Earlier this year I was able to interview Christopher Pyle, the whistleblower in question, who was a longtime professor at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts. He's a fascinating guy, just fascinating. I know this is going to be a hard sell, but really, consider watching this half-hour talk with him and another author about surveillance and privacy issues. Or you can read his defense of Edward Snowden.
So I really need to get reading some new nonfiction, but I've taken to re-reading Anne Tyler novels instead, and being horrified anew with each title I re-read. Characters who once seemed so OLD to me (when I was in my twenties) are now YOUNGER than me.
So for years, as I have been trying to teach the CRjrs how to safely cross roads, I have often told them to watch out for BMWs and Lexuses because the rich jerks driving those cars don't stop for children or pedestrians. Mr. CR has suggested that this is perhaps an unfair blanket assertion.*
"Psychologists Dacher Keltner and Paul Piff monitored intersections with four-way stop signs and found that people in expensive cars were four times more likely to cut in front of other drivers, compared to folks in more modest vehicles. When the researchers posed as pedestrians waiting to cross a street, all the drivers in cheap cars respected their right of way, while those in expensive cars drove right on by 46.2 percent of the time, even when they’d made eye contact with the pedestrians waiting to cross."
HA! Vindicated! But wow, that is sad, to see it proven. Explains a lot, though.
Now go enjoy summer and if you're walking, for the love of all that's holy watch out for rich people on the roads.
*To be fair, I make a lot of those. Like the time the eldest CRjr asked why bike-riders often wear special clothing while biking, and I told him it was because they were usually wealthy people with a lot of money and time to blow on shopping**. I didn't think much about it until I heard him telling that little "fact" to his dad the next day, which got me in trouble, because Mr. CR is a much nicer and better person than I am, who doesn't want the boys to grow up to be bitter pills like their mother.
**Apologies if you ride a bike with the special biking clothes, or drive a BMW or Lexus. I'm a jerk.
I wouldn't say that Mr. CR and I are living in a romance novel, but sometimes we have the same thought, and that's always nice. So I wrote about it for the "Tiny Love Stories" feature in The New York Times (it's the last story on the page*):
Well, the world is having quite a time of it, isn't it?
This is emphatically not a current events blog, but it occurs to me that I would like to be helpful in some way. The other day I read that many stores in our area had their windows broken, and merchandise stolen, except for a small used bookstore. The story about that stated that the bookstore had their windows smashed, but no inventory was taken. I emitted what can only be described as a "chuckle cry" (or "sob guffaw," whichever you prefer) at that news, because it was both so sad and yet so strangely funny. And then decided I only know a couple of things in this world fer sure. Here they are:
I want more people to read.
Bookstores are one of the few things on God's green Earth that I love unreservedly and I want to support them as long as they are still here to support.
So this is my ask for, and my pledge to, you. Here's the ask: Share this blog with as many friends as you can. (I've even got a snazzy new design that shows up a lot better on mobile devices! Lookit me, catching up with the 21st century!) And this is my pledge: my new small charitable mission in life is to send people books from independent bookstores.* The catch is that I get to choose the books, and they will mostly be nonfiction. The rules are simple: the first person each giveaway to send me an email at email@example.com will get the book.
This week's book? Geoffrey Canada's memoir Fist Stick KnifeGun, which I have read twice. Geoffrey Canada is super interesting. Who wants this book? Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please note: if you don't hear back, you haven't won. I'll email the winner to get their address info and I promise I'll never use your email addresses for any marketing purposes or anything barfy like that.
Now. Thank you for sharing. Go read and take care of yourselves.
*Amazon can go fuck itself. I will be buying the books through bookshop.org.
And this reminded me that, although this post is not about a book, I would like to ask you to consider showing the United States Postal Service some love.
Now, I'm totally down with UPS charging more, especially if they soak Amazon, which would make me very happy indeed. (I know we all have to shop on Amazon sometimes but do try to keep it down if you can, Jeff Bezos is one of the worst people in the world.) On the other hand, I still remember an occasion about ten years ago when I had to ship some book proofs back to a publisher, and they demanded that I use UPS rather than the post office. So I took my package in, a package that at that time would have cost about four bucks to ship two-day priority, and was told that it would cost $35 to ship it within a similar delivery window by UPS.
I never went back to UPS again.
John Oliver actually covered this very well in one of his recent shows, and I would totally recommend watching it (below). He also has set up a fundraiser for the post office through Stamps.com; if you want to help the post office, consider buying these stamps there. I think it runs through May 31, which is Sunday.
That's all. Keep on keeping on and stay healthy, my lovelies.
So, starting on May 16, you can buy the Bingeworthy British Television ebook, or read it through Kindle Unlimited. Enjoy, and then go use whatever extra quarantine time you have to watch some more great British TV. Might I suggest the utterly unique cop drama No Offence (written by Paul Abbott, who also wrote Shameless)? I just started it, and WOW. It can be a bit over-the-top, but here's how I described it to Mr. CR: Paul Abbott writes these dark worlds with dark characters that I definitely do not want to live in, and yet his characters are also really interesting people who care for each other in surprising ways. (Shameless was a lot like that too, about a family of kids basically raising themselves because their alcoholic father couldn't be bothered. I watched the first couple of seasons and then I just couldn't take it anymore, even though it's a good show too.) No Offence is easier to watch than Shameless because it's an actual crime show, so you go in expecting some level of yucky, but there's also fewer children involved, which makes it slightly less horrifying. Also, the lead actor, Joanna Scanlan? She's AWESOME.
Have a good weekend all; hope you are all well, and staying in as much as possible with lovely books and TV shows.
*The CRjrs are getting through their online school, but man, they are whiny students. I totally didn't buy their regular teachers big enough Target gift cards during the holidays.
Fifty years ago today, on May 4, 1970, National Guard troops shot at a crowd of students at Kent State University (in Ohio) and killed four of them.
For whatever reasons, I was recently speaking with a friend about the history of the 1960s and 1970s, which I have, after a lifetime of largely ignoring, have suddenly decided was a fascinating period of US history. This is a sure sign of aging. All sorts of historical stories that I was never interested in before are starting to appeal to me. Maybe because I'm learning in my own life that, no matter what happens, mostly, there is nothing new under the sun. That's almost equal parts appalling and comforting.
Anyway, my friend said something about the Kent State incident, so I took myself off to Wikipedia to get the thumbnail (and probably wrong) sketch of what happened. And I was surprised to discover (I first looked this up two days ago), that today was going to be the 50th anniversary of the shooting. It's not been getting much media play, of course; Corona is King.
I am not going to get a book on the subject, primarily because my library is closed right now. Also, a new graphic novel about it is coming out in September, by none other than Derf Backderf, who is an author that I absolutely love. I will actually probably overcome my cheap nature and just buy a copy of it, because Derf Backderf should be able to make a living. So I will wait and read that.
In broad strokes, here's the story: A group of students were protesting the Vietnam War (in particular the bombing of Cambodia) on campus at Kent State, in a protest that lasted for several days. Nobody actually knows who fired the first shot, or why, but after twenty-eight National Guard soldiers (who were there partially because over the prior weekend prior someone had set the ROTC building on campus on fire) shot at the students, four of them were dead and nine were injured (including some students who had just been walking to or from class, and weren't involved in the protest).
P.S. In happier news, the CRjrs inform me that it is also "May the Fourth Be With You" Day. That reminds me, I have to stop typing this and get back to trying to teach those little punks their math. Ye Gods. The little Target gift cards I gave their teachers over the holidays should have been much, much bigger.
I am not sad because John Prine didn't lead a full life. I think he did.
I'm sad because John Prine occupied a special place in my heart and my memory, and because he wrote and sang beautiful music, and the world needs more of that, not less.
In July of 1995, I was young. I was in college, I felt good, it was the mid-90s and women were allowed to wear the grunge look and still be considered desirable women. Life was good. Of course, at the same time, it also wasn't. In July of 1995 I was beyond depressed. I thought I was majoring in the wrong thing in college (I was) and that nobody I had a crush on would ever date me (they would, but I couldn't know that then), and that I was fat (I wasn't) and a loser (the jury's still out) and I was in the wrong college at the wrong time and why didn't I feel better? About that time I had taken a light semester of courses, with an eye to dropping out, and was working full-time at a CD store (when such things still existed) for minimum wage, which was, at that time, something like $4.50 per hour. Actually I think I was better off than my co-workers; I got a quarter extra per hour for being a full-timer.
But the job had perks, no doubt about it. First of all was the world's most relaxed dress code, which has always been the most important consideration to me when taking a job. Secondly, I worked with nice (although crazy) people, and we all had different musical tastes, so in one eight-hour shift you went from punk to country to rap to whatever Americana I was into at the time, and beyond. You also sometimes got free concert tickets, and backstage passes. In July of 1995 I got free tickets and a backstage pass to meet John Prine at his show in town.
I had no idea who John Prine was. I went because the opening act was The Subdudes, and I loved The Subdudes. I also went because I had two free tickets, and this way I could ask my friend Joe to go along with me, because he was perpetually low on cash and was always up for free entertainment. I was also in love with Joe. Joe was emphatically not in love with me. It was frustrating to be in love with Joe, because I loved his laugh and for some reason he found me funny and when we were together we laughed all the time. If you can make me laugh, I'm basically in love with you. Didn't it work that way for guys, I wondered?
Over the next ten years or so I would learn, no, it doesn't work that way for guys. But that's the subject for a whole other book of maudlin essays.
Anyway. I loved Joe and still harbored sad desperate hopes that someday, when he was laughing at something hilarious I said, he would suddenly realize he actually was in love with me. So off we went to see the Subdudes and John Prine.
The Subdudes were great, and Joe totally enjoyed that part of the concert, which made me happy. We almost left before John Prine even played, but then I remembered, hey, I had a backstage pass, I kinda wanted to hear what he was about and go backstage afterwards. So we stayed. And here's what I learned: John Prine was the King of Awesome.
John Prine has a voice like nobody else, and although I'd never heard him before, and of course I don't remember the songs he played, I still remember how I felt at that concert. I even forgot about Joe sitting next to me. I sank into the music that I'd never heard before and I just totally, totally enjoyed the showmanship and skill of John Prine and his band. I loved every song. I remember feeling both totally awake and totally still in a way that I rarely am. If I am awake, I am moving. My mind is moving, my hands are moving, my feet are moving, something. Antsy is my primary state of being.
But for the entire time John Prine played I was still. I listened. The world was still while I listened. And then, when he was done playing, I dragged Joe backstage with me and I got to meet John Prine. Of course he had to say hello to a lot of other people who had backstage passes, and I don't remember that I even talked (I think I was still in a transcendent state where speech would have seemed superfluous). I do remember that he was completely gracious, and he was not exactly a big smiler, but he seemed very kind. He signed my backstage pass.
When I was young I had the habit of tucking ticket stubs and other ephemera into my CD booklets.* So, although I have not listened to it for a long time, I just went downstairs to the CD archives and found my lone John Prine CD. Tucked in the booklet is my ticket, and that backstage pass, and it says, "Thank you. John Prine."
I don't know where Joe ended up. I can still remember his laugh, and I laugh thinking about it, and I laugh thinking about Joe and knowing what I know now, and understanding why he didn't love me back and how he was right about that, no way in hell would that have ever worked. And I'm no longer young, and the world is upside down, and a great singer is dead.
But once, long ago, I took a chance and did something new, and even if it didn't substantively change my life, it gave me a lovely feeling and a memory and an appreciation for going to see something even when I didn't really know why I was going. Or, as Theodore Roethke would say: "I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow. I learn by going where I have to go."
I read my first "introvert advantage backlash" article yesterday, so I'm glad to see people staying positive. Those stories go a little bit like this: 1. Introverts everywhere, to varying degrees (and also depending on how many extroverts they're stuck living with), largely shrug their shoulders about stay-at-home orders. 2. Introverts everywhere, to varying degrees, feel a small little thrill that they immediately quash because now is not really the time, that finally, FINALLY, a global order has gone out that actually kinda fits their personalities for a change, and 3. Some extrovert asshole tires of that after approximately 30 seconds and tells introverts to stop being smug about their abilities to stay inside their own homes.
To which I say, let's all try and get along before we die, huh? And also, fuck off, extrovert, my whole life has been about acting like I'm not an introvert, getting out there and smiling and networking and acting like you, so excuse me for feeling okay about myself and my peculiar "I love staying six feet away from people" skills, just this once.
So as you can see: the pandemic has not changed the two basic and competing tenets of my personality, which are "come on, let's have a bit of solidarity here, people" and "screw you guys, I'm going home." Confused? Don't worry. Mr. CR hasn't figured it out yet and he knows me as well as anyone.
But that is all neither here nor there.
Are you reading? Or are you finding you can't concentrate enough to read? I'm somewhere in the middle. I'd like to post something here about books to read in a time of crisis, but can't decide what tone to take. Mainly I wanted to pop in and say I hope you are all well and healthy and self-isolating like champs, and also I would like to hear what you are reading and why.
Take care of yourselves. We're all in this together.
And I clicked on it, because I thought, awesome, I totally want to see where all my fave British TV and movie stars rank on that list.
Now, in all fairness, I've trained my Yahoo to give me exclusively pop culture, TV, and British Royal Family news, so how this actual STAR-related science-y link got in there, I'm not sure. But there you have it. I'm an idiot. And a shallow idiot at that. This probably explains why I didn't get a very good grade in my high school physics class.
Huh. I'm tired and I'm not getting anything done. So far 2020 is looking a lot like 2019. Expected, but disappointing.
A quick word about 2019. Goodbye, Sucktastic Year. I learned a lot from you, I'll grant you, but I'm finding that learning experiences are not necessarily fun experiences. Here is what I learned: our bodies are weak and yet none of us are going to die at the right time, it's always going to be too soon or too late; I struggle to find solidarity with anyone because I seem constitutionally unable to get along with anyone who isn't my sibling or child; money is in fact the root of all evil and you can't win an argument with a stupid person and there are quite a few stupid people (nice though they may be otherwise) out there. Myself included.
That about sums up 2019.
But it wasn't all bad. I talked books and reading with some lovely online kindred spirits. (Thank you, dear readers.) I watched the CRjrs get a little bigger and navigate the world in ways I would never have expected. I laughed a lot, mostly ruefully, but also sometimes joyfully. I learned that although I make no money and it starts to look like I never will, I have numerous treasures that I am ridiculously grateful for and that I need to find ways to share.
I learned something else*. Toward the end of the year I went to Half Price Books and bought a pile of books for nieces and nephews and myself and it felt really good. It was healing to touch books and stand among books and if you can swing it this year, please go to any actual physical place you can and buy books there. Increasingly I find I am a woman without a country. I feel lost when I go to church and when I pay attention to local politics and I have absolutely nothing in common with all the parents of the CRjrs' friends and I could give a flying fuck whether my alma mater's football team wins the Rose Bowl today. But when I stand among books I am home. I touch them and they touch me and they are a finite universe that I can understand, while they help me understand the infinite universe around me.
My hope for you in 2020 is that you surround yourself with books. May you feel at home there. Then come feel at home here and tell us what you've read, okay?
I wish you all a healthy and safe and peaceful new year.
*I also learned that "The Wire" is the best TV program ever. Ye Gods. It hurts me to love American television this much but if there was ever a series that could give any of the best Brit series a run for their money, it would be "The Wire." (Of course it's based on books: David Simon's Homicide and The Corner.**)
**One of the books I bought for myself at Half Price Books.
Thank you all for another wonderful year of reading with me. Let's go forth and find some new books to chat over in 2020. Have a peaceful season of whatever it is you celebrate and we'll see you on the other side of this decade, all right? And remember to keep your stick on the ice--we're all in this together.
Update 12/3/2019: Big thanks to everyone who purchased a copy of the book this past week. The price has reverted to $19.99, but the deal of you buying a book at Amazon, posting a review, and then letting me know about it, will always result in me sending you a second book absolutely free! Thanks!
So: The announcement is that, if you are doing any shopping on Amazon this Black Friday through Cyber Monday, please consider buying a copy of Bingeworthy British Television. For that day only we'll be lowering the price from $19.99 to...I'm not sure yet. But it will definitely be cheaper than 19.99. AND our earlier deal applies--if you buy a copy for yourself and review it at Amazon (and you are free to review it honestly--even if the book turns out to be not your cuppa--anything you have to say about it will help us if we ever write a new edition) and shoot me an email at email@example.com comment at The Great British TV Site on any post to let me know you've reviewed it, I'll get in contact with you and send you a second copy absolutely free!!
As long as I'm asking for stuff I'll ask this as well: Please consider linking to this post on your blogs or social media to help us spread the news about these deals. We can also be found anytime at The Great British TV Site, or on Facebook at @GreatBritishTV if you can link to any of those sites.
We have had three truly glorious days of autumn weather here in Wisconsin, and it almost makes up for the climate in the state all the rest of the year.
At this time of year my thoughts turn to my dear tubercular John Keats, most specifically these lines from his poem "Ode to a Nightingale":
"Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird! No hungry generations tread thee down; The voice I hear this passing night was heard In ancient days by emperor and clown: Perhaps the self-same song that found a path Through the sad heart of Ruth, when, sick for home, She stood in tears amid the alien corn..."
When I first read those lines I was in my first year of college in LaCrosse, Wisconsin, ninety minutes away from home, and I burst into tears. I was so homesick. And Keats couldn't have landed any better an image on me to turn on the waterworks.
During this time of year I need and crave to be near cornfields. I mean it's a desperate physical and bodily requirement. Which is funny, because growing up I always had a difficult relationship with corn. Yes, I'm not lying, it felt like a relationship in that my feelings about it were very complex and it took a lot of work. My farmer dad grew field corn, of course, to sell and to use as feed for the cows, but the corn I am thinking of is sweet corn. We sold veggies at the local farmer's market, a job I helped with from about the age of 8 onward. There was always a lot of work and at first our biggest cash crop was raspberries (I have never been a fan of raspberries and I was gobsmacked that anyone would willingly pay--holy shit--three bucks for a pint of the little bastards) and other fruits, but then one year the idea of also selling sweet corn was discussed. And, although we kept selling a variety of fruits and veggies, corn became THE crop. It made the most money but it was also a lot of work.
In my life I have picked probably a million ears of sweet corn. (Actually, I know about how much corn we used to sell, so I should actually do the math on how many ears that amounted to per year, per years of work. But "million" is certainly what it felt like, even if that is not numerically accurate.) And I picked it in the wet Wisconsin summer heat, when every part of your body sweats, and when you're going among corn stalks to pick corn, all of the itchy tassels and pollen drop on you and stick to every available surface, and its knife-sharp leaf edges slice up your arms and your face, so by the time you are done you are a sweaty, sticky, sometimes bleeding mess. And I picked that corn mostly with my father, who, even at the age of fifty-seven, could physically work me under a table, and who never, ever slowed down. He also had some heart problems and I often watched the sweat roll off his nose, wondering if I should be worried if we were both going to make it out of that field alive.
But also: it was satisfying to pick. It was a systematic task that began at the start of the row and was done at the end of the row, and those are my favorite types of tasks. It required some subject expertise in that I developed a way of feeling for which ears were ripe, which was to grasp an ear lightly at the tip and to feel, very carefully, for the ever-so-slight juicy bursting "pop," under my fingertips. It was not enough pressure to actually crush a kernel of corn through the husk, but it was more that I could feel, through husk and silks, and in a split second and over the course of hundreds of ears in a picking, that slight promise of juicy ripeness.
When I buy sweet corn now I still use that technique to find good ears, and I pity all the poor clueless city dopes who have to rip open each ear, without nuance, to see if it's ripe.
But I digress. The corn was a lot of work, and it made us a lot of money (by farm marketer standards, mind you). But the true glory of any kind of corn is to look at a field of it in the glowing autumnal sun. Depending on which angle you view the field from, it can look just like dying plants, their lush summer green being replaced by light tan and brown stalks. It can look absolutely dry and colorless and dead. But if the sun is shining through it at just the right angle, the tan is gold and all those purple tassels are still covered with dried pollen that has gone fuzzy and lends the entire field an almost angelic halo. Then the wind comes along and the entire field moves and undulates, although it's a dry and somewhat stiff undulation, but it's still unified moment that is hypnotizing to the eye. And the sound. The autumn wind in a drying cornfield is unlike any other sound on earth. You know what the wind sounds like in the trees? It's like that, but simultaneously bigger and softer. It is countless dry leaves rustling against one another rather than crackling; it feels both warm and full of life but still, all the time, dying. There's the immediate noise of the leaves rubbing together, but there's also an underlying constant swish of all the sound waves from the entire field converging together at the same time. I could listen to it forever.
I hope you are having a good autumn. I hope you can find a cornfield somewhere and enjoy just listening to it for a while. I hope, wherever you are, you are not sick for home, in tears, amid alien corn.
If anyone is in the McFarland/Madison WI area, I'll be giving a presentation on British television and how great it is at the E.D. Locke Public Library in McFarland, Wisconsin, on Tuesday night, August 27. Here are the details:
Program: What to Watch: A Whirlwind Tour of British Television
I'm really looking forward to it and hope it will be great fun! I'll have books for sale ($15 for one, $20 for two, although I can only accept cash) and can't wait to hear everyone else's suggestions for their favorite Brit TV programs.
More information about my and Jackie Bailey's new book, Bingeworthy British Television: The Best Brit TV You Can't Stop Watching, can be found at Amazon, or you can read some lovely reviews of the book at Anglotopia and British Banter in Atlanta. The book is also available to libraries and stores at IngramSpark with the standard industry discount.
Well, that's just ridiculous. Please forgive me. School let out and the first thing I knew it was CRjrs all day long, every day. Being with the CRjrs is my favorite thing to do, but between adjudicating Lego fights (because they both need EXACTLY that one Lego brick, right now, even though there are a million other Lego bricks laying on the floor), applying sunblock and band-aids, and supervising them while they play their version of American Ninja Warrior at the playground, well, it's been busy.
*Based on my experiences, last spring, of running for my city's Common Council. Please note this article is about running for office, not winning office, because I am a big loser. But that's okay. It was still fun. My favorite moment of the race was when the elder CRjr saw all my opponent's pricey yard signs (I didn't take any money, and therefore couldn't spend any, so any road signs we put up were homemade) and said, "Mom, I'm pretty sure you're gonna lose."
Of course it is not really the done thing anymore to say it that way, and that's okay. I'm down with saying "Happy Holidays" or whatever other greeting is appropriate for people I know. I don't particularly believe there's a war on Christmas. But there's also no use denying that it's Christmas that I really love. "The holidays," particularly when taken to include Thanksgiving and the hell that is the New Year's Eve/New Year's Day duo, and "the holidays" with all its connotations of enforced shopping and relative-seeing, well, "the holidays" actually aren't my favorite things ever.
But I like twinkly lights, and to some extent I like cold weather, and I love singing Christmas carols (if you haven't heard Frank Sinatra sing "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," you haven't lived...unless you've heard Judy Garland hit it out of the park), and I ADORE making my ravenous way through absolutely horrifying amounts of chocolates and cookies and Christmas goodies, and as a routine-driven introvert I like doing the same things around the same time, year after year after year. I love putting up the same old nativity set that I've put up my whole life (my mom is still with us, but gave me her nativity set--the one we always used when I was a kid--a few years back). I love hanging the same ornaments. I love watching the CRjrs hang their favorite ornaments, and finding some of the crafts they made last year.
And most of all I love reading and watching all of my favorite things. Often in December I'll give the hardcore reading a rest and instead spend a lot of time with my favorite British TV Christmas episodes, watching my favorite holiday movies (I have added Just Friends to this rotation), and re-reading all my favorite and non-challenging books. Because I always re-watch Bridget Jones's Diary at this time of year, I also decided to re-read the novel it was based on, and that's fun. (The movie and the book are really different. I'd totally forgotten that.) And this year, although I've read it several times before, I am re-reading Helene Hanff's lovely Letter from New York, where I found this:
"I have eight people and two dogs coming for Christmas dinner and since studio apartments have small refrigerators, you have to work out the logistics in advance. You make your pies, cranberry sauce and sweet-potato casserole ahead of time and then distribute them around the building in other people's refrigerators, since the turkey, hors d'oeuvres, vegetables and eggnog bowl are all you'll have room for in yours. On Christmas morning once your turkey's in the oven, you go and get everything back. And the logistics consist in remembering whether the casserole is in 4-F or 16-B, and did you get the keys to 8-E up the hall, because Shelley and Susan have gone skiing in Vermont for Christmas, with your pies in their freezer." (p. 16.)
If that doesn't get you in the holiday spirit, I don't know what will. Happy Christmas to all, to all a good night, and may your 2019 be filled with only good things.