Tuesday, December 30, 2008

letters of the alphabet and all

Today, I had a moment of utter delight and astonishment when a customer came up to me and said:

"Hello, I'm looking for a woman author."

There was then a pause, and the customer, a sturdy blonde woman, smiled beatifically.

"She wrote some books."

Another pause. I had to press my tongue really hard against the top of my mouth to keep from laughing. I was nearly choking myself.

"The titles have letters of the alphabet in them."

Oddly enough, this last bit of information led, almost immediately, to Sue Grafton's mysteries. But the monologue that ushered us toward them was so amazing that I kept playing it over in my head for the rest of the evening. "I'm looking for a woman author. She wrote some books..."

Friday, December 26, 2008

a fine frenzy rolling

I find myself writing a poem.

This is a scary thing. Not content with bumbling my way through stories about extraterrestrial plants, grave robbers, and girls who turn into mushrooms, my brain suddenly feels the need to inflict poetry upon the world.

I will blame the holiday sweets currently drenching my system in sugar. Or possibly the excess of sleep. Words are suddenly shiny and irresistible and I want to cram them together into one vivid blur.

Christmas was very gentle, very slow, and very nice. We woke up late, ate French toast and surprisingly delicious berries, and opened presents. The rest of the day was devoted to movies (there's something oddly charming about a family chortle at Goldie Hawn with a hole in her stomach in Death Becomes Her), napping, and playing with the dog, who loves her new toys so much that she keeps picking them up and carrying them to new places of honor on different chairs.

And now it's bed and curling up with the new issue of McSweeney's and being surprised that Christmas is over and it's almost time for a new year.

Sunday, December 21, 2008


Recently finished:

The Ransom of Russian Art by John McPhee
Discusses the outrageous smuggling of unofficial Soviet era art, as performed by a professor of economics.

The Lost Art of Walking by Geoff Nicholson
Self-explanatory. Light and fun to read for the most part, until you get to the end and he tells you, very plainly, about his childhood on an English council estate.

The Newton Letter by John Banville
Absolutely crushing, but some of the most gorgeous writing I've read lately. All kinds of tragedy at work.

Loot by Sharon Waxman
Really wonderful, though I appreciated it more for the quirky facts and dramas than for the effort it makes to decide where iconic artifacts really belong.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

amanda palmer + umbrellas

So, basically, my first concert was made of win because:

Amanda Palmer is a magnificent lady. Her voice is magnificent, her songs are magnificent, and up close she becomes even more magnificent because she's really nice. And enthusiastic, and smart, and obviously very much in love with what she does.

All concerts should have the Danger Ensemble to elevate them to magic. Especially if they are allowed to have umbrellas and do over the top, hilarious reincarnations of certain popular songs about said objects.

All concerts should be held in velvet, jewelry-box, supper clubs where people in bloomers and waistcoats and top hats look more in place than anyone else.

Songs about trout, especially new ones that are rough around the edges, are sad (a good kind of sad).

Violins are irresistible.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

best and worst

I had an absolutely vile customer today. I spent about ten minutes on a telephone searching for a title-less, author-less book about Coco Chanel for someone who told me that I was horrible, rude, unwilling, and a waste of time. This upset me, entirely too much, because I try my best to not be any of those things when at work (well, I try not to be any of those things in general, but especially at work where I think the whole point of working in a bookstore is how nice it is to be around people who are--mostly-- buying books because they genuinely want to).

I also had an absolutely delightful customer, an elderly man who told me about the time he spent two hours in a bar with Ernest Hemingway. He said that they talked about fishing, hunting, flying, and Cuba. He also said the Hemingway was "not as articulate as you would think," but that he was also extremely wonderful, and that he drank a lot.

I've got a new idea in my head. It's something to do with the time my grandpa told me about sailing by the Rock of Gibraltar, about walking across Scotland, and about how horribly the gutters of Morocco smelled. You know, I have a photograph of my grandpa from when he was young, and he looks unexpectedly dashing: handsome and smiling and sepia toned in a slim and fashionable suit. He looks like a character out of one of those witty 1930s movies. It boggles my mind in the most wonderful way.

a small request

Dear Bookstore Customers:

In this delightfully busy, bustling, and bountiful holiday season, there are a few things you can do that will make your book purchasing experience just a little smoother, a little less infuriating, and no doubt a bit more pleasant.

Conversations like the following are not one of them.

"Hello. Can you see if you have a book? I need it for the holidays. I heard about it on the radio sometime... I can't remember when. There was some guy talking about a book he wrote... I don't know the title; it may have had the word 'space' in it? Anyway, it was a paperback."

And yes, we do generally know how to spell the word "analyst"... However, if you believe that giving it to us in the radiotelephony alphabet would be useful, by all means say "Alfa, November, Alfa, Lima, Yankee, Sierra, Tango," but please excuse our expressions of incredulity.

If you own a very large bag of Good Omens books and Graveyard Books that is taking over the entire will call shelf, please come rescue your purchases. They are looking lonely. They also keep threatening to fall on our heads when we climb the ladder to pile more things on top of them.

Please stop trying to convince me to read all four of the Twilight books. Or Nicholas Sparks novels. Or books with titles like The Heart of Christianity, Too Fat To Fish, or the entire canon of Ayn Rand.

With thanks,

letters standing in for other things

Heard, on NPR, today a news story about the Climate Change Conference in Poznan (and no, I don't know how to put an accent over my "n"). Actually, heard several stories about the UNFCCC, but my favourite was the one about climate change acronyms (which you can admire here). And then there are the other languages.

Gobbledegook. Alphabet soup.

Also, Loot by Sharon Waxman is a book that lots of people should read, especially if they delight in knowing things like how a circus strongman named Belzoni became a leading procurer of Egyptian antiquities.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

oh bones

I think I have done something to my neck because I can't turn my head to the left without turning my whole torso, tin soldier style.

Maybe I'll play zombie at work today.
"Excuse me, miss?"
Plod in a circle, creak creak creak. "Yes?"

Thursday, December 4, 2008

looking at things

So, "Brought To Light" was fascinating and I have much to think about now regarding lightning, William H. Mumler, x-rays, and dagguerotypes. There was also (on a placard... I have a small obsession with museum placards) a magnificent story about a farmer who was obsessed with snow. Also, intriguing references to Tesla and an image from "the most anticipated celestial event of the 19th C."

There was also an exhibit of Martin Puryear's sculptures. Some of them are the kind of things that absolutely unfold inside your head, spinning into thoughts that are further and further away from the actual physical object. I LOVED "Brunhilde," which is a very large, airy, blimpy shape made from woven strips of wood. The photograph doesn't do it justice. In person, it is warm, fascinating, and somehow both enveloping and gentle.

And then there is this Rothko, which is magic.

(There are also some pieces which I just don't get. Or which are on the edge between disturbing and very scary. Like the herd of black poodle sculptures arranged in concentric circles around a white baby statue.)

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

department of lost letters

So, this afternoon I sent a story to an anthology (Interfictions 2... a name that, for some odd reason, I find very funny) because of the open submissions and the rather fascinating guidelines. Sadly, I've just gotten an email telling me that the internet is having trouble delivering my email. I think this means I've missed the deadline (why yes, I do love deadlines, particularly the kind that get really close and breathe down the back of your neck... how can you tell?), which puts a wrinkle into my grand plan of sending things out rather than stuffing them into drawers and forgetting they exist. Ah well. I can always send it somewhere else, preferably in a way that involves postage stamps and an envelope.

The story is a detective story, but not a mystery, and it indulges my fascination with beaches and collecting. The first draft was also incredibly opaque. I feel sorry for my friends who had to slog their way through it. Utterly baffling.

One of the most bizarre things about writing, for me, is how much trouble I sometimes have just saying what I mean. I skim over enormous things like connections and rules, and even bigger ones like desire and consequence, without noticing. At first, it's because I don't actually know what's going on. And then I have it so clear in my head that I forget to write any of it down. (This is when I picture Geoff shaking his head mournfully and asking whether I've thought about turning to poetry... An excellent motivation for trying to tell proper stories because I have never written a poem that was not truly and dreadfully horrible.)

I absolutely lust after story.

On Thursday, I'm going to see this exhibit at the SFMOMA. And because 19th C. science is one of my pet fascinations, I'm excited. Ok, I won't lie. I'm really excited. Excited enough that I hope it doesn't crush my soul with mediocrity. We shall see. If all else fails, there's always the (bizarre?) option of "free beer salons as social artworks."