Vehicular and Authorial Romance

I am a car nut. Specifically, a muscle car nut.  I hung out w/car nuts in high school and they brainwashed me into believing that late 60s muscle cars were the only cool cars that existed. 70s were ok, (and closer to our price range), but the coolest guys had the 60s muscle and raced it on the strip. The man I married got noticed because he drove a 60s muscle car. Because of him (among others), I have been exposed to other beautiful vehicles, and the joys and pains involved in restoring old iron to street-worthy condition. So when a new-favorite author writes a book about his love for an old truck that he’s in the process of restoring… well, that’s just a book with my name on it, isn’t it?

Truck: A Love Story is a year in the life of Michael Perry. A rather eventful year, in which he commits to restoring his old International pickup truck, growing a garden, and (unexpectedly) to a woman he wants to marry. It’s also the year that his book (I think Population 485, but could have been Coop) hits the big time and he must travel to support it through radio interviews and book-signings.

The reason I like Perry so much is this: he’s a master at observing ordinary life and finding something extraordinary to say about it. He’s not the first, or the greatest, or the most famous writer to make a living doing this – he’s just my most recent discovery in this area. Also, his humility: he’s conscious of the fact that he is indeed no one special, and his life is not all that special either. Except that it is his life, and therefore special to him.  What he writes about is not terribly significant in the details, only in his awareness of it – how one lives it with purpose and joy, appreciating the miracle of waking up and finding someone or something to love. Even if all we have is Mom and an old pickup.

Gives me hope to read of men with humility, sensitivity, wit, and a thing for old trucks. And did I mention, a musician as well? Because I would like all of those things in one package, thank you.

my apples and their tomatoes

I picked up Apples & Oranges: My Brother & Me, Lost and Found by Marie Brenner because it implied that it could answer the question of how you get along with people with opposing ideologies, i.e. your rabidly Republican uncle who thinks your gay friends should be shot, or your disgustingly liberal cousin who thinks that all the rich people should be placed in work camps.  You have to see them on holidays, you genuinely like them as people, but how do you get around these sometimes-insurmountable obstacles to polite conversation?

Well, the book had no answers.  And I don’t blame the author, I blame the idiots who created the sales pitch and tag lines and whatnot.  What the author was writing was a very personal book about trying to be close to her brother as an adult, after years of aggravation and fighting.  Yes, they had differing political views, but that was not the core of their disconnect, it was merely another symptom, a hot-button to blame for the anger and lack of communication.  Brenner does a decent job of exploring their childhood and their extended family relations, trying to figure out exactly where the pattern originated and maybe find a clue as to how to overcome it.

I thought the book was good, but not great.  Brenner is a journalist and can clearly write a good sentence, but I didn’t think the book was all that interesting.  I love memoirs, but this one didn’t hold my interest.  It seemed like the kind of book that was therapy for the author rather than something meaningful to be shared with readers. On the plus side, I now have a favorite kind of apple – Honeycrisp.

Living in Portland means that I live in apple country.  And being a conscious shopper, I try to buy local as much as possible. I am also trying to eat healthier – more fresh fruits and vegetables, for example.  The problem is, I’m not a big fan of apples, at least not the uncooked kind (give me a baked apple pie with caramel and ice cream and I’m yours forever). In A&O, the brother grows specialty fruits – mostly apples and pears (much of the book takes place in Washington state). Learning about the fruit-growing business was one of the ways that Brenner reconnected with her brother. So there was a lot of talk about apples, and he often rhapsodized about the Honeycrisp, so I picked one up at New Seasons on my next shopping trip. To my surprise, it was significantly different than your basic Granny Smith or Red Delicious – and yummy.  Who says reading isn’t good for ya?

Fangirl Post: Michael Chabon

First, I should probably apologize for letting almost A MONTH go by with no posts.  I have no excuse for ignoring all (two) of you fine people for that long.  I have, maybe, one-week’s worth of excuse – I wrote my first official book review for two weeks ago!  I will blog about The Children’s Book after that review is published, and put a link up so you all can check it out.  With any luck, my bio on their site will encourage two more people to find me out here in the interwebs.  Won’t I be special then?  Now, to business.

Michael Chabon (pronounced Shay-bon, as I learned this week) is a crazy good writer.  I first saw the name after watching the film, Wonder Boys (starring Michael Douglas, Tobey Maguire, Frances McDormand, and the ever-fabulous Robert Downey, Jr.), which was based on his second (published) novel (which is about the experience of writing his second [unpublished] novel, which sucked hard-core).  I loved the movie and (as usual) went looking for more quality entertainment by the same guy.  His first novel (Mysteries of Pittsburgh) was good, but it was The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay that made me a die-hard fan.  Not only great writing and superb story-telling, but a comic-book-history theme and the obligatory gay sub-plot!  But don’t take my word for it – he won a Pulitzer for that one.  I’ve since read all his novels and a few of his short stories, eagerly awaiting each new gem.

This is a writer who just gets better and better.  Some of his latest stuff (The Final Solution, Gentlemen of the Road) has been short novellas  with great story – but the language is better than great, it is extraordinary.  I just want to dive in and swim around in the words and phrases and sentences forever and ever.  And he’s only two years older than me (and apparently happily married <sigh>).  He should have a few more decades to be cranking this stuff out.

One of the dozens of reasons I moved to Portland was because there was so much cool stuff going on here.  Case in point – a reading by Michael Chabon! Free at Powell’s!  His new book!  Book-geek heaven hosts book-geek-idol extraordinaire! And did I mention it was free?  And less than five miles from my house? At the coolest bookstore on the planet? (sorry Title Wave,  but it’s true).   Of course, I was going.  But, I must admit I was worried. What if he was lame in person? What if he spoke like that guy on the Clear-Eyes commercials?  What if he was stiff and boring and ruined my future reading pleasure with his lameness?  I shudder to think.

Thankfully, he was everything I hoped he would be.  I’d seen photos, so I knew he was reasonably attractive (one worry down, dozens to go).   But he was funny and humble and sexy and teasing and witty, and human while being utterly adorable.  And he really did look a lot like Michael Douglas did in the film.  He read two essays from his new book which were marvelously written and slyly thought-provoking while making us laugh out loud (me and my 200 best book-geek friends).  All in all, a perfect first-run of the author visit circuit at Powell’s, and confirmation that my author-love is not misplaced.

This week – Barbara Ehrenreich comes to town.

Who doesn’t like getting naked?

David Sedaris is one crazy man, and I mean that in the best way. I collect crazy people. I only wish that I could add him to my stable of friends instead of just my bookshelf. The David Sedaris I know from his memoir, naked, is the kind of friend you want to hang out with (though probably not live with or depend on in any significant way).  He is not afraid to reveal the most embarrassing details of his life – past and present – and possibly even invent more so as to be even more entertaining.  His self-deprecating manner belies his ego and together make the David we read about a hilarious character in a mundane world.  No subject is off-limits.  Incest, poor job skills, immigrant grandparents, facial tics, cancer – none of these topics fails to get a laugh in his capable hands.

For those who have issues with that big, fat line between the Truth and everything else, this may not be your kind of memoir.  I don’t mean to say that Sedaris is a liar (see: James Frey making up whole sections of his supposed true story of addiction and recovery), but that he relates his past in the way that he experienced it  – full of imagined realities and the recurring wish that his life was other than it was.

The line between truth and fiction is porous and often impossible to find — and really unimportant here. Sedaris seems to write memoirs in order to reveal a truth so universal that we all know it while we spend our lives trying to escape it.  Namely – we are all crazy and misunderstood, but somehow loved all the same.  Families are dysfunctional and damaging but still the thing that made us into the incredibly unique and hum-drum individuals we are today and will become tomorrow.

I took a Creative Non-fiction writing course last summer, and Sedaris was one of the authors we read examples from.  I liked what I read, so his name was added to the ‘maybe’ list.  I saw his Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim at the library and loved it.  I got naked at Borders, along with bonk.  So you all know what was on my mind that day….

Sedaris is often lumped in with Augusten Burroughs, both funny, gay male memoirists.  And while I enjoyed Running with Scissors by Burroughs, Sedaris is more to my tastes.  I think the quality of observation in Sedaris’s writing is thorough and expressive, whereas Burroughs is closer to internal monologue than analytic exposition.  Which is a lot of big words to say that Sedaris has more to say about his life (or imagined life), while Burroughs seems to just describe it –though he does that in an entertaining and skillful manner.  Anyone unaware of my penchant for analysis has not been paying attention.

So next time you have an evening with no friends to entertain you, curl up with with my buddy, Dave, and exercise your mind and your abs at the same time.  Cocktails optional.

Fangirl post: Justice Sandra Day O’Connor

I think I have always been a fan of Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.  I can remember being in sixth grade and finding out that President Reagan had nominated a woman as Supreme Court Justice.  We must have talked about it at school, because the memory is attached to my classroom (shout-out to Mr. Brown’s sixth grade, Iditarod Elementary!).   She’s been a fabulous role model and has written some wonderful decisions that make clear (to me at least) how the law protects individuals from government intervention.  I recently read two books of hers – Lazy B: Growing Up on a Cattle Ranch in the American Southwest (with her brother H. Alan Day) and The Majesty of the Law: Reflections of a Supreme Court Justice.

I saw Justice O’Connor on Charlie Rose years ago (I believe in support of Lazy B) and was so impressed with her class and poise.   Rose – hardly a pushy interviewer – had asked her to comment on her fellow justices (Clarence Thomas, in particular – a rather mild question regarding his lack of decision writing during his tenure on the Court) and she told him, very calmly and politely, that she would not discuss her colleagues.  When he asked another question similar to the first, she just sat – dignified and attentive – waiting for the next question.  Not sullen, not defensive, not angry or even irritated.  She had already answered him and was very comfortable sitting in silence until he asked a new question worth answering.  It was so cool!  My respect for her leaped higher.

I tend to be a passionate defender of women’s rights and the feminist perspective.  Justice O’Connor is a calm, reasoned defender of the inherent rights in all persons, defended in this country by the Constitution and the three branches of government created by that fabulous document.  I get riled up about women getting paid less and treated as sex objects; she deliberates quietly about what the Bill of Rights says, how men and women have used the Rule of Law to defend themselves against unjust actions.  When I read what she’s written, I remember that what provokes my – often emotional – response can also be defended by citing law and reason.  I’m glad she’s around to do it for us, because I certainly do not have that kind of poise and equanimity.

That interview was 7 years ago, but I just finally read Lazy B, as well as The Majesty of the Law.  Neither of these books is terribly exciting or plot-driven.  Lazy B – written with her brother – is the story of their childhood on a ranch which cut across the border between Arizona and New Mexico.   Lazy B reads more like an essay or a biography – but not of a person, but rather a place and way of life.  It follows the lives of the people who lived and worked that ranch – their parents, cowhands and others – and how a great deal of self-confidence and self-sufficiency was necessary to keep it running profitably.  Anyone interested in ranching life in the Southwest during the first half of this century would enjoy it, as well as those who were interested in Justice O’Connor’s early life. Anyone looking for juicy details about O’Connor (or her family) will be disappointed.  She brings the same sense of decorum to the book as she does to other aspects of her demeanor.

The Majesty of the Law is what to read if you are looking for insight into the mind of O’Connor.  Again, not a personal or exciting book, but filled with what influenced her in the past and interests her now regarding the law in the U.S. and beyond.  She looks at the creation of the Supreme Court and its authority, how the Court has changed, and influential Justices over the last 200 years.  She also discusses her views on way to improve the current system (revamp the jury system, reintroduce ethics into the legal profession) and the spread of the Rule of Law throughout the world.  All of this with a thoroughly reasoned approach that makes it clear that she has facts, figures, history and law to back up her conclusions.

I wonder if she was chosen as Supreme Court Justice because of her grace, or being a Supreme Court Justice caused her to become so refined.  Either way, it makes me sad that she no longer sits with those who are looking out for us.