27 September 2011

Find our way home

Today, the daughter took a stab at a difficult problem in her Algebra II class. Evidently, a couple of other kids had tried, but weren't successful in solving it. She offered up her solution, and another student, a boy she has characterized as a bit of a smart alec, challenged her solution, so she explained why hers would work, evidently in a cheerful and matter-of-fact sort of way. When she finished, the rest of her classmates broke out in spontaneous applause.

The daughter was taken aback (but really pleased), while the teacher called, "Wait, wait! I haven't even told you if it was the right answer."

Of course, it was.

Sometimes, the son and daughter are in competition with one another in ways that I can't even begin to fathom. It turns out that the son has nursed a bit of a grudge about the New York trip the daughter and I took together, even though he had the opportunity to go to New York his eighth grade year, and again this summer.

Of course, I didn't take him to see Wicked.

In any event, he evidently sees this upcoming Chicago trip as Revenge of the Son, except he sort of feels as though I'm not taking him quite so nice a place (s'ok, I don't get it either), and that I owe him a show. (!!! Where does he come up with these ideas? Especially since I've made arrangements for him to see Wicked at the holidays!) Naturally, we'll be hitting Chicago during an entertainment lull--everything is either this weekend or after we've left. I'll figure something out.

And the daughter seems a bit down that she's going to school, not Chicago.

There is no winning this.

Go listen to some good music: "Find Our Way Home" from the album The Christmas Attic by Trans-Siberian Orchestra. There is no perfect school. I know this. But so far, the daughter seems to be making a clean transition into her new environs, and her teachers evidently enjoy her. Worth noting that she'd one of the youngest in that math class.

23 September 2011

Wild wild life

Autumn began, and the weather was pleasant, and I had all the windows open tonight. While I was in the back of the house, I heard something crashing around in the side yard.

This is not unusual. There are cats and opossums and raccoons that meander about at night, along with the occasional bobcat or coyote. The daughter frequently complains that she hears something lumbering around, and the sideyard is particularly noisy because there are so many dead leaves and seed pods on the ground.

So I heard the crashing under the windows and didn't think much about it, wondering if Olivier hadn't yet been put in for the night. He got his head chomped by a coyote a year or so ago, so his people are pretty vigilant about locking him up after dark.

It was the little vocalization that made me look up. A soft sort of whuffling, a combination sniffle and snort.

I stopped what I was doing and listened. It was not the next door neighbor's dog.

And again. Whuffle, snort, sigh. Nothing particularly aggressive about; it was actually a rather satisfied noise.

Naturally, the sideyard is the darkest part of the entire lot, so I grabbed my very large and very heavy maglite, and went out into the garden. Dried berries from the ficus were plinking down onto the dead leaves in that vicinity, but there was otherwise no sound. I switched on the maglite and walked quietly toward the side of the house, shining the bright beam along margins and behind plants, expecting the glow of eyes at any moment.


I stopped and listened carefully.


I ventured further into the sideyard, moving slowly because I didn't want to startle something that might be lurking behind the air-conditioning unit or a shrub. I've had huge, fully grown raccoons rear up on their hind legs in a very threatening fashion when I had cause to pass by them on the studio lot, and the last thing I wanted to do was corner a frightened animal in the dark.

There was a patter of berries behind me and I startled, jerking in surprise at the sound, and swung my flashlight around.


I started back toward the french doors where I'd exited, when I heard the excited and angry chatter of a bird in another yard, fairly distant from where I was standing. It sounded very much like a bird that's been startled awake by a predator, and I decided that whatever I'd heard snuffling about had already wandered off in search of more interesting entertainment.

At that moment, a rain of dried berries showered down around me, and I paused to consider the fact that my garden is filled by any number of very large trees, and that presently, I was standing under one of them. Irresistibly, I thought of heffalumps and woozles and most particularly, jagulars that drop on unsuspecting heads.

I didn't exactly flee, but I removed myself rapidly to the house.

Go listen to some good music: "Wild Wild Life" from the album Best of Talking Heads by Talking Heads. Heffalumps, woozles and jagulars are, of course, the invention of A.A. Milne, creator of the Winnie-the-Pooh stores.

21 September 2011

Sweetness follows

It did stop me in my tracks. Just a bit.

One of the bands I've been listening to for nearly 30 years called it a day today. If I had to set my life to music, REM would certainly own a chunk of the compilation.

I suppose that one of the things that was fun about them, for me anyway, was a sort of sense of ownership. The band broke when I was in college, unlike so many others that have influenced me, but had sort of always been there, and I had to run to catch up with them. And so, catching REM at the beginning, I got to see them in small venues and record stores, got to talk to them, got to watch where their music went.

(Okay, ready for a best humiliating memory? I sang to one of the band members--I won't say who--trying to figure out a song that had been played on one of the tours, but had never made it to vinyl. I must have done an ok job, because he was able to place the song in a couple of bars--it never did make it to vinyl--but still. And no I wasn't drunk. But I sort of wish I had been. Let me just say that the band member also never batted an eyelash, like it was the most normal thing on earth for me to do. They were--all of them--the nicest of people.)

And of course, this is what the news inspires--a flood of memories. Racing to the record store for each new release. All the concerts. Warren Zevon joining them onstage at the Greek. Standing in the pouring rain at Pacific Amphitheater for two hours. The blissful show at Radio City Music Hall.

Writing my senior thesis. Running along the LA river. Finishing my master's. Working at Big Entertainment Company. My one-year-old gleefully dancing to "What's the Frequency, Kenneth?" Both of my kids singing the rousing chorus of "It's the End of the World As We Know It."

All the years. All the music.

All the memories.

Thanks, guys.

Go listen to some good music: "Sweetness Follows" from the album Automatic for the People by REM. Sadness, sure, but if they feel like the band has run its course, I'd rather they depart the stage gracefully and on their terms.

20 September 2011

I'm blue

I've been put on notice that no one wants weepy, sentimental posts, especially first thing in the morning. And evidently, the world would be a better place if I'd just write about birds.

It's ok. I'm tired of my life, too.

Or I could just write about traffic. I could write about the idiot who peeled out of a parking lot against the red light this morning. Or encountering not one but two fire trucks in the space of time it took me to drive the daughter to school. About how the space of time it took me to drive the daughter to school somehow doubled today for no apparently good reason. Or perhaps about the messy accident that shut down part of the freeway this afternoon.

No? Well then there are all the homeless spiders in my backyard. I hired a guy to take out the kids' play area, and it was spider-o-rama. And about a million bugs have been displaced: earwigs, pill bugs, bugs I've never seen the like of. I hope they all go visit the neighbors who will not quell their barky dog.

(There was also the spider--another orb weaver--who was bent on attacking the tree guy yesterday while he was giving me an estimate. The tree guy, self-described as "not a spider guy," was not pleased by this.)

I dug a volunteer fig tree out of the backyard. D. asked me today which birds are the neighborhood "thugs." The crows. Far and away. They also helpfully plant things in my garden. Like fig trees. And non-dairy creamer containers.

And there are travel matters.

"Is there anything special you want to do while we're in Chicago?" I asked the son. "The Field Museum is nearby. We'll be close to the lake and the river..."

"We could go to a concert," he said hopefully.

I considered for a moment. "Well, I could check," I told him. "See if there is anything."

"Mom, I love you," he laughed.

Of course, there isn't anything in the vicinity. But I'll figure something out.

I excel at that.

Go listen to some silly music: "Blue (Da Ba Dee)" from the album Europop by Eiffel 65. You may blame this song on the son. The post? Blame me. While I'm not blue in the classical sense (or the literal one), I am falling-down tired...

19 September 2011

...help me get things right

Days have settled into a predictable rhythm, one almost indistinguishable from the next.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

And yet, it has almost seemed as if there is no rhythm. This is my new life, and it fits awkwardly.

The son and I are set to fly off to Chicago next month while the spouse and daughter hold down the fort. Info sessions and campus tours, too, have a predictable rhythm, and I don't expect to hear anything I haven't heard before. It's more to look, to see, to listen to one's gut, and let the campus charm us. Or not.

("Not" happened over the summer. What was weird was that we were in agreement as to who was charmless. And they weren't necessarily schools one would expect to lack charm.)

Clearly, the schools are amping up, too, as the days roll down toward application deadlines. Phone calls are coming in, along with interesting offers (sometimes from places we've never heard of). I can see the boy reeling with a sort of fatigue from this process. A little voice whispers, "Does it really matter?"

But for him, I know this matters. I know that to forego this sort of opportunity would be wrong. So I don't push, but I guide, sometimes more forcefully than others. I listen to my gut. So far, I've been right on all counts. But I don't take that as success or a guarantee of anything. In my heart of hearts, I know that on some level, I will regret all of this work on his behalf, all 17 years worth, though not because I fear failure. No, his success will be what takes him from me, opens the world to him, and sets him on his road.

It is what a parent hopes and fears for a child: that we've gotten it right.

Go listen to some good music: "Learn to Fly" from the album There is Nothing Left to Lose by Foo Fighters.

14 September 2011

Sun dogs fire on the horizon

Something close to 30 years ago, I was named a National Merit Semifinalist. When I took the PSAT, I literally snorted at the idea that I could ever score high enough to qualify for the scholarship program. Little did I know. I went on to win a four-year corporate-sponsored scholarship, and that money made a huge difference in my life.

(I would also like to note that I never failed to thank the sponsor of that scholarship, and gentleman that he was, the sponsor responded each year to my letter of thanks. I still have those letters.)

So it was that I learned to my extreme excitement that the son has been named a 2011 National Merit Semifinalist. I know that others like to pat the parents on the back, but I don't take any credit for this (well, maybe a bit for the genes). We might have set the wheels in motion back in the day, enforcing rules on homework and organization, but this...this is all the son. Other than occasionally checking in with him, I leave him to his own devices. He knows what success takes and he likes to be successful. But it did raise a question with the spouse and I, leaving us to wonder how often this is accomplished by a second generation.

We are proud of him, of course. But amusingly, I am really just giddy over the whole thing. It's just so cool!

Go listen to some good music: "Chain Lightning" from the album Presto by Rush. Predictor of future success? Guarantor of admission to college of choice? Heck, no. But a tidy little achievement that is his, all his. Of course, now NO ONE believes that he's never taken an SAT review course, but he hasn't. And I should know.

12 September 2011

She's got The Look

Maybe because I'm feeling a little anxious. Maybe because I can already tell this is going to be a challenging week.

(Yes, it's that week.)

I'm starting to second guess...everything.

But I got good news today.

And no, it's not a new supply of Elmer's glue to keep me in one piece.

Go listen to some good music: "The Look" from the album Look Sharp! by Roxette. And I've been a dolt in slow motion today, which I initially put down to antihistamines, but it was probably all the sleep I didn't get last night. Also, Deb is to be credited with the Elmer's glue idea as she is now positing that I drink it by the gallon!

11 September 2011

It's a beautiful day

I staggered out of bed at 7:30. My back hurt.

The cat mewed welcome and rolled over to show his belly when I got to the family room. The daughter waved madly from the couch, and the spouse grumped, "Don't even turn on your computer."

I got coffee and watched Churchill stagger up some stairs. God knows what the spouse was watching. Milton walked back and forth across my lap, purring and complaining.

Last night I promised the daughter pancakes or waffles or scones for breakfast, and when I'd finished my cup of coffee, I assembled ingredients and began to fry bacon. I think it was the smell of the bacon that dragged the son out of bed.

As the bacon finished, I carefully ladled batter into the skillet, precisely dropping chocolate chips onto the pancakes as they began to bubble. I called the daughter to breakfast first, and then the son.

"Chocolate chip pancakes!" she crowed. A treat beyond her wildest dreams.

"How do you do that?" the son asked in wonder. "Four chocolate chips in each pancake and in the exact same spot in each pancake!"

"I am an expert," I told him blithely.

The spouse does not care for chocolate chips, so he got his pancakes last.

I had an egg.

The spouse and the son went out to mow the lawn, and I put the second load of laundry in the washing machine. The fog burned off, the sky rapidly turning a bright cerulean blue. I washed the breakfast dishes, not normally my job, but I wanted them out of the way.

I threw on some old clothes and headed out to inspect what the boys were up to. The son triumphantly waved the morning glory vine he'd ripped off a tree. I trimmed a rose bush and then grabbed a rake and started in on pine straw. There is an abundance this time of year as the tree sheds its old needles and they are long and stabby. I hate them, but I love the tree. It's a compromise.

The breeze blew softly around us. The word "zephyr" came to mind. Excepting the occasional screech of a crow, the world was quiet and peaceful, though my heart started to pound when a plane flew overhead, it's engines suddenly downshifting as it headed in toward JWA. I try not to think about it; I can't ever forget.

The boy went to shower while the spouse and I continued to companionably fill bins with weeds and pine straw. After about an hour, my back indicated it had had more than enough. But the yard looked better, and I stood for a moment to admire my labor and the beauty of the morning. The spouse went out to pick up lunch for the local Italian restaurant, and after we'd eaten, I cut his hair as I'd promised. I've been cutting his hair for 18 years. I don't know anything about cutting hair, but he likes the way I cut it, and he doesn't have to mess with a shop, and it makes him happy.

The Angels lost to New York, though they took the three-game series. Santana...

The Flying Rodents start their fall season today, and the spouse gathered his gear in preparation for bad beer and likely worse softball. But it makes him happy.

I gathered another round of ingredients. If I'm going to feed my kids junk food for their lunches I prefer it be junk food that I make, and so I made chocolate chip bar cookies for the coming week. I don't always; sometimes I buy cookies, but the breeze was gentle and the day was cool and the signs of autumn are unmistakable, which put me in the mood to bake.

And it's kind of an act of love. Standing for that time is not easy at this juncture. But worth it.

It's a beautiful day.

Go listen to some good music: "Beautiful Day" from the album All That You Can't Leave Behind by U2.

08 September 2011

Tales of brave Ulysses

The drive to pick up the daughter has become something of an education.

Her school is located in an area that isn't terribly nice, and with the probation office and the courts and the social services offices nearby, I am beginning to learn the cast of characters.

Oh, there are the extras, the folks who work in the county offices all about. By the end of the day, they look weary, though I occasionally see them smile.

There are food trucks--everywhere. Yesterday, the daughter and I counted four within a two-block radius. The aromas coming from at least one of them were quite enticing.

I see the people at the bus stop, and they look not unlike the people with whom I rode the bus for years--I lived in California for eight years without a car, and successfully commuted between Pasadena and Westwood. It wasn't fun, but I managed.

Then there are those for whom, obviously, there is another story.

There is a wheelchair, a character in some larger drama. Sometimes, I see a man pushing the empty wheelchair down the street. Sometimes, I see a woman, who is missing part of her leg, in the wheelchair, being pushed by the man. I've seen the woman in the wheelchair making her own way about. I've seen the man in the wheelchair being pushed by the woman. Once, I walked past them, and the woman was standing next to wheelchair on crutches, while the man sat in it, and they were squabbling over who didn't say "thank you" frequently enough.

I've come to recognize various homeless individuals, one of whom has all of his belongings very tidily arranged on a rolling suitcase. He is usually nattily dressed as he pulls his mobile home along behind him, sleeping bag rolled and well-attached to the suitcase. I wonder if he is yet another casualty of the terrible job situation in this state.

Another man, very tall and often quite lost looking, sometimes stands, staring a bit vacantly with 99 Cent Store bags ranged around him. Although he wears a jacket with a hood pulled up over his head even in the hottest weather, it's unclear if he has nowhere to go or if he is simply waiting for someone to retrieve him. He is quite clean, which leads to me believe the latter, but there is a sadness that hangs over him. For some reason, the daughter finds him frightening, and always pulls in close to me when we pass him.

Today, as I sat at the stoplight, waiting for the green arrow, a man careered through the crosswalk, talking with great enthusiasm on a cell phone. The cell phone and his demeanor didn't mesh with his outfit: old sneakers with dingy sports socks, cutoff jeans, a dirty wifebeater over which a white oxford shirt hung open. On his head, he sported a pink knit watch cap, and he carried a child's umbrella like a parasol, protecting himself from the intense afternoon sun.

Really, I have no idea.

Go listen to some good music: "Tales of Brave Ulysses" from the album The Very Best of Creem by Creem.

07 September 2011

...at the old ball game

Between Georgetown and Johns Hopkins, we visited Camden Yards. Near the end of July, the Angels were playing the Orioles at Orioles Park.

I bought tickets for the Sunday afternoon.

I've been watching games at Angels Stadium for more than 20 years, and periodically, we wander over to that other place in Chavez Ravine, but with all the traveling I do, I've never managed to get to a game elsewhere. Usually, the home team is out of town. I was so disappointed last summer when I was in Pittsburgh, literally walking distance to PNC Park, and the Pirates were away.

So we grabbed the opportunity to see a game while in Baltimore.

My family, of course, was decked out in all its Angels finery--we all have shirts and caps, and though we don't admit to it, there are a couple of Rally Monkeys around here, too. The bright red stuck out amidst the orange and black, and I have to admit, I anticipated being hassled. It always happens at Dodger Stadium.

The security guy who was checking my bag noted our allegiance.

"Do you get to many games in California?" he asked us.

"A few," I responded, fiddling with my camera. "When we can."

"Tell you what," he said, rummaging in his pocket. "If you get to the stadium and send me a program, I'll send you something from here."

Then he handed me four baseball cards, one of which was Bobby Abreu, who currently plays for the Angels.

"Sure!" I told him. "And thanks!"

(I was the kid who had pen pals. I had pen pals from all over the world. You know, that's something I miss, those flimsy air letter forms, filled with newsy kid stuff and whatever purloined items we'd slipped inside, hoping whoever's postal service wouldn't toss the form away for carrying contraband.)

The spouse took down the other man's contact information, and I stowed the paper in my back pocket.

Believe it or not, I managed not to lose it the whole trip.

We so enjoyed our game at Orioles Park (the Angels won; Mike Trout hit his first home run and his family was sitting behind us, joyous and cheering. Also? Nice ball park!).

We are a family of our word, and when we got back, I started looking at the Angels schedule to see when we might possibly get to a game. Of course, school was starting, and there was all that attendant stuff...

"I want to go to Chia Pet night!" the daughter announced. She has a fondness for the Wind Sox, which she so dubbed at a game we were at when she was about 4 and the Angels beat them 16-0. Sadly, Chia Pet night was her first night of school, so that was out.

There weren't many homestands left. Yankees will be visiting and the Angels totally have that club's number, so it's usually a fun match-up, in much the same way that Boston is not fun to watch. EVER. But tickets tend to be hard to come by. So finally, we settled on seeing the Twins this past weekend.

'Twas a good game. The Angels won. In the first inning, Mark Trumbo hit his first career grand slam. By the top of the second, I'd already lost my voice from screaming. The daughter was only disappointed that no foul balls came our way. She will have a foul ball someday.

And I bought a program. Tomorrow, it will be shipped off to Baltimore.

Go sing a good song: "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" lyrics by Jack Norworth, music by Albert Von Tilzer. And tonight, I saw Dave Winfield up in the broadcast booth, chatting with the commentators. How I loved to watch him play when he was with the Angels. The real news these last couple of weeks, though, has been Jerome Williams, who has been pretty excellent on his outings. I admire his tenacity and his ability.

06 September 2011

Hit me hard enough to wake me

The day after Labor Day was always the first day of school when I was a child.

I loved going to school. It was always a fresh beginning, a still-summer's day filled with promise and the waxy smell of new crayons; the fresh, sharp aroma of newly sharpened pencils; the hot, vegetal scent of just-mown grass; the wet, clean essence of swamp cooler pads.

Today, picking the daughter up from school, I stepped around the wet sidewalk left by window washers, and even that somehow smelled like the start of a new year.

My freshman year of high school, my English class was in the basement, next to the Art Room. Something down there always gave off a sharp, cold metallic odor--maybe it was the bomb shelter with its load of slowly-rotting Cold War supplies. Even now, all these years later, I can almost smell it again, and the memory calls up institutional linoleum in the dimly lit hall where I stood clutching my clothbound three-ring binder to my chest, mildly disturbed by the thought of this class. The teacher was a holy terror who looked like Paul Lynde, but had the acid wit of Kurt Vonnegut, and I was not infrequently the target of his teasing. Still, I learned a lot from him, and I read Conrad Aiken and Truman Capote in his class for the first time. But the vision that swims before me when I think of his class is that dark, metallic corridor.

The dance studio, where I spent years, smelled cold with an underlying tang of rosin, varnish, and sweat. It had a skylight that cast the room in a soft, eerie blue when the overhead fluorescents were off, and sometimes, when I was dressed out and in there before anyone else, I would tear around the floor in the unlit silence-jeté, tour jeté, fouetté, arabesque--darting glances at my ghostly reflection in the studio mirrors. It was pure joy to have so much space in which to unleash movement. When my classmates would come wandering in, some of them would join me and we'd improvise, pas de deux, pas de quatre, until class started.

Sometimes I pass the studios at the daughter's school before conservatory ends, and there are students lined up, practicing turns on the diagonal. It makes me smile to see them, to see that so little has changed, all these years later. When I took the daughter to orientation, we wandered through the studios for conservatory information, to get her id photo taken. I carefully sniffed surreptitiously, but only smelled the new paint that had been applied over the summer. As I glance in now, walking down the hot pavement, I am surrounded by exhaust and overheated students. Silently, I wish the dancers well, and don't dwell on what is, finally, lost to me forever.

Go listen to some good music: "Headlights on Dark Roads" from the album Eyes Open by Snow Patrol. Actually, this isn't a sad post. I don't accept limitation with any sort of grace at all, but eventually, I recognize my new life and move on. Over the summer, I dispensed once and for all with all my dance stuff. Well, I still have my barre...

03 September 2011

Help them if you can

If you live in the U.S., you know that there have been numerous catastrophic natural disasters here on our own shores in the last several months, from the tornadoes that tore through the south in late spring, particularly that which devastated Joplin, MO, in May, to the flooding and chaos wrought by Irene last week.

It's often hard to know how to help in the wake of such a mess. My own natural inclination is to just show up and start cooking for people, which while nice, probably wouldn't be especially useful.

Instead, I've learned to channel my energies into helping rebuild the organizations that have been important to me, namely schools and libraries.

There are lots of worthy charities out there, and lots of worthy projects that need to be funded, including keeping folks clothed and fed. Still, in recent months, I've been supporting educational initiatives, especially as the school year started again.

One of my favorite charities is Donors Choose which allows you to fund projects for individual classrooms. A couple of weeks ago, an appeal went out to help Joplin schools recover and gear up for the new academic year. I'm sure that there are plenty of other school districts in hard hit areas that could use help right about now, too.

A few days ago, an item showed up on my Twitter stream about the damage to library book collections, especially children's books, post-Irene. On her blog, author Kate Messner writes here and here about how people can help libraries put books back on the shelves after the flooding and other damage Irene did.

There is no denying these are tough economic times for everyone. But it's amazing how far just a couple of dollars can go to buy books when a bunch of people give a couple of bucks, or how five dollars might help buy art supplies for a classroom. A few years ago, I helped to fund an initiative that provided paper for a school in New Orleans. The school quite literally had no paper for students, for copiers, for anything.

My personal frustration level has been really high these last couple of days, and I find I feel better when I can make a positive contribution somewhere. There's never any guarantee that it will help in the long term, but if something I do helps one person in the short term, I'll take that.

Go listen to some good music: "Help!" from the album Help! by The Beatles.

02 September 2011

Come Hell or full circle

I suppose that in some ways 10 years is full circle. I suppose that some people have been able to rebuild their lives, have overcome some measure adversity, have learned in some way to move forward. Some may declare themselves healed.

The dead remain dead. War rages on, inexorably but desultorily. "The enemy of the moment always represents absolute evil, and it followed that any past or future agreement with him was impossible."*

September 11, 2001, stole something from all of us, and by "us," I mean everyone on Earth, not just those who live in the U.S. For some of us, it stole childhood, or dreams. The past and the future. Memories, collective and individual. But in some way, humanity was stolen from all of us.

And that is the way of war. It is a lesson that we are taught repeatedly, yet never actually learn.

Go listen to some good music: "Go Places" from the album Challengers by The New P*rnographers. *George Orwell, 1984, p. 32. I've opted to remove myself from media for next 10 days. I have no desire to be beaten over the head with remembrance of this event. I've never forgotten and I fulfilled the duties that I was asked to fulfill on that day and in the aftermath. Enough.

01 September 2011

I don't believe in Peter Pan, Frankenstein or Superman

I've been reading for a very long time. I love to read. I always have something to read at hand. I'm lost if there isn't a book (or 4) or magazine or cereal box somewhere nearby.

So, I was amused to see 10 Novels That We Dare You to Finish this morning (via Pop Candy).

I've read (and finished) more on that list than I'd have expected.

I read War and Peace in high school, right after I finished Anna Karenina. I read both for my own pleasure and while it's true that you need a score card just to keep up with the names in War and Peace, it turned out to be a worthwhile read. Much better than Doctor Zhivago, which I read around the same time.

Remembrance of Things Past. Oh. My. God. I think I've read the whole thing, just not all at once, and definitely not willingly. I was a Comparative Literature major in college. Proust was French. Et voilà! I read bunches of Proust. Oh, how I whined my way through Swann's Way in most Proustian fashion. I can't eat a madeleine without thinking of Proust. Probably, I should give Proust another chance. Sometimes it's transpired that later on I've found appreciation for something I loathed earlier in life. Okay. No.

I have not read Atlas Shrugged. I have read The Fountainhead. Best sleep aid ever.

I imagine that they must have included Gone With the Wind simply because it's more than 1,000 pages long. Trust me, it's the fastest thousand pages you'll ever read. The story never stops, the narrative is great and is very much a story of its time, but it's a very easy read. I thought for sure that War and Peace would hold the record for long book I'd read at the youngest age, but nope, it's GWTW. I read it when I was 12.

Cryptonomicon! Which I joked should have been called Cryptoyawnicon! I was trapped on the North Sea with this book! And I still got bored! It's very rare that I don't finish a book, and I still might try to finish this one. Sometimes, I'm just not in the mood. The North Sea can do that to you.

In any event, it would never occur to me to be scared off by a long book, which I think was sort of the gist of the list. I quite like long books--assuming they're worth reading--because they are similar to a long and pleasant meal or a good conversation that holds your interest. Both times that I was pregnant, I tended to turn to huge family sagas (Galsworthy's The Forsyte Saga was one, Delderfield's The Avenue another) because I found it comforting to return to the same characters and venues when I had time to read.

Now if the list was really into discouraging people from reading impenetrable books...well, that's another list entirely.

Go listen to some good music: "Bicycle Race" from the album Jazz by Queen. I have, of course, read Frankenstein, but not Peter Pan. Comic books and superheroes...well, they just never appealed to me, which some people find very surprising.