Sunday, January 26, 2014


     Ah. That cover (Viking, 2014). Teresa Evangelista, the designer, is a genius. Barefoot girl standing on a crack in the ice, looking down into the abyss.  It's a perfect image.
     As Laurie Halse Anderson has made clear in interviews, this book came about because she looked down deep into her own abyss.  Her father was a traumatized veteran of World War II who left for the battlefields of Europe at age 18 and came back a changed man.  His Army unit had been among those that liberated Dachau.  He saw things there that he could never unsee and never forget.  Back home, he raised his family and served his community as a minister.  He made it work until his demons outran him.  He drank, and he lost his job, and he drank more.  Anderson remembers both the before and the after, and in this book, she delves into her own memories, as well as into his.  She wrote KNIFE because she needed to honor his courage, but in the process, she also honors her own.
     Captain Andy Kincain has been a widower for 17 years, since his 20-year-old wife was killed in a car accident when their daughter Hayley was an infant.  But he was also an active Armed Services member for much of that time, so Hayley was raised with devotion and stability by her paternal grandmother.  But Hayley's "before" ended when she was almost seven, and her grandmother died.  After that, Hayley's guardians were the team of her father and his post-traumatic stress.  Andy's girlfriend Trish did a pretty admirable job serving as Hayley's mother until Andy's instability drove Trish first into drinking, and then into fleeing.  So from the time Hayley was twelve, she and Andy were vagabonds,  staying in one place only long enough for Andy to decompensate again and feel the need to move on.  Hayley has no other relatives and no other harbors.  She and Andy are locked together with unbreakable chains of love and pain, and neither of them seem to know any more which of them is the parent and which the child.
     The book opens shortly after Andy has made a completely uncharacteristic and apparently selfless decision: to stop running.  He and Hayley have returned to his hometown and moved into his childhood house so that Hayley can go to school, for the first time in five years.  She'll attend her senior year in high school and stay until she graduates.  Hayley hates this plan with every fibre of her being, but most of what she thinks of as her reasons really just mask her terror at the thought of leaving her father alone every day, unprotected.  She can't allow herself to feel the terror, but due to years of parental example, she has no problem twisting it into volcanic rage.  Hayley is a survivor, and her survival weapon is to attack when she feels threatened.  But, having been taught about the world by her father, she is unable to differentiate actual threats from imagined ones.
     Enter Finn on Page 14, and here begins my main problem with the book.  I believe that I know why Anderson felt that Hayley needed to develop a romantic attachment to a boy in her class.  Andy's Army flashbacks are raw, brutal, and agonizing to read about, and so are some of his behaviors.  Finn is the spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down, the sop to make teens want to continue to the end of the book.  But Finn is not a credible character.  He is, instead, an idealized image, custom-made to fit Hayley's needs while expressing almost none of his own.  I can accept that he's attracted to Hayley as soon as he meets her, because initial attractions are often inexplicable.  But I cannot accept that he continues to cheerfully pursue her despite her continuous, withering attacks on all of his attempts to get to know her.  In fact, her rebuffs are so vitriolic that Finn's continuing to blithely ignore them begins to feel masochistic and more than a little creepy.  Even once Hayley and Finn are definitively in a relationship, it's very difficult to see what, if anything, is in it for him; he apparently exists for the sole purpose of serving as Hayley's lifeline.  Anderson seems to recognize this, and more than halfway through the book she provides him with a traumatic family issue of his own, but its role in the story feels tacked on, not organic, and Hayley is never called on to empathize or offer guidance.   If anything, the sketchiness of the story line about Finn's sister only seems to emphasize that, in this as in every other way, Finn is on his own.  I know that Anderson wants the reader to believe that this Hayley-Finn love story is a healthy one, but I see it as the opposite, and that detracts from my ability to appreciate the book as a whole.  And I want to be able to appreciate the book, because its language is exquisite, its lessons are important, and Hayley, Andy and Trish are stunningly real.  And besides, you know how I feel about Laurie Halse Anderson.
     The story of Hayley and Andy, two drowning people clinging to each other, is the story Anderson felt compelled to tell, and I believe it's a story that teen readers would feel compelled to finish, even standing alone.  The only way out is through, Anderson tells us, and that message comes across loud and clear.  I wish that Hayley had been allowed to come to that realization on her own. 
     A few nights ago I watched a PBS documentary about J.D. Salinger and was struck by a parallel between him and Anderson's father.  Salinger was in his mid-20's when he marched off to World War II.  Not only did he participate in D-Day, but he also participated in the liberation of a German concentration camp.  He, too, returned a haunted man, and the ghosts of his past also left scars on his daughter.  So in a sense, the same experience that led to the creation of Holden Caulfield also led to the creation of this book, one generation removed. 

Saturday, January 25, 2014



  Hi everyone!  Are you as excited as I am (which is extremely) for the next stop on Holly Schindler's blog tour for THE JUNCTION OF SUNSHINE AND LUCKY? 

Well, I'm really sorry I overslept this morning, but you need wait no longer.  My question to Holly was: "JUNCTION is all about found objects.  What are some of the things you've 'found' by writing each of your three published novels?"  And here's the link to Holly's wonderful vlog answer:

     Please make sure to visit Holly's next blog stop tomorrow, at!

     And by the way - you only have about 12 more hours to enter my giveaway contest for Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando's new YA novel, ROOMIES!  Get those entries in, folks!  You have nothing to lose and a pretty cool book to gain!

Saturday, January 18, 2014



      I posted here last Sunday about having gone to a reading/signing for ROOMIES, by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando.  (But I don't think I mentioned what an awesome job I did driving into the Village, finding a great parking space, and hardly getting lost at all on my way to McNally-Jackson Bookstore.  Believe me, for someone with my lack of directional skills, this counts as a major accomplishment.)  I said in that post that I was going to run a giveaway contest as soon as I finished reading my own personalized first edition.  And do I keep my promises?  You'd better believe it.
     I'm not going to say very much about ROOMIES, because I want to offer whoever wins the book in this contest the chance to send me his/her own review so that I can post it here, with credits.  But I will say that if you don't win the book, you should buy it anyway, because it's delightful.  The word that's been running through my head when I think about ROOMIES is "bagatelle," but I wanted to make sure I was using it correctly in this context, so I looked it up in online dictionaries.  And guess what?  One of the Merriam-Webster definitions is, "a short literary or musical piece in light style."  I NAILED IT!  Other than the fact that, at 279 pages, ROOMIES probably doesn't qualify as "short,"  the word conveys what I meant to say, and pretty much what the authors were saying at the reading, which is: they wrote this book for fun, in between their more serious works.  They were playing.  Which is not to say that serious issues don't get touched on, or that serious things haven't happened or don't happen to the main characters, but the book is nonetheless written "in light style."  It's about the summer spent by two young women on opposite coasts who have just graduated high school, will be freshmen at Berkeley in the fall, and have learned that they've been assigned to share a dorm room.  They've never met, and they're about to live together.  Technically, until the very last line, Elizabeth and Lauren are not actually roomies; they are prospective roomies.  And, knowing the very little bit that I do about psychological theory, I would say that the situation puts them in the perfect position to serve as each other's transitional objects during this summer when everything is about to change.
     Okay! Enough of my blathering! ON TO THE CONTEST!!
     Here's how it goes: If you want to enter, leave a comment to this post describing the best or worst experience you've ever had with a roommate.  Pseudonyms are probably the way to go here, but otherwise, the more details, the better.  You don't have to have shared a dorm room with the roommate in question - he or she can have been a sibling, a bunkmate at camp, or a romantic partner whom you've since unfriended on Facebook. Post your comment between now and next Saturday, the 25th, at midnight East Coast time.  The winner I choose, no matter where s/he lives, will receive my almost-pristine autographed copy of ROOMIES.  And by the way, if you show me proof that you've linked to this blog post in any form of social media, I will think of you kindly when it comes to judging entries.
     Ready... set...  GO!!

Friday, January 17, 2014



     Folk art is deceptively simple.  Its distinguishing feature is often a kind of naivete that other forms of art strive to avoid, but what draws us to it is not technique - it's something more primal.  Folk art is an extension, and in many ways a celebration, of the ordinary; and appreciation of folk art is a form of recognition that the ordinary is also the universal.  Norman Rockwell was a folk artist.  What set him apart was his extremely sophisticated technique, which made his work acceptable to sophisticated people.  But nobody adored Norman Rockwell for his technique.  He was adored for his observation of, and devotion to, the most mundane of human experiences.
     THE JUNCTION OF SUNSHINE AND LUCKY is a piece of folk art disguised as a middle-grade novel, and it takes a very clever author to pull off that trick.  On its surface, JUNCTION is the story of Auggie Jones's year in fifth grade: her rocky transition to a new school, where for the first time she has classmates who aren't from her own little pocket of town; the loss of her best friend, Lexie, who decides that Vanessa, one of those new classmates, is more exotic and alluring than Auggie; the fact that Auggie has not yet discovered her "shine," her word for the individual quality that makes each person she knows special in some way; and her relationship with her grandfather, Gus, her de facto parent and the only blood relative she knows.
     But Auggie's personal circumstances represent only the most obvious layer of meaning in this novel.  From the first few pages of the book, we know that Auggie's connections to her community, known as Serendipity Place, run deep.  Gus is Auggie's anchor, but the neighborhood is her place in the world.  And just when Auggie's personal equilibrium is threatened by Lexie's desertion, the equilibrium of the entire community is suddenly faced with a threat too: the appearance of the House Beautification Committee, whose motto - "making our city beautiful, one house at a time -" begins to seem more ominous with each letter it sends to the bewildered residents of Serendipity Place.
     At first, the letters are fairly neutral in tone, requesting only that the neighborhood's residents make efforts to improve the appearance of their houses and properties.  Many people are skeptical and/or worried, because no one on Serendipity Place has a lot of money for anything beyond basic necessities.  But after much thought, Auggie comes up with a solution: since Gus makes his living hauling trash, why can't some of those discarded cars and appliances and pieces of big equipment be repurposed to help with neighborhood beautification?  The idea catches on, and people start making inexpensive improvements to their properties, but it's Auggie whose imagination takes flight.  Remembering that Gus used to be a welder, she starts dreaming up projects for reusing old metal, instructing Gus exactly how to carry out her plans.  The two of them start out making flowers, but before long their sculptures take the form of people, and a metallic community starts to fill their front yard.  Perhaps not surprisingly, every member of the "company" in Auggie's and Gus's front yard is entirely different from every other one.
     But it turns out that the Committee judges all of the neighborhood's renovation projects to be merely "eyesores."  The people of Serendipity Place have tried to do what they thought the Committee wanted them to, only to learn that their efforts have been deemed "substandard," which apparently means "outside of the box."  And it appears that the chief proponent of keeping everything rigidly inside the box is Mr. Cole, a member of the City Council who just happens to be the father of  Vanessa, Lexie's replacement best friend.
     The situation on Serendipity Place becomes increasingly dire.  Fines on each property keep adding up, no one can afford to pay them, and finally the entire neighborhood is declared "blighted."  And that's when the City Council starts advising the residents to sell their now-almost-valueless homes back to the City, so that the houses can be demolished and a shiny new Community Center built in their place.
     Which brings us to the deepest layer, one that will not be apparent to most eight-to-twelve year old readers, but will be absorbed by osmosis all the same.  This is the South, but this book is not TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD.  Times have changed since the 1930's, and the most destructive and polarizing undercurrent of society in Auggie's fictional city is no longer race.  In fact, Schindler makes it clear that Serendipity Place is racially mixed.  Lexie has bright red hair; Auggie, on the other hand, when she is feeling especially defeated, thinks that her own skin is the color of mud.  The "Suits" on the Council are not trying to destroy Auggie's neighborhood because the people who live there are black.  They're trying to destroy it because the people who live there are poor, and the Suits don't want to look at them or have to accept them as human beings.  The dark underbelly of this story is a gaping divide between social classes, the Haves and the Have-nots.   The Haves want to make all the rules to serve their own purposes, which include ensuring that the Have-nots will lose what little they do have and, if all goes according to plan, just slink away and disappear.  I hope you will be pleased to see how utterly that plan fails.
     A lot more happens in this book, which is why you should immediately buy it and read it, but I don't think I'm spoiling too much by revealing that in the end, right triumphs over might, and Auggie finds her shine.  And it glows brighter than the brightest star.
     JUNCTION will be released by Dial Press on February 6th, only a few weeks away.  And remember that on January 25th, a week from tomorrow, Holly Schindler will be making a blog stop right here, and answering my question: "JUNCTION is all about found objects. Can you talk a little about what you've 'found' during the process of writing each of your three published novels?"
     Be aware that Holly not only writes beautifully; she speaks beautifully too.  You really don't want to miss this vlog.  And meanwhile, you can visit Holly's website,, where you'll be able to see book trailers and reviews; her blog,; or her site for young readers,,  where her tween fans will be able to post their own reviews!  And Holly's on Twitter, too.  If you can't find her somewhere, it's totally your own fault!

Sunday, January 12, 2014


     Yes, I've acquired an autographed first edition that I'm going to (1) read, and then (2) give away to some lucky contest winner.  Just got back an hour ago from my jaunt into Manhattan to hear co-authors Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando read from and talk about their new YA novel, ROOMIES (Little, Brown, December 2013) at McNally Jackson Bookstore.  (I didn't get a photo, but Farrin Jacobs did; see tweet @farrinj.) Here are some things I learned about the novel and the process that produced it.   There are two main characters, both of whom have just learned that they've been assigned to share a dorm room two  months hence when they'll be starting their freshman years at Berkeley. Authors Sara and Tara (doesn't that sound like a pair of twins whom their mother dresses identically, virtually ensuring that they'll end up in therapy?) each assumed responsibility for one of the characters.  Elizabeth in New Jersey (Tara) and Lauren in San Francisco (Sara) narrate alternating chapters, and each chapter includes at least one side of an ongoing e-mail exchange between the two.  What I found fascinating is that the _ara Sisters did not really collaborate while writing the book.  Instead, one would finish writing her own chapter, email it to the other _ara, and then wait for the next chapter to be emailed back.  They didn't really discuss the process along the way.  Each trusted the other enough to follow wherever she might lead.  Each had other "front-burner" book projects going the whole time, and they were having fun writing ROOMIES and didn't take this back-burner project too seriously until it was done.  That's when they sat back and appraised it and lo, they saw that it was good.  So they revised, and then sent it to their respective agents.  And lo, the agents saw that it was good, and Little, Brown saw that it was good.  And the rest of the story isn't history yet, because the book has just been released.
     I've reviewed Sara's THE LUCY VARIATIONS here, and I mentioned her again here.  I'm a great admirer of her writing.  I'm sorry to say I'd never heard of Tara until tonight, but as I've now learned here, she's the author of quite a few well-received YA novels.  Her most recent, THE BEST NIGHT OF YOUR (PATHETIC) LIFE, was published by Dutton in 2012, and her next out will be THE BATTLE OF DARCY LANE (Running Press Kids, April 2014). 
     So this is a teaser.  Now there are two fabulous events to watch out for here: the ROOMIES giveaway, after I've finished reading it, and on January 25th, the Holly Schindler vlogstop.

Thursday, January 9, 2014


     I am really honored and really excited, because Holly Schindler is going to make this blog one of the stops on her virtual book tour for her debut middle-grade novel, THE JUNCTION OF SUNSHINE AND LUCKY, releasing on February 6th.  There are quite a few of us Holly Groupies, and Holly made us an offer that was impossible to refuse: we could compose a list of interview questions to ask either her or her main character;  have her do a guest post on our blogs; or... or...  I don't remember what most of the other choices were, but I do remember the one I chose: ask her a question and have her record her answer in a vlog, which we would then be able to post.  Well, Holly just sent me her vlog in response to my question, and it's just what one would expect: informative, insightful, and down-to-earth.  I'll be posting it here on January 25th, so please make a note of the date and show up here to listen to Holly's words of wisdom!
     And, although you won't get to meet young Auggie until February 6th, in the meantime you can buy and read Holly's two published YA novels - about which I've interviewed her - just to get yourself into the mood! And also because in the vlog, Holly talks about all three of her books, so you'll want to have read the first two.
     So, is it a date?  Check back in here any time you want, but make sure to meet me and Holly here on January 25th!!

Saturday, January 4, 2014


     In keeping with my recent plan of asking people who've won books in my giveaway contests to review them and have me post their comments, here is a thoughtful review of Kathryn Erskine's MOCKINGBIRD (Philomel, 2010) written by Aqsa, a voracious reader (in her second language!)and university engineering student in Hyderabad, Pakistan.  She tweets at @bookwhisperer_, where you are welcome to follow her and share her interesting viewpoints!

The Blurb:
Caitlin doesn’t understand. Her world, which is pretty much topsy-turvy already, turns upside down when her brother and best friend Devon dies on a fateful day in a school shooting. Caitlin, who suffers from Asperger’s syndrome, refers to that as The Day Our Lives Fell Apart. We see how she learns to cope with her surroundings and tries to make sense of things. After reading the definition of closure, she realizes that she and the people around her are searching for it, all in their own ways.

My Views:

This novel is an insightful piece of writing. Written from Caitlin’s perspective, we see things from the mind of an eleven year old who has difficulty in understanding some things and is surprisingly intelligent in other matters. Unmistakably, it is a very moving story in which the reader, along with Caitlin, uncovers the meaning of closure, friendship, heart, and many things in between, in a manner which is seemingly simple but very profound. Symbolism is an important element in this book; for example, the wooden chest Devon has made, and Harper Lee’s mockingbird, both point to some of the important aspects of this book. Also, the way Caitlin interprets things is unusual. The relationships our protagonist shares with people around her are unique too. With Mrs. Brooks, who is the school counselor, she is a curious, unafraid child who is inquisitive of everything around her. With her classmate Emma, she tries to be friendly in her own way. With Michael, who is her first ever friend, she tries to play the elder helping sibling that Devon has always been to her. With her father, she is a demandingly innocent child who is having difficulty understanding her father’s actions.

What is remarkable about this book is that it covers three different storylines. It is a book about a school shooting and how the community deals with its grief. Secondly, it is a book about a child with Asperger’s syndrome learning to understand her surroundings, and finally, it is a book about dealing with the loss of a family member, of someone close to you.

The only thing that can be called as a weak point of this book is its writing style. The author has an unusual writing style which may be appealing to some readers, but can have a reverse effect on others. That is to say that the writer has taken a risk by writing this book in the way it is written; the way Caitlin’s mind works and her way of seeing and explaining things can be wearisome for some readers (because of her incoherent manner).

In my view however, this novel is well written and holds its charm over adults and kids alike.

Some of my favourite quotes from Mockingbird:

 “What's great about books is that the stuff inside doesn't change. People say you can't judge a book by its cover but that's not true because it says right on the cover what's inside. And no matter how many times you read that book the words and pictures don't change.”

“I don't think I'm going to like it at all. I think it's going to hurt. But after the hurt I think maybe something good and strong and beautiful will come out of it.” 

Understanding people’s difficulties and—just as crucial—helping people understand their own difficulties and teaching them concrete ways to help themselves will help them better deal with their own lives and, in turn, ours.”
                                       *                              *                      *                      *
     Thank you, Aqsa!  You're a great reader, and always full of surprises!    

Friday, January 3, 2014


     I'm obsessed with Mars.  More specifically, I'm obsessed with Mars One ( and its mission to colonize our planetary neighbor, beginning very soon with exploratory unmanned missions and leading up to the departure of the first team of four people (2 male, 2 female) in 2014 and their arrival in 2015.  Subsequent teams of four will arrive from then on in two-year intervals.  Presumably, the already-established teams will welcome them with casseroles and chocolate-chip cookies.  "Hey!  How was your trip?  Did you guys hit much traffic?" 
     As you may know, Mars One advertised last year for volunteer Marsonauts willing to take a one-way trip.  In other words: live there, die there.  Never return.  The company got over 200,000 applicants.  Perhaps not all of them were serious - I understand some people submitted nude photos with their applications - but, damn.  Who would have thought so many earthlings possess that kind of pioneer spirit? 
     When I first heard about the mission, I was merely intrigued.  My obsession didn't begin until this week, when I read that the list of applicants has now been winnowed down to 1,058 potential team members.  It's not clear to me how many more rounds of cuts will take place before training begins in 2015, but let me put it this way: things are moving along.  An unspecified number of teams will be training simultaneously.  Then, in a totally bizarre blend of Star Trek and American Idol, we, the public, will get to vote on which of six Mars-ready teams will be the one to make history.
     Because here's the thing.  Mars One plans to obtain much of its funding by making its mission into a reality show.  We here at home will get to watch our Fab Four all through their seven-month-journey, and then once they arrive, we will get to watch them go about colonizing.  It is absolutely brilliant.  It is absolutely insane.  I think it could actually work.
     You probably have questions.  I know I did.  And for that very reason, the folks at Mars One have devised a handy-dandy list of FAQs.  For example: what will the colonists do there, once they get settled?  Answer: construction of living quarters; establishment of greenhouses to create independent food sources; maintenance of equipment; and scientific research.  But not to worry - they'll have down time, too.  In fact, the site assures us, if a Marsonaut wants to watch the Superbowl, her or she will have only to ask, and voila!  The Superbowl will be beamed directly to his or her receiving device.  There is one catch, however: there will be a three-minute transmission delay.
     I don't know how you feel about this, but that three-minute delay is pretty much of a deal-breaker for me.  Everything else sounds cool - the never seeing anyone on Earth again, the whole DIY-to-the-max concept, the fact that if you run out of toilet paper it'll take six months for the next cargo delivery to arrive - but unless they can get that Superbowl delay down to two minutes, I'm going to have to send in my regrets.
     And then there's this question: will Marsonauts be able to have babies?  Answer: the first team will be "advised" not to, as the colony will not yet be a suitable environment for raising children.  YA THINK??  I strongly suspect that what "advised not to" really means is "will have to agree to undergo sterilization prior to departure."
     And this: what if a Marsonaut has difficulty adjusting psychologically to the possibly stressful condition of comprising 1/4 of a planet's entire population?  Never fear - they've got that covered.  Long-distance counseling services will be made available.  "I don't know, Doctor, I'm just feeling kind of ... isolated."  "Well, you just need to get out of your rut.  Meet new - no, wait.  I mean, travel - no, hold on.  Um, have you considered a career change?"
     The FAQs are fairly comprehensive in their own peculiar way, and yet some of my questions remain unanswered (probably due to their lack of frequency).  Like: what happens when a team member develops cancer?  (probable answer: s/he gets sick and dies.)   Or: what happens when a team member develops an extreme version of cabin fever and completely freaks out, endangering other team members?  (probable answer: s/he is eventually "neutralized.")  Or: what happens when one team member falls in love with another team member who does not reciprocate those feelings?  (probable answer: life on Mars becomes pure hell for one or both.)
     Speaking of love: there is no amount of training or planning that could eliminate the vagaries of the human heart.  I'd like to think that fact is known even by scientists.  And so, the selection process becomes extraordinarily tricky.  It would seem that an essential trait for a Marsonaut would be the ability to Play Well With Others - what with the whole lifelong team concept and all.  But it would also seem that one couldn't Play TOO Well With Others, or else s/he might have misgivings about leaving everyone s/he has ever known behind on Earth forever.  If I had to do the choosing (and please please, Mars One, don't call on me for this task), I might go with four very goal-oriented, hardworking people who all have mild cases of Asperger's.
     Yes, it's the human aspect that really fascinates me.  When you send four people out to populate a planet, there are so many ways for things to go terribly, terribly wrong.  The novelist in my head can't seem to stop spinning out scenarios.  And yet...  and yet, there's a tiny part of me that wants to go.  Because, let's be honest:  it's the most sure-fire route I can think of to becoming a published author.  I mean, talk about high-concept!  What fool of an Earth editor would turn down a manuscript emailed from Mars?


     Leave a comment!  Tell me why you would - or wouldn't - want to be a Marsonaut!  Don't worry, it won't be a binding commitment.  If you're not already one of the chosen 1,058, it's too late to sign up.  So just jump in and blather away, as I do!!

Wednesday, January 1, 2014


Sorry!  Cannot help myself!  First terrible pun of 2014:

     Wow! Now, that's not a feverish, paranoid male-invented image of a woman, is it?
     I wanted to be profound for New Year's Day, but that's clearly not happening, so I'll just go with my usual fallback: being stupid and mildly bitter instead.  Please pay me no mind.  DO NOT, under any circumstances, have a HARPY New Year.  Seriously: those things will kill you.  Put down the Greek mythology and slowly walk away without turning your back.
     I must confess that I really don't give a shit about New Years.  I mean, it's a pretty arbitrarily-selected day, mostly serving as an excuse for those so inclined to get wasted, loud, and maudlin.  I know it also serves as a designated demarcation point: here is where some of the more thoughtful among us stop and look back over the past 12 months, trying to discern some pattern, some life lesson.  But patterns don't conveniently divide themselves into 12-month cycles.  When we try to force them to behave that way, the Great World just laughs at us and spins on ahead.  As Janis Joplin wisely said in that broken-glass voice of hers: "Tomorrow never happens.  It's all the same fucking day, man."
     So did I cheer you up?  Okay, listen: Please, have a HAPPY New Year.  I hope it brings you all the things you wish for, plus excellent surprises you didn't even think to wish for.   And who knows?  Maybe it'll even bring good things to jaded old curmudgeons like me.