Monday, May 30, 2011

Sports Injuries & Reading Penelope Mortimer's My Friend Says It's Bullet-Proof

It's Memorial Day.  The U.S. Day of the Dead.  You mourn for somebody, though everyone's so scattered that there's no one left in your hometown to put flowers on the grave.  

It's also the Start of Summer: And since you didn't plant a tiki torch in your back yard, or go to a Hawaiian theme or pool party, you need ice cream.

Especially after all the sports injuries.

The whole family is wrapped up in ace bandages.  Feet, ankles, and knees are wrapped.  Some have cool black bandages, others worn-out beige deals.  I haven't the faintest idea how to wrap them.  The idea is to keep the muscles tight so nothing hurts.  But then it cuts off the circulation. 

They're all out running, bicycling, or playing badminton in their ace bandages--and won't stop unless the doctor puts them on crutches.

"That never worked for me," says my husband about the bandaged frantically playing sports.  

Try RICE:  Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation.)

READING.   I won't be done with Ulysses by Bloomsday.  I'm pencilling in July 4 as my "due date."  But I did some reading this weekend.

Bleak House: done.  Didn't I tell you I'd finish?  I love this book. 

Ruth Suckow's The Folks:  abandoned.   I decided not to reread it because I'm not attending the Ruth Suckow Society meeting.  I do recommend it.  It is a very good novel about small-town life, in the vein of Bess Streeter Aldrich rather than Sinclair Lewis.

Penelope Mortimer's My Friend Says It's Bullet-Proof:  halfway through.

I'm enthusiastic about Penelope Mortimer (review of Long Distance here).  Married to John Mortimer, author of the Rumpole of the Bailey books, she was a fascinating, progressive person.  She was a journalist and novelist who had an open marriage and six children by four different men.  She wrote sometimes for The New Yorker and was film critic for The Observer in the late '60s.  But she is best-known for her novel The Pumpkin Eater (NYRB), which was adapted for a film by Harold Pinter.  Another novel, Daddy's Gone A-Hunting (Persephone), is also in print.  

My Friend Says It's Bullet-Proof is a third-person narrative with long stream-of-conscious sections meant to be the heroine's notebook.  Muriel Rowbridge, a women's magazine writer, recently had breast cancer.  She is depressed by her experience and her artificial breast, which she thinks sets her apart from other women.   On a press trip through Canada, one of those awful things where you're scheduled all day for lunches and tours, Muriel writes in her notebook. (I once did Austin that way.)  And she meets men:  unavoidable as the only woman on the trip.

This is one of those novels that repays you as you read. Stick with it. It seems a bit digressive at first, but it becomes apparent that everything is there for a reason.

I'd love to read her other books, but they're not readily available.  Maybe one of these days I'll come across cheap copies.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Memorial Day Weekend & The Outdoors

It's Memorial Day Weekend.  You have to have a picnic.  Just go to Martha  See all her Memorial Day recipes? Tuna nicoise sandwiches, ham and cheese sandwiches, portobello and tomato sandwiches on ciabatta bread, etc.

But some people will not eat so much as a piece of fried chicken outdoors.  

My husband refuses to eat outdoors.  Yet he is outdoors ALL THE TIME on Memorial Day weekend.

Early morning:  Tinkers with his bicycle in the back yard.  One of his bicycles.  I don't know which one.  

Afternoon:  Bicycles 100 miles or something.

Late afternoon:  Mows the lawn or digs up a new garden patch.  We have quite a few fenced-off places and a scare owl to scare away the rabbits.

Here is my day.

Early morning:  Am I awake yet?

Mid morning:  Loll around reading Bleak House and as usual wish I could be Esther.  She is my role model.  If only I had read BH when I was young...

Afternoon:  Put the barbecue beef in the slow cooker and attempt to cook it on low, as it says.


 "It's Memorial Day weekend.  Let's have a picnic."

No interest.

"We can eat our barbecue beef sandwiches outdoors."

No interest.

"We can get new garden chairs and sit outdoors."

Interest.  So long as eating isn't mentioned, he's happy outdoors.

I told you the Adirondack chair fiasco.  We left them out all winter and they cracked.

So we thought we'd get cheap plastic Adirondack chairs at the hardware store, but alas they do not fit in our out-of-date energy-saving car (long may it last). We got the other chairs through the mail.  We realize we will have to order the chairs.

Or shop.

We accidentally shop.  We go to the garden center to buy some flowers.  The ground has been so wet that I haven't been able to plant them yet (though the veg garden is in).

We found folding lawn chairs for only $19.99.  They're quite comfortable. 

We got some flowers, too.

Then I came home and realized that the barbecue beef was never going to cook on slow.  I ended up cooking it on high.  Do you have this slow cooker problem?

It was delicious and tender by six.  And my husband brought in some lettuce from the garden.

No picnic, though.  No eating outside.

Memorial Day Weekend.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Sauk Rail Trail & The Beginning of Summer Reading

The Sauk Rail Trail
It was raining, raining, raining, so we drove to Swan Lake State Park in Carroll, Iowa, north of the rain showers.  The Sauk Rail Trail runs 33 miles from Swan Lake to Black Hawk Park in Lake View.  Formerly a limestone trail, it used to be a tough ride in parts, but it is newly paved.  On June 11, its Grand Opening, or Grand Concrete Paving, will be celebrated with a ride and a free lunch.

The limestone trail was completed in 1989 and used to be called the Sauk Bluebird Trail.  The new no-nonsense name, Sauk Rail Trail, describes what it is--a railroad bed converted to a bicycle trail.

It is a lovely, effortless ride now that the trail is paved.  We rode 35 miles, from Carroll to Carnivon and back. We saw bluebirds, goldfinches, and two scary-looking snakes--I shrieked and barely avoided running over them.  We took a break in a park in Breda, reading and eating Gummy Bears and M&Ms.  The return was difficult, pedaling into the wind, but we eventually coasted into, if not quite a valley, at least a more protected area.

We have never seen so many bicyclists on this trail.  It is Memorial Day Weekend, so many are camping in the state parks, but there were also casual day-trippers like us.  Swift RAGBRAI teams, laid-back stolid bicyclists like ourselves, young and old couples, professional-looking guys on recumbents, casual people out for a short ride, and fast bicyclists with boom boxes to inspire them to ride faster.  

We stopped in front of this small farm.  Isn't this goat adorable?  There were also ducks, chickens, and a prehistoric-looking bird we couldn't identify.  I put away my camera before I spotted the pigs.  We see them so seldom now:  most are shut up in factory farms. 

We saw a LOT of windmills.  Fun fact:  Iowa is the second largest producer of wind energy in the U.S., after Texas. In 2010, 15.4% of electricity in Iowa was generated by wind.  Wind turbine parts are manufactured in Newton, Cedar Rapids, and West Branch.  We're all about the wind here!

Here's the railroad bridge where we stopped and turned back.

Here is some grafitti on the bridge.

SUMMER READING.  I took Bleak House along for my bicycling break.  There is much reading of Victorian novels around here, and I often read favorite parts of books, but right now I am reading BH sequentially.  I am near the end:  Richard, though still deluded by the life-destroying properties of the never-ending Jarndyce v. Jarndyce suit, is now ill and vaguely realizes that he may have chosen the wrong path.  Woodcourt, Esther's friend, attends him, and he says:

"Woodcourt, I should be sorry to be misunderstood by you, even if I gained by it in your estimation.  You must know that I have done no good for a long time.  I have not intended to do much harm, but I seem to have been capable of doing nothing else.  It may be that I should have done better by keeping out of the net into which my destiny has worked me; but I think not, though I dare say you will soon hear, if you have not already herd, a very different opinion.  To make short of a long story, I am afraid I have wanted an object; but I have an object now--or it has me--and it is too late to discuss it."

Poor Richard!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Material for a Bad Memoir

I spent a night at The Women's Center when I was 16.

I wasn't a member of the WLF (Women's Liberation Front), but I knew about it. A friend's mother was a member of a collective--we babysat for their kids during consciousness-raising group meetings--and recommended Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique. We favored equal pay for equal work, legal abortion, and free day-care on demand.  Several of us volunteered at a co-op day-care center founded by university students.   A lesbian collective lived on the top floor of the day-care center, and, though we thought they were eccentric--the gay kids at our school weren't out--we tolerated them.

I didn't know where to go.  My parents were getting divorced, and on the day of the divorce the parent I lived with moved into a lover's house in a tiny town.

"You can come, too, if you want."

There was no real enthusiasm.  My step-parent-to-be had double-locked me out of OUR house over the lunch hour so they could have sex. I wasn't enthusiastic about their menage.  The town where the step-p-to-be lived was so tiny that boys drove their tractors past the houses of girls they liked.

So I announced at the day-care co-op that I was looking for a place to live. There were so many kind, altruistic people in the '70s that a couple of families, and even the collective, invited me to live with them.  

After living for awhile with an extremely nice family, I moved in with a teacher.  Of course this was a fatal move, because he said he "loved" me--something I found both embarrassing and flattering--obviously so he could have sex with me.  This wasn't an uncommon situation for teenagers living without their parents.  Nobody shouted statutory rape, and indeed my friends and I didn't know what that was.  Unscrupulous "hippies" of this era--and most I met had scruples, so don't get the wrong picture --of course were allowed to do anything they wanted, and it was all about love and freedom.  One of my friends, also on her own after her parents' divorce (she rented a room in an old house), ended up having sex with the sex education teacher.

"Humbert Humbert," as I will call the unstable pedophile, was a shifty junior high teacher who not only seduced/statutory raped me but also taught me to "rip off stuff" (i.e., shoplift).  We were, I believe, "putting it to the man" when we stole Abbie Hoffman's Steal This Book or an embroidered Mexican shirt.  This didn't make much sense to me, because I believed stealing is wrong, and am grateful that my middle-class common sense returned and I ceased to accompany him on "shopping" trips. He wasn't really a political person, though the leftists tolerated him, because they couldn't really reject anyone, however nerdy, who claimed to be a leftist and a feminist, etc..  He had been demoted from the high school where he taught to the junior high after the principal became aware that he had seduced one of his students.  (Her situation was similar to mine:  she moved in with him when her parents moved away so she could finish her year of high school.  She moved out shortly thereafter.)

I guess he and his friends thought this was some cool, hip arrangement:  a 33-year-old man living with a teenager. Yet it didn't take a genius to figure out I wasn't happy.  I had a yeast infection, I ceased to do ANY school work (thank God I went to college, because I discovered I really liked learning), he seldom gave me a chance to read, my favorite thing, or see my friends, because he was so insanely jealous, and I had a crush on a boy at school but my living situation was in the way--and I couldn't figure out to get out of it because I had nowhere to go.  (Or so I thought:  I'm sure I could have gone back to that nice family.)  I only told my closest friends about the relationship, because I was embarrassed. 

Actually, it was a very sad story. 

So one night I stayed at The Women's Center.  The center was sponsored by the university, and sometimes there were poetry readings there.  I vaguely knew the volunteer--did she live in the collective above the day-care center?   Anyway, she was as kind as she could be, and let me stay in the attic.

I didn't figure things out.  I was 16.  But I knew one thing.  I wasn't going to stay with "Humbert" forever.  As soon as possible, I would move out.

And I did. 

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Long Books: Lost It!

A pile of five books.   All of them long.  Bleak House, Kristin Lavransdatter, The Folks, Theirs Was the Kingdom, and A Moment in the Sun. 

I wonder why I never finish anything. Well, I have finished nine books this month.  Shorter books.  Wandering around the house in pajamas, I start to clean the dining room.  Then I sit down and plan to finish these five books instead.  


Ulysses is that other long book I'm reading.

The five books in the pic comprise 1,037 pages + 1,131 + 717 + 798 + 955 pages = 3,921 pages.  I've finished 739 + 492 + 55 + 387 + 143 pages = 1,816 pages.

I can't imagine why I picked so many long books. Usually I alternate a long book with a couple of short books, but I'm carried away by my love of classics and sagas. I mentioned D. H. Lawrence the other day and immediately got out my copy of Women in Love.  

No, no, no!

I'm not the only person with the multiple book bug.  Many bloggers have so many books going that they sound--well--non compos mentis.  

"I read about a third of a lot of books," a librarian admitted to me.

I like to finish books.

Here is the prognosis of my finishing the Five Above in June:

1.  Bleak House is a masterpiece, and I am in the home stretch.  Prognosis:  *****

2.  Kristin Lavransdatter is another favorite.  I finished rereading the first in the stunning trilogy last winter and then stopped halfway through the second. It's just a matter of getting back on the horse.  Prognosis:  *****

3.  The Folks.  I won't attend the Ruth Suckow Society meeting this year, but I might as well read The Folks in case I feel like hitching 300 miles with a strange member to attend the book discussion. (Strange to me, that is.  Last year I sold my spare copy of The Kramer Girls for $45 to a member.  Pretty strange!) Prognosis:  ****

4.  Theirs Was the Kingdom.  Last year I read Delderfield's engrossing novel, God Is an Englishman, the saga of Adam Swann's founding of a wagon-transport business in the 19th century.  This is the sequel.  It's about his family, children growing up, and not quite as good as the first but a good bedtime story.  Prognosis:  **

5.  A Moment in the Sun.  I started reading John Sayles's new historical novel.  It is a swift, easy read, because the filmmaker knows how to shape a story, so don't be intimidated.  It might easily take me through July, though. Prognosis: ****

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Tono-Bungay by H. G. Wells

I recently read H. G. Wells's Kipps and was astonished by how good it is.  I'm not interested in Wells's science fiction, but in the first decade of the 20th century he also wrote very good comic realistic novels about lower-middle-class heroes.  The characters' experiences with work, and his observations on class, are still pertinent to modern life.  Kipps is a masterpiece.  Henry James also loved it:  in 1909 he called it "the best novel in the last forty years."  Think David Copperfield crossed with fairy tales and socialism. 

I'm halfway through Tono-Bungay, another of his comic novels, and am loving the experience.  Like Kipps, it is part bildungsroman, but it is also a satire of advertising.  Wells was one of the most influential English writers at the beginning of the 20th century, and Tono-Bungay, though much less subtle than Kipps, is equally political, and some parts are remarkably well-written.  It is very easy to see his influence on D. H. Lawrence, W. Somerset Maugham, and even James Joyce.

The novel gets off to a slow start.  The life of the narrator, George Ponderevo, has been determined by his effervescent, ingenuous, impulsive uncle, the inventor of Tono-Bungay, a harmless concoction sold as a sort of pep drink through brilliant ads. At 45, George reviews his life and considers his rise and fall and the variety of people he met through his uncle's business. 

"I was my uncle's nephew, and my uncle was no less a person than Edwar Ponderevo...
"I was his nephew, his peculiar and intimate nephew.  I was hanging on to his coat-tails all the way through.  I made pills with him in the chemist's shop at Wimbleburst before he began.  I was, you might say, the stick of his rocket; and after our tremendous soar, after he had played with millions...after my bird's-eye view of the modern world, I fell again..."

George is a rebel.  The son of a housekeeper at a house called Bladesover, he showed his "social insubordination" at 14 when he refused to apologize for "pounding" an aristocratic boy.  Banished from the house, he is sent first to his mother's cousin, Frapp, an insipid baker who spends most of his time praying.  When that doesn't work out, he goes to Uncle Edward, owner of a chemist's shop.  Edward moves to London after he loses his and George's money through speculation.

What will happen to George?  His life of unrewarding, limited work is mapped out for him.  George, a science student, attempts to escape his through a scholarship in London, where he quickly loses interest in his studies and narrow career options and begins to think about socialism and love.  His best friend, Ewart, a sculptor whom he knew at school, soliloquizes about socialism, individualism, and even a utopia where women are not put on pedestals but are allowed to live in their own city and pursue their own interests, visited by men they choose. I very much like Ewart's originality, and his occasional flippancy about his ideal of socialism, which he admits will never work, but sometimes Wells tries too hard to educate us: these are mini-essays.

Money becomes important when George's girlfriend, Miriam, refuses to marry him.  Miriam, a sexless woman who is a rabid conformist, has the same fascination for George as Maugham's green-skinned, sickly, moronic waitress Mildred in Of Human Bondage has for Philip.  

George goes to work for his uncle's Tono-Bungay factory.  And that is the beginning of the social conventions and misery of Georgge's  unhappy marriage.

I'm not done yet, but am enjoying it.

And here is Wells's sketch of some of Uncle Edward's ads for Tono-Bungay, included in the text.  Sorry, a paw got in the way when I was photographing it.

Monday, May 23, 2011

I Begin John Sayles's A Moment in the Sun & Finish Cindy Jones's My Jane Austen Summer

My John Sayles book arrived by Fed/Ex.

There was a knock at the door. I'd expected the book by mail or UPS in the afternoon, when I could intercept it and recycle the box before anyone noticed.  But it was lunchtime.


Well, I'm not Lucy Ricardo.  "It's John Sayles's new book."

My husband was pacified.  If I don't read it, he will.

My family is not supposed to know I buy books.  Everyone knows I vowed not to buy books until next year.  I reserved my B&N membership card for coffee and cut up my Amazon VISA card.  I would borrow everything from the public library or a university library.  

I lasted six days.  

Yes, I have bought a "few" books since February.

Sayles, known for his independent films, novels, and short stories, has a new novel out, A Moment in the Sun.   He is on a national book tour.  Maggie Renzi, his companion, creative partner, producer, and fellow actor, is blogging about the tour here.  

My husband decided I should write a review and submit it to newspapers in all the cities left on the tour.


"I haven't read the book.  It's 955 pages.  It's too late to send it to Blah Blah Blah..." 

These things have to be planned.  I did like the idea, though.  If I read, say, 200 pages a day...  Impossible.

Anyway the publicity is already excellent.

So I'll just blog about it in my lazy way. 

VERY light reading:  Cindy Jones's My Jane Austen Summer 

Ellen was so enthusiastic about Cindy Jones's witty new novel that, yes, I had to read it. She classifies this as a "kind of novel that comes out of Jane Austen's fiction." I consider it high-end "chick lit" for Jane Austen lovers, set in contemporary times. 

Ellen writes:

"Unlike most of these that I've read there is a vein of deeply felt genuine emotional hurt and melancholy shown to be a justified reaction to the conditions of modern life for young women; like Helen Fielding's Bridget Jones's Diary the novel attempts a consideration of the irresolvable challenges, inadequate choices, and problems and consequent traumas young women face today, including the basic one of how to survive (support yourself) decently if you do not marry." 

 As Ellen says, the comedy runs deeper than that of many Jane Austen spin-offs.  There are delightful parallels between Mansfield Park and My Jane Austen Summer.   But Lily, the witty Texan narrator, is so traumatized by personal losses that people suggest she see a therapist.   She has broken up with her boyfriend and stalked him.  She has lost her job for reading Jane Austen novels in her cubicle.  And her father is marrying the woman who moved in a week after Lily's mother's death.

So what better plan than to sell all her things and go to a Jane Austen festival in England?   Vera, a bookstore owner who plans the festival every year with her husband, allows Lily to attend free under the vague titles of actress/business planner.  Theater re-enactments of Mansfield Park, the JA novel of the year at the festival, are the main attraction, and especially funny are the theater-within-a-theater scenes. Lily learns about about the "Fanny Wars" (Fanny Price is the heroine of MP), the scholarly and fan disagreements.  And she wants desperately to play Fanny in the play. 

"Staring uncomprehendingly at the pages of my book, I imagined myself as Fanny Price, the poor cousin, brought as a child to live in the home of her rich uncle.  I have always loved Fanny Price.  Of course, I knew I wouldn't play the lead, but I kept imagining myself in the part. Whenever I read, I always assumed the protagonist's part.... Had I been born in an earlier century, when people appreciated special qualities like mine, I would be beautiful and confident, and travel in higher circles.  Edmund would have fallen for me."

At one point Lily writes a one-woman show about Jane Austen's lost letters. And, as in MP,  she  falls in love with an Edmund-like character who is studying to be a priest (and secretly writing a vampire novel). 

The writing is only so-so, but the novel is very, very funny.  Excellent summer reading.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Shopping Challenge

I don't know how to shop. 

I'm very casual myself.  I used to dash into the Gap and assemble an outfit in minutes. Sweater, skirt, jeans:  easy.  Department stores took longer, but I ventured in and asked for help for special occasions.  A suit, please (though I never wore it AFTER the interview), or a black dress for a night on the town. 

Needless to say, I'm never the first in line for a sale.  I'm not very keen on browsing under fluorescent lights. 

Evey other woman in my family loves to shop.

Here is my shopping challenge.   My mother has shrunk.  All her summer clothes are too big.  I want to buy her just a few things.

Here's what I'm finding online:  low-cut tight t-shirts, low-cut shirts with an empire-waist maternity cut, or tunics with a strange asymmetrical cut. I'm not looking for t-shirts, or billowing tunics.  I need something with collars or turtlenecks. Maybe a little POLYESTER.  Something that doesn't have to be IRONED.

Can anyone suggest a catalogue?  Orvis isn't quite right.  Bean and Lands End are NATURAL FIBERS.  J. Crew is too fashionable and Penney's is too casual.  There must be a designer who works between an action-packed afternoon on the Appalachian Trail and a Reese Witherspoon impersonation party.  (No offense to Reese Witherspoon:  she's lovely, but my mother is not her age.)


When I was a child, she shopped a lot.  She was very particular.  She would bring home many different outfits for me to try on because I was so bored in dressing rooms.  I never cared what I wore until my adolescence, which was spent in jeans and t-shirts, Dr. Scholl's exercise sandals, and an old Army jacket.  That must have been a trial for her.

If anyone has any suggestions, I'd appreciate it.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Philip Roth & The Man Booker International Prize

Philip Roth won the Man Booker International Prize on Wednesday. 

The Man Booker International Prize is a newish, Nobelish prize, and we were glad he won.   Founded in 2005, it is awarded only every two years: 60,000 pounds.  A major award.

This year, however, there is a hitch.  One of the three judges, Carmen Callil, founder of Virago Books, ran like a Greek tragedy heroine into the spotlight.  She told the Guardian she had quit the panel because she strongly disapproved of giving the award to Roth.  It was a 2-1 decision. She dislikes his books and said he "“goes on and on and on about the same subject in almost every book."

"Is the Man Booker International a made-up prize?"  my husband asked.  

"No, it's like the Booker, only everybody qualifies!" He does know the Booker Prize.   "She says Roth is 'narrow.'"

In an essay in today's Guardian, Callil wrote that the prize should not have gone to a North American because Alice Munro won it last year--and, by the way, she said Munro deserved it. She said the prize should honor a writer in translation and she had "researched the writers of China, Africa, India, Pakistan, the Arab World, Sri Lanka, the Caribbean and more."  

See what I mean?  Nobelish.

In light of the fact that she hates Roth I am stunned that a compromise was not made, but her argument about North America is weak.  It is nonsense to talk about North America as one culture and to group Canadian and American literature together.  They are different.

She says her dislike of Roth is not a feminist distaste, but a dislike of his themes:

"There are great moments in Roth's work. He is clever, harsh, comic, but his reach is narrow. Not in the Austen, Bellow or Updike sense, because they use a narrow canvas to convey the widest concepts and ideas. Roth digs brilliantly into himself, but little else is there."

I respect her opinion of Roth, but disagree.   American Pastoral is one of the great novels of the 20th century, or was last time I looked.  A few years ago when I strove to read more male writers, I was equally impressed by one of Roth's earlier novels,  Letting Go.

I don't understand how three judges could not have compromised.  All for one and one for all!  Right? 

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Corn in My Accent & Why I'd Rather Be Reading Ruth Suckow

Living in the Midwest is delightful until you try to explain.  Then you hedge. 

Small towns and small cities.  No bumper-to-bumper traffic and Rush Hour is a joke.  Every day is Ride Your Bike to Work Day (if you have studded tires in the winter).  You can get Starbucks AND that specialty of the midwest, pork tenderloin sandwiches.   And there's nothin' happening after the 10:00 news.  Lights out!  No bags under anyone's eyes.

You can live quietly well.

When you said as a youth that you didn't belong here someone scornfully asked if you meant you were going to New York.

"I mean Bloomington, Indiana," I said. "I love university towns."

And I moved there.  It's lush, hot, and very green.  I loved it.  I left to find work in a city, but I wish I'd stayed and been underemployed.  It would have been rewarding to work at Howard's Bookstore, hang out at the Runcible Spoon, and attend films at Bear's Place.  A professional! Why? I can't imagine what was going through my mind. 

And then--you may ask--why return to the Corn Belt? 

Suddenly my tone changes and it's a brisk Top 10 list of things to do: the State Fair(s), the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, the Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha, RAGBRAI (a cross-Iowa bike ride sponsored by the Des Moines Register), Brown County in Indiana, visiting Willa Cather's childhood home in Red Cloud, Nebraska (actually a five-star activity), Amish country, birdwatching--think sandhill cranes--in Rowe Sanctuary in Nebraska, the Black Hills, the Root River Trail in Lanesboro, MN., and...

I'm stumped.

"There's corn in my accent," as one of my students once said.  

ALL IOWA READS. I've temporarily abandoned my All Iowa Reads book:  Stephanie Kallos's Sing Them Home.  The novel IS  enjoyable, and I will return to it, but it's magic realism laced with cuteness, which I can't take right now, and a Welsh-Nebraskan funeral that goes on for 100 pages.  And I have to finish Ulysses by Bloomsday, June 16. 

An important midwestern book discussion is coming up on June 11 in Cedar Falls.  The discussion of the little-known Ruth Suckow's novel The Folks is sponsored by the Ruth Suckow Society.  I loved the book years ago!  Of course I won't be at the meeting.  Last year they forgot to notify me.  And I had even paid $25 to be a member. 

And yet I don't think it's a scam.  :)

Suckow, born in Hawarden, Iowa, in 1892, was the daughter of a Congregational minister and lived in many small towns in Iowa during her childhood. Her short stories and novels, comparable to Bess Streeter Aldrich's and Willa Cather's, were popular in the ‘20s, ‘30s, and ‘40s. 

She went to high school in Grinnell, Iowa, earned a bachelor's and master's degree at the University of Denver, and then studied beekeeping.  She returned to Earlville, Iowa, and ran a small apiary for six years, spending her winters in Greenwich Village.  She began to publish stories chronicling life in midwestern small towns.

H. L. Mencken, who edited some of Suckow’s early stories for Smart Set, encouraged her to write her first novel, Country People (1924).

Her 1942 novel, New Hope, is a fictional account of Hawarden, Iowa, at the turn of the century. It is in-print, published by University of Iowa Press. Her most famous is The Folks

Their publication by the University of Iowa Press is largely due to efforts of the Ruth Suckow Memorial Society, which meets once a year to discuss one of her books, and this June will discuss The Folks.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Bleak House in an Adirondack Chair

I picked up my copy of Bleak House, which I last blogged on in December, and snuck it out to the back yard to read in the sun. The Adirondack chair is split up the back and down the arms after being out all winter, but so far so good--it didn't actually collapse--and we will replace it with a cheap plastic chair.

Why Bleak House again?

It is Dickens's best novel. It is akin to a day at the spa.  It is a desert-island book.   I love the rich rhetorical language of Bleak House, the satire of the law (beware of the legal system and the people who abuse it), Dickens's endearing humor, empathy, and the heterogeneity of his truly original characters.  I love and admire the courage and charm of Esther Summerson, whose narrative takes up a big chunk of BH.

The characters' relationship to the legal case Jarndyce and Jarndyce, which has shuffled on for generations, defines and shapes the action of the novel. 

"Jarndyce and Jarndyce drones on.  This scarecrow of a suit has, in the course of time, become so complicated, that no man alive knows what it means.  The parties to it understand it least; but it has been observed that no two Chancery lawyers can talk about it for five minutes, without coming to a total disagreement as to all the premises.  Innumerable children have been born into the case; innumerable young people have married into it; innumerable old people have died out of it.  Scores of persons have deliriously found themselves made parties in Jarndyce and Jarndyce, without knowing how or why; whole families have inherited legendary hatreds with the suit."

Dickens, while trashing the injustice of Chancery law, teach us morals and how to behave. Morality is detached from the law as practiced in Jarndyce and Jarndyce in Victorian England. The heroes and heroines resist the bureaucracy and greed that drive the judicial system and the lawyers to divide and conquer the heirs and drain money through legal costs; but some very good, ethical characters, like the mad Miss Flyte, spend their lives haunting the court with their papers and (imaginary) cases. (Miss Flyte, an eccentric little woman who befriends the main characters, says she will free her pet birds when her case is settled, and wistfully hints that her friends should avoid Chancery.)  Esther and Ada, two of the three wards of John Jarndyce of Bleak House, understand that Jarndyce and Jarndyce will never be resolved, but the third ward, the charming, weak Richard, cannot settle down to a profession because he believes that he will one day inherit money. 

The villains are truly villainous, and some are connected with the law.  The evil Mr. Tulkinghorn, a well-connected lawyer, misogynously persecutes the beautiful, silent, proud Lady Dedlock, the wife of one of his clients, for no better reason than that he can.  Guppy, a law clerk, also attempts to blackmail her, and is abashed when his evidence burns.  Some characters die, directly or indirectly, through their connection with the law.  

Some of the characters have alter egos or doppelgängers, in David Copperfield. Esther, like David, is a writer, though her writing, of course, is private, while he becomes a professional.  Skimpole, a cold, witty man who claims  he is a "child" in money transactions, leads Richard into penury, actually kills a boy, and claims he has no responsibility for debts or to people like John Jarndyce who pay his debts.  Skimploe is the doppelgänger of the eccentric, good-natured Mr. Micawber in DC, who is genuinely helpless about money matters and preaches the hazards of debt to David.

Dickens is not only is the best writer in the English language, but also promulgates ethics through this novel of social realism.  He examines the complexity of the ties of family--the best families are artificial and extended, like John Jarndyce and his wards, or the Turveydrops after Caddie's marriage--the unjust persecution of unwed mothers and the poor, the hypocrisy of Mrs. Jellaby's philanthropy--and I can't help thinking of the tangled web of Greg Mortenson's Three Cups of Tea (which I haven't read) and the two (?) people in Montana who are suing him for the price of his books, and though I don't know the facts of this sad case, a class-action suit by readers seems a greedy and frivolous response.

Bleak House is like life.  

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Looking for John Sayles's A Moment in the Sun

I spent the afternoon looking for John Sayles's new novel, A Moment in the Sun.  

Sayles is best known for his independent films, among them Return of the Secaucus 7, City of Hope, and Lone Star.  He has won many awards at film festivals and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for Lone Star.  

But he is also the author of novels and short stories, including Dillinger in Hollywood and The Anarchists' Convention.  According to a reviewer in Publishers' Weekly, his new 955-page novel, published by McSweeney's,  "recalls E.L. Doctorow's Ragtime, Pynchon's Against the Day, and Dos Passos's USA trilogy." 

OK, I'm in.

John Sayles
I respect Sayles.  I respect McSweeney's. My husband cheered when he found out the book was not available for the Kindle or the Nook.   I love long novels.  And I need to read something by a man, because only 32% of the books I've read this year are by men.  (My husband won't allow me to count Anna Karenina or Bleak House, because I've read them three times in five years.)

So let's hope Sayles's new book is one of my picks this summer.  But I ran into trouble trying to find it. 

My choices for bookstore-browsing are:  Barnes & Noble....  Oh, and did I say Barnes & Noble?  There is also Beaverdale Books, a tiny, clubby bookstore where you end up having to order everything. 

Borders recently closed here. 

And did I say we have Barnes & Noble?

There were no copies.  I searched the store.  I checked the computer.  The clerk offered to order it for me.

I politely said no, explaining I wanted to LOOK at it before I bought it.  He said he would order a copy anyway.

But it's puzzling.  I doubt that I'm the only person in town who wants to read Sayles's novel. Does the local B&N have any say or is a kind of "B" stock automatically shipped to small cities?

I can't find an excerpt online, either.  Not at Amazon or McSweeney's.  

Here is a slapdash note to McSweeney's.

Dear McSweeney's:

Nick Hornby's The Polysyllabic Spree and Shakespeare Wrote for Money are brilliant.  Dave Eggers's What Is the What fascinated my family a few years ago.

But I can't find a copy of A Moment in the Sun in XYZ town. Would it be possible to read a short excerpt online before I order it?

Oh, wait. I broke down and ordered it from Amazon.


P.S. Amazon is running low:  it says it will ship in 10-13 days.  

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Iowa Center for the Book, Oprah's Book Club, & Other Book Group Hashings

I am a bookaholic.  I  read all the time.  I read discreetly when company is watching Lark Rise to Candleford.  I read in the middle of spring cleaning, and when someone drops in I pretend there are not FIFTEEN BOOKS ON MY COFFEE TABLE. I read on bike trails during bike breaks and breakdowns, and when my husband's derailleur broke, I naturally read a book while he rode my bike at a dizzying pace to retrieve our car. I was not bookless today at the coffeehouse, where, despite the hiss of espresso and steamed milk, I began Stephanie Kallos's Sing Them Home, the All Iowa Reads book.

In 2003 The Iowa Center for the Books developed the All Iowa Reads Program.  Every year a novel is selected, and the idea is that Iowans read it and public libraries host discussions.  The Center tries to select readable, accessible books with a midwest connection, and most of the books have been pretty good.  (The first two were crap, but perhaps they realized they'd underestimated readers, because the quality rose.)

They are:

2011.  Sing Them Home by Stephanie Kallos
2010.  Driftless by David Rhodes
2009.  The Rope Walk by Carrie Brown 
2008.  Digging to America by Anne Tyler
2007.  Splendid Solution:  Jonas Salk and the Conquest of Polio by Jeffrey Kluger
2006. Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
2005. The Master Butchers Singing Club by Louise Erdrich
2004. Niagara Falls All Over Again by Elizabeth McCracken
2003. Peace Like a River by Leif Enger

Sing Them Home is very enjoyable. Set in Emlyn Springs, Nebraska, it is lyrical and engaging, laced with magical realism, reminiscent of Garcia Marquez and Louise Erdrich (though not, so far, quite in that class).  Part One--"The Tornado Storm Project:--begins with a storm.  Everyone in town is disturbed by the barometric pressure.

"There are grumpy toddlers, too, throwing tantrums, caterwauling in unison.  Family pets all over town are nervous and misbehaving--fluttering, howling, hissing, gnawing, mauling lace curtains, and mangling good leather shoes even though they know better.  Premenstrual girls are arguing with their mothers, moping in front of the television, or daydreaming on polyester bedspreads behind violently slammed doors.... Afternoon trysts are not going well.  Noses tickle without relief.  The carpenters in town curse and measure again, curse again, measure again."

Mayor Llewellyn Jones insists on playing golf in the heart of a storm.  Even the town's dead--who witness the townspeople's mistakes from the cemetery, and, between thunderclaps are chanting, "Cornhusker one...Cornhuskers two...Cornhuskers three"--wonder what Jones is thinking. He is struck by lightning and, as he dies, his golfball arcs into the sky and never falls to the ground.  And when the Jones children return to their hometown, I assume they must come to terms with their history.

As I considered the many state reading programs today, I wondered how much influence Oprah had on them.  She started her book club in 1996 and won a National Book Award in 1999.  Certainly she inspired book groups across the country and may well have galvanized the formation of One Book programs this century. 

I used to belong to a very good book co-op book group (which I started!), where we took turns picking books and leading discussions.  I also attended an Oprah book group at a chain bookstore.  The readers were nice women, and the Oprah picks were excellent.   They included Kaye Gibbons's Ellen Foster and A Virtuous Woman, Toni Morrison's Song of Soloman, Barbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible, Edwidge Danticat's Breath, Eyes, Memory, and Sue Miller's When I Was Gone.  Then Oprah cut back--who could blame her?--so the Oprah book club at the bookstore floundered, desultorily selected a few losers like Anna Quindlen's The Blessing and a couple of chick lit titles, and, without the organization of Oprah, faded away.

When Oprah goes off the air, we won't have a TV heroine to remind people to read.  The women who attended the Oprah book group at the store were already readers, but I guarantee that some were reading better books because of Oprah.  And think of all the non-readers who read them.

And so the book groups fold.  Borders has closed and the readers are all online now.

What next?

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Bloomsday Confessions & an Incidental Buffalo Travelogue

Bloomsday Buffalo
One year my husband and I attended Bloomsday events at a pub in Buffalo.

Bloomsday, June 16th, is an annual celebration of James Joyce's Ulysses.  Of course it's best to attend in Dublin, but if you live in the U.S. you can still have a wonderful time.  The events of Leopold Bloom's day (Ulysses takes place on June 16) are celebrated in at least sixty countries. There are readings, re-enactments, walks, one-act plays, Irish dance, and more.

We were passing through Buffalo, visiting friends.  Buffalo is a lakefront city, known for Rust Belt unemployment and the iniquitous Love Canal.  What they don't tell you is that there's a gorgeous lakefront, a city park called Delaware Park (350 acres near Delaware Avenue, Buffalo's Mansion Row), many excellent art museums, a Frank Lloyd Wright historic house, a great public library, and the Anchor Bar, home of the Buffalo chicken wings..

There is also an enthusiastic James Joyce group.

The year we were there it was 40 degrees.  It was global colding that summer.   In the bar there were people milling and thronging, drinking beer, leafing through books, and listening intently to enthusiastic readings by volunteers on the small stage.  You could feel their ardor.  

We're in the Midwest now.  There are Bloomsday events in Kansas City and Chicago, but I've been looking on the internet in vain for closer events in Nebraska, Minnesota, Iowa, or Wisconsin, so tell me if you know of any.  

This year my goal is to finish Ulysses before Bloomsday (which may end up as a quiet day of reading in our home).

I thought there was plenty of time.  I couldn't find my book, so I started reading the 673-page Project Gutenberg edition.  It was eerie, but it didn't feel right.  My hair was practically standing on end.  At first I thought it was the e-book layout.  Then I flipped back to the beginning. And of course the Project Gutenberg edition is "based on the pre-1923 edition."  Passages have been elided.

My copy!

My husband told me he would buy me a new copy if I made ravioli tomato soup.  While I was busy chopping vegetables, he found my book.  It's  not the Gabler edition, which they use in Buffalo, but the 1961 edition.  The passages I remembered are here. 

I'm amazed by what Joyce went through to get his book published.  Sylvia Beach, the owner of Shakespeare and Company, a bookstore in Paris, published Ulysses in 1922.  Joyce later signed on with another publisher, leaving her in debt.  Then there were the obscenity trials.  My copy has the 1933 decision of the "U.S. District Court by Judge John M. Woolsey lifting the ban on the entry of Ulysses into the United States."

I should probably read some criticism this year, too.  Any suggestions?  (Something under $20.)

Friday, May 13, 2011

Blogger Outage & Notes on Tiger Hills

Yes, I took the night off from blogging.  No, I don't wear pink.
A Blogger outage is not necessarily a bad thing. 

I planned to write a blog on Sarita Mandanna's Tiger Hills last night.  I clicked on the sign-in button.  Nothing.  I learned that Blogger was "unavailable."   Maintenance.  One of those slots when Google mechanics tinker and tune.  I cheerfully went about my business and smugly got in an extra hour of reading.

Today.  Same thing.  Only worse.  My blog entry on Kipps disappeared. 

I read a couple of Blogger statements about a (possibly bungled) routine repair job. Blogger said it temporarily deleted entries posted Wednesday.  And it said it would restore the posts. 

And it did! My Kipps post showed up again a few minutes ago.

And a good thing, too.  Because I didn't back up the post. I'm careless when it comes to keeping copies of blog entries. 

But it also teaches you what's important.  Would it matter if my post on Kipps disappeared?  Yes, to me.  Not to anyone else.  Except in the sense that someone might visit the blog and decide to read Kipps.  It's not, however, a stampede kind of situation.  It's not:  Pentagon down!  Or:  Elizabeth Arden down!  (I'm more concerned about the latter than the former.)

I could have written on my computer last night.  Heavens, what is the computer for?  But it struck me that I had very little to say about Sarita Mandanna's readable new novel, Tiger Hills, a plot-driven Indian family saga reminiscent in parts of Gone with the Wind. I wrote a few notes.  

Here they are:

Tiger Hills was a best-seller in India and a Channel 4 Book TV pick in the UK.   It is easy to see why.  I picked up a copy at random (I liked the cover) to read in the B&N cafe and ended up buying it.  I raced through the opening pages of this engaging novel, set in Coorg in Southern India from 1878-.1940  The first 100 pages are charming and lyrical, introducing the main characters, Devi, the first girl to be born in her family in over sixty years, and Devanna, a shy brainy neighbor boy whose friendship with Devi helps him cope after his mother's suicide.  Throughout the novel, comedy and romance are interlaced with tragedy. And Devi's and Devanna's stories are intertwined.

From birth, Devi is bold, mischievous, beautiful, and spoiled, while Devanna is quiet and studious. Mandanna's buoyant narrative sweetly skims the border of magic realism.

“Devi had only to frown and her grandmother, Tayi, would come running, bribing her with salted gooseberries and cubes of jaggery until she deigned to smile again....When the family realized that Devi was fond of fish, come rain or shine, Tayi would be at the weekly shanty so early that the vendors would still be setting out their wares.”

Then, at a “tiger wedding,” a rite honoring Devanna’s cousin, Machu, a hunter who has killed a tiger, Devi falls in love with Machu.  Years later, she sets out to seduce him at a religious festival. Devanna, who is also in love with Devi, is oblvious and assumes he will marry her.  But the selfish subliminal homoerotic love of a priest at the local mission school destroys Devanna's future.  Wanting to keep him nearby, he destroys a letter suggesting Devanna go to Oxford and directs him to an Indian medical school instead.  By that act, the priest ensures that Devanna will endure years of suffering which will, in turn, wreck the lives of Devi and Machu. (Imperialists have a genius for ruining lives in India; a selfish seductive Englishwoman later ruins the life of Machu's son.)  And the horrifying "ragging" (repeated beating and rape of Devanna that no one reports ) at the Indian medical school is so terrifying that I almost couldn't read it.  

A very sad novel.  I had to stop in the second hundred pages and almost didn't finish the novel because I was so depressed by what happened to Devanna.  Somehow the essentially romantic framework of the novel seemed the wrong place to encounter tragedy:  it shifts abruptly from near-magic realism and romance to brutal descriptions of violence.  Oddly enough, it is Devi, not Devanna, who turns into a  monster (and she, of course, has her reasons, but Devanna's destruction was more complete.)  Mandanna doesn't hesitate to turn Devi, a once willful girl, into a selfish, cruel, and insensitive woman. She acquires a coffee estate and makes a lot of money, but is ruthless in her personal relations and wrecks several lives through her emotional abuse.  She is a terrible mother, wasting all her affection on Machu's child by another woman and disliking her own son.  The son she favors is spoiled; the other loses his confidence through her abuse.   And  Devanna, the real victim, remains in the background, horrified tht the tragedy that destroyed him so utterly wrecked Devi.

The impact of Devi's cruelty on the next generation is shattering.  History repeats itself in a way.  People pay heavily for involvement with her.  But there is redemption. 
Mandanna's writing is exuberant, the plot is fast-paced, and one cares about the characters.  I respected the complexity of the different threads of the novel.  An absorbing summer read.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Kipps by H. G. Wells

I'm a fan of H. G. Wells' realistic comic novels about lower-middle-class heroes. The History of Mr. Polly is his most famous; Kipps is my favorite.  Don't get me started on The Time Machine.  I'm just not interested in his science fiction, though I'm usually interested in EVERYBODY'S science fiction.  But listen to him on socialism. 

"Let us be clear about one thing:  that socialism means revolution, and it means a change in the everyday texture of life.  It may be a very gradual change but it will be a very complete one.  You cannot change the world, and at the same time not change the world.  You will find socialists about, or at any rate men calling themselves socialists, who will pretend that this is not so, and who will assure you that some little jobbing about municipal gas and water is Socialism, and backstreet intervention between Conservative and Liberal is the way to the millennium.  You might as well call a gas jet in the lobby of a meeting-house the glory of God in heaven."
Perhaps I should get back to my socialist roots. 

His 1905 novel Kipps is a masterpiece.  Henry James also loved it:  in 1909 he called it "the best novel in the last forty years."  Think David Copperfield crossed with fairy tales and socialism.  But Wells's writing, unlike that of the expansive Dickens, is spare and almost contemporary.

Artie Kipps, the hero of Kipps, lives a nearly idyllic life in a small town, New Romney.  His toy-shop owner uncle and aunt are sometimes cranky, but he and his best friend Sid play enjoy rich imaginative games of Red Indians and shipwrecks. 

At 14 he is yanked out of school and sent to the city to be an apprentice to a draper.  And for awhile the novel is not comical at all. Wells, who also worked in a draper's shop, portrays the world in painful detail.  Kipps's boredom and bewilderment as he faces the long hours at this unfulfilling job are heartbreaking.  His seven-year apprenticeship rewards him with dreary meals of bread and margarine and a bed in a dorm.

"His round began at half-past six in the morning, when he would descend, unwashed and shirtless, in old clothes and a scarf, and dust boxes and yawn, and take down wrappers and clean the windows until eight.  Then in half an hour he would complete his toilet, and take an austere breakfast of bread and margarine and what only an Imperial Englishman would admit to be coffee, after which refreshment, he ascended to the shop for the labors of the day.  Commonly those began with a mighty running to and fro with planks and boxes and good for Carshot the window-draper, who whether he worked well or ill, nagged persistently, by the reason of chronic indigestion, until the window was dressed."

And so it goes on.  After his apprenticeship, he stays on.  What else is he to do?

A playwright runs his bicycle into Kipps and the two become friends.  The playwright gets him fired--they get drunk and Kipps misses his curfew--but then finds an ad in the paper searching for Kipps, who has inherited a fortune from his "natural" grandfather.  

What will happen to Kipps?  Society, parasites, and a lowering of self-esteem.  But I will tell you right now:  you can trust the members of the lower middle class.  It is the upper- and genteel middle you have to watch out for.

This is one of those "un-put-downable" books.

Kipps is in print, and there are also many used out-of-print copies for sale. You can read it free at Project Gutenberg.  

Does anyone know a good biography of Wells?  What a fascinating character.  By the way, he had affairs with three of my favorite writers, Elizabeth von Arnim, Rebecca West, and Dorothy Richardson.  Apparently he was irresistible.

Monday, May 09, 2011

The Great Outdoors and What I'm Reading Now: Mary Gordon's The Love of My Youth

I've been outdoors the last few days, gardening, soaking up the sun, and taking long bicycle rides.  Well, it's really summer today:  it's 88 degrees as I write this.  I went to the woods today and was mesermized by the blooming redbuds.  Then I got lost in a book.  Mary Gordon's well-written new novel, The Love of My Youth, should have been a perfect companion. 

Except there's one thing:  I often am bemused by Catholic fiction.  Gordon is famous for her Catholic novels, but I find something slightly saccharine about her Catholic characters. Although she explores the gritty side of sexual relationships and the challenges of contemporary Catholic life, her blunt realism doesn't resonate with me.  I admire her lovely writing, but her books never click with me.  There are some interesting parallels between Gordon's Catholic women and Philip Roth's Jewish men. 

The plot of The Love of My Youth is simple.  Two former lovers meet for the first time in 40 years.  Miranda, an epidemiologist, is in Rome for a conference, and Adam, a musician, is living with his daughter, a music student.   At a dinner party, the hostess's sadistic mother-in-law attacks Miranda's liberal politics, and Miranda accidentally crushes a wine glass with her hands.  (The wine symbolic of...something religious?)  Adam helps her clean her cuts, and the two leave together before dinner.  They decide to sight-see together for a few hours a day during the remainder of their stay. They are not interested in renewing their love affair--or at least not in the four-fifths of the novel I've finished--but the encounters do help them remember both good and painful events from the past. 

The structure of this novel is ambitious and daring:  part travelogue, part philosophical dialogues, and part flashbacks to their young love.  The chapters are headed by date, place, and topic of conversation.  For instance, one chapter is titled:

Wednesday, October 10

The Villa Borghese

"What Have We Given up for an Ideal of Health?"

Miranda, a convert to Judaism, is impatient, practical, and sometimes unkind to Adam.  She has spent her life working in public health, married to a man from Israel who fought in the Six-Day War, and raising two sons in a healthy, unhysterical atmosphere.  She has never quite quelled her anger at Adam for the end of their affair. 
"How ridiculous, she thinks, keeping alive the grievances of nearly half a century, even the irritations of the day before.  With a new acuteness, she feels in the bones of her back the two words 'time' and 'past.' She thinks of a hymn her mother sang sometimes...did her mother miss churchgoing, was it another of her capitations to her husband..."

Adam, a Catholic, is patient and brooding, regards himself as a failure, but is very generous with his time and knowledge.  Their conversations revolve around the art galleries, restaurants, churches, fountains, and other sites they visit.   And then they take a philosophical bent.

The travelogue is interspersed with flashbacks to their past, so we see the whole span of their love affair.

There is a Latin error.  When will copy-editors learn to dial 1-800-LAT-INEM (LATIN EMergency)?  No, honestly, they should contact me. 

Miranda sees the Latin words Vitae laudae on a sculpture.  She modestly insists she's forgotten all her Latin, and, yes, that's true, because there is no such word as "laudae."  Miranda thinks the phrase means "Praise life."  Is Gordon thinking vitam laudate (which means "Praise life")?   Or is she thinking vitae laus (praise of life), or perhaps vitae laudes (praises of life?.    Did the copy editor make the error?  

They should really proofread these phrases.