Thursday, December 10, 2009

Finian's Rainbow

Okay, I'm desperate to see this, even though I don't like musicals.

But I want to see Jim Norton on Broadway again, and I'm willing to sit through the kissing scenes and a lot of corny songs in order to do that. Not sure how we'll manage it, as we're both unemployed, but we will.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

What is the Resemblance?

Larry is working on an anthology that you can buy here. While working on this project, he's had the chance to edit the work of many different men, either in the form of essays or in their answers to quizzes that have been published online. This morning he said he was working on something from one man who is the father of another contributor. Larry said that he could see the resemblance between the two of them in their writing. Both men, father and son, had similar narrative habits, similar quirks. They both arranged their thoughts in a similar pattern. Both made the same type of grammatical mistakes. They had a likeness on the page, despite the vast difference in education between the two of them.

I suppose that shouldn't have been surprising, but it shocked me. Of course, you can resemble your parents in so many ways, in looks and personality and in behavioral tics. I never, never thought that this likeness would extend to the written word, to creativity itself. What a humbling notion. My father never liked to write, but when he did, he was pretty good at it. My mother never wrote at all, and never wanted to--as far as I know. I have always assumed that my career choice set me apart. Perhaps not.

And I watch G, who is 7 now, and who writes on the computer almost every day. He obsesses over Diary of a Wimpy Kid and wants to write a book just like it, chapter by chapter. A year ago, he was writing endless chapter books about a boy and his stuffed dog, just like Calvin & Hobbes. Who is he taking after?

Monday, October 5, 2009

Mister Roberts

Larry took me to see the New Rep's version of this over the weekend. This was the first half of a birthday present. The second half will be the same theater's version of Speed The Plow.

How was it? Hard to say. The audience was deathly quiet, not a sound in the house. How extremely awkward it is to watch a bit of camp (a row of sailors looking through binoculars out into the audience, talking about and reacting to the naked women they're spying on) while the entire audience just sits and frowns at them. Not a whisper of indulgent laughter. Not even a cough. On one hand I wanted to react to the complexity of the scene. Five guys talking in turn, not stepping on each other's lines, all of it musical and wildly precise in terms of timing. And they're not looking at each other at all. It was amazing, but not a joke on which I cared to join in.

As a culture we may have outgrown campy humor pieces about war. It's supposed to be funny and touching as well. And it's about a man on the sidelines of war who really wants to be in the thick of it. An early reviewer suggested that the premise of the play is dated and I resisted this, but on second thought, it just might be true. What's interesting about the play for me was the fact that it started out as a series of short stories. Then was a Tony award-winning play, and then a highly successful movie--fifty years ago. There would be difficulties in staging something that started out as a series of episodes, trying to string them together into a dramatic arc at which something real is at stake very early on. It didn't happen, and that's the fault of no one involved in the current production. I wonder that audiences didn't notice the play's slow start before now.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Boy Meets Book

So, the publisher sent along some copies of the boy book yesterday. G happened by as I was ripping open the box. I said, "Honey, look. It's my book."
"Yeah, so?" he said. And then: "Is this some kind of famous book or something?"
Well, no, honey. Not yet.
He took a copy, demanded to know who the kid is on the cover. (Don't know.) And then he sat down and paged through it, reading the subheads aloud and saying "boring" after each one.
He asked me to read some of it to him, and I did. I read the little section about boys loving bad guys and danger, and specifically natural disasters. It's a section about a mom whose boy came home from kindergarten asking pointed questions about the Titanic and how many people died and about drowning. G got a kick out of hearing this, so I got bold and and told him, "You know you're in this book a little bit."
That's a risk, and I knew it. Some kids hate the idea that their parents talk about them, and one mom I know had a complete revolt from her kids when one of them learned he'd been mentioned by name in a book--and it wasn't even her book. It was somebody else's book of essays, and it was just one mention. The kid didn't care. He was mortified that his name had been used in a book. Anyway, G took it okay. He said, "Oh, yeah? Where?" I told him that he was the kid who came home asking about the Titanic. A classmate had brought a book to school about it and afterward all the boys in his kindergarten couldn't get enough of talking and wondering about it. G smiled at the memory. And then he took the book from my hands and said, "Can I keep this?" It's in the bookcase in his room right now.
Secretly, I hope he never reads any more of it. It's not really about boys, after all. It's more about parents and teachers and pediatricians.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Photo of a Bookshelf

My friend Grace sent this photo as proof that the book is on the shelf in a bookstore. So far, the coolest thing about this whole process is hearing from incredibly generous friends that they've bought the book or recommended it to people they know. No book can survive without this kind of support.

And here in this photo is proof that I have a friend who will drive to the bookstore, buy the book, and then take a picture of the remaining books on the shelf. Life is pretty good.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Amazon Ranking = Crack

My friend Jack wrote two memoirs, Home Ice and Open Ice, both well-received, along with the novel, Saved, a book that found a large readership among women hockey players. All of them are wonderful books in which Jack's voice and his warmth are forever preserved. In the weeks following each release, I could always look forward to receiving emails from him that would contain his ranking in fantasy hockey as well as his ranking on

In fact, he would sometimes break down the ranking for handy analysis. It always made me smile to learn that he was at 26,783 overall, but number 6 among hockey books and number 50 among sports books.

Now I know he was practicing restraint. The amazon page just sits open on my computer so I can refresh it every few minutes. In this way, I read a new meaningless number and have a new emotion about it. Micro elation if it goes up slightly, micro panic if it goes down. And all the while, there's bright sunshine outside. Someone down the street is mowing a lawn. Larry and the kids have gone off to the pool. I'm supposed to be preparing to teach tonight. This is crazy, far crazier than the phone call I got from my co-author yesterday announcing that he couldn't find the book in any bookstores. The store owners were insisting that the book hadn't come out yet, or they said they had it but couldn't find it. Hey, at least my co-author was outside, doing something active. We've both gone mad.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

It's Out

The summer is almost over and the release date (different from the pub date for reasons no one will explain) is here. The Way of Boys is available to purchase. You can buy it in hardback, or in electronic versions for the Kindle or the Sony reader thingy. And I think you can get it in installments on a cell phone. (And why would anyone do that? Again, no explanations are available.) When I started writing here the project was a quasi proposal, each draft of which was greeted by our agent with the same tepid response.

Somehow, during this summer I've lost the urge to write here--or anywhere. The only cure for dry spells is reading, so here is a list of books to read when you're wallowing in fear and self-loathing.

1. Tender at the Bone. Ruth Reichl's memoir about growing up with food against the backdrop of growing up with a crazy mother. I read Garlic & Sapphires first, which is much lighter, a fun account of being the NYT food writer. This one is better, a bit darker, as it must be and readable in one sitting. Plus, there are recipes. What strikes me about Reichl is her ability to be so generous toward the people in her past. I've now read all of her books this summer and may make a class prompt based on her work.

2. The Horned Man, by James Lasdun. He has a new book of short stories out (It's Beginning to Hurt) that I'll be reading this fall. It's selling really well in hardback, which is all you need to know about his popularity. In this bizarre and dark novel, Lasdun takes his unreliable narrator all the way to the edge and then pushes him over. The high point of the book comes about 130 pages in when the narrator describes an anecdote about spending time with his step-sister at an exclusive club to which he doesn't belong. He thinks he's getting along beautifully with her and her tony friends, and he's not. It's so beautifully told, with so much restraint, and it's so haunting (and creepy and sad).

3. The Time of Your Life. Okay, it's a play by William Saroyan, and not a book. But it's a lot of fun. Written in that little slice of time between the great depression and WWII, it is a play about a group of regulars at a bar, and the main character, Joe, is trying to help everybody with his money and this kind of New Agey optimism, and all the while despair keeps creeping in. The Broadway Theater Archive has a version of this with a very young Kevin Kline as the longshoreman, available on Netflix.

4. Twin Study. These stories by Stacey Richter have been a kind of lifeline during the past month. They are surreal and funny and cool, and I love almost all of them, which I can't normally say about a story collection. They have served as great inspiration.