Tuesday, February 27, 2007


Some of you will have already read Ickie's blog post announcing that we will be moving to Maine this coming summer. Ever since my family and I vacationed in Rhode Island and Massachusetts when I was in high school, I've wanted to live in New England. It seems unreal that after so much moving around and a long and grueling job search for Ickie, we are moving to just the kind of place about which I daydream. I can't wait for fall and Christmas in New England!

I am wracking my brains for books I've enjoyed that have been set in New England and specifically Maine. I recently reviewed The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing and of course have read Little Women, both set in Massachusetts. Several years ago I read Bill Bryson's amusing A Walk in the Woods, where he hikes the Appalachian trail and, if I remember correctly, includes an exciting account of Mt. Washington in New Hampshire. I've never been a fan of early American fiction classics like The Scarlet Letter, so that has cut out a lot of the quintessential New England reading for me. At the moment I honestly can't think of anything set in Maine. Can anyone provide some recommendations?

Judging from the photos I've Googled of Maine, it's hard to find words that fully express its beauty, so I'm attaching a bunch of those photos for your viewing pleasure.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Jackamo is Busy

I know all of you fervent tea drinkers and enthusiasts are wondering why you haven't read any beverage-themed contributions from the eloquent Jackamo lately. Well, she's just had a wee bairn. Here's a photo of her with her two adorable boys, which exposes the super-human gene pool of cuteness that Jackie and her handsome husband have spawned. It also provides an opportunity for all us ladies to be bitter about how beautiful she looks immediately after being in freaking labor. (I often question aloud whether there's any justice in the world, and seeing this kind of thing on film is enough to send me into some sort of nihilistic downward spiral, a la Woody Allen. I'm certain whenever I have a baby, I will look like an absolute troll.)

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Faeries and Englishmen

Currently I am reading The Ladies of Grace Adieu, a collection of short stories by Susanna Clarke. Clarke is the author of Jonathan Strange and Mister Norrell, an engrossing novel set in the same period of 19th century England. The language of both books is an impressively faithful reconstruction of Austen's day, and there were many times while reading Jonathan Strange when I forgot it was a modern novel and was momentarily surprised by the modern themes of feminism and race. She weaves magic into historic events (the Duke of Wellington is a prominent figure during the Napoleonic Wars and engages a magician's assistance, resulting in a clever myth about the Battle of Waterloo). Her fairies are powerful, amoral, and frightening. The Man with the Thistledown Hair in Jonathan Strange is particularly chilling (just his name gives me the creeps), and other characters equally arch appear in The Ladies of Grace Adieu, such as Mr. John Hollyshoes.

The Ladies of Grace Adieu may be my favorite new book of short stories. Clarke's convincing writing is steeped in the customs and superstitions of England. For example, "On Lickerish Hill" claims to be a 1898 rendition of a traditional story in the Suffolk dialect and certainly feels like an old folk tale. "Mrs. Mabb," the most delightfully amusing of the tales, features a stubborn young woman hunting down her enchanted beau. "Mr. Simonelli or the Fairy Widower" is a dark tale about a young orphan scholar who takes a position as an impoverished parson in the country and has to protect his parishioners from the aforementioned John Hollyshoes.

Clarke's writing is an engaging mixture of supernatural threats amid polite society. It's elegant and creepy and at times whimsical. "The Duke of Wellington Misplaces his Horse" reads like an extended joke, and the uneducated protagonist of "On Lickerish Hill" keeps referring to fairies as "Pharisees." One paragraph in "Mrs. Mabb" made me laugh out loud, as much a result of its humor as the ingenious manner in which Clarke conveys a great deal in a few poetic words: "Billy Little was an ancient farm labourer of uncertain temper who lived in a tumbledown cottage in Shilling-lane. He was at war with all the children of Kissingland and all the children of Kissingland were at war with him." I just don't think writing gets better than that.

Friday, February 9, 2007

Plenty of Wine and a Posh Penguin

This week and next week are my busiest work weeks of the year, as the institute where I work is having its annual conference, and I'm in charge of all the logistics. So I don't have much time to post, but still some time to read! I have to to stay sane after all.

This past Saturday we had spring weather: sunny and in the 70s. I think we're in the only part of the country not covered in snow or ice at the moment. So Ickie and I went to several vineyards in the Santa Ynez Valley. We tried a lot of things we liked, and bought two bottles of vintages we loved. The first was a Nebbilolo by the Clendenen Family Vineyards, which I'm really excited about having with some meaty Italian food. The second was a Mourverde from Bedford Thompson. We enjoyed tasting, talking to the folks in the tasting rooms (who were not at all pretentious), and wandering up and down the dusty main street of tiny Los Alamos trying to sober up a bit between vineyards.

We also strolled into a combined bakery/deli/art gallery/realtor's shop and found a wall full of cartoon originals by Jay Sopp. He writes a series about Penny and Polo, a dim-witted penguin and his capable polar bear sidekick, members of the Slightest Inkling Society of Exploration in London. The books are full of colorful art and feature two Jeeves and Wooster types engaged in Victorian era adventures reminiscent of Around the World in 80 Days. We bought a copy of Aerorace!, which was amusing whether or not you've had several glasses of wine. The bookseller also directed us to a place called Storyopolis in LA, a large children's bookstore. Just the name of it sent me into spasms of delight!

Friday, February 2, 2007

Adventures in Dentistry

Yesterday afternoon I had a routine dental checkup. I was already frustrated with this particular office because the week before I showed up for my appointment but wasn’t on their schedule.

I signed in and waited for half an hour. The receptionist then led me back for x-rays and deposited me in an exam room. As always, I had a book with me (my grown-up security blanket), so I waited patiently and read Hugh Laurie’s The Gun Seller (an amusing cross between P.G. Wodehouse and Robert Ludlum).

After I’d been in the room for another half hour, the dentist popped his head in and explained that no one had cleaned my teeth or examined me yet because there was a formidable young man who had walked into the waiting room and, according to the dentist, “We aren’t sure if he’s mentally unstable or a gang member, and we’re trying to decide whether to call the police.” He asked me to wait in the exam room, which I was content to do since the only exit was via the waiting room. I turned on my cell phone, put it in my lap for quick access, and tried to concentrate on my book, but the protagonist had just been abducted by murderous arms dealers, little comforting me. Instead I assessed all the possible hiding nooks in the exam room and pondered the possibility of busting through the front window like the Kool-Aid Man, should the situation call for an alternate escape route.

Eventually the noise from the front of the office subsided, and I could hear the dentist explaining to a patient in another exam room that all his upper teeth would need to be removed and dentures put in. The dentist eventually came in to view my x-rays and poke at my teeth (which still hadn’t been cleaned), and then he explained that he was going to check on his other patient briefly while someone cleaned my teeth.

Soon thereafter I heard shouting from the other room and realized the unstable man had not left, but was actually my neighboring future denture-wearer. The patient had recently had open-heart surgery, and the dentist was trying to explain to him that he couldn’t give him any anesthetic, painkillers, or antibiotics or do any work on his teeth until he had communicated with the patient’s surgeon. At this point the possible-gang-member-cum-lunatic started shouting obscenities at the dentist, threatening to sue, rattling a bottle of pills in a baleful manner, and calling all the dental technicians “broads.” Two baggy-panted young women joined the fray in a hopeless attempt to calm the troublemaker. I peeked into the hall, saw that my avenue of escape was clear, and fled. One of the techs tried to slow me down, but I paused only to say “I’m leaving now and I’m not coming back.”

So I spent an hour and 45 minutes in the dentist’s office without getting my teeth cleaned. Fortunately, I have no cavities…either from tooth decay or bullets. And I’ll be finding a new dentist for my next checkup.

For diverting reading, useful during skirmishes in local dentist offices: Click here to read the first chapter of The Gun Seller, by Hugh Laurie (a.k.a., Bertie Wooster).