Monday, September 26, 2011

Good-bye Powell's

My favorite source of books ideas just dried up. For several years now, I received a daily e-mail from, which introduced me to books on everything from Amish teens to amusingly fake biographies. You know, all the stuff you read about here. But now they have gone "on hiatus."

But that's OK. In the first place, their book ideas ran farther and farther afield from my interests (comic-book style novels about post-modern losers anyone?) and second of all, I probably have three or four years' worth of books on my reading list. We're a long way from drying up around here.

So, to check off a few more items on that list, the Finished Book Pile today includes Our Story Begins by Tobias Wolfe. This short story collection was a little spooky because the author looks like a guy in my writing group. His stories even have the same tone.

My favorite in the bunch was "Firelight," which begins: "My mother swore we'd never live in a boardinghouse again, but . . ." Something about unsteady mothers and squalor draws me right in, I guess.

Reading Tobias, I discovered that I never think of story characters as good-looking. They have lumps and flaws enumerated by the author. They have problems, else they wouldn't be worth writing a story about. But if the story ever makes to film, suddenly they become good-looking, though they still have all their terrible problems.

Next up, One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson. Atkinson's story starts with a road rage incident, interrupted by a meek and bumbling crime writer. So many threads to this story and so many characters left me wondering how the author would pull it all together. But her characters were so entertaining (loved that meek and bumbling writer!) that I just sat back and let her worry about it.

And finally, we have And His Lovely Wife by Connie Schultz. Schultz is a real life columnist for the Cleveland Plain Dealer. When her husband ran for Congress, she took a break from the newspaper and followed him on his campaign, endlessly introduced as "his lovely wife." It was a nice backstage look at political life.

As for your recipe, I invite you to buy a brownie mix (one with chunks in it) and bake it. That's what I did recently. I've been on vacation, living in a tiny apartment with a kitchenette in New Jersey. John and I fed ourselves on easy stuff, like Hamburger Helper and Birds Eye frozen sweet and sour chicken. The Birds Eye stuff was the kind of thing where you open the bag, look at all the frozen chunks and wonder how it can possibly be dinner in just four minutes. But it was great.

So, go ahead and imitate all that non-cooking if you want to.

Sorry to say, it will be a little harder for you to imitate the part where I take 4-mile walks around a darling but pricey Jersey suburb, as well as the part where I ride commuter trains into Manhattan and hang with the fashionistas. Not that I could be mistaken for a fashionista, since this year's look is skirts just below your bum. And I do mean Just Below.

It was my dream vacation. There's just nothing quite as nice as sitting on a park bench in the middle of the city, watching lovers kissing by a fountain, or tourists clutching their guidebooks, or uniformed children walking home from school.