

6. Dance With the Devil/The True Adventures of the Rolling Stones by Stanley Booth. Okay, I can feel you reaching for the keyboard to click away, disappointed with me, but I’m not kidding. I found this in a remainder bookstore at fifteen or sixteen, and until then, all the biographies I’d ever read — of anyone — were dry, plodding things, so-and-so was born/went to school/met/had a few adventures… Blah blah blah. This read like a novel, like the story of a writer who got the interview of his life with a gang of crazy people and almost became one of them by the end. The writer told the Stones’ backstory, but interspersed it with the story of his travels with the band on the 1969 tour that ultimately led to Altamont, and it was like reading story and backstory, so enthralling you forgot you knew how it ended, sort of. The band ceased being mythical figures and became weird interesting people with weird horrifying habits. Every summer, while I’m driving along blasting the Stones in my car and remembering the wild freaky elation of seeing them in concert, I want to reread this book. It changed the way I saw nonfiction.

7. The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy. Don’t let me ever catch anyone saying a bad thing about Pat Conroy. When I was 15, and he was signing copies of this book at — you guessed it — the bookstore that overshadowed my entire youth in one way or another, the owner of the store introduced me as “one of our best customers (which was almost praise enough, considering I was a teenager with little disposable money — she meant quality, not quantity, she told me later when she hired me) and a writer herself.” Now, for most signing authors, especially those surrounded by fans at a bookstore reception, this would’ve meant a kind greeting and a handshake, but you’d be underestimating Conroy. He stopped signing books, stopped talking with friends, and took the time to talk to a homely, skinny, awkward kid for over half an hour about becoming a writer. Hell, none of my writing teachers had ever singled me out like that. We had a picture taken together and he wrote a lovely personal note in my book. I’ve been in love with him ever since. Not only that, The Prince of Tides lived up to the high expectations its author set. The book just vibrated with a love of language, a scope of tragedy, and an understanding of character I’d seen only a few times before at that age. It’s about a wrecked Southern family, a terrible secret, the survival and damage of a family after tragedy — I don’t know if you have to be Southern to fully appreciate Conroy’s grasp of what life down here is like, but I bet it helps. For the first and only time in my life, I made myself a vocabulary list as I read a book, which read and rolled with a beauty and poetry not unlike the Bible. I can almost smell the ocean when I reread it. Oh, and the movie is one of the worst abominations ever recorded to film, and I will never forgive Barbra Streisand for it, no matter how much I like her politics. Screw the movie, and savor the book.

8. Joe Jones by Anne Lamott. Sometimes you luck upon a book that shows you something you never realized was missing in the fiction you’d read before it, and this is a perfect example: until I was curious enough to blow five bucks of Christmas money (a not insignificant amount, in the late ’80s in my family) on a book because a couple of lines made you smile when you browsed through it, I’d hardly seen characters humanized. In this novel, about a motley group of friends and acquaintances in and around a California diner, I found people who actually talked like real people. Their patterns of speech, the way their thoughts rolled by inside their heads, their weird tics and rituals, their inside stories… These were some of the most utterly real characters I’d ever glimpsed before. This one book has probably had as much impact on the way I write as any other five or six books put together: Anne Lamott, whom I’d never heard of before that day in late 1987, showed me how it was done. It’s also funny and tragic and fascinating in the way a new friend is all of those things, by the way. Her other novels are good, but for me, this is the top of the mountain.

9. The Stand by Stephen King. I don’t know why I’d never picked this one up before, since I’d been reading King ever since fourth grade, when my mom handed me her copy of The Dead Zone and said, “You’ll like this.” (I took it to school and was reading it during a rainy recess period when my harridan of a fourth-grade teacher saw me and screeched, before the whole class, “TIGEREYE! Where did you get a book like that!? Do your parents know you’re reading that book?” Whereupon I burst into tears and said, “My mother gave it to me!” I still wish I’d been a fly on the wall in THAT parent-teacher meeting that followed.) But I got hold of The Stand, the original six-inch-sub-sandwich version, my senior year in high school, and while it didn’t make me miss class, it sure stood between me and my trig homework like The Walkin Dude himself. Wow. This is the first novel of really epic proportions I remember falling into, utterly engrossed in the characters and the way they fought against the darkness, hampered by their own humanity all the way. If you haven’t read it, well, it’s the story of the end of the world as we know it and the battle for good and evil that follows. If you have read it, you may understand the way it overshadowed the rest of my world while I was reading it, why Flagg and his grin haunted my dreams and I held my hands to my face every time Tom or Larry met the smallest obstacles… I love the unabridged version, too, most of all the coda at the end. Whenever a politician proposes some chilling initiative to this day, I mutter “I have come to civilize you!” and sometimes forget to fork the evil eye when I say it.

10. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. There are classics you choose from a reading list and classics that are thrust upon you, and then there are classics you find on your own when you’re thirteen or so that you never expected to fall in love with. Guess which category this one fits into? I didn’t even know what this book was about, only that I’d seen it around forever, and once I started reading it, I was immersed. I grew up in a town not terribly unlike Maycomb, Alabama, and this was the first book (Pat Conroy was a couple years later) I’d ever read that got it right about the south, from the rule of old people to the everpresent gossip to the rigid class system no one acknowledges to the casual and killing racism some people never think to question. I was openmouthed and weeping by the end of the book, thinking no matter how hard I tried, I’d never write anything this good. I still believe that, although I think I might catch up with Pat Conroy and Anne Lamott sufficiently to speak to them without bowing first one day. If you can write something this good, I understand why Harper Lee never wrote another novel; and if everyone on earth had to read one book in their lives, this one might be The One.

So that’s it. I left out a lot, like The Great Gatsby or The Catcher in the Rye or Faulkner’s Snopes trilogy on the classics side (yeah, bite me, I like some classics — I’m rereading Moby-Dick, take that!) to newbies on my list I haven’t had the chance to read more than once or twice, like, well, lots of Cormac McCarthy, or Ann Patchett’s The Magician’s Assistant or Bel Canto, or Gillian Bradshaw’s beautiful Arthurian trilogy or early, well-researched historical fiction. I read a lot. Thank God for online friends who do too, and if anyone is curious about any of these books, let me know if I can tell you more. I’d love to have someone else to discuss some of the more obscure ones with. Oh, who am I kidding? I’d love to talk about books for ages, with anyone. How much more time do you have?…

Goodbye, Butch Cassidy

Posted in Slices of Life (add $1 for ice cream) on September 28, 2008 by tigereye

Say hi to Elvis for me. You are missed.

Downhill From Here

Posted in Slices of Life (add $1 for ice cream) with tags , , , on September 8, 2008 by tigereye

First, you admit that you really did notice how short the days have become. You didn’t want to say anything, but you’d glance at the clock sometimes when you switched on the lamp, and watched the numbers roll slowly back until suddenly it seems dark by the time Brian Williams arrives at your house in the evening.

You notice the flowers in the neighborhood are still in bloom, but they’re not thriving anymore.

You watch football replace baseball and tennis and golf on TV and the news. You like football, but you could have waited a little longer for it.

You notice the cat isn’t shedding as spectacularly as he was just a few weeks ago.

You see college students in town again, and start thinking about what it was like to be one. You always loved it. You start digging through the shelves for authors you read when you were in college, like you do this time every year. Anne Tyler. Roddy Doyle. Anne Rivers Siddons. Herman Melville, for God’s sake. You remember curling up in a beanbag chair in the dorm, reading them, Walkman perched atop your head; now you curl in a rocking chair with the same books, pretending you don’t remember how they ended, iPod plugged directly into your brain.

Reading the same books makes you want to listen to the same music. You put the Arc Angels and Tom Petty and Bruce Hornsby aside, and you find John Hiatt and Paul Simon and Prince. You remember you could never study listening to their songs. You didn’t care then and you don’t now.

You remember the year you fell in love with Shakespeare, and crawl on the floor retrieving mass-market copies of Hamlet and Richard III with the same slightly nerdy shame you had at 19. You read them again, looking up once in a while to make sure no one is watching.

You listen to football games and want to be there, shelling peanuts and squinting into the sun and drinking watery Coke from an overpriced souvenir cup. You would sit in the stands for hours, scorching your shoulders and face and hands, before you learned to slather on sunscreen. You would scream yourself hoarse when you sat in the student section, while now you’re with the other thirtyfortysomethings and sometimes you’re the only one really screaming. You still bring home the free souvenir pompoms and foam number-one fingers, tucked into your pocket or under your arm since you no longer have a dorm room to hang them in. They will live with you in your car until the last game has been played.

You wake up to run one morning and feel no early pulse of heat in the air. Then you wake up a few weeks later and feel the first chill, like a foot dipped in a creek. You think of running in college, playing loud music, and you dial up Prince on the iPod, which is easy, because he was already there — you were listening to him when you reread Saint Maybe the other night. It’s comforting to think you will always have Prince. And Anne Tyler. Although they might not be comforted to find themselves together.

The afternoon sunlight becomes yellow instead of white.

You look at the date one morning and remember one of your favorite cities, underwater, and the people left to suffer there. This used to only happen in other countries.

You look at the date one morning and remember a clear bright Tuesday that became one of the worst days anyone can remember. This used to only happen in other countries.

You think about how terrible things seem to happen this time of year, and it makes you go back to the rocking chair with Anne Tyler and Prince.

You start wearing jeans during the day. Then socks. Then gradually the Birkenstocks get kicked farther and farther up under the bed until the day you can’t find them easily and slip on the boots instead.

The first yellow leaf lands on your car like a sign from God, except you already knew what He was telling you, weeks ago when you switched on the lamp a few minutes earlier.

What Women Want

Posted in Rants & Rages with tags , , , , , , , , on August 31, 2008 by tigereye

Let me first say that when I was 13 and Walter Mondale, even in the face of doom, chose then-Representative Geraldine Ferraro, I was tickled as hell, along with all my Democratic female relatives, which is to say everyone on both sides of the family except one extremely sickening cousin. He probably wasn’t going to win, and we didn’t know jack about this woman — but she was bright, and kicked George Bush I’s skinny butt in the VP debate, and I held fond memories of her for all these years. Until this spring, when she pulled off her “Mission Impossible” mask to reveal a white hood, but that’s another story.

Let me also say: what y’all may not know about me is that I was a Hillary Clinton supporter long, long before I’d ever heard of Barack Obama and John Edwards. I would have taken a bullet for her. I got beat up at a rally for the 1992 Clinton/Gore ticket, and felt my black eye and bloody nose were as much on Hillary’s behalf as Bill and Al’s. I hate that she comported herself so awfully by the end of her campaign. Unlike Ferraro, I feel her legacy deserves better. Just because I found candidates I believed in more fully doesn’t mean I don’t have, well, feelings for Hillary, the way you sometimes hold a soft spot for years for that guy you dated a long time ago. You don’t want to be with him now, but you wish him well.

So I’m insulted.

On behalf of all women who supported Hillary Rodham Clinton; on behalf of all women who have ever worked and earned less than a man doing the same job; on behalf of all women who identify as feminists, not just co-opt the term and twist it into some unnatural mockery of what it’s supposed to mean.

Does John McCain think women are interchangeable?

“Look! Look, you former Hillary voters, over here! See, we have a woman too! That’s what you wanted, right? Isn’t that what you women wanted? See, here’s a woman, why don’t you get excited over her now?”

If Hillary Clinton had been the Democratic nominee, he’d probably be trotting out Alan Keyes to try to woo the Obama supporters.

I don’t like anything about this woman except her glasses. I really don’t. I haven’t seen anything admirable or likable about her, which should surprise no one: I tend to think uncharitably of Pat Buchanan supporters in all walks of life. But that’s not the point.

The point is, who thinks like this?

It’s bad enough that in 2008 women can’t make the same wages men do. It’s headache-inducing to think the world, and my own country, are full of people who have no trouble thinking I’m less of a citizen, less of a worker, less of a vote, less of an opinion. We’re 51% of the population and less than 20% of the representatives we elect. And worst of all, we’re taught not to mind. Some of our families passed this down to us the way it was handed to them. Some of our families told us it was wrong but our teachers and friends and employers and government didn’t, so it was hard to keep that message in mind. I cannot think of anything harder to do, right now, than raise a daughter. It would break my heart for her to find out her society didn’t love her as much as I did.

And that someone representing half the population of her country thinks she would be interchangeable.

You idiot, what the Clinton supporters — the real ones, not the ones with little reins leading back to Karl Rove’s web — wanted wasn’t a woman. It was that woman. They believed in what one particular amazing woman was trying to do, even when she lost sight, near the end, of how the ends don’t always justify the means. They held on stubbornly even when they knew she was wrong, even when their friends wanted to wring their necks and stamp our feet and shake sense into them. And most of them came around.

Sarah Palin can stand on that platform by John McCain and invoke Hillary Clinton’s name all day long, but that’s all she’s doing: name-dropping. She couldn’t stand more diametrically opposed to what Hillary Clinton stands for and believes in if she was Mothra or Lex Luthor. And it’s even more insulting to have a woman ask us to vote for her ticket because she has a body part in common with us.

Hell, all this and I’m an Obama supporter.

I hope thousands of other people are as angry over this as I am.

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