Monday, December 29, 2014

Flight Behaviour - Barbara Kingsolver

Flight Behaviour continues Barbara Kingsolver's involvement with the corruption of climate and earth and her ability to show nature as tied to the humans who live with it and yet more powerful and dangerous than they are.

Orange monarch butterflies have been thrown out of their natural habitat in Mexico and have settled on the trees of a mountain in Appalachia. The woman who sees them, Dellarobia, feels she has been saved from her own dangerous, destructive impulses by the beauty they offer. When others find out about the butterflies, they consider her blessed, touched by the divine, and a celebrity. A scientist and his grad helpers come out to observe and record the habits and probable death of the butterflies.

The flight and fate of the butterflies symbolizes and comes to presage the fate of the town to which they have fled, offering a warning of what is in store for the USA and the world.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Wuthering Heights and Professor Mark Schorer

Introductions can be short or long, weak or strong, perfunctory or in-depth.

Professor Mark Schorer's introduction to the Rinehardt edition of Wuthering Heights, first printed in 1950 and reprinted in 1960, posits that Emily Bronte was trying to figure out if it was possible for the strength of an unmoral passion to possess its own morality. When I read his introduction for the first time, in 1973, I was sure I understood what he meant. He meant, I believed, a passion that injured, even killed others associated with those who felt it and acted on it/expressed it.

41 years later, I am not so sure.

Now that I am older, I am not so sure that passions themselves carry any kind of morality, or lack. They are very strong feelings. The morality, which concerns social conduct, inheres in ways in which the holders deal with these feelings. Morality is intimately associated with different kinds of laws tacit and written. If I feel passion for a piano and write a poem about this passion, I am expressing my passion without breaking any of our written laws. (That is, if the poem does not recommend or emphasize the idea of hurting or killing someone in order to use or admire the piano,) If instead of writing a non-violent poem, I kill someone who is playing the piano, I have broken the laws of my state and country. However...the passion itself is not immoral or moral. My expression of it is because our morality is bound up with our written laws. Other people have passions for pianos and do not kill those who are playing them.

Similarly (although it may seem a bit bizarre to compare the passions felt by Catherine and Healthcliff to my supposed passion for a piano), I do not see Catherine's and Heathcliff's passion for each other as unmoral. Perhaps the laws of our respective lands -even in the 1940's- rendered passion they experienced as unmoral because it and they did not seem to take into account that they were both married  to other people, but felt much much more strongly for each other, Not against our laws, but against the unwritten laws of kindness and civility, they acted cruelly to others who seemed to get in the way of their expression of this passion.

Now if they had both run away at some point to an island or another country before either of them had married, I don't see that anything about even the expression of this passion could be considered unmoral. The unmoral nature of the passion in Emily Bronte's time would seem to concern itself with Catherine's marrying Linton so that she could use his money and position to advance Heathcliff's standing. This to me would seem to indicate that they were committing a kind of adultery, which is of course against the law in certain areas, even now. However, it is only unmoral if we believe that this law is just, which I don't.

In short, it seems to me that Professor Schorer has labeled their passion unmoral because it flouted certain written laws. I must conclude that he agreed with those laws in order to frame it thus.

And thus, although I admire Professor Schorer's effort to explain Emily Bronte's reason for writing Wuthering Heights, I now question its validity.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Rite of passage

I own a few editions of Villette, by Charlotte Bronte, at least partly because it is my favorite book.

The intro of one states that she was "hopelessly fixated" on her Lit teacher at the Pensionnat Heger, the school in Brussels at which she taught English and studied French and other subjects. Besides this being a strange statement to make about any writer, and the fact that many young women fall in love with their lit. profs, it is close to a rite of passage for female writers and professors to fall in love with their brilliant, magnetic professors. One falls in love, one sighs, one writes love poems, one reads poems outside, one listens to lots of sad love songs -or writes a few- and hey nonny nonny, one goes on with one's life. Sometimes one writes letters. So, nu? 

Men are forever falling in love, often unrequited, with female teachers, professors, nurses, etc. They may or may not be "hopelessly fixated," but somehow it is recognized that famous male writers will indeed undergo this rite of passage and that it will enrich their writing.

Charlotte Bronte wrote her best book after she had come to terms with her (probably) unrequited love for her brilliant literature professor, the one who stirred and stimulated and stung her intellect and challenged her to find, in herself, the resources to understand and transform her pain. She did so magnificently. 

The person who wrote that Charlotte Bronte was "hopelessly fixated" either does not understand or was not willing to grant Charlotte Bronte the rite of passage granted to most intelligent female and male writers. Why? Lack of vision, understanding? Thorough insensitivity? A kind of blind stupidity?

A combination of all of them?

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Thank you, Dr. Potok

Some books I reread almost yearly. Others I read every so often.

I read The Chosen for the third time in the past few days. I remember really liking it the first time (at 15) and detesting it the second time (at around 32).

Now I am 60.

I have distanced myself enough from the world portrayed by and in The Chosen to be able to view it as something/some people who do not -or at least, who no longer- affect me personally. I have seen Chasidim in different venues than those of Brooklyn, Manhattan and Queens, and as they walk, I feel no animosity - just a quiet semi-acceptance. They don't yell or get angry at me. I don't get angry at them.

Thus when I reread The Chosen, it was with a kind of rediscovery. Yes, I re-remembered their passion, their clannishness, their insistence on their own interpretations of the Torah and Tanakh, their view of women as not entitled to participate in study or prayer with them (and generally, not at all).

What I loved was the evocation of Brooklyn in the 1940's, the war years, the years of Israel's Independence struggle, the streets of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, the streets of Flatbush. Chaim Potok did this masterfully. I was born only nine years after the war, so such scenes, while mostly occurring in The Bronx where I lived and visited, were still familiar to me. Then, dear. Now almost uncapturable.  When I reread The Chosen, I was there again, and the atmosphere of the glass doored-studies, the tea, the books, even the meals in the synagogue and  shul lived again for me, as did the streets and the sycamores. Far from these years and the places shown, I now missed them but blessed Potok for bringing them back.

I also ended up appreciating the part of it that was after all a coming of age story. At 32 I scoffed because it seemed so male-oriented, with baseball as the catalyst. Now I have witnessed other coming of age stories, some featuring girls, some featuring boys, and I didn't mind- well, not as much- the fact that women seemed to play minor roles, at best, here. I still wish that at least a woman or two would have had more of a voice.

I am glad I reread The Chosen at 60. I would still not consider it one of my all time favorites, but it spoke to me of times gone by, and I appreciated that, although Potok probably would not appreciated what made me warm to it.

Thank you, anyway, Dr. Potok.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Book about Mom and our Socialist family

I have been told that the book that must be written is about my mom and my own "red blood" Socialist pedigree (grandparents on both sides and one great grandparent, as well).

I can tell some of the stories, even the political ones, but I am not a political writer per se. I know the movements and their derivation(s), but political theory is not my thing. Fiction, poetry, yes. But not political writing.

I want her to have a book, though. I just don't quite know how to format, delineate and direct it.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Eye opener

Aha. Book to be written:  Books I read very differently once I recognized their anti-fat bias. Needs a title!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

To Name and Name Not, To Name or Not to Name

Book to be written:  To Name and Name Not:   How and Why Two Cousins Did and Did Not Name Names during the HUAC Hearings

I think it is probably true to say that very few people in the USA have the questionable distinction of having had two relatives come before the House UnAmerican Activities Committee during the McCarthy era, one who "named names" and one who didn't.

The one who didn't name names is mentioned in the book entitled "Naming Names," by Victor Navasky. Only one problem:  Navasky got his Communist name wrong. It was "Jim Casey," not "Jack Casey." As a baby and a toddler, my mom was called "Baby Casey." The real last name was "Glaser."

The one who did name names was rather famous, in his way. He was a third cousin, same side of the family as "Jim Casey." His name was David Raksin. He did the music for many movies in the forties and fifties. His most famous movie music was that of "Laura." He was president of ASCAP for years. From wiki:  "With over 100 film scores and 300 television scores to his credit, he became known as the "Grandfather of Film Music."

Raksin named names because he feared for his career in Hollywood. My grandfather didn't name names because the owner of the New York Post, where he worked as a copy editor at the time, was extremely liberal and sent her own lawyer to the hearings. Thus he was not roughed up and threatened the way most of the media and arts people were when they came before HUAC.

I don't hate Raksin for naming names. I am, however, proud that my grandfather didn't.

Sunday, August 3, 2014


Was reading an essay about the book The Yiddish Policemen's Union, by Michael Chabon. A heated argument ensued after the book was published as to whether he had been respectful or disrespectful toward the book Say It In Yiddish, published 1958. He had stated previously that he did not know of any place where this book would be relevant, so he imagined Yiddishland, perhaps in Alaska, perhaps called Alyeska, where Jews escaping from various places in Europe wore fur coats and were active in the salmon industry.

After Chabon's book came out, various Jewish Yiddish-celebratory groups and organizations held "Yiddishland" retreats and conferences at which one could indeed use the phrases from Say It In Yiddish, and many other phrases in Yiddish.

I find myself wishing fervently now that such a place existed. We would talk in Yiddish and sometimes English, wear warm clothing (depending on where we lived), we would be extremely liberal/progressive and peaceloving...

Oh, wait a minute. Such a place did exist once. It was called The Amalgmated Clothing Workers' Union Houses, The Amalgamated for short..And it was part of a number of coops built by American Jews in the Bronx, NY, any of which could also claim to be part of Yiddishland.

With my propensity for imagining utopias, I envision such a place in the future. But this time we must be sure that other groups don't live on it, even under absentee landlords who don't care about the others living on it.

Or would the fact that it would be Jewish cause others to object to it for any number of drummed-up, unsupportable but financeable reasons?

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Life In Between

Life In Between        F.Z.

This book discusses how it is to live as an "average" person and as a "fat" person, with the caveat that "fat" here is used as a descriptor, not a negative. It is simply an adjective, like "tall," "short," "thin" or "blue eyed." There is no value judgment about size implied in its usage.

The writer talks about different stages in her life when she was heavier and when she was slimmer. The only time she veered into "sort of slim," territory, she tells us, is when she was 12 years old, 5'6, and went down to 123 pounds when she had a bad case of bronchitis (during which time she was nursed and loved back to health by her grandma, mom's mom).

She also discusses her mom's eating disorder and the fact that her mom was one of the five percent for whom dieting mostly worked. Her mom was constantly on a diet and made her feel like a pig when she was eating, it turns out, like most teenagers. Of course the writer dieted, and  kept yo yo dieting herself up to 250 pounds, then down again, then up. Until she figured out that it was in her best interests to stop dieting.

But she talks about the times she was "slimmer." To her surprise, there did not seem to be as much difference as she had imagined in the way people treated her when she was "average" sized. She started to realize, slowly, that perhaps it was most important for her to feel better about herself no matter what she weighed.

The lesson took years, but started to sink in. Slowly.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Bronx Utopias

"Amalgamated Housing to First 
Houses: Re-defining Home in America" 

Memories and details exist in blogs, films,exhibits and projects, and of course in this thesis by Emma Jacobs (Columbia University, 2009). But the subject badly needs an actual book, narrated by someone who has been there, lived there, felt it.

Oh..hmm. A work of fiction might work even better, one that captured the flavor of the Amalgamated Houses (short for Amalgamated Clothing Workers' Union Houses). 
They came into existence in 1927, enabled by the New York State Housing Act of 1926, but born previously in the mind of Abraham Kazan, not only the "father" of cooperative housing in the USA, but also the initiator and creator of other Coop housing projects in NY. 

There are no book length bios of Abraham Kazan, either.

In a way, this is shameful. In a way, it's kind of nice to see that there are still important biographies to be written.

There is a wonderful project that is entitled "Bronx Utopia" which describes and houses photos of the four progressive Coop projects built in the Bronx in the 1920's, but each merits a volume of its own:  The Amalgamated Houses, the Allerton Ave/Workers' Coops, the Sholom Aleichem/Sholem Aleykhem Houses and the Farband Coop.

This would be the tour I would give...

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Death and Life of Great American Cities (by Jane Jacobs) - 2

The Death and Life of Great American Cities (by Jane Jacobs) - 2

In the first part of this blurb/essay, I wrote briefly about some of the contributions that Jane Jacobs made to city/urban planning. She argued for diversity of use, short blocks, judicious planning to achieve the maximum diversity of use possible in a neighborhood. She detailed the complexity of city life, with each participant playing a part in what she labeled the ballet of neighborhood life and usage.

Thus her greatest contribution to urban planning, by far, was the emphasis on complex thinking. In other words:  instead of considering each variable in turn as having an/one effect on each other variable, we should think instead of all variables not only influencing every other factor or variable, but that they a) change all the time b) influence every other variable and new ones we may not see, with the effect growing exponentially, the more variables they affect (which in turn introduce other variables, etc. An infinity helix, not just a double.)

A not-very-complex example of complex thinking follows.

Example:  The Bright Company wishes to build a bank on 5th Ave. and 25th Street.

Simple One Variable Thinking:  People will bank there.

Complex Thinking: There are already five banks in the neighborhood. They all open and close at the same hours. It might be better to house an all night cafe there because there are only three cafes in the adjoining ten blocks, and three of them close at nine. Thus there would be "eyes" on the street later at night, when the banks have shut down and most of the stores have closed. The neighborhood will be safer. This in turn will attract more people into the neighborhood and perhaps even during the day, making the neighborhood safer during that time period as well, and furnishing the population and density for, say, a new theater, which will in turn attract more business to inspire a new all-night restaurant and perhaps cause one of the cafes to stay open until midnight instead of nine.

In other words, Jane Jacobs actually understood the way cities work. They don't function in a vacuum. They function as living organisms which are receiving new cells and energy daily, hourly, by the minute, sloughing off old cells and creating new energies.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

The Death and Life of Great American Cities

The Death and Life of Great American Cities

Until the late 1950's, most city/urban planners in the USA were architects. Most schools blueprinted plans that indeed had cultural and sociological implications,  but either couldn't or refused to see that their biases had stark implications for the kinds of buildings and cities they envisioned. It wasn't until the late fifties, when sociologists became involved in questions of urban ethnicity and neighborhood richness and viability that cities were seen as more than collections of buildings, parks,streets, stores, traffic patterns and transportation grids.

Jane Jacobs, who never received a degree in architecture or urban planning, but whose freelance writing on urban neighborhoods took her to most of them, and many not visited by the owners and managers of the journals for which she wrote, saw something at work that she first labeled "weird wisdom" - people staying safe and content in areas which were labeled "slums" by urban planners. She went on to figure out what really made cities work: not high rises, random green spaces or rich people, and especially not areas which emphasized only one kind of spatial and time-marked use. Rather, the areas which seemed to work best for cities and city people were those that included short blocks, a variety of architecture, a variety of uses, a lack of one-usage zoning, and green spaces integrated into their neighborhoods.

Cities, she felt, especially city streets and areas, had to create diversity by helping it along in zoning. If there were too many buildings of one kind or one use, cities had to factor in different uses and help by welcoming other uses, and without labeling uses as immoral. Bars, for instance, could actually could serve as welcome spots for relaxation and natural anchors and eyes for night time travelers on their streets. On the other hand, if businesses such as banks proliferated in an area, they left little space for other uses, cross use, and night time use.

She compared cities to puzzles and city street orders to dances. She made urban planners and city dwellers aware that those who could only see building in terms of one or two variables (calling Robert Moses!) were destroying the natural, useful and healthy density of cities, neighborhoods and streets.

Jacobs, who loved Greenwich Village and, along with her husband, owned a building on Houston Street, left the USA in 1968 in order to make sure that her sons would not be drafted into the Vietnam War. From Toronto, she continued to work for diversity and natural density in cities, neighborhoods and streets.

The Death and Life of Great American Cities is now required reading in urban planning and urban sociology classes.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Favorite book that should be pulled from the shelves

Prodigal Women, by Nancy Hale, is one of my favorite books. It tells the story of three women who live in a suburb of Boston in the 1920's and experience love in dangerous and difficult ways. They eventually find their ways back to wholeness and self-understanding.

It was pulled from the shelves of a library a few years back. Should it have been? My answer is yes.

The book contains the line "operated by a reeking colored boy."

Once upon a time this line would not have drawn much notice. Stereotypes were not challenged, and calling an African-American man "reeking" and "boy" was not met with much notice. "Colored" was considered a polite way (sort of) to refer to black people then, although somehow it sours my stomach. Hindsight? Maybe.

But the implication that a black person would smell simply cannot be excused, even when the author wrote it in the 1920's. Generally "accepted"? In some circles. Angrily and rightfully criticized? Yes, in some circles.

"Boy" was of course also used often to refer to black men. The implication that they are and were not mature enough to be called "men" or perhaps deserved to be addressed in the tone that would imply some kind of hierarchy, as opposed to not  being addressed at all, was more prevalent in the South, but was certainly not exclusively its property. And "property" was the thought directly in back of this entire phrase, that this black man was "owned" by someone, or had been in the recent past.

And this, in short, is why even though this book is one of my favorites, and remains one of my favorites, I am glad that it was pulled. I hate the idea of having readers assume that a) this kind of stereotype fit the description of any or many black people in the 1920's, and that b) there were not enough people who despised such descriptions at the time the book was written.

As with many books that seem to express or perpetuate negative stereotypes of ethnic and racial groups, many of us make our very shaky peace fraught with ambivalence and caveats.

I am glad I read  Prodigal Women. I am also glad that it will not see this particular library's shelves again.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Grammar errors and ambiguity

Grammar and ambiguity

I am about to get what some might consider nitpicky/nitpickety.

"Corcoran and her fellow researchers found plastiglomerates on more than 20 sites across Kamilo Beach, and they believe they could probably found on beaches around the world.'

Typo? Maybe. Grammar error? Maybe. Whatever it is, I resent it. Sure, the author might 
have meant to say, "probably find more." But by the same token, she might have meant to write, "probably have found more." One means that they are still finding or in  the process of finding plastiglomerates, our new human calling card. The other means that they have finished. The project is a done deal. No more rushing off to beaches to encounter, record and analyze plastiglomerates.

And did she mean to write "more?"  "Many more?" "A whole caseload and basket more?" "A bushel and a peck more?"  "Most assuredly more?" "Unquestionably a great deal more?"

Many grammar errors don't make it impossible to understand the writer's words. But they introduce a degree of ambiguity. Why take the chance that half of your readers will interpretyour sentence one way, and the other half will read an entirely different meaning? Worst of all, why leave readers straddling two or more possible meanings, or making your sentence a cousin of Schrodinger's cat?

And worst of all: why do I have to do the work of interpreting a sentence. the meaning of 

which should have been crystal clear? The last time I looked, I was not being paid to 

interpret another writer's sentence. I don't want to get stuck doing another writer's work.

Unless, of course, I were to get paid.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Like a good wine

Sometimes I like to contemplate the process by which someone's interesting life turns into a very interesting novel. It is definitely not a straight line from Point A to Point B. In order to turn into a novel, the material has to sit for a while, like a good wine that will be aged in casks of mellow oak. Two strange things have to occur. As more flavors enter into good wines when they are stored, more lives have to enter the mix. Then something semi-mythic has to frame them. It is as if they have to ascend to a higher register, the essence of what they are, but now fictitious. Again, like wine when it acquires its defining note.  The truths they tell have to become larger, stranger, sometimes menacing and threatening, with a dangerous beauty. And I am not talking about the characters, who may or may not be menacing or strange. The character has to transform somehow before it reaches fictional maturity, which is not at all the same as being mature as a human being. Fictional maturity occurs when a character achieves an inward consistency, which means that her stamp is present in the way she acts and does and is in all of the novel. "Fully realized" is another, older way of saying this.

Conversely, as hard as you try to write someone's life and think you are being "faithful" to its events and occurrences, it becomes fiction the minute the words hit the page. Somehow, in just trying to write what someone is about, you enter the realm of fiction because you are writing at a remove of years, and there are many many reasons why someone may or may not have done something, worn something, said something, thought something. You are in essence making choices at each step of the way in portraying someone. And if you write someone and make certain choices, you might make completely different choices in writing him the next day.

This is also why most "real" accounts of something or someone are a kind of fiction, as well.

Friday, May 23, 2014

A Prayer for Ishmael

A Prayer for Ishmael

An American woman named Melisande of 46 meets a young man of 22 online, in a chat room. At first he tells her he is from Australia. They argue about whether God exists (she says no, he says yes). He tells her she is arrogant; she tells him he is naive. Yet they are amused and interested enough in each other to talk again. She tells him a little about her life as an archivist who works for a Cultural Institute in New York. He tells her that he works for a furniture salesperson in Perth. However, the next time they meet -the third- he tells her that he is not from Australia, but from Karachi, Pakistan, and sends her a picture. Somehow she knows that this is indeed his picture, not the one he sent previously.  She tells him that he looks very serious. He agrees and laughs.

Soon they are talking every chance they get. She learns about his family; his father abuses his mom, who is a nurse. His father is addicted to drugs and alcohol, but is extremely intelligent, and lost a very high paying job in Saudi Arabia. He has a sister who has been diagnosed as schizophrenic and another sister who is very kind and responsible, but who has been discouraged from getting a job because she is supposed to take care of the house and work that needs to be done in it. The family is half Muslim, half Christian, which means that they are welcome nowhere in Pakistan. Ishmael escapes when he can to play games online and sometimes in internet cafes. Their house is very large, but is falling apart because they cannot afford to keep it up. Ishmael also takes karate classes and has worked his way up to brown belt status, soon to become black belt status, he tells Melisande.

Ishmael meets a young woman from Ireland online and falls in love with her. He tells Melisande that he will be emigrating to Ireland when he can get a visa. Over the next year, he keeps Melisande updated with his plans and the stages of his visa request.

Just before he is to emigrate to Ireland, he and his friends go by motorbike to an isolated area of Karachi to get a computer that is being sold very cheaply. When they arrive, they are told that if they don't pay 300 dollars US (about 21,000 Pakistan rupees), they will be killed. Ishmael tells his friends to leave and tells them that he will deal with the situation. One of the thugs shoots Ishmael. He dies.

Upon hearing this from a friend of Ishmael's with whom she is sometimes in contact, Melisande feels as if she wants to run to Karachi and not leave Ishmael's grave. But the friend convinces Melisande that the best thing for her to do is to try to help Fatimah, Ishmael's kind and responsible sister, With the friend translating, Melisande decides that the best thing to do is to help Fatimah get a visa for the USA.

She vows, however, that one day she will visit Ishmael's grave in Karachi and lay a wreath on his grave.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Gentlemen's Agreement

Laura Z. (Zametkin) Hobson wrote Gentlemen's Agreement in 1946. It hit the movie screens in 1947.

The plot centers on a magazine assignment to a Christian reporter to write about anti-Semitism. After much consideration, he decides to live as a Jew for six months. The novel  reminds us now of the fact that not only was there embarrassingly, shockingly overt anti-Semitism around then, even after World War 2, but that people often wouldn't admit it. There existed many hotels and country clubs in the USA at the time that would not allow Jewish clients.

The sad thing, however, is that Jewish jokes still exist. And there are different kinds of anti-Semitism around today in the USA. There is the kind that hails from the right wing, often from small towns in which they have never seen Jews. There is the variety that emanates from certain left wing organizations who purport to be angry at Israel for allowing settlements on Palestinian land and for not allowing Palestinians equal rights in the camps and in the cities of Israel. Somehow when we hear a non-Jew declaiming with vehemence about Jews in Israel and in the settlements, it makes us feel uncomfortable, even though we may easily hold similar views.

Are the newer varieties of anti-Semitism easier to deal with? I myself don't think so.

Friday, May 9, 2014

On Grammar: Snobbism/Elitism as a discrepancy in expectations

On Grammar: Snobbism/Elitism as a discrepancy in expectations

From elementary school through high school, many of us were taught the rudiments of the way the English Language worked. We also learned to write it. We did not learn a lot about speaking it because it was assumed by our teachers -whether correctly or not- that as American-born students, we knew how to speak what was then considered grammatical American English.

What we also didn't learn at the time was that there were and are many variants of English, some used in the USA, some used outside. There are spoken variants and written variants and signed variants. Often, "correct" English is the result of having been exposed to a certain educational system. There is nothing natural or egalitarian about it.

And there is no "correct" form of spoken English. Those who have spoken English as their first language and/or attend certain schools and/or have parents whose income is greater than a certain amount have learned what some people still consider standard "spoken" English, in addition to whatever dialectal variants they speak at home or in different places they visit or at places in which they work. Others mostly speak the dialectal variant(s) they have learned.

The situation changes, however, when we discuss written English.

There are formal situations in which it is necessary to describe people, things, processes or activities with great precision. These are the situations in which people one doesn't know want one to understand what they are talking about. This is best accomplished by using the diction/register and spelling most familiar to those to whom they are directing their work consider standard. Why? Because using the spelling and grammar agreed on by grammarians and teachers as standard communicates one's objectives and points as quickly as possible. It has little to do with elegance. It does have to do with making sure that the people who read one's work understand and agree about what has been written.

Let me provide an example. Say, for instance, that I am making a point about pencil erasers. I might write: "Pencil erasers originated in China in 1100 AD when a calligrapher discovered that the resin which later became rubber removed two erroneous pen strokes."  However, if I were to write, "Pensil erazers," readers of standard English -or those who were prepared to read what they considered standard English- might wonder a) if the spelling of these two words had been changed; b) if the writer was making some kind of joke c) if these were variant spellings used by someone who spoke a different dialect of English. Of course they would understand the words themselves. However, the variant or incorrect spellings would become a distraction. It might slow them down. It might annoy. The objective of using correct spelling in writing is not to make it difficult for the writer. It is to make reading  and written communication as quick and easy for most readers as possible.

If you read the Constitution of the United States in its original, you may see that the lack of standard spelling and grammar causes words to be spelled different ways from one paragraph to the next, and for voices, verb tenses and moods to be used differently from one paragraph to the next. It is to be hoped that most of those who read the Constitution understood it as the writers meant it to be understood (and please be aware that literacy in those days was limited to about a third of the population), even with the bewildering number of variants. However, as you may discover, it takes much, much longer to understand it, and it is more difficult to be sure that you have grasped the exact intent of the writer. Standardization of written language makes it easier to be more certain that the most people possible have grasped the meaning writers of written language who use these standards have attempted to communicate.

Thus when people are reading material that has been presented in a format, such as a position paper or a scientific study,which necessitates precision and clarity-especially when others need to understand quickly but thoroughly what has been written- it is important that the spelling and grammar used correspond to what those reading it consider standard. Otherwise, room for error and  misinterpretation creeps in. However, this "standard" varies from event to event and from country to country. Charges of "elitism" are often made when the standard assumed by the writer is more rigorous or unfamiliarly formal than that of the reader, or vice versa.

The best rule of thumb is for the writer to know her audience as well as possible and develop a clear grasp of the diction they find appropriate. There is no one right "standard." There is only that which is negotiated, tacitly or directly, between the writer and her audience.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Blurbing Merry Go Round

Believe it or not, there are many kinds of blurbs.

Blurbs can fall into the categories of:  summary, historical, informative, literary and biographical. And more. This is of course mainly for works of fiction.

For instance...

If you wished to write a summary blurb for Villette, you might begin as follows.

Having lost her relatives and a job as companion to a rich lady in her neighborhood, Lucy Snowe sets out for the city of Villette (fictional name for Brussels) in the country of LaBasseCoeur (Belgium).


The "Women Question" was being discussed at tables of intellectuals and literati all around England during the years that Charlotte and Emily Bronte made their way to the Pensionnat and Ecole Heger in Brussels, Belgium(1830's-1840's). What, oh what should be done with "surplus" unmarried women?  Charlotte Bronte's idea was to acquire certain branches of education that befit the bringing up of a lady, and then to open her own school."


Charlotte Bronte was 37 when Villette was published. It was her last and probably her most realized and mature work. In it she wrestled with and wrought to completion issues which had haunted her since she had left the Ecole Heger in Brussels ten years before.


Jane Eyre is by far the best known of Charlotte Bronte's novels, but Villette is probably the most thoroughly successful and original as a novel.


Both Emily and Charlotte wrote their childhood dreams of dangerously attractive men in their tales of Gondal and Gaaldine. Emily wrote a much more adult version of Gondal in Wuthering Heights, with Healthcliff as the male hero/antihero transformed into an orphan who becomes a landlord and in his way a force of nature. But Monsieur Paul, Charlotte's most realized and complete male character, is both worldly and irresistible, not because of his looks or evil intent, but because of his passion for warmth, truth and, in his own way, love.

As you can see, the five kinds of blurbs I mentioned often blur/blurb into each other. That is the way of blurbs, unless they are strictly summary.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014


I was going to write a blurb about a book entitled The Urban Villagers, by the preeminent sociologist Herbert Gans. But I then started to think of the person who gave me the book, who gave the gift of this book and so many others, and most of all, of himself, to his classes. And I thought, well, there should be a book about him. Until then..

Let's call the book that will one day be...Gordie (aka Gordon Fellman). For as such he has been known to his students since 1964, when he first came to Brandeis. Born in Nebraska, he attended Bard College, then received his Ph.D from Harvard.

He introduces you to class disparities right under your nose/eyes, as in the way two different stores appeal to completely different people, and how they treat customers. He participated in efforts to stave off the destruction of a neighborhood, but you only learn that as an extra bit of knowledge thrown in when he is talking about what happened to that particular neighborhood, and then, how, armed with foreknowledge, the residents and those who cared about them, were able to stop another effort to eradicate a similar neighborhood not far away.

The stores:  Woolworth's and Marimekko. The neighborhoods:  West End (now a seat of high rises) and the North End, still easily the most vibrant and interesting neighborhood in Boston.

Then, if you are lucky enough, you get a front row seat with two of your friends to attend the team taught class given by Gordie and George, as in George Ross. They discuss Freud and Marx. You watch in awe as they find occasional common ground but more differences between the two. Difficult to meld the psycho-personal and the revolutionary political. It fascinates all the more when they argue, without self-consciousness.

The one thing that stands out about Gordie in whatever class you see and hear him is his passion.  It helps, somehow, that he still cares about the injustices which continue to rage all over our planet. It helps that he actually did go to the Middle East and talk with Palestinians and Israelis who believe in peaceful relations with each other.

It helps that he still cares.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Sour Cream: The Book

Another book that really should be written....

Sour Cream

Discusses the invention of sour cream (many Eastern Europeans use it, and they may have "invented" it. It seems to have traveled to the USA with Russian Jews (like my great grandparents). Eventually spread over Europe in many variants (creme fraiche in France, yogurt in many places, kefir in Turkey and the Balkans, different cheeses in Italy and Yugoslavia).

Mentions many uses for sour cream (food and a few other interesting things..)

And then, provides recipes for many many dishes.Standouts:  sour cream over ice cream.  Sour cream apple cake. Chocolate sour cream frosting.  Radishes and cucumbers with sour cream. Sour cream onion dip. Sour cream chipotle dip. Tiramisu with mascarpone sour cream filling.

Anything that contains ice cream or whipped cream in any form may also be eaten with sour cream. (If this were a class, I would make this a question and would add, "Discuss." )

Friday, April 25, 2014

Flying While Fat

Another book that needs to be written:  Flying While Fat

Chrissea Abarvem decides to fly around the world. She is a proud, feisty, spunky fat woman with a few tattoos and an attitude. She wants to experience the excitement of flying to places about which she has only read and dreamed.  She has previously read that certain countries don't appreciate fat people, but while she does take this into account while planning her schedule and itinerary, she also eschews easy classifications and categorizations in favor of seeing what she wants to see and being where she wants to be.

First stop:  Greenland. She finds it dark at times, icy in most places and absolutely compelling as she visits two areas and stands by different seas/bodies of water. She finds that most Greenlanders don't seem to care that much about body size. She eats some dynamite seafood. She hears someone whispering outside her door at 4 am, figures they are drunk and goes back to sleep.

Second stop:  Scotland. Chrissea visits Aberdeen in honor of Byron, who adored fat women, especially strong ones. She goes to a pub, joins in singing, gets asked to perform a striptease by a drunk man with a kilt. Scots wa hae!

There are twenty six stops on the tour, some in familiar places, some way off the beaten path. The common denominator: Chrissea is up for anything and everything!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Paradise Lost in 21st Century Prose (story)

Vikram Seth wrote at least a couple of books in verse, and they were pretty good.

Conversely it would be fun to have John Milton do Paradise Lost in prose/fiction - not instead of poetry. It is inspiring and daunting as it is. Just in addition. (Well, he has been dead now for a while, but perhaps he could pen something posthumously.)


Satan and his gang are seated in hell. Since they have never had actual bodily shapes before, there is some exploration taking place. One male fallen angel says to Satan, "Hey, man, what the hell is this?" He holds something in his hand.

"Oh for goodness' sake," Satan says contemptuously, "that's your male member."
"My what?"
"It's what you use when you feel like wanking off or making the object of your affections very happy."
"I don't know what you mean," the confused male angel says.
"Gog," Satan says to one of his squad leaders, "show Anneus here what one does with it."
Obligingly Gog takes out his member and starts to push it with his thumb, then rub it from the base.
"You try," Satan tells Anneus.
Anneus pushes his organ with his thumb, then starts to rub it from the base. "Wow," he says. "This is cool. But why is it growing and why do I feel as if hot needles are pushing through me? Is it because we're in this Hell place?"

"You can't do this in Heaven," Annie Gog, one of the female fallen angels, says. "Shall I rub it for you?"
Annie rubs Anneus's member up and down. Anneus looks in surprise and then gasps. "I don't understand why- " He stops as his stream flies up, then onto the floor. "Why did it do that?"
"How do you feel?" Annie asks.
"Good," he says.
"Would you like to touch mine?"
"You have one, too?"
"Not exactly," Annie says. "But I have something else." She places Anneus's hand on her vulva, then puts his finger on her clit.
"This feels weird," Anneus says. "Kind of slippery."
"It is," Annie agrees. "But it feels good if you touch it."
"Really," Anneus says, pushing Annie's clit and making her moan.

"Oh, for heaven's sake," Satan says as he walks back to where many of the angels have now discovered their organs of pleasure and what they can do. "This is meeting time, not play time. How are we ever going to revenge ourselves on God, who has sent us here by tossing us out of heaven?"
"You meet and plan revenge." the fallen angels tell him. "It's fun having a shape and being able to do weird things. Maybe God wasn't so unfair as we first thought."

"Wanks and slackers," Satan fumes. "I get thrown out of Heaven with a tough strong bunch, and what do they do? They start screwing. This must be God's revenge on me."

He walks off to explore the limits of the realm of hell. But he is to have a no privacy. A female fallen angel runs after him and says, "Satan, baby, I want you." She points to her newly acquired place of pleasure.

"Oh, what the hell," Satan grumbles and proceeds to take out his own member, which is five feet long and covered with spikes. He pushes the former female angel down on the ground and starts to rub her new breasts and bite them.

"Ohhh..ohh," she moans.

"Make me sweat," he whispers to her, and brandishes his new, fearsome member.

"You have great thorns," she whispers back as she takes his long thing in her hands and rubs it against her vulva.

"Yeah," he says sarcastically. "That's me - Satan with the great thorns." He sighs. Then he pushes into her gently. "Ohhhh!" she yells.

"Nothing like a long prick in hell," he says, and proceeds to push harder. The female fallen angel screams in pleasure.

Up in heaven, God looks down and sees the fallen angels going at it with each other. "Heavens, they're strange," God says to her lieutenant angels. "I can't believe I made them."

"You didn't make them," an angel says.
"How could anyone else make them?" God asks, annoyed.

"They didn't," the angel replies. "That's what they turned into when they acquired bodies."

"So my thought made them into that?"

"Sort of. It's like putting something in the freezer when it's soft. It becomes hard."

"Don't go all 20th Century on me," God says. "I can't believe my thought made that whole thing."

"Maybe you should stop thinking for a while," the angel says.

"God forbid," God says. "Then all the heavens would collapse."

"Don't stop them," the angel says. "Just give them a vacation."

So God stops thinking the heavens. But She gets a headache and has to lie down. Angels fan her.

When the headache stops, she goes to the heavenly bathroom. When she comes out, the planets are spinning in their orbits.

"You  forgot to wipe," the angel says.

"No, I didn't," she says. "But I did have to pass a lot of gas."

Monday, April 21, 2014

The Art and Craft of Intelligent Seduction

Sometimes it's fun to write blurbs for books that you wish existed.

The Art and Craft of Intelligent Seduction

Ronette has had a crush on her close gay male friend, Arn, ever since she was younger than she can even remember. Or, as she realizes, there is something about him that she needs, that is happy in his presence. However, lately she finds herself wanting to make love to him as a gay man would. She asks herself if she would like to become a gay man. Part of her says that she would. Part says that she would not. The compromise she can live with is that she dresses like a gay man and disguises herself as one.

She reads some books by gay men and watches some gay porn. They accord with what she feels Arn would like.

She starts to frequent the places he shops, hoping that he won't see her enough to recognize her. Finally, one autumn night, she picks him up. Her name is Ron, of course.

When she and Arn get inside his apartment, she bites his lip very hard as she kisses him. Then she unveils a whip and orders Arn to strip and get down on his knees. She flicks the whip across his back, but not very hard. Then she kneels and bites the places she whipped, then kisses them, then bites them, then whips them again. She then dresses and leaves.

She picks him up again in the same place. A repetition ensues, with a few slightly different moves on her part. As before, she dresses, then leaves. Does not say anything about another meeting.

The third time she picks him up, she pushes Arn down on the ground, invades him with a vibrator and scratches her name across his back (Ron,that is).

Then she leaves. She does not return to the store.

The next week Arn calls her and tells her about the man who broke his heart.  "I understand," she tells him. "I guess that's how you've broken hearts up to now."

"I guess it is," he agrees. Then, of a sudden, he says, "Would you like me to break yours?"

"Yes," she whispers.

Read the book to find out what happens :)

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Blurb for Fat Poets Speak (1): Voices of the Fat Poets' Society (in a strangely biblical register)

Fat Poets Speak (1):  Voices of the Fat Poets' Society

So it came about that in 2006, in a suburb of Boston, NAAFA did meet at its annual Convention. And many NAAFAns attended, and it was good. And they gathered further for the purpose of writing poetry about themselves, about fat people, about fat women, but poetry that was not of hatred for themselves, but of appreciation and celebration.

And it came to pass that after the completion of the workshop, Mary Ray of Worley saw fit to have those who had attended sign a sheet which would list their names and emails. Verily, it did occur that most of the poets present signed, and it fell out that they did start writing and used the group name assigned to them by Mary Ray of Worley. And they wrote many poems of many kinds. They did gather to themselves a number of them to write and comment and change and work further on them.

And thus it came about that the book Fat Poets Speak: Voices of the Fat Poets' Society was born, and that the doughty and wise Peggy of Elam saw fit, after much work and thought on her part and on the part of the writers and editor, one Frannie of Zellman, to publish this fair book and take it to those of the people who would read and appreciate poems by fat poets.

And some among them vowed among themselves that one day there would come a second volume, as well.

(I don't know what got into me here...maybe a lot of holidays?  Passover, Easter, Patriots' Day, Earth Day, 4/20..)

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Bubbe Meisehs by Shayneh Maidelehs: An Anthology of Poetry by Jewish Grandaughters About Our Grandmothers - compiled by Leslea Newman

Love. Overwhelming, intense, sometimes complicated love. I don't know how there can be more love expressed in one volume of poems than in this one.

Something about Jewish women and their grandmas. The relationship is often extremely close, loving, nurturing, caring. Many of us had grandmas who babysat or were with us for long periods of our lives, if we were lucky. Some of us were also lucky enough to have grandmas who shielded us from sadness and bad times that our parents were experiencing. Somehow nothing ever seemed quite as bad when we were at grandma's house or apartment.

Many of us also were lucky enough to have grandmas who acted on their convictions and organized marches and picketed and chaired committees to stop landlords from evicting tenants who had lost their jobs. Many of us have our grandmas to thank for thinking globally and acting locally long before this was a popular slogan.

And many of those same grandmas made the best Jewish food this country and world will ever know. And they saved the best pieces for us.

Even if you aren't Jewish, you will probably find your grandma here. And you'll cry and smile along with the rest of us.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Historical and Literary Blurb for Caravans, by James Michener

If you can, visit the James Michener Art Museum in Doylestown, the town in which James Michener grew up. Not only does it feature some wonderful art exhibits, but it also features a compact but amazingly informative and well-placed exhibit on James Michener himself.

You will see, among other things, all the novels and articles he wrote, gathered on shelves and under glass. Hawaii and The Source were two of his most ambitious efforts. Then there were the books about American States and their origins, and his earlier autobiographical works. There was Tales of the South Pacific, which inspired the show of almost the same name. There were books about other areas of the world.

And then there was Caravans (1963). A bestseller at the time, it garners little attention today. And yet, it was perhaps one of his most prescient -and for me, likable- works. He pontificated the least. Somehow it came across to me as having been written more from the heart, although I am sure he himself would have said that all his books were written from the heart. He did serve in the area of South Asia (and also Southeast Asia) and stayed there for a few years.

The new kid on the block, Mark Miller, an American of German Jewish origins on the staff of the American embassy in Afghanstan, has been told to find a young American woman, married to an Afghani engineer, who disappeared. This is 1946, when Afghanistan is just coming out of the stone age and its cities are also just starting to become somewhat cosmopolitan. There is a stark rift between the educated upper class and the strongly religious, less educated class of the villages. (Interestingly, though, there are mullahs -holy men of Islam- in both camps.)

It turns out that Ellen Jasper, a young woman bored with insular, middle class values of the small American town in which she grew up, also left her Afghani husband, not because she had problems with being his second wife -she loved and respected his first wife- but because she felt he was too bourgeois, too middle class. She seemed to yearn for something she could not name, according to the accounts of those who knew her.

Michener seemed to have predicted the rise of  anti-establishment, hippie women and feminists as well, for women like Ellen Jasper would flood campuses and become the spokeswomen for the Women's Movement, as well as its writers, speakers and artists.

Not that Michener is always kind to her - he suggests that she is promiscuous and selfish, perhaps narcissistic. But she is beautiful, intelligent and powerful in her wants and articulate in their defense.

The characters who come in contact with each other and with her are memorable and powerful in their own right, as well:  Mark himself; Dr. Stiglitz, the German doctor who fled Germany with war crimes on his conscience for which he is still trying to atone; Moheb Khan, the urbane, intelligent, ruthless son of Shah Khan, leading warlord of the area; Ellen Jasper's former Afghani husband, Nazrullah; Mira, the nomad girl who falls in love with Mark, and others. Besides populating his book with vivid characters, Michener provides a magnificent travelogue of the main settlements and towns of Afghanistan, and horrifically accurate historical accounts of their origins and the battles fought for them. The customs and traditions of Afghanistian, religious and cultural, are present as well, inseparable from the plot and story, and grounding it in sober realism and believability.

And the scenery drawn in each chapter becomes so much more than a backdrop - almost a character, a presence in its fierce and foreboding way.

Somehow Caravans hits home for me more than Michener's other novels; he is less preachy, definitely more understanding and tolerant of Afghanistan than he seems to be of other countries about which he writes. And he has drawn a powerful, confident female protagonist in Ellen Jasper, one whose vision both infuriates and fascinates.

And if you couldn't tell, I fell in love with Moheb Khan...

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Fat Poets Speak 2: Living and Loving Fatly (blurb)

Hehe...this one is fun.

Fat Poets Speak 2:  Living and Loving Fatly

The idea that fat poets -or even fat people- should be able to love anyone, or be loved by anyone, let alone fatly, would have been revolutionary about thirty years ago. In some ways, it still is. Some people do not wish to grant fat people, let alone fat poets, the right to love. Or often, to live.

Fine. They can go back to their caves.

In this volume, ten poets, including the editor, write about what it is like to live their days negotiating minefields of "Fat Country," where one has to feel one's way carefully, lest one be harassed or assaulted. They write about what it is like to want and need safe spaces that remain elusive for many fat people. They write about the exhilaration of finding ways to rebel against the fat hating world, about marching for their rights, and about accepting and even celebrating their size - all in the context that fat is a descriptor, no more, no less. It is a shape. It is not a curse. It is not a prize. It is simply what one is.

The celebration comes when one realizes one has gotten through another day and not allowed the haters to get the upper hand.

What the fat poets have to say will at times amuse you, anger you and excite you. You owe it to yourself to read and listen.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Beverly Gray Books - Historical and Descriptive Blurb

Series books started to be all the rage in the 1930's, and not only for girls (The Hardy Boys Series targeted young boys, and there were already a few British series appealing to this audience). But in the USA, girls' series exploded in popularity which continues to this day. Most popular: Nancy Drew books. However, series which appeal to both boys and girls command a much larger share of the market now (specifically Harry Potter. Other fantasy series).

But there was something peculiarly cozy about having series for girls. They emphasized emotional bonds and conflicts, not shooting and sports. Most of them centered around mysteries/mystery solving, like Nancy Drew, like the Dana Girls, like Cherry Ames, and although incidents that were violent sometimes drove the plots, they were all explained and solved in the end, with the ability of the heroine/female protagonist key.

However...there was one series that drew me like no other. I speak of the Beverly Gray books, bequeathed to me by my mom, bought for her at a stationery and book stores about three blocks away from where she lived in the Pelham Parkway section of the Bronx, during the 1930's, running into the first year or so of the 1940's.

Beverly Gray and her friends met in their first year of college. That drew me, to begin with - I wanted to go to college. Their college was in a suburb of Boston, and they all seemed to live in New York or in its suburbs. All common ground, since I lived in a suburb of NY (Long Island at the time) and liked the idea of going to college in the Boston area. I liked the way they talked, although people who knew more assured me that college girls never talked like that.

But what drew me even more than the setting were the situations in which they found themselves and the places they visited. They went on a world cruise on a yacht with some of their man friends.. They visited Europe and Asia and even the South Pacific. And Beverly herself met one of the most interesting villains I have ever read about - the evil, suave, Count Alexis de Franchiny. Whose brother, it turns out, was a pirate - a tall, tanned, dark haired but also verbally adept pirate. And I was at the age where such interesting villainous men were meat and drink to me. (I still appreciate them, although my taste in villains has changed slightly. Just slightly.) They were both after a map left to the yachters by a dying man in a Limehouse, London tavern. See?  So much more sophisticated than your average series for 8-12 year old girls!

I got through all my mom's books in the series, but by the time I was ready for more, I had also outgrown the Beverly Gray books and had moved onto adult novels, not to mention Lord of the Rings, which I read in Social Studies Class by hiding it in the inside of one of the 1920's desks ubiquitous in my Junior High built during the 1920's.

Girls' series books did a wonderful job of presenting worlds in which girls could lose themselves when pre-adolescent and early adolescent anguish occurred. The Beverly Gray books went one step further; they helped girls to dream of other places, other countries, other worlds, not only to lose themselves, but place and people that danced on the edge of realizable future journeys.

And some wonderful villains.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014


Descriptive Blurb for Breadgivers, by Anzia Yezierska

Anzia Yezierska was very possibly the first woman to write about American Jewish immigrant life in authentic Yiddish/English dialect. And no, I don't mean those cutesy Yenglish words like "shmutz" and "chutzpah." Interestingly, Yezierska doesn't use these words in her novels. Instead she uses English words written in Yiddish idiomatic form. "He should rot in the gutter with a pumpkin for a head."

The result is that the reader is transplanted to the early 1900's on the Lower East Side more completely than in any other literary venue she will ever be privileged to visit.

The actual story of Breadgivers is one that echoed to some extent in the overwhelming number of apartments -"tenements"- on the Lower East Side during this time:  intelligent young woman feels trapped by her parents, and especially her father, who wishes to study Torah as he did in the Old Country but does not wish to educate his daughters. Some, however, do not move out, but obey their parents and make marriages which render them unhappy and trapped once more. Sarah, however -Anzia's alterego- moves out and experiences hardship, poverty and near-starvation. She meets someone who is not of the ghetto - Thomas Dewey's alterego (Anzia's romantic involvement)- but who treats her as a subject for his sociological study, not as an actual person. Eventually after heartbreak and determination to become a teacher even though she is laughed at and discriminated against at an Ivy League College, she does make headway, becomes a teacher and finally forgives her father.

The uniqueness of Breadgivers lies not in the story line or plot, but in the accuracy of the representation of its characters' emotions amid pitch perfect, letter perfect dialect. Rigorous realism, which was then belittled as "obsolete" after Yezierska wrote more books and some short stories as well.

Funny how Mark Twain's dialectal stories and books was never ridiculed as obsolete. Then again, he was not a woman and was not Jewish.

My great grandfather, a Torah scholar and tutor in the Old Country, made sure that his four daughters (and his three sons) were all able to read Russian, know Russian history, and know enough Hebrew to pray, although they spoke Yiddish in their home (until they came to the USA). However, he would only pay for college for the sons. This remained a sore point with the four daughters, one of whom was my grandmother. She eventually forgave him. I cannot be one hundred percent sure, but I  think the others did, as well.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Valley of the Dolls

Strictly speaking, a blurb is a summary, not a review. But there are other kinds of blogs, as well:  descriptive. Historical. Literary.

So if I were to write a blurb on, say, the novel, Valley of the Dolls, I would probably be tempted to veer into some kind of descriptive or historical territory.

First of all, Valley of the Dolls is a roman a clef - thinly veiled fiction inspired by real life. For years, the three main female characters, and the barely subordinate fourth, were generally recognized as imitating real actresses with whom Jacqueline Susann worked. Just as important, the hothouse/almost incestuous connection between publicity departments and Hollywood is portrayed in a thoroughly detailed manner.

The three female protagonists share an apartment and parts of their lives. Anne Welles, the icy New England beauty, falls for a public relations man who ends up sleeping with another previous inhabitant, Neely O'Hara (Judy Garland echo). Neely O'Hara employs manipulation of any kind to get what and whom she wants, as does Helen Lawson (Ethel Merman echo). She is fiercely bi-polar, but that is at least partly because her managers and directors keep putting her on drugs so she can lose weight. Even Jennifer North, the most photogenic of the three lovelies (Marilyn Monroe echo, with a bit of Carol Landis thrown in), is pushed to lose weight and take drugs (which may have partly been responsible for her breast cancer, which then causes her to commit suicide because she sees that men only value her for her body, not her mind or individuality).

Dolls. Pills. Dolls - the semi-obedient women who have little choice but to let others manipulate their bodies and minds if they want to get ahead in Hollywood. Dolls - beautiful images of porcelain that break easily when someone tries to bend them past resistance.

Jacqueline Susann was involved in all phases of Hollywood production and writing, as well as publicity. She does an honest, if soap-operaish, job of demonstrating its falsity and illusions and woman-hatred. In the late 1960's, few had spoken with such frankness about the hard, nasty work of being an actress or TV star, and the contempt of male directors and managers for these "dolls" they regarded as bodies to manipulate to meet the illusory images Hollywood, a male province at the time if ever there was one, demanded.

At the time, Valley of the Dolls was considered sensational and garish. But no one said it was dishonest. It stands today as a crypto-feminist critique of the way Hollywood regarded, publicized and then smashed the talent, hopes and dreams of its actresses.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Blurb for The Bible

Great books deserve to be blurbed, too!

  1. The Bible

    A powerful and sometimes angry God. Two people alone together in the middle of a a vast wilderness. A mysterious tree. A recipe for love and danger..

    Adam lived with Eve before he lusted for her. Eve had words with a snake. They looked at each other naked. Things were never the same afterward.

    "I cried." Donner Blitzen

    'I laughed." Blitzen Donner

    "I like McIntosh." Alvie Summor

    "I liked the fig leaf. Sounds quite fashionable." Lorella Vodo

    "Great read. Can't wait for the next books to come out." Eunice Goodshoes

    "I want the T shirt." Willy Williams
    1Like ·  · 

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Half A Wish

Here is another blurb for an imaginary book. One day soon I will get back to real books.

Half A Wish is a book whose female protagonist Fara is born with three nipples. At first her parents are advised to seek out surgery for her "condition," but along the way she becomes fond of her third nipple. Some boys in high school try to rip off her top to view it, so in response, she takes an instagram photo of it -and only it- and posts it, saying that her third nipple is more intelligent than they are.

Since it is the last month of her last year of high school, she doesn't care much how they respond. But one psycho  near the state university she attends is intent on "outing" her. In response, she forms a club called "The Third Nipple," after which he tries to find her. But in solidarity, all the members of her club and all her dorm mates paste third nipples onto their skin.

He is temporarily worsted, but comes back with a new threat which Fara must surmount by herself, with all the courage she can muster.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Fun by any other name

According to wiki:   "A blurb on a book or a film can be any combination of quotes from the work, the author, the publisher, reviewers or fans, a summary of the plot, a biography of the author or simply claims about the importance of the work. Many humorous books and films parody blurbs that deliver exaggerated praise by unlikely people and insults disguised as praise."

Now it is a terrible thing, but the blurbs that are often the most fun to write are  a) Parodies b) blurbs of one's own books c) blurbs of imaginary books.

When we write the blurbs of imaginary books, we then get into the territory of Jorge Luis Borges, the surrealist writer from Argentina, one of my great favorites. 

I have written many blurbs about actual books. They are featured on my Facebook page, also entitled Blurbin' Legends. 

So for fun..let's see..

Women in the Mirror is a novel about a man, Edwin, who has twenty imaginary fiances. He is friends with a few of them, knows of the others through friends and invents the rest. At night he looks into the mirror and sees one fiance floating beside him for hours at a time. 

One night he has a nightmare in which several of them visit him and try to kill the others. He then realizes that he is going to have to end his imaginary life or somehow transition to reality.

He tells his best friend, Aaron, who happens to be gay, about his problem. Aaron suggests that he accompany him to a gay bar. As Edwin and Aaron step into the bar, Edwin feels for the first time in a long time that he is at home and starts to realize that he may be gay.

When Edwin gets back to his apartment, he starts to see men in the mirror. But these men seem to have something else in mind besides marriage.

It takes Edwin a little while longer to figure out what this might be. When he does, he goes back to the gay bar alone and meets Cicero, who takes him on a journey that shows him what his body wanted.

His mind, however, keeps floating back to the female brides. He knows  now that he will have to figure out what he wants and why he wants it and what he is and is not.

Someone should write it if I can blurb it :)

Sunday, March 30, 2014


Welcome to Blurbin' Legends, the space that makes a blurb a place.

The very plain and simple truth is that now more than ever, a blurb fashions a reader's first impression of a book. She looks at the cover, and then at the blurb.

If she is to receive a first impression of a book that resonates with her, the blurb she sees needs to be:

Short . No summary blurb need be over 100 words. And in this day of instant impressions and instant reading, the time taken to read 100 words is usually all you'll get, anyway, to make that impression.

Active. Verbiage and verbs should crackle with positive action. This is the time for those transitive verbs we learned about in school. This is after all a book, not an office report.

Seductive. Like a good seducer (of any sex), the blurb should mention just a little about the most exciting part.

This site will discuss blurbs: the good, the bad, the intriguing. It will focus mostly on word choice, but it may delve into other areas -like accuracy in description- as well.

People who blurb may find it quite useful.

Again, welcome to Blurbin' Legends blog. The blurb's the word!!