Friday, August 3, 2012

Pura Vida: a Golden Birthday, big cats, and The Springs

We were in Costa Rica for Becky's Golden Birthday.  IE, she turned 29 on the 29th (don't worry, I'd never heard of that, either; but it's a thing).  We started the day by walking to a bridge some miles from the hotel.  I say we walked, but with the landscape down there it's really all hiking.

Becky and I wanted to find a local artist, a husband and wife team with a wood art shop just up the road from the  tree house hotel.  Of course, "just up the road" is relative.  It wasn't brutally hot compared to Miami, but we're not used to being under the sun for that long.  The sun and the bags we carried made us feel every step.

People kept stopping to offer us rides.  Much as in the US, some of the the locals are just being helpful.  Others offer you a free ride and then demand payment before they'll let you out.  A few want to drive you to a remote area and take everything you have.  We had been warned so we kept to walking.  There was plenty to see along the way.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Pura Vida: Local Flavor

In an interview with Knight Arts, Miami poet Emma Trelles said "Anything can thrive down here. You could fling a tadpole into a gutter puddle and have a colony of frogs a week later. That kind of insistent life is inspiring."  This is true about Miami.  It's true in Costa Rica a hundred fold.

Geckos cover the streets of Miami, those little ones people up north buy at pet stores.  In Costa Rica, we saw these bad boys outside of a restaurant:  

That black triangle in the upper-left corner is the edge of the patio roof.

Iguanas like plaintains.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

I Blame My Family for My Big Mouth

I'm appropriating this meme.  Deal with it.

Back in the day, some nations (and I use that in the Native sense) found it extremely rude to ask someone's name.  It would be like shaking someone's hand and asking his age ("How old are you, like 35?  You look at least 35.")  Upon first meeting the native you're trying to get to know, one of his friends might say, "He's known for his tremendous singing voice."  This forces you to begin sentences with, "So... You with the Great Voice-" (and possibly end them with "how much farther over these hills before I find a tribe it's easier to talk to?").

See, you were supposed to know their name already.  If you admitted to not knowing it, it was like calling them beneath knowing ("Holy shit, you're 40?  That's fucking old, dude.").  A friendly greeting with a reasonable question on one side, cutting a fart during a funeral on the other.

Although we were known to change names several times over the course of our lives, Mohawks / Kanien'kehá:ka didn't observe that custom.  Meet a Mohawk, ask his name, and he'd tell you (maybe because it had just changed in a ceremony last week and he wanted you to understand where he was in life).  But we have our own quirk: we can't keep secrets.  That's the main complaint of people who marry into the family, anyway.  It's also a charge I've had leveled against me more than once.

It's not true.  If you tell me something is a secret, I will take it to the grave.  If you don't, well...

There was a complicated maze of mirrors involved in Mohawk communication, designed to minimize the emotional impact of hurtful information.  You wouldn't want to embarrass someone by telling him what an idiot he is ("Smith seems to think the Wampum belt we gave him is for holding his pants up.  It took my wife a month to make that, as a symbol of our friendship and mutual trust.  Dear Woods, talk to him for me, could you?").  You gave Smith the respect, the courtesy, of explaining what happened to your friend.  Your friend, impartial, level-headed, would approach the dumbass and tell him how he screwed up ("Smith, yeah, hey.  That wampum belt New Town gave you?  You keep it with your most prized possessions, like your Bible and that letter your wife wrote during the war.  It's not for keeping your britches in place.  No, don't apologize.  No one wants to see that.  Just take it off and pack it up until it's time to go home.").

Next time Smith met New Town, sans belt, the two might share a knowing nod.

The same way you'd shake hands with a Native today and not be surprised to hear him tell you his name is Bill, Mohawks don't use this process now.  Still, there's a cultural echo.  There is nothing sacred and nothing shared in my family that won't come out.  Add to that my status as the youngest in the family, the child who got laughs by repeating things he'd overheard but didn't understand, who got praise from adults for innocently sharing his siblings and cousins activities (read: narcing; informing), and you've got the recipe for a big mouth.

Side Note: this is not to be confused with loud mouth.  I'm generally a quiet person, but when I'm in a comfortable setting - among friends and family - I will talk.  Sometimes too much.

I don't relay your secret to gossip, I relay it because I think you want me to.  Why else would you tell me what an asshole that co-worker is?  How much this friend's words hurt?  You want me to go to that person and tell them how they've wronged you so that they can make it right.  Otherwise, what good does it serve?

Turns out, this is something people do.  They vent.  They blow off steam.  They voice their feelings so they can decide whether it's worth addressing the person head-on.  They talk shit and expect it not to get back to the person about whom they are talking it.

When I think of people judging the world based on how they see it, I think of small-minded individuals wondering if some person is going to steal because that's what they'd do if given the chance.  I don't think of me, sharing other people's words that were meant to be kept private.

So to everyone whose secrets I've spilled and embarrassed, I'm sorry.

I get it from my mom's side of the family.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Pura Vida: Horseback riding, La Fortuna Waterfall

We met Alberto the day after an accident at his stables.  A stallion, angry at Alberto for inviting another stallion to the ranch, knocked the horseman to the ground, pinned him down, and bit his upper arm.  Shirtless, broad-featured, barrel-chested, fresh bandage glaring white against his tanned skin, Alberto looked tough as rock.  He walked with obvious pain.  Not only did the run-in with the stallion injure his back, he also suffered from a chronic ailment.  With my limited Spanish (as in, limited to understanding at about a middle-school level and speaking hardly any) I couldn't tell if it was sciatica, chronic back pain, or an old leg injury.  Riding horseback was one thing, but how was our guide supposed to make it down 492 steps to La Fortuna Waterfall, let alone back up?

"You look at me and you think, 'That's crazy, how could he do that?'" Alberto said.  "If I worked in an office, it would be crazy.  My job, this is just part of what you do."

Monday, July 2, 2012

Pura Vida: Arenal Volcano, Baldi Hot Springs

A short walk from the Tree House Hotel, Becky and I found lunch on the side of a mountain at a restaurant called Lomas del Mapache (translation?  "Raccoon Hills").

Their driveway is long, winding, and gravel, with a breathtaking view that goes on forever.  This is a good example of one of my favorite things about Costa Rica; you didn't need a building to have a restaurant.  If you had a kitchen, a bathroom, a roof, and maybe a wall or two, you were good to go.  Lomas del Mapache had no walls.

The food was too salty and waaaay too buttery (I got the feeling they were trying to appeal to American palates, or their idea of the American palate, but I've seen some positive reviews so maybe we just got the wrong cook) but the fresh juices and the atmosphere made up for it.  At the raccoon restaurant, we met another couple from the US who would be hiking Arenal Volcano with us. Our guide, Juan Carlos, picked us up after lunch, and we were off.  

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Pura Vida: Zip Lines, La Fortuna, and Pizza Delivery

After breakfast at the Treehouse Hotel, our first foray was to Ecoglide for a zip line tour of the base of the Arenal volcano.  I lost track of how many platforms they had, but thankfully Becky took a picture:

This.  This many platforms.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

All Others Are #2 or Lower

We've won this a time or two over the years, but never with such a sweet poster.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Pura Vida: One Hell of a Honeymoon

Becky and I registered at Deposit a Gift.  We wanted to go to Italy for our Honeymoon, which not only sounded  romantic as hell, but would be a nice cushion for turning halfway to heaven (a phrase I only recently discovered and instantly hated; for all I know, I was halfway to heaven at twenty and I’ll die next year choking on an M&M).

Even with the generous gifts of friends and family, Italy turned out to be more than we could afford.  Becky looked closer to home and came up with Costa Rica.  Which is great, because Costa Rica looks like this:

Friday, June 1, 2012

Come to the Circus & We Will Kill & Eat You All

Thanks to Christina Thompson, for inspiring the title.  No thanks to Cindy Sherman, for inciting the nightmares.

I've never had an irrational fear of clowns - I've known someone who does, so I know I'm not one of them.  Still, it's impossible to look at this picture as anything less than the Doorway to Clown Hell.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

SnApp Shots Photo Contest

Proving that Becky loves photography and books the most, or that six months of paper folding gave us more than a kick-ass wedding bouquet, she's won a contest sponsored by Chronicle Books.

Here's the pic.

Yes, I married that.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

June 10, 1928 – May 8, 2012

A recent survey declared Goodnight Moon the best picture book of all time, but for me it begins and ends with The Very Hungry Caterpillar.  I loved that book so much, almost as much as I loved Snowy Day.  It takes a lot of effort to admit that Where the Wild Things Are comes in third, because Maurice Sendak's death is clouding my judgment.  But can you really compare degrees of love?  People don't make you pick a favorite child, so I can't really pick a favorite childhood memory.

It doesn't take a degree in children's literature to declare Wild Things the best of the three.  It's a paean to imagination, it understands children in a way the others don't, and it's a perfect example of using illustration to represent emotion in a picture book.  Sendak was one of the greatest (and easily the most reluctant) children's author / illustrators ever, and the landscape of children's bookselling that he helped create has muted colors over his passing.

As loyal Sweet Readers know, Maurice Sendak has a special place in our hearts that he has enjoyed for some time.  Apart from the homage and the semi-serious pleas in those posts, Becky and I have been working behind the scenes for some time to make a Max tattoo drawn by Sendak himself a reality on Becky's famous arm.  Becky and I work in the book business at an indie with a lot of clout.  We don't know people, but we know people who know the right people, and we wanted to make it happen.

A couple of months back, we got our answer; Sendak said he "couldn't commit to something like that at this time."  I didn't blog about that because we never gave up hope.  Now, well.

I'm not trying to make this about me.  The loss to books is greater but the loss of the dream hits closer to home.  Everyone I've spoken with has their own memory of his work, and their own sorrow at his death.  This is just mine.  We may not have a tattoo to remember him by, but at least we have his work.

On Tuesday night, Becky and I put Dylan to bed with In the Night Kitchen, Outside Over There, and Where the Wild Things Are; all three read just fine.  Mighty fine, in fact.  Dylan did say he was "too sad" to fall asleep, but he was probably just trying to delay his bedtime.  Or sympathizing with his sad sack parents.

Eventually we'll enjoy his work without the taint of sadness.  In the meantime...

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

World Book Night 2012: A Raging Success

April 23rd is the day Shakespeare was born, and the day he died.  Cervantes also died on April 23rd, and UNESCO marks it as World Book Day.  This year, volunteers in the UK, Ireland, the US, and Germany spent the day giving books away.  I don't know how others fared, but Becky and I had a hell of a time.

In the United States, 53% of males and 39% of females are re-incarcerated after they're released from prison.  The recidivism rate for inmates who read in prison drops to 20% (couple that with a GED, and only 4-5% of inmates return, but our fucked up prison system is a post for another time).  So Becky decided to drop a box of Jeannette Walls' The Glass Castle at a women's detention center in downtown Miami.  

It was all razor wire and defeat, smaller and dingier than it looks from the highway (you drive past it all the time on I-95), but that's no reason not to deliver books with a smile.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

You Should Read Jenny Lawson


“Because you are defined not by life's imperfect moments, but by your reaction to them. And because there is joy in embracing - rather than running from - the utter absurdity of life.” 

When I wrote about all the books Becky and I were giving away at our wedding, I compared Chelsea Handler to David Sedaris.  For months now, I've intended to write all about the sexist literati who heap accolades on Sedaris while dismissing Handler as a vulgar TV star with some hit memoirs.  I put it off because my heart wasn't in it.  As promising a start as My Horizontal Life was, Are You There Vodka?  It's Me, Chelsea didn't measure up.  And I still haven't read Chelsea Chelsea Bang Bang past that first tear-inducing (from laughs!) story.

My heart is behind Jenny Lawson.

Friday, April 20, 2012

So... How's the Writing Going?

Well. . . I'm in bed at ten.  I set the alarm for five am.  If I'm lucky, I'll have two hours to myself before Dylan gets up.  I wake up around midnight on my side, my hip in a pool of cold wetness, wondering if I've pissed myself.  My bladder is bursting so it's entirely possible.  But I wasn't drinking (and even at my most drunk I've never pissed the bed, I've just heard that's what happens, and that's the first bleary thought I have, I'm not even drunk), I wasn't dreaming that I couldn't find a toilet (which is what I dream about when I need to get up and pee in the middle of the night), and if I pissed the bed then why would I still be able to get up and pee?  But my bladder is sizable, so maybe I have enough storage capacity to piss the bed and still need to use the toilet.  Maybe this is just a surprise my body has unleashed as I approach forty.  Maybe all forty-year-old men start pissing the bed, but they're ashamed of it so no one talks about it; it's just something you discover alone, in the cold watches of the night.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

You Should Read Carol Anshaw

Reading Carol Anshaw's "Carry the One" made me an instant fan.  Here's why:

Whatever element causes romance to flare was simply not present in the air between them.  This was a huge relief to Alice.  Romance no longer looked like so much fun, more like a repetitive stress injury - beginning with Maude, but now also including all the failed and pathetic attempts to replicate that constellation of emotions with someone else.  She could measure this past effort in all the underwear she had left behind in apartments, all the bottles of pricey wine she had brought to dinner, all the recitations of bad childhoods and adult disappointments she had earnestly listened to.  Sometimes she made lists in her head, little catalogs of experience.  The first list was, of course, all the women she had by now slept with.  Taken individually, they seemed, at their various times, to hold the possibility of lasting love.  As opposed to now, so far down the line, when they could only be looked at in accumulation, as one then another fool's errand.  An offshoot list to this was the figure for how far she had gone for sex.  (Thirteen hours on a flight from Chicago to Tokyo then back to Chicago the next day has held the top spot for quite a while; she might never better this.)  Books she had read to get into somebody or other's bed (The Four-Gated City.  The Fountainhead.  Linda Goodman's Love Signs.  Women Who Run with the Wolves.)  Terrible music she had listened to because it was someone's idea of a mood enhancer.  (Hall & Oates.  Holly Near.  George Winston.  The Carpenters.  Celine Dion.)  Topics in which she had feigned interest during the short term (Juice fasts.  Rugby.  Celtic Dancing.  Bikram Yoga).  The longest list was the kinds of tea she had drunk in moments structured around the pretense that tea drinking was the reason for being in this or that cafe (Pergolesi, Kopi, Cafe Boost.) or kitchen, or side by side on this or that futon or sofa or daybed, sipping.  (Earl Grey.  Lapsang Suchoung.  Gunpowder.  Rooibos.  Sleepytime.  Morning Thunder.  Seren-i-tea.  Every possible pepperment and berry.  Plain Lipton.)  There was a stretch of time when tea became fetishized for her for being so linked with sex and romance, so reliable a harbinger of one or the other.
     She could scare herself with the renewable ingenuousness implied by this catalog.  Still, the alternative - the development of an acidic cynicism - seemed worse.  

Anyone who writes like that, you should read.  Pulling it out of context like this might lessen it's impact, but I hope not.  Anshaw articulates the character's struggle to fight the ennui of beginning another relationship, in such a specific voice, and blends it perfectly into the run of Alice's thoughts before and after this passage.  It's masterful work.  I don't know how someone creates an actual novel without a narrative thread, how an author manages to create plot out of distinct pieces spaced so far apart, but it's something you should experience.

I can't wait to catch up on Anshaw's other books.

Here's more love for her over at The Heat Lightning.

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Girl with the Pigeon Tattoo: Meet Cloudette

In case you didn't know, there's something in publishing called a "book trailer."  It's like a movie trailer, except for a book.  Genius, right?  Readers don't need them and booksellers actively hate them.  Still, when moving 5,000 copies constitutes a hit, it never hurts to try to reach outside your core demographic for new readers.

But Hollywood has been making trailers for ninety-nine years; publishing has only made the effort since 2005.  The result is that very, very few trailers make one say, "Wow, I really need to buy that book."  I've enjoyed three book trailers in my life: Carolyn Parkhurst's The Nobodies Album (see the trailer in which authors are funny; now buy the book), Gary Shteyngart's Super Sad True Love Story (trailer here, rife with cameos; now buy the book), and Kristen Schaal & Rich Blomquist's The Sexy Book of Sexy Sex (trailer with actual comic actors who are also the authors; now buy the book).  Caroyln Parkhurst made me laugh out loud but the book came out two years ago and I haven't read it, Gary Shteyngart amused me but I already owned Super Sad True Love Story before I saw it, and I'll never read The Sexy Book of Sexy Sex - way to go, trailer-makers!

And remember, those links represent the cream of the crop.  If book trailers are movies, you just watched The Godfather, Casablanca, and Citizen Kane.  Except, you know, funny.  Most book trailers look like something your local high school AV club made for their final exam sophomore year.

All that having been said, I love this trailer:

It perfectly captures the mood of Tom Lichtenheld's whimsical, witty Cloudette.

Buy me.  I rock hard.  Well, softly.  I'm a cloud.

My first Lichtenheld experience was Shark vs. Train.  All the the little asides in the Cloudette video ("tee-hee!" "hi!")?  Lichtenheld peppers his illustrations with those.  Half the fun of reading his books is seeing Dylan giggle over those asides - particularly the trash talk in Shark vs. Train.  Finding them, reading them, and getting the joke; it's like watching a pinball machine light up.

Becky met Tom Lichtenheld at his hotel when he came to Miami.  I dropped her off and waited outside in the car so we wouldn't have to pay the $20 parking fee.  Becky emerged about half an hour later.  We're fairly sure the valets thought she was a call girl.  Or a drug dealer.

To capture Cloudette's rough look, Lichtenheld used pencil before tracing over it with Sharpie.

We don't worry about lead poisoning when art is at stake.
Especially cute art.
Somehow, Becky convinced tattoo artist Dicky Magoo to open Tattoos by Lou not only on his day off, but early so she could get back to work.  I don't think Becky has ever heard the word "no."  

Dicky used an extra-fine needle to create the outline and shading.  What looks deceptively simple holds a lot of detail.  Tom Lichtenheld looked very happy with the result.  

For a minute, Becky wanted Cloudette tattooed inside her wrist so she could see it better.  But as we all know, The Very Hungry Caterpillar is the tattoo that started it all.  So imagine them chummily side-by-side on her arm.

Caterpillar fart?

Of course, one could argue that as she lays, Cloudette could be seen as en extra large chuff from Otis that got blown astray.  Nevertheless, we've had fun with Cloudette.  Like the time Dylan decided that Becky and I should have matching tattoos.  He whipped out a pen and went to town on my forearm.

Uncanny, no?

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Talking to Your Child About Courage

Man, with a title like that you'd hope I have some answers.  I don't, sorry.

Over at The Heat Lightning, newly-anointed senior editor John Spain and I have been talking about the Boys Scouts of America.  If you don't feel like clicking the link, here's the boiled-down version:

1) As a teen, Spain got a lecture from a scout master for saying goddamn and quit because the other boy scouts were a bunch of pot heads and he felt the scout master's lecture was ill-founded and hypocritical.  On THL, he questions the relevance of an organization with such an outdated moral code.

2) Curtis has a seven-year-old son named Dylan who joined the Cub Scouts this year.  Curtis claims the Boys Scouts are an excuse to start conversations which otherwise barely come up - things like character, loyalty, trustworthiness, etc. - and that the national tenets don't filter down to the local packs.

Over breakfast, we took a shot at Cub Scout Wolf Achievement 12, "Complete the Character Connection for Courage."  Discuss what courage is with your family?  No problem.  Give some examples of when it is hard to do the right thing?  You've got it; and thanks for the examples.   Discuss times it might take courage to be honest and kind?  I think you just re-phrased the last one, but sure.  

Tell about a time in your life when you needed to be brave or courageous to do the right thing.

And here's where I run into the same brick wall I always run into with Dylan; how do you talk to a seven-year-old?  I was a born-again Christian for a couple of years.  A few years after I quit the church, one of my best friends started the born-again thing.  I could've been supportive, as we usually are with our friends, by telling her how happy I was that she'd found something she'd enjoyed, that she was looking for answers, etc.  Or I could do what I did, which was question everything.  I brought up inconsistencies between what they taught and what the bible says.  I told her she'd bring my concerns to her fellow parishioners and her pastor and they would tell her exactly how to feel about it, rather than letting her think for herself.  I planted the seeds which led to her eventually leaving the church.  She's an out, proud lesbian now.  The world won that round; we need more lesbians and less born-agains.  In fact, make that my campaign slogan.

Having that conversation was scary.  My stomach was in my chest most of the time, but I wanted to tell her exactly how I felt. Unfortunately, our relationship was strained after that night.  We remained friends, but were never as close as we'd once been.

Without thinking too hard, I can come up with at least three examples like that from my past.  Sometimes truth kills.  And you can argue that if someone can't take the truth then he / she was never your friend, but bullshit like that doesn't salve the pain of losing a friend, of seeing that guarded look in someone's eye, like you're a haunted house filled with truth ghosts.

I'm weaker than I used to be.  There have been a few times in recent years when I've balked at telling how I really feel, in service of not making waves, or ruining a mood, or hurting feelings.  I've been afraid to risk confrontation so I've kept schtum.  Does this make me a better friend, or worse?

I don't know myself.  And explaining all this to a seven-year-old is impossible.  I love you and I want you to be strong, but sometimes being strong means being lonely. . . I don't want you to encourage hate and prejudice by being silent, but speaking out against it will likely open you up to ridicule. . .

Wait, I've got it.

Dylan, pink is your favorite color.  It shouldn't just be your favorite color at home.  You should have the courage to tell your classmates that pink is your favorite color.  You should never be afraid to be yourself.  You'll feel happier with honesty than trying to make others happy by choosing things you don't really love.  And if someone makes fun of you, then they weren't your friend anyway.

What do you mean bullshit like that doesn't help?

Friday, March 16, 2012

Shaq: Uncut... or is he?

I often forget how special Books & Books is.  Every bookstore is not minutes from South Beach or Venetian Pool.  Every bookstore does not get shoppers like Sir Paul McCartney, Michael Moore, and Shakira.  Every book store does not host author appearances with Bill Clinton, Barbara Walters, and Shaquille O'Neal.

Does Clinton do candid shots?  Of course not. . . only if you're Becky Quiroga.

Yet there's a dark side to the celebrity-studded bookselling lifestyle, one you've probably never heard about but which claims the good moods of half a dozen booksellers a month.

Don't see it?  Let's take a closer look.

Yes, that's right: autograph theft.

If Shaq knew people were doing this to his books, he'd go Punisher.
I first came across this phenomenon when Gina and Dann Gershon visited for their book Camp Creepy Time in 2007.  For a few years, selling signed copies online became a lucrative business for us (if you're interested in a signed copy, email me; I'll hook you up).

I can't find my picture of Gina Gershon dressed as a naughty nurse for the appearance, so enjoy this instead.
Apparently, Gina Gershon's autograph is worth money on its own and paying $16.99 for the hardcover children's book would blow the resale margin all to hell.  It's much easier to take a razor and slice her signature out, making the book unsellable and killing our sale in one shot.  Thanks, asshole.

Since then, we've found slashed copies of Jerry Rice's Go Long, Alonzo Mourning's Resilience, Elizabeth Berkley's Ask Elizabeth, and Condoleezza Rice's No Higher Honor.  Apparently, sports figures, people with the last name Rice, and people from the movie Showgirls are high-risk groups.

Why not just steal the book altogether?  Sure, it's easier to sneak a piece of paper out the door but I think the real reason is that the thief likes to rub our faces in it.  There's a place in hell reserved for this perpetrator (perpetrators?) wherein paper-thin slices of skin are removed from portions of his/her body over the course of years.  S/he will plead for death but find none.

But that's just my opinion.  In the meantime, I'd like to catch this asshole in the act.  It would almost be worth him doing it, just to catch that asshole doing it.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Meet the Babies

Becky and I were not supposed to get new cats.  We were just visiting the Humane Society, seeing what was out there.  Great plan, no?  Like visiting a pizza parlor when you're starving.  We went to the Miami Shores Humane Society, where the second floor is all cats, all the time.  Rooms and rooms of purring fuzziness.  If not for the fact that some of the rooms were under quarantine due to skin diseases, it might have been heaven.

Becky and I walked around the corner and saw this:

Her name was Mojo - not what Austin Powers has but what you marinate chicken in.  She has beautiful markings, mostly tiger-striped but with leopard spots, and gorgeous, gold-colored eyes.  We fell in love instantly.  Like, we couldn't leave without her.

We felt that way about one other cat, a blue-eyed white cat with fingerprint smudges of gray named Jingle.  Jingle never took her eyes off  us.  She had a sister named Jangle.  Jangle never woke up.  Slept in the litterbox, in fact.  We didn't want the other sister, we wanted the good one, but the Humane Society gave us a guilt trip for attempting to break them up.

Three cats is one cat too many but we had to get two (they charge $50 for the first cat but only $10 for the second), so we "settled" for this:

Frankie wore that same look the entire time, a look that said, "My family might leave without me?  They wouldn't, would they?"

Newly dubbed Dr Seuss (stripey) and Hugo (black and white), they have become playful siblings, night time cuddlers, and best of all, friends with Dylan.  It's fun watching him get over his fear of cats.  He's slowly realizing that he can play with, pet and kiss, and pick up a cat without it turning into a hissing bundle of claws and teeth.  In fact, I don't know that I've ever heard Seuss or Hugo hiss.

Dylan named Hugo after Hugo Cabret.  Me?  I just liked the name "Frankie" on a female cat but I didn't want to go with the Humane Society's tag, so we arrived at Hugo after gentle nudges away from suggestions like Cutey Pie and Fuzzy Face.

Hugo has a little quirk; she likes to suckle.  It started with collars (moist) and progressed to necks (ticklish) and has settled mostly on ears (very loud, especially at two in the morning).  In an updated version of the water bowl picture above, Hugo would be the bigger cat.  But she still hasn't outgrown this urge.

Fair warning: this video is cute overload.

Friday, February 24, 2012

How Come You Don't Call Me Anymore?

I’m always amazed when people abandon their book orders.  I don’t mean the folks who buy books and then never pick them up, which happens more often that you’d think; we’ve got shelves of prepaid titles that have been taking up space for years.  We hang on to them because people not only show up years after the purchase, but get livid if their book isn’t waiting for them years after the purchase.  Moral of the story?  Book lovers are special.   

That’s a different kind of person, one who spends so much they have no idea what they’re buying.  I can make that judgment because I’m on a budget.  I don’t care how disorganized or forgetful you are, if you abandon a $25-$35 hardcover - or a stack of them - it’s because you can afford to.Not them, though.  I’m talking about my internet customers.  As I write this, I realize the phenomenon I’m about to explore probably happens because people who are interested in books are primarily (ha-ha) bookish types who'd rather just let things die by ignoring them than confront anything, but I’m going to go right ahead and write about it anyway because it took me a long time to figure out how to get that screen shot.  Check the dates if you don't believe me.


Handling internet orders for Books & Books coming up on eight years, it’s always a little hurtful when I find myself begging for communication with people who seem to have ordered something they don’t even want.  I can empathize when people complain about a great date who never called back.  

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Five Year Anniversary

Over the days that followed, his pain became increasingly familiar to him.  It would come over him while he was reaching for the push-buttons on his bed or crossing the floor to the bathroom, when he was watching the sun bounce off the TV, watching the rain leave its cat’s paws on the window, a response he realized he’d been waiting for all along, as if he and his wounds were having a conversation at bedtime, interrupted by long moments of insensibility.  Oh, yes.  Where were we?  You were asking me a question, weren’t you?  He did not court the sensation, but he did not shrink away from it, either.  Whenever he felt it diminishing, a brief feeling of regret settled over him.  The fact that he was healing meant that he would be returning to his real life soon.
-Kevin Brockmeier, Illumination.  

I copied that wonderful quote on pain from the mighty Kevin Brockmeier’s Illumination because it spoke to me.  Every anniversary of the accident, the rainy season has passed and the worst of my pain with it.  Rather than struggling to cast my mind back, I decided to record those complaints so I’d have some fresher memories.  It also helps me keep my complaints to myself.

Friday, July 15th, 2011 - It’s a restless day for that creature.  You know what it looks like, the thing which lives inside your thigh, mouth wrapped around the end of your femur where it meets your hip: at the end of The Incredibles, Jack-Jack morphs into a little demon of flames and big teeth.  The end of your femur rests in it’s mouth like a dog sleeping with a chew toy.  The heat tingling from this creature’s mouth is like your nose in the corner of your vision, always there but forgotten unless you think about it.

Then a movement you’ve made a thousand times startles it for some reason.  It’s not quite awake, but it still bites.  Once, twice, three times, before settling back into that low heat.

Monday, July 18th - The aching bones in your leg bring to mind a rotten tooth.  Not a fresh nerve jangling pain, but something brittle you’d see in a skull in a museum.  No longer a tool for biting, but an object to gingerly ease from place to place.

This is not the case, obviously, but it feels so true you actually test holding your entire body with your leg.  You push up and down a few times for good measure, proving your leg is strong, solid, that the weakness is all in your mind.  Even this doesn’t convince you.  Your hollow bones ache like buzzing filament in a lightbulb, warning you to tread softly on what’s left.

Thursday, July 21st - It’s a day to lean forward in your chair because of your rib, the high one toward your back.  You’re a child, and a cruel adult is digging a thumb and forefinger into your back and side like a pincer.  The angle makes your hip worse, of course, so you lean back after a time.  Since most your day is spent in a chair the day passes this way, moving the pain back and forth between your hip and your rib.  

Friday, July 22nd - Your rib, the low one this time, toward the front.  It’s like sleeping on a fold-out cot, the metal hinge digging into your side.  You forget it’s there, and you slouch.  The weight of your upper body pushing down increases the annoying pressure into a deep throb.

You straighten up, which is fine.  You shouldn’t be slouching anyway.

Wednesday, August 23rd - Nothing which cut through the rush of work and wedding prep severely enough to report for a month, which is good.  A day with no relief, which is bad.

No standing position is comfortable, no sitting position is comfortable, laying down relieves the worst of the aches but it’s not an option.  Grit your teeth, get through it, hope tomorrow is better.

Thursday, August 24th - The day begins with some kind of object left inside your left buttcheek, something shaped like one of those trivets you leave on a stove for resting spoons while you cook.

As the day progresses, the object moves south.  It rests against your hip socket, then in your knee joint, and finally your ankle.  The ankle and knee pain always mystifies you.  Nothing happened to your ankle or your knee.  Supposedly getting in an accident is like jumping off a building, six stories for sixty miles-an-hour, seven stories for seventy miles-an-hour, etc.  Your legs absorb the shock of the car’s sudden stop.  But that only applies to head-on collisions, and if it had happened with you, the pain should be in both ankles.  Besides, what bruised bone still pains four years after the injury?

That’s another reason to keep the pain to yourself; the idea that it might be all in your head.

Friday, August 26th - Ribs poking the muscles in your back all day long at work.  Hip at a level you haven’t felt in years.  Blame it on the sudden temperature shift brought by the passing of hurricane Irene.

Thursday, February 23rd, 2012 (the Five-Year Anniversary) - You get the idea.  I stopped at that point but I realize this year that cold snaps in the winter aren’t any picnic, either.  Maybe last year’s rainy season was just extra-bad.  Here are two images I didn’t use but which I also see on certain days: my hip as a sea shell, or a two-by-four blackened and brittled by fire.

Yesterday I helped set up Books & Books’ booth for this weekend's South Beach Wine and Food Festival.  Lugging heavy cookbooks about led to a painful evening, but you know what?  No one likes a whiner.  I popped some Aleve and walked to Cub Scouts with Dylan.

I made a promise to myself after this accident that I'd never take my body for granted again.  The aches last night were worth getting out of the chair and doing something physical.  I should remember that.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Secret Handshake: Do You Really Need an MFA to Get Published?

If you answered "no" then click here.
Quotidian. Why use quotidian when mundane works just as well?  Don't try citing some subtle shade of connotation, because there isn't one; they mean the same damn thing, except ninety-five percent of the English-speaking world could tell you what mundane means.  Barring mundane, why not give everyday, commonplace, or ordinary a day in court?  Too quotidian?

Using quotidian, you're not trying to tell us what the office is like, or describe Chester's workaday habits, or what materials an artist used for his pieces - unless you're Lionel Shriver, you're being deliberately obscure to add mystery to your piece, to make the reader work a little harder and invest more of herself.

I see the word all the time.

"Look out! The Quotidians are behind you!"
That, and words like it.  Elegiac ("expressing sorrow") is one.  Anodyne ("uncontentious or inoffensive") is another.  To me, it's all grandiloquent ("Pompous or extravagant in language, style, or manner, esp. in a way that is intended to impress").

I think my vocabulary is better than the average bear's.  If you're not David Foster Wallace, it ain't right to have me running for the dictionary (well, for Google).  It's also no comment on my lack of education (I hope) because it's the same words over and over.

I remember a poster in my sixth grade English class, back in the days when it was called Language.  Flying in the face of the Mighty Elmore Leonard (see Rule #3), this poster declared, "Said is Dead; Use These Instead."  An alphabetical list of words which wouldn't make it past an AP writing class followed- Argued, Berated, Chided, Declared, etc.  Seeing elegiac in four different books I've read in the last two months makes me imagine a spreadsheet handed out at creative writing programs across the country; Simplicity is Dead; Use These Instead.

Leonard says, "if it sounds like writing, re-write it."  John D. MacDonald says, "Author intrusion is, 'Gee, Mama, look how nice I'm writing!'"  John Dufresne says, "thou shalt not be obscure."

Look, I'm all for high fallutin language if it serves the voice of a piece.  I like learning new words, particularly from a Shriver or a Wallace who knows how to use them.  But most of the time these words just seem underlined.  If you tell me your book is a "bildungsroman" rather than "a coming-of-age novel," you're proffering the secret MFA handshake.

McWriterface, listen closely: shake off all those fancy words you discovered pursuing your degree.  They are weighty words and you need to build up your muscles before you can lift them properly.  I see intransigent ("unyielding") and suddenly you're not trying to tell me a story, you're waving your MFA in my face.  You can't expect editors to stop these words because they all have their MFAs, too.  So it's up to you, Authorton.

Only you can prevent grandiloquence, Authorton... only you.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Girl with the Pigeon Tattoo & Anna Dewdney, Too

Yesterday at Dylan's after-care program, two girls with eyes and a flair for the obvious told Becky she was the most beautiful girl they'd ever seen.  As Becky walked away, one of them pointed.

"Llama llama!  Llama lama!" she shouted.

This led to a tour of Becky's arm, a few minutes of book talk, and the near kidnapping of two girls from Dylan's after-care program.  

I'm sorry, kidnapping is never funny.  There was nearly a Forceful Non-Blood-Related Family Expansion, but we had to leave in a hurry to beat traffic.

Llama llama is a character from a beloved series of picture books that have been flying off the shelves for about seven years now.  Is it llama llama's sweet naivety?  The fact that llama llama can always count on Mama?  Or some magical combination of charming rhymes and gorgeous illustrations?  Whatever the secret, llama llama is one of Dylan's most-requested bedtime stories.  When author / illustrator Anna Dewdney came to Books & Books, Becky had the spot on her arm all picked out.

The tattooing has already been covered in depth by Publishers Weekly.  I love the picture I took with Llama Llama Red Pajama in the foreground, tattoo artist Dicky Magoo in the center, and the Miami Dolphins playing in the background.  I especially love that we just returned from our honeymoon and the last name "Curtis" was all over the place.

But since Shannon Maughan was so thorough, I'm reduced to this:

Look how cute!  Buy it.

I said, BUY IT.

Please buy it?

I'll also share some pictures which weren't in Publishers Weekly.

Signed by the artist; that arm is worth money.
There was a good deal of blood involved, but Becky was determined to get llama llama picture-ready.

All that scrubbing was worth it to see the look on Anna Dewdney's face.

This is why Dewdney looks so pleased; sweet job, Dicky Magoo.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

World Book Night April 23rd, 2012 - sign up by February 1st!

Love books?  Want to share the love?  Go here to sign up and become a book giver awayer.

If you can get one non-reader to read, or convince a light reader to give one of those awesome books a try, it will make the fact that Carl Lennertz won't be publishing me at Harper Collins (because he's too busy being CEO of World Book Night) totally worth it.

You don't remember that story?  Probably because it was part of a many-layered ramble sandwich.

Anyhoo, give some books away!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

One Reason My Wife Is Awesome

Yes, she is.

On Sunday night, Becky got back from New Orleans for the American Booksellers Association's 2012 Winter Institute.  Exhausted from meetings, loggy with shrimp po' boys and beignets, it was all she could do to keep her eyes open long enough to tumble into bed.  Mere hours later, she was sitting at the computer in her pajamas, on her day off, listening to the ALA webcast.  She had an open purchase order for Books & Books ready to go.

If you check out Newbury Winner Dead End in Norvelt and Caldecott winner A Ball for Daisy, for example, you'll notice that both titles say "special order - subject to availability."  That's because they're in reprint.  Every time a book wins an award (or an author dies), you can bet the publishers and wholesalers will go from hundreds of available copies to nothing in a matter of hours.

But we've got them.  We've got the winners, because Becky is so dedicated that she spent her one day off in two weeks ordering them.

If you wonder what makes Books & Books continually successful. . . well, sure I'm biased.  But Becky Quiroga is a big reason.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Honeymoon is Over. . .

. . . but this picture Becky took of me in Niagara Falls lingers on.  Normally I'd title a picture like this "Canada is Racist" and move on, but I have mixed feelings about all the Indian stuff I encountered up north.

Niagara Falls makes me wet.

Along with Health Care, lack of handguns, and being America's hat, Canada is known for its Natives.  It's tough to think of Canada without thinking of totem poles and canoes.  I don't know why Indians have such a strong political presence up north relative to US.  I do know I'd be tickled if one of our Olympic teams designed a jersey which somehow acknowledged that Indians live here.

Which is why, despite the grunt on my face in the picture, it's tough for me to call shenanigans like I usually do.

Would I rather Canada's Indians remained invisible, like they are most places?

The gimcrack tomahawks and teepee geegaws cramming the gift shop are probably every bit as asinine a tribute to Native culture as Ke$ha's fucking headdress, I just can't tell.  I can't see Niagara Falls clearly, and not because of the mist.  I went there a lot as a child, and I loved every visit.  I loved the bow and arrow sets then, and I was tempted to buy for one Dylan as an adult.  Yeesh.

Ultimately I guess I'm bothered by what always bothers me about shit like fringe shirt headdress dude; no one in my family has ever worn a headdress or a fringe shirt, or carried a hatchet unless chopping wood was in the offing, and they're Indian as hell, cos.  Being Indian is not a thing that exists in the past, in a teepee, in a buckskin shirt, eating scones around a fire.  Indians hang out in jeans and t-shirts and watch Cartoon Network while eating popcorn, just like you.

As long as Indian is something that can be patterned into a rug, or worn as a costume, or sold as knick knacks, it serves to make real Indians invisible.

And that sucks.

Friday, January 13, 2012

All Time Best Uses of a Musical Cue on Film

I don't mean the best uses of music, because if I did then the top three would be the Siren scene from Oh Brother Where Art Thou?, the tour bus rendition of Tiny Dancer from Almost Famous, and John Cusack holding his boom box aloft to Ione Skye in Say Anything.  I'd probably throw in a good shower sing-along, too, maybe Ferris Bueller or Family Man...  

But not any old song use will do.  I mean those moments when traditional scoring could be used to increase the emotional impact of the action, but the creators decided to go with actual songs instead.

And before we begin, HERE THAR BE SPOILERS.  If you haven't seen these movies, then proceed at your own risk.  Most of them don't affect plot that much, so I'll start with the one to really skip.

4 - Gary Jule's version of Tears for Fears' Mad World, as used in Donnie Darko

I loved this movie so much that I made the mistake of buying the director's cut.  I enjoyed the director's cut, but it was so detailed I couldn't help but wonder - if I was seeing the movie for the first time, would I enjoy this particular version?  Further viewings will be required to see if the director's cut self-indulgent or just added layers of awesome.

I'm not going to put my head up my ass and interpret Donnie Darko's ending.  Alternate universes and times, what happens in Donnie's head and what happens with the rest of the world, none of that matters.  At this moment, Donnie is dead.  Gary Jules's plaintive, haunting voice, the lyrics, people we've met over the past two hours reacting to their brush with... something.  The result is one of the most moving music cues in the history of film.

But what always kills me is Donnie's father, played by Holmes Osborne.  The paramedics wheel Donnie's body past his family and we see them react (starting with Jake Gyllenhaal's real-life sister, Maggie).  Donnie's father is blubbering, devastated, but he still rocks his youngest to comfort her.

There's little point in watching this if you haven't seen the movie, but here t'is.

Speaking of Maggie Gyllenhaal...

3 - Wreckless Eric's Whole Wide World, as used in Stranger Than Fiction

This is one of my favorite movies.  In real life, who knows why Maggie Gyllenhaal would want anything more than the time of day from Will Ferrell.  In movie life, these two characters need each-other.

After a nice dinner, the taxman and the righteous baker he's auditing are both wondering what the evening might hold.  He spots her guitar.  She asks him to play.  He's shy, reserved, and just beginning to learn guitar, so he begs off.

While she's in the kitchen washing the dishes, he begins to play in the living room.  His tremulous voice fills the quiet apartment.   You might wonder if Maggie Gyllenhaal's Ana Pascal is unfamiliar with Whole Wide World (as I was when I first saw this movie), if she's touched by his ability to be vulnerable and nothing more.  But Gyllenhaal is a professional; she mouths a few of the lyrics while she's watching him play and even manages to make it look natural.

I can't believe he picked this song, her face says, the one song he knows on guitar and it's this.  In her sad eyes, there's the realization that if she opens herself to his desire, then he might have something to offer, too.  Her silent appreciation mirrors the audience's support of Howard Crick's blossoming during the course of the movie.

Then there's the great moment when she moves to the couch, watching Will Ferrell's Howard Crick play.   You're about to get kissed, her grin says, and you don't even know it.

When Ana climbs over her guitar to kiss Howard and Wreckless Eric takes the song over, it's perfect.  Watch the whole scene for the build.

2 - Van Halen's rendition of Ice Cream Man, as used in episode #4 of Freaks and Geeks (Kim Kelly is My Friend)

Whatever feelings you struggle with now when Van Halen comes up, in 1978 they could do no wrong.  Van Halen was running with the devil while Jamie cried, and they got us so we didn't even know what we were doing.

Bless Paul Fieg for taking so damned long to release the Freaks and Geeks boxed set.  Unlike, say, the Beavis and Butthead boxed sets, which did not get the rights to a whole bunch of music that aired in the original series, FnG waited until they could do it right.  The look back on this tragically under-watched series is the better for it.

It starts off quietly, David Lee Roth murmuring over Eddie Van Halen's acoustic guitar as Busy Philipps's Kim Kelly stops her Gremlin at the park in hopes of meeting up with her boyfriend, James Franco's Daniel Desario.

She spots him obviously flirting with her sometime best friend, Karen Scarfolli (a pre-US Office Rashida Jones).

"Thefuckisthis?" Kim's face says, "My boyfriend-?  My best friend?"  At this point it's still flirting.  Not innocent flirting - this is Daniel Desario, after all - but she's waiting to see what develops.

Pictured: what develops.
As David Lee Roth says, "All right boys," Kim's best friend breaks out the move which says, "let's go somewhere private so I can suck something else."  Acoustic gives way to electric with a crash of drums and a trademark Roth howl just as Kim Killy goes ballistic.

Pictured: Hell Hath No Fury

Skip the first 8 seconds and enjoy.

1 - Faith Hill's This Kiss, as used in Practical Magic

Mark Feuerstein, who is not Rick Grimes in The Walking Dead, was once in a movie with Helen Hunt.  Hunt wanted to play a game where they named their guilty pleasure movies, movies which are "so bad that they're good."  To illustrate, she started off with her favorite bad-good movie, Practical Magic.

"Really..." Feuerstein said.  "I was in Practical Magic."

I'm going to focus on the good part of the bad/good equation and forge on like those groans of protest are all in my head.

One day, Sandra Bullock's Sally Owens is tending her garden.  She stops, looks up, and realizes she's supposed to be somewhere.
"Did I leave the oven on?"
Meanwhile, Feuerstein's Michael pauses at his fruit stand, realizing he's expecting someone.
"Is that guy from Smucker's ever going to come?  I'm sick of this nickel-and-dime shit."
But no, it's not imminent fire and the hope of a corporate buyout that has these two distracted, it's love, motherfucker.  L-O-V-E.  Sure, it took a little push from the Owens' aunts (in the form of a spell) to get Sally to run to her destiny, but when two genetically gifted individuals smile at each-other, do we really care why?

Watching as their secretive grins widen into blissful smiles, while Faith Hill's optimism bubbles in the background, it's impossible not to smile with them.

Okay, that's not true.  It's possible, but why make the effort?  Do you want to be miserable your whole life?  C'mon, let the director manipulate you a little.  You'll be glad you did.

Sally and Michael reach each-other and she closes the distance by leaping into his arms.  Where, guess what?  They kiss.  Hard.

At this point in the movie, they haven't exchanged one word.  But they know- it's magic.

It's also the point where you either give up and go with the movie, or decide you hate fun.

Open your heart to schmaltz and enjoy.