Sunday, September 29, 2013


     I see from my lack of email response that my contents entrants probably didn't realize I posted the results, not as a new post, but as a comment to the contest post.  Please check there, and I'm sorry for any confusion.

Monday, September 23, 2013


     It's Banned Books Week here and now, but a few days after my immersive ROSE UNDER FIRE experience, my mind is still stuck in Nazi Germany.  And so I thought it would be fitting for me to post a link to an article that describes Helen Keller's 1933 reaction to news of a proposed Nazi book-burning fest, which I believe was approximately when Gertrude Stein (who was Jewish) was writing that Hitler should be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize because, after all, if he succeeded in deporting all the undesireables, then there would be peace, wouldn't there?  (Many modern commentators claim that Stein was merely being ironic.  Seems to me like an odd subject to joke about, actually. Other commentators offer credible evidence that Stein was a strong supporter of the collaborationist Vichy government in France. )  Stein had eyes, but she saw not.  Keller, on the other hand, saw more than most.  Read this article about her by Rebecca Onion, published in Slate in May of this year.  Banning books we don't like...  banning thoughts we don't like...  eventually, banning people we don't like.  All links in the same chain.

     Happy Banned Books Week!  (And thanks to Holly Schindler's blog for this fabulous photo).

Saturday, September 21, 2013


     Elizabeth Wein is the author of CODE NAME VERITY, which I've reviewed here on this blog.  As soon as I learned months ago that Wein was following that book up with a not-sequel-exactly, I pre-ordered ROSE UNDER FIRE.  I was mostly through reading it when I wandered onto Wein's website and discovered that she was going to be doing an East Coast book tour and that today she would be at Children's Book World in Haverford, PA.  And since that was her closest stop to where I live, I decided to drive the two hours each way just to be able to see her.  Which I did.

(I'm the doofus on the left with my eyes closed)

Saturday, September 14, 2013


  When I got to CVS my prescription wasn't ready.  The pharmacist said it would just take a few minutes, and for once I had nowhere I had to be immediately, so I sat down to wait.  There was an elderly couple at one end of the row of seats, filling out paperwork, so I sat at the other end.  They were being kind of loud, and I really didn't want to hear their conversation but there was no way to avoid it. 
     "What am I supposed to do?," she asked her husband.
     "Sign your name," he said. "Marilyn Richter." [I've changed the names, of course.]
     Goddamn these old men, I thought, being so condescending to their wives.  Does he think she doesn't know her own name?
     "Marilyn Richter?" she asked wonderingly.
     "Yes. That's your name. You have to sign it."
     "Right here."  Oh, God.  I couldn't help but look over at them, and that's when I saw that he had a cochlear implant.  That could account for the loud voices. 
     She wrote, and then showed him the papers. "Is this right?"
     "Well, yes, you've written Marilyn.  Now you have to write Richter."
     "Here.  Right after Marilyn."
     She went back to work, and showed him the result.  "You're not supposed to print it," he said.  "You're supposed to sign it, like you're signing your name."
     "I don't understand."
     He leafed through the papers.  "You see how you signed your name here, in cursive?  That's what it's supposed to look like.  Not printing, like you did there.  Here, I'm crossing out where you printed so you can write it in cursive."
     Her forehead wrinkled.  "What's the difference?"
     He sighed in exasperation - not with her, but with himself.  "I don't know how to explain it," he said, as if thinking aloud, but then he got an idea.  "You see here how all these letters are connected?  That's what it's supposed to look like.  Write Richter so it looks like this."
     "Okay," she said sweetly, and went back to work.
     Just when it seemed they were finally done, the pharmacist came out with more papers for them.  Evidently they were there to get flu shots.  "You have to sign these too," the pharmacist told the husband, "so that your insurance will pay.  If you don't sign, they won't pay."
     Mr. Richter sighed gently, and the whole process resumed.   It went more smoothly this time, and after he finally handed everything back to the pharmacist, he sat down again, visibly relieved.  His voice took on a jocular tone.  "If I'd have known how complicated this was all going to be," he said to his wife, "I would have shot myself."
     She laughed, in full possession of the joke.  "You would have shot me," she bantered back.  And then they laughed comfortably together, like the two people they once used to be.

(from Google images - not the Richters)

Thursday, September 5, 2013


     That's my advice to everyone.  Especially if you have the chance to do it in the company of the two best dogs in the world...

And there are places there for them to explore...
And maybe some logs to balance on...
And most especially if there's water for them to play in...
See what I mean?  So GO TAKE A HIKE!!!!!

Sunday, September 1, 2013


     I know what my mother would say about the current situation in Syria.  In her usual exquisitely nuanced approach, she would half-listen to the details, shrug, and say, "Let them (i.e., the Arabs) all kill each other."  She would utterly fail to see the connection between Assad's murder of his own citizens by poison gas and the Nazis' use of their World War II gas chambers.  But even when that connection isn't mentioned in public debate about what the U.S. should do now, it feels to me like the elephant in the room.  What is it about gassing people to death that's of a different order entirely than other forms of warfare?  Ask the Jews.  We know.

     There is no good answer to what the U.S. should do about Syria.  On the one hand, how can we as a nation stand by and condone Assad's heinous acts by our silence?  On the other hand, once we get involved in another country's civil war, where and when and how do we get out?  I don't even know what I hope Congress decides.  I only hope that, for once in their lives, our elected officials can act like sober adults with a historic mission to carry out instead of like children squabbling in a sandbox.
     I want to say one more thing.  It's easy to look at the Middle East right now and say that seemingly the only two options in Arab countries are repressive rule by tyrants or chaos that opens the door wide to extremism and violence.  But when in history haven't giant steps forward been followed by regression?  Look at the French Revolution and its bloody aftermaths.  No civilized country can afford to throw up its hands about the Middle East and say, in the immortal words of Sarah Palin, that we should "let Allah sort it out."  We need to remember far wiser words - ones from  a speech whose anniversary we commemorated just a few days ago.  As Martin Luther King said 50 years ago from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial: we cannot walk alone.