Sunday, November 13, 2016

Literary Masters Write Complaint Letters

Let’s face it: life can be irritating, even if you’re deep, thoughtful and just finished writing a masterpiece in spite of your downstairs neighbor’s stereo.  In this golden age of complaining, what would classic authors tackle next after “The End?”

Jane Austen:

“Facebook, I have not the pleasure of understanding you. There is no sense or sensibility to my newsfeed. How can I match my friends to suitable hook-ups when they keep appearing and disappearing on my Wall? Also, someone named Darcy keeps poking me. “

Herman Melville:

“Call me pissed. Some days ago, although it feels like years, I emptied the little money in my purse to your representative in the assurance I would have cable TV. I am growing grim about the mouth because it’s nearly time for Shark Week and I have no cable TV! I would have more luck launching a TV antenna toward a whale than actually seeing one of your technicians pull up the driveway.”

 Dorothy Parker:

@GenericSubShop Your subs are aptly named; I wouldn’t eat one again but I wouldn’t mind it going down.

 Ayn Rand:

“Who is Draconian Airlines? My recent flight was way too generous in terms of space. Why, the person next to me had nearly six square inches to himself and still managed to complain. You can’t possibly be making a profit on this, you should consider squeezing the seats together so more can fit on the plane, and quit offering such luxuries as food or entertainment. If I may be constructively critical, however, I would request you not fly during the twilight hours. I hate the twilight.”

 Edgar Allan Poe:

“To the cur who lives beneath me: turn down your stereo, especially in the evening hours. The bass pounds my living quarters so loudly, it’s as if I harbor a giant, beating heart under the floorboards every night. Do this, and I will instruct my raven to stop stealing your mail, although I must say he now has a fondness for your Victoria’s Secret catalogues.

 Nathaniel Hawthorne:

“Dear Contractor: I must insist you return to fix this abode immediately! Houses should have seven gables, not sixteen. Currently my residence looks like a gathering of tall men in amusing hats, not the serious and sober place it should be. Knock off some of these gables or I shall make you wear a large, red letter “A,” arseface.”

 Washington Irving:

“Your inattentive employee mistakenly presented me with decaf coffee this morning, making this a very sleepy hollow indeed! When I ride my horse through your drive-thru, I expect to receive a fully caffeinated beverage. Why, I’d lose my head without my morning java.”

 Agatha Christie:

“Attention, postmaster: Where did my package go? It is a mystery. I ordered three items to be delivered, and then there were none. Orient yourself to the Express service!”

 John Steinbeck:

“I am highly disappointed with your wine, which I paired with a roguish dish of flat tortillas. The merlot was not robust or powerful! These are not the grapes of wrath, they were grapes that were only mildly inconvenienced.”

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

John Oliver turns 20-year-old children's book into bestseller

What happens when John Oliver uses your 1996 children's book about a kid running for president to poke fun at the 2016 election? You have a belated bestseller.

Dan Gutman wrote "The Kid Who Ran For President" in the 1990s, and has had a steady career in children's books for decades, but when that book cover was prominently featured on screen, people flocked to Amazon to buy it. The slim volume tells the tale of a 12-year-old class clown who runs for President, and the humorous lessons he learns along the way.

Oliver used the book to illustrate similarities between a child who has never read the constitution and the verbiage used by Republican candidate Donald Trump, ending the bit with an invitation for the candidate to appear on his show.

No matter what happens between Trump and Oliver, the real winner is Gutman. As of August 31, his book ranked #6 in its category on Amazon.

"That's the highest any of my books have ever been in my 30-year career," said Gutman in an IndieWire interview. He added that he regularly watches the show, but that the mention came as a complete surprise to him. He surmised that someone on Oliver's staff read the book as a kid, remembered it and came up with the idea for the bit.

"The book has probably sold over a million copies in the last 20 years," Gutman said in the interview. "But it's nice to have it get a little publicity now of all times."

The full segment is available on YouTube.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Future Olympic Event: Synchronized Shelving

Librarians in New Zealand were so inspired by the Rio Olympics, they invented a new sport: synchronized shelving. They put together this adorable video as a petition to get their tongue-in-cheek sport into the Tokyo 2020 games!

Saturday, July 2, 2016

#DollarReads Review: The Queen of Whale Cay

As a faithful book nerd, I pick up books wherever I can find them, and the thrill of the hunt is strongest at spots like dollar stores, library sales and used books shops. I found THE QUEEN OF WHALE CAY: THE ECCENTRIC STORY OF JOE CARSTAIRS, FASTEST WOMAN ON WATER by Kate Summerscale and it did not disappoint. Yes, that's a doll on her shoulder in the cover photo; more on that in a minute.

Marion Carstairs was born at the turn of the 20th century. Her father was out of the picture, and her relationship with her mother was dysfunctional at best. She was a fast-moving person of little inner reflection, a woman who wanted to live as a man. Between her ambition and her family's money, she charged ahead with many jaw-dropping accomplishments considering the period: she was a driver during World War I, opening a garage with her war buddies afterward; she raced custom-made speedboats alongside men in world championships, and even bought and ran an entire island community in the Caribbean. She also renamed herself Joe, dressed as a man, smoked cigars, had tattoos, and was a lesbian with a voracious sexual appetite: the book estimates she had more than 120 girlfriends during her life, including Marlene Dietrich and Tallulah Bankhead. She kept photos of most of them, souvenirs of the roguish lifestyle she fashioned for herself.

During and immediately after World War I, gender roles were loosened for women due to the shortage of young men. This was the perfect time for Joe, where she could feel free to act as she wanted. That wouldn't last, but Joe would; she never changed her hard-driving ways even though society eyed her with suspicion. In order to deal with her emotions and family dysfunction, she learned to connect with inanimate objects rather than people. The doll, Lord Tod, was a gift from a lover and Joe funneled part of her soul into him, making him part of her ultimate wish to be a man. The doll was the one person she stayed with throughout her life, until her death at age 93.

The book was written in the late 1990s, and it presents Carstairs as eccentric. This may well be, but reading it in 2016 presents the question of Joe's gender disparity. She lived hard and fast, reveling in eternal boyhood, splintering her mind so she could cope. It's a fascinating and often entertaining read that stays with you long after the book is closed.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

The compassion of Hawthorne's daughter

Rose Hawthorne was born on May 20, 1851, to famed author Nathaniel Hawthorne and his wife Sophia.  Rose spent her youth in Europe, marrying George Lathrop when she was 20, after the death of her mother.  Married life wasn’t kind to Rose, who suffered the death of her five-year-old son and an ongoing relationship with an apparently abusive alcoholic husband.  She wrote poetry and short stories, trying to channel the talent of her father; in her volume of poetry, Along the Shore, she talks of his gifts:

“Where spells were wrought he sat alone,
The wizard touching minds of men
Through far-swung avenues of power,
And proudly held the magic pen.”

Even though her poetry has a sweet, innocent tone, she didn’t achieve the success she hoped in writing. More and more, she spent time away from her husband and delved into social work. She did write one more book, a recollection of her father’s life called Memories of Hawthorne. The book was written as she began a new chapter in her life in 1897. Her husband died two years before, and she trained to become a nurse in 1896 to further her skills in caring for those who needed it most. Her book consists of her mother’s letters and her own commentary, and it seemed to reclaim her family name and identity. Mentions of literary stars like Herman Melville, Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson and others brighten the pages, making it a very tame celebrity tell-all.  

Shortly after publishing it, Rose made her dedication to God and charity official, becoming Mother Mary Alphonsa and starting the Dominican Sisters of Hawthorne. She spent the rest of her life caring for disadvantaged cancer patients until she passed peacefully at the age of 75, leaving behind a legacy of compassion and sacrifice. Both of her books are currently available for free at Project Gutenberg. Just click the links above.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Book Review: The Forgotten Flapper

The idea of novelizing a real person’s life intrigues me, especially when it involves one of my favorite topics, women’s history. THE FORGOTTEN FLAPPER: A NOVEL OF OLIVE THOMAS by Laini Giles uses the construct of a first-person ghost story as the author takes the bare facts of Olive Thomas’ life and weaves them into a juicy celebrity tell-all from the dawn of the silent movie era.

Thomas went from innocent artists’ model to Ziegfield Follies showgirl and followed a path of sex, booze, drugs and luxury to become one of the best-known actresses in the “flickers” before her sudden death at 25. Famous in her own right, Thomas married into the Pickford family, becoming sister-in-law to Mary Pickford but never retaining her place in pop culture history as Mary did. 

Giles paints a complex picture of a complicated woman who was uneducated yet curious, loyal but quick-tempered and impressively independent in an age when women were fighting for the right to vote.  Thoroughly researched and historically accurate, the book recaptures the voice and feel of a long forgotten chapter in show business, and the period settings come alive. It's easy to see turn-of-the-century New York City and Los Angeles in your mind, thanks to Giles' detailed and vibrant sense of place.

THE FORGOTTEN FLAPPER was an enjoyable read, and apparently is the first of a historic series from Giles. Somewhere in the Great Beyond, Olive Thomas is celebrating being in the spotlight again.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Book Review: Welcome to Night Vale

I was a blank slate before reading WELCOME TO NIGHT VALE by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, and only had a passing familiarity with the podcast of the same name. In a way, I'm glad, because the spooky, trippy mystery had a deeper impact unhindered by expectation. The authors have created podcasts and live shows about the city where nothing and everything can happen, but it takes a steady hand to go from 30 minutes of blowing your mind to stepping up the intensity in a novel. 

The book centers on Jackie, a pawn store manager who's been nineteen forever, and Diane, a single mom who works in an office and has a shape-changing teenage son. Jackie can't remember her own mother or the house where she grew up, and Diane is trying to keep her son, Josh, from finding his dad. In a town where the Community Dog Park is patrolled by hooded figures, the City Council eats people who rebel and everyone's terrified of the librarians, the ladies' problems seem small, but they're all connected no matter how random everything seems. There's also the problem of a man in a tan jacket who everyone has seen, but no one can remember.

WELCOME TO NIGHT VALE does the best thing a fantasy book can possibly do: it makes you wonder about the very existence of our reality and occasionally our sanity. The book can be creepy without showing gore, funny without being slapstick, and heartfelt without being sappy. It's a fun read, especially if you open it at midnight and let yourself enjoy the ride.