Friday, April 27, 2012

Review: 2030

Albert Brooks manages to hit just about every nerve in 2030.  There are no hovering cars, much to the dismay of sci-fi fans everywhere — but there are plenty of familiar things, and they've all gone awry.

Matthew Bernstein is the first Jewish president of the United States of America.  He is faced with a nation in dire straits: the number of "retirees" is growing unabated, now that many of the diseases that used to kill people are things of the past.  The cost of doing business continues to skyrocket, but the number of people contributing is decreasing.

The "American dream" of having a better, more successful life is a distant memory.  Brooks introduces us to a few of the players in 2030, including the President, his wife — and a surprising new relationship the President never saw coming.  We meet members of every generation — which, now that people have sufficient health to permit them to live comfortably into the triple digits.

What is a little scary is the way these characters are living our future.  Brad is healthy and financially solvent into his 80s, though the same can't be said of all of his friends.  Kathy will never attend college because the financial burdens on her family are too great.  Shen Li has created a modern, efficient and amazing medical future for people in even the most remote areas — and something that will prove to be profitable in this country.

Brooks' strength is envisioning a future that does not include hovercraft and jumpsuits.  He doesn't go too far, just far enough.  The questions he answers are ones that are hot topics today: aging, federal entitlement programs, the cost of college, the power of the AARP, health care and health insurance, whether the U.S. Constitution should be updated to reflect the mores of the here-and-now, national debt and borrowing from other countries — and whether California will slip into the ocean when "the big one" comes.

Find this book, read it and see where we very well could wind up — and what Los Angeles will smell like in 2030.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Looking for Books in a Border-less World

I miss My Borders.

The cultural blog/aggregator Flavorwire was kind enough this week to tell me about "10 of the Most Hilarious Memoirs You’ll Ever Read." Intrigued, I checked it out — and found a memoir that sounded really, really good:  Let's Pretend This Never Happened (A Mostly True Memoir) by The Bloggess Jenny Lawson.

Two words: must have.

In the olden days, I'd have stopped by My Borders on the way home from the gym that night and picked up my copy, maybe even started reading it in the store (with a cookie and a latte from the cafĂ©).  Alas, that is no longer my life.  Instead, I checked a couple of resources to see what this book would set me back. (For those of you keeping score at home, the publisher has set the manufacturer's suggested retail price, or MSRP, at $27.99.)  

Amazon featured it for $12.99, which was a fine price, but add in shipping and the fact I'd have to wait, and the price became less attractive. Plus, after seeing the cold, heartless inside of an Amazon warehouse, I do not find Amazon the panacea it once was.

So on to Barnes & Noble, my nemesis.

First, let me explain: I do not find the local Barnes & Noble as inviting as My Borders was. I hate encountering a Nook-shiller during my first breath in a bookstore. (Yes, I know e-books are as much "book" as "e," but that's not what B&N makes me think it thinks.)

Second, I feel as though the books are shoved into shelves which are scattered about the store without rhyme or reason in a vain attempt to make us wander past every shelf so we encounter more books we want to buy. 

Third, they have no Marge Percy in the poetry section any time I visit.

Fourth, I was offered only a few months' free membership in the B&N membership club when they took over Borders Rewards. My Borders membership information, had they bothered to review it, should have earned me a free one-year membership. B&N didn't care about me as a customer, so I don't care about B&N as a consumer.

Okay, back to the matter at hand. 

So, I check B&N's website to see how the price compares. 

B&N charged a dollar more than Amazon, but my husband David's membership would provide free shipping to my location of choice. Plus, I could see if B&N had the book in stock at the local brick and mortar store. Which it did — but, wait! The cost was listed as the MSRP. Didn't the website list it for half that? Thinking the website didn't reflect the in-store sale price, I called the store to confirm the cost.

The bookseller who answered the phone was very enthusiastic about the book, and confirmed the store price: full MSRP.

Stores with both Internet and street presence need to clearly, boldly list the price differentiation. Sure, that's counter-intuitive to your "suck me in and make me enter your store so I'll buy it anyway because I drove all the way out there" approach. However, you have only once shot at that before I get to decide: be sucker-punched whenever I walk in the door or accept that I have no idea what an item costs in your store until I walk in and see the tag. 

Let me warn you, I don't forget easily. I still hold a grudge against Mattress Discounters for charging me extra for delivery of a bedframe because the salesperson didn't reserve it in time at the warehouse and I had to choose whether to accept the floor sample with an insignificant discount or decide I lost half a day's wages waiting for the store salesclerk to hose me. That was in 1996, people, and not only did I choose another store for my latest new mattress, but I share that story with everyone who speaks the phrase "Mattress Discounters."

Okay, back to the matter at hand.

I wanted the book — but would I buy it?

I didn't want to travel across town to a bookstore I didn't like for a book at full MSRP (minus David's discount, because I don't buy books from B&N). I didn't want to wait a week for a mail-order. I didn't want to pay Amazon shipping and I didn't want to buy it from a store that didn't differentiate between online price and in-store price.

I was still mulling it over when I saw it on the shelves during an "unexpected" trip to Target. (Are any trips to Target really unexpected?) In-store was a 30 percent discount. It was there, I was there, I already had coffee, a To Kill a Mockingbird Blu-Ray, an Avengers t-shirt and cat treats in the basket. David was perusing the magazines, looking longingly at the summer movie issue of Entertainment Weekly. Target lists their prices online as "online."

"I miss My Borders," I said.

"I know," David said.

I put the book in the basket.

So far, I have thoroughly enjoyed the book. David has devoured his magazine. We drank the coffee this morning. 

Target: 1. 
B&N: 0. 
Borders: still breaking my heart.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Get Ready for Poem in Your Pocket Day April 29!

Poem in Your Pocket Day is April 29. Are you ready?

Here's one to get you started — and you can check out Pocket Poems to see an entire book of fun, sometimes goofy, often profound poems for your pockets.

Pocket Poem

With a poem in your pocket
a pocket in your pants
you can rock with new rhythms.
You can skip.
You can dance.
And wherever you go,
and whatever you do,
that poem in your pocket is going there, too.
You could misplace your homework.
You could lose your left show.
But that poem in your pocket will be part of you.
And nothing can take it.
And nothing can break it.
That poem in your pocket
part of...

by Bobbi Katz

What's your pocket poem? Tell me!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Review: Plane Jane: A Novel of Jane Seymour

Imagine if you are subject to the whims of a madman. You cannot refuse him. You cannot deny him. You must give him what he wants — or die. You know this to be true because other women have been in the same exact position and failed.

Plain Jane presents that very conundrum faced by Jane Seymour, the third wife of Henry Tudor, known to the rest of the world, and history, as Henry VIII.

Jane is a woman who, as a child, overheard her parents describe her as unattractive, fit for a convent that they'd have to pay to take her. Her lot was to be overlooked in life and love. Or, at least, that's what she thought.

Life never happens the way one thinks.

Laurien Gardner presents a very realistic look at the Tudor court, and one of its pivotal characters. Jane is brought in as a lady-in-waiting for Queen Catherine, much beloved by the people of England and mother of Princess Mary — and numerous sons who did not live. Henry's eye alighted on the queen's French-styled lady-in-waiting, Anne Boleyn, a sassy wench who has denied the king his prize for a price: marry her and she will give him sons.

Jane sees this drama unfold from the front seat: as a lady-in-waiting to the king, she is privy to many private moments witnessed only by the sovereigns' intimates. She watches the people in the room closely, ascertaining clues  that could save their very lives if they only watched and listened rather than screaming and reacting. She knows how Anne could manage the monarch, if she only tried.

Soon, quite by surprise, she discovers her own chance to do that very thing.

I was disappointed that we spent so little time with Queen Jane. True, her reign was very short and little is known about her. However, in that case, the entire book is speculation based on reasonable information, so why not spend more time in the marriage and less in the build-up? Lady Jane became a little tedious in her self-effacement and dismissal of her own talents and qualities, and exactly what did she think people would say to her when she was swallowed whole by her violent protector who could have anyone executed (and proved it with his own beloved wives)?

We could have used her cousin Francis more to help illustrate her fate, even flesh out the world outside the chambers of the regents.

However, I liked the speculation of one of the least-known women of Henry's kingdom. I've read quite a bit by other historical novelists who spent time in the Tudor court, and this was an interesting take on a little-known woman whose life ultimately shaped England.

Laurien Gardner actually is a pseudonym of a group of fiction writers who have examined the first three wives of Henry VIII. I wouldn't mind reading another one to see if it's equally quick and easy of a read.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

It's National Poetry Month: Celebrate!

When it comes to Desert Island Books, I have chosen two — and one of them is a poetry book.

I have loved Marge Piercy for decades. I fell in love with her book The Moon is Always Female and carried it around with me like a talisman, reading it for comfort in hard times, relying on it for entertainment in good times.

Before that, it was the collected books of Edna St. Vincent Millay. That collection accompanied me to Europe when I was 17, along with the book Forever by Judy Blume. (I let my aunt borrow Forever for forever, but she couldn't pry Edna out of my hands long enough to read more than a poem or two.)

I love poetry because I love language. Poets pay attention to language, using it sparsely, carefully, deliberately.  I love lineation and what it can do to a single line. I love the way rules are made to be broken in the hands of capable poets.

I don't always know what the poet wants to say. I can't say what I'm "supposed" to take away from any poem. I can be intimidated by a good poem, incensed by a bad poem. I know what I like and I know what I don't like. I know pablum is not poetry, but pablum — a poem doesn't have to make you cry or gnash your teeth, but it's not just supposed to bounce along the page without interest (which is my definition of pablum).

During the month of April, I publish a poem a day on Hedgehog Lover. (Sometimes I publish articles from this blog there, too — shhhh, don't tell.)

Go check out what I consider good poems. Tell me what you think, offer suggestions and get in the poetry groove. 

Reading poetry is a great experience. Don't wait until April to do it — and once April is over, keep it up. You'll be glad you did.

In the meantime, enjoy this gem by Marge Piercy:

Morning athletes
for Gloria Nardin Watts

Most mornings we go running side by side
two women in mid-lives jogging, awkward
in our baggy improvisations, two
bundles of rejects from the thrift shop.
Men in their zippy outfits run in packs
on the road where we park, meet
like lovers on the wood's edge and walk
sedately around the corner out of sight
to our own hardened clay road, High Toss.
Slowly we shuffle, serious, panting
but talking as we trot, our old honorable
wounds in knee and back and ankle paining
us, short, fleshy, dark haired, Italian
and Jew, with our full breasts carefully
confined. We are rich earthy cooks
both of us and the flesh we are working
off was put on with grave pleasure. We
appreciate each other's cooking, each
other's art, photographer and poet, jogging
in the chill and wet and green, in the blaze
of young sun, talking over our work,
our plans, our men, our ideas, watching
each other like a pot that might boil dry
for that sign of too harsh fatigue.
It is not the running I love, thump
thump with my leaden feet that only
infrequently are winged and prancing,
but the light that glints off the cattails
as the wind furrows them, the rum cherries
reddening leaf and fruit, the way the pines
blacken the sunlight on their bristles,
the hawk flapping three times, then floating
low over beige grasses,
and your company
as we trot, two friendly dogs leaving
tracks in the sand. The geese call
on the river wandering lost in sedges
and we talk and pant, pant and talk
in the morning early and busy together.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Once a Theater, Now a Bookstore

El Ateneo in Buenos Aires was once Teatro Gran Splendid, a theater built in 1919. 

Now, the only part that isn't jammed full of books is the box seats, which are used as reading rooms.

Thanks to Buzzfeed and

Monday, April 9, 2012

Celebrate National Library Week!

What do libraries mean to you?

To me, they mean possibility.

There are thousands, even millions, of books in libraries in every town. For no additional cost to patrons, books are available for reading. (Just return them on time — a challenge for even the most voracious reader!)

I have read the first two Fever books by Karen Marie Moning at the recommendation of my friend Karen and have been totally sucked into the world of Fae (and the sexy lead male character).

I perused (okay, totally read) The Happiness Project and realized I could be happy living in comfort on the Upper East Side, too — especially if I could write a book about how happy it made me. (I jest. It had some interesting information and ideas in it. Plus, I'd only be happy on the Upper West Side.)

I had only two days to try to (unsuccessfully) finish The Princess of Mars before I had to hand it over so these pesky Jane-come-latelys could discover John Carter. (Thanks, Disney, for your impeccable timing — though, in all fairness, it's as much my own fault putting Edgar Rice Borroughs' The Land that Time Forgot at the top of the stack, thinking it would be better. Ha.) I reserved it again as soon as I returned it, and I should get it (back) by the end of the summer; by then, I'll be ready to re-read Ray Bradbury's introduction.

I'm able to preview books for friends and family, recommend them and share any copies I might own (only because the public library rightfully frowns on subletting books). I have discovered plenty of books I plan to add to my personal library, such as the aforementioned (good) Edgar Rice Burroughs book, and others I'm glad the library invested in for me (The Land that Time Forgot, anyone?).

I've spent plenty of time with Mr. Putter and Tabby, and their good friends Mrs. Teaberry and Zeke.

I've wandered the stacks, looking at the shelves bursting at the seams, wondering how I can find enough time to read it all.

I also have encouraged my local government to support library services. Everyone deserves to consider the possibilities of what these books can offer them: an education, a dream, a plan, a new poem, a new way of thinking, a new recipe, a chance to just think. I love my library (and the librarians inside), and I plan to love it for as long as it stands (which I hope is longer than I do). Love your library, thank your librarian — and remind the people who fund them how very, very important they are.

Ray Bradbury said it best:
I spent three days a week for 10 years educating myself in the public library, and it's better than college. People should educate themselves - you can get a complete education for no money. At the end of 10 years, I had read every book in the library and I'd written a thousand stories.