Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Obama as Reagan

I thought that this opinion piece from the New York Times today provided an interesting perspective on the way that Obama might take some lessons from Ronald Reagan. I was never a fan of Ronald Reagan at the time he was president. And I still have serious disagreements with pretty much most of his ideas. But over time I have come to respect more things about Reagan. One thing I did learn is that he was a man who cared about words and wrote many of his own. I also believe that words matter.

Some of the points that struck me reading this piece.
  • Reagan also became president at a time of economic crisis.
  • He understood that getting the economy on a good footing was the necessary foundation for transformational changes he wanted to make in what government was about.
  • He had to build coalitions with Democrats and keep some of his conservative supporters at bay in order to pass legislation that was important to him.
  • When he made some key deals, he kept his word.
Obama about Reagan from his autobiography: ““Reagan spoke to America’s longing for order, our need to believe that we are not simply subject to blind, impersonal forces but that we can shape our individual and collective destinies, so long as we rediscover the traditional virtues of hard work, patriotism, personal responsibility, optimism and faith.”

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

What's the point? Why not phone?

That was the question from my sister JoAnn, older than me and in her seventies, when I engaged her in her first “chat” on Facebook. We had chatted back and forth about how she came to be on Facebook: her daughter made her join. But then she to to her point : What’s the point of this chat thing? Why not just phone?

That’s not a bad question. I’m new to Facebook myself. I was instructed on how and why to join over Thanksgiving when I was visiting my son Nathan and his family in Williamsburg. Jacob, a first grader, was the one who insisted I join and stepped me through theprocess. His most immediate wish--to have another account to use to play games. He taught me how to bowl and we created a pet for me--Sadsack. He also instructed me in how to care for Sadsack. Also showed me how to create, send, and receive “flair.”

I discovered my husbands children already online and a goodly number my mom and dad’s descendants. I had three older siblings--10 to 14 years older than me. One younger sibling. A goodly number of their children and grandchildren are actively on Facebook. What fun. Even found my husband there--with no friends. So I’ve been adding friends--family and then friends via my old life in Utah and friends via my current life at Adobe.

I wasn’t surprised than my son and his family--Nathan, Heather, and Jacob--were on Facebook (Beth, not quite two, hasn’t yet developed her mouse and keyboard skills). Facebook did teach me something about Heather’s family (and now about Nate’s and Heather’s nuclear crowd) that I hadn’t quite understood: the extent to which games can organize family dynamics. I’ve never had the game gene myself: find it nigh impossible to make it through scrabble game, monopoly, a puzzle, a crossword, solitaire. Nate is has the game gene. (Don and his family mostly do.) Heather comes from a family that is nigh onto game obsessed. And Jacob is learning. He could definitely beat me in a game of Scrabble (with a few winks from his mom).

I’ve been following what happens with Nate, Heather, et al for years via the internet. Both are good writers and energetic bloggers: Nate's new blog Akrasia , Nate on Times and Seasons , Nate on Concurring Opinions , Heather on Mormon Mommy Wars and Segullah . Sometimes I stand back and realize that I haven’t talked to them on the phone for weeks and weeks. Yet I feel like I know what’s going on. I’ve been reading these wonderful blogs and commenting. Thinking about them.

Prety much every day, I read the wonderful blog of a friend of mine from graduate school (Lisa's Hightouchmegastore ).

I don’t much like the telephone. No longer even have a land line--only a cell phone. And I never use my minutes.

I’m having fun on Facebook. Something very satisfying about being a silent voyeur, a watcher on others lives. Sending out my feelers to find others. There is something very satisfying about this.

Where to begin. . . . Why not the phone indeed.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Serial Killer Redux

Much to my surprise (really), the audiobook I listened to post Heartsick turned out to be another:
  • Book by a first time author
  • Book with a sequel
  • Book about a serial killer
The details of this book were unknown to me as I began my listen. I purchased the book because of the number of times it appeared on the best of 2008 lists. But I remembered no details. And this somewhat accidental book has confirmed (alas) my reluctant disappointment with Heartsick (Reader as Goat ).

The book I just finished: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson, a book translated from Swedish. (Literally translated from Swedish the book would be called Men Who Hate Women. This is a first of a triology called in English the Millennium triology. All of this I’ve learned since finishing the book (Stieg Larsson bio).

Larsson died at age 50 of a massive heart attack. He was a well known journalist, whose own bio shares plots with those of his hero Mikael Blomqvist, also a journalist. At Larsson’s death three books were completed, another almost, and ten addition books sketched out in some form. He wrote in his evenings, only worked to get the books published shortly before his unexpected death. So the three completed books were published in Swedish after his death. The book I listened to was publishd last summer in English. The second in the triology was just published in UK, scheduled in US for the summer.

Here are some of the things that this Goat liked about The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo:
  • Set up as a pretty traditional mystery. A girl went missing long ago. On a small island cut off because of an accident. That means the cast of suspects is very small and finite. And the ground has been gone over again and again for 40 years. Yet something new does eventually turn up in a surprising but believable (at least I was willing to suspend disbelief) way.
  • Our hero is new to the country side. So you learn lots about the Swedish country side as well as the city as he goes back and forth and contemplates his surroundings.
  • There is a somewhat strange second character set loose in the narrative, the girl with the tatoo. Odd girl. Almost autistic. Perfect memory. A hacker. Maybe a stereotypical character. But what is she doing in this narrative. We know that eventually we’ll find out.
  • Okay (now I’m being a little bit of the spoiler) about half way through this turns out to be about a serial killer. But that’s over pretty soon.
  • And then we still have to solve the original mystery of the missing girl.
  • And finally we move on to the story we started with--a big bad industrialist and how we’ll bring him down.
  • And before we’re done we have to set up some loose ends to make us want to find the sequel. For both journalist and odd girl.
  • And by the way the odd girl manages two extra plots about abuse and sadism as well as high financial intrigue in offshore accounts that are a bit ancillary to the main plot. Besides figuring out who she is is almost a book.
  • Not to mention figuring out who Mikael Blomqvist is.
Why did I like the book? A certain resistance to the ending. Blithe overplotting. Too much story at an almost leisurely pace. And to give me all this in the outback of Sweden--not quite the Orient Express or the Library.

Who can resist? Not me. I just ordered (from Amazon.UK since I can’t wait until July): The Girl Who Played with Fire.

Not sure if this is another serial killer. Stay tuned.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Reader as goat: A minor crisis

I recently noted on my blog (Read and Drive) that my reading tastes are a tad eclectic--that I’m something of an omnivore. My son replied no, Mom, you’re a goat.

He has some evidence for this view. I have licensed his computer to access my Audible account--my secret audiobook list. He knows the full scope of my reading (listening) shame. I’m sure that it seems, looking at that list, that I might read anything, that I have no scruples.

My latest audiobook listen has left me contemplating that possibility: Heartsick by Chelsea Cain.

I do have reasons for choosing books. I think the reasons for purchasing Heartsick were something like this:
  • I do have a certain interest in serial killer novels. Recently I’ve been interested both in the books and the series Dexter. Horrifying, you both think and laugh about serial killing.
  • Cain is a Northwest writer. The book is set in Portland. I was living in Seattle in the 70s when Ted Bundy was killing here and in Utah when he was killing there. And recently we had the Green River killer. The Northwest should have a good serial killer character in fiction. And I support Northwest writers when I can.
  • The book was fairly well reviewed as a first novel.
  • The serial killer is a woman. Compared to Hannibal. Okay, I’m hooked.
So why the crisis? I was pretty annoyed by the writing and by the narrative plotting. I was prepared to review this with an enthusiastic thumbs down (okay, so I’m reviewing on LibraryThing and Facebook and I do realize no one cares). And yet today I did some google reading about Cain and purchased her sequel. Have I no principles? Am I easy?

The goat annoyed:
  • The writing was too clunky, overwrought and explained. I’m annoyed when I find myself thinking about the writing. With a really good book, I rarely even think about writing the first time through. I was often thinking about the writing, the plot--and not the characters and the story.
  • I am a willing suspender of disbelief. I understand this is the basic release that makes pleasure in reading possible. But this book pushed me way beyond my endurance. A scary book is scariest when the steps that lead there have been dipped in a dose of reality. This book continually tested (and trashed) my patience.
  • Way too much gore. Now I understand that I read this book partly because of the comparison to Hannibal. But there is a point at which the imagination rules and the explicit, relentless explainer diminishes the narrative. I’m a forgiving reader, but often I was horrified and not enough intrigued.
  • Byronic hero. This must convince me. I am a fan of Byron himself after all. What I like about Dexter is the humor. Laughing at death and gore makes me think, implicates me. This hero is just way too romantic and serious and tortured. I want to love him and to sympathize. But often I just groaned and checked how many minutes to the end. Maybe it’s harder to sympathize with love story and serial killer than I imagined. And give me a break with that pill box!
And why, goat, did you finish the book and buy the sequel?
  • Okay. The relationship with victim and victimizer did engage me. Though please, the little side bar about the Stockholm Syndrome--Patty hearst, etc. Who hasn’t heard about this who would conceivably read a book.
  • Northwest. I’m still trying to be a fan. That’s a big part of this.
  • And again, I read the reviews. They tell me she’s getting better.
  • And, as Nathan says, I’m a goat.
And so, today, I bought Sweetheart, the sequel. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Curl Envy

I have a serious case.

During the 80s I pretended with perms. Tried to impersonate someone carefree, wild, curled. Can’t say it exactly worked.

So in recent years I’ve submitted to the hair dryer. Time spent styling every morning. And that morning routine came to seem ever more looming--a daunting barrier to run each morning.

Finally I said no more. Told my hair lady to layer away. Assume I’ll just stir it up in the morning. Give my pathetic curl and resistance a chance. It’s been several months now with the let it go hair. No dryers, no brushes, really no combs. Just fingers. I can’t say that I look or feel glamorous. But I’ve decided I’m beyond that. (Anyone want a hairdryer?)

What I have is a whiff of simplicity. A small sloping knoll to walk in the morning, not a mountain to climb.

Is this old age?

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Endings, Take 2

I finished the book, alas.

I find evidence that the book itself contemplates this may be the final P. D. James novel (I still hope not). Don’t read on if you don’t like folks spoiling endings. . . .

Adam Dagliesh does marry Emma. Kate gets back with her ex. Dagliesh contemplates whether this might be his last case. And one of the final scenes is that of an elderly lawyer, living in an upscale senior care facility who medidates on the end of life, age, and what it’s like.

Perhaps the pressure of this ending captures my imagination because I am at that point in life where I more and more find myself thinking about age, growing old. . . . . Clearly I am very much nearer the end of my life than the beginning. The pressure of the ending.

I can only hope for another Adam Dagliesh novel. In the meantime, I discovered that I missed a number of the earlier novels. So now I plan to begin again, keep the ending at bay in that way. . .

Thursday, January 08, 2009


I’m about 3/4 of the way through P. D. James most recent Adam Dagleish story, The Private Patient. I’m a fan of Adam Dagleish and a fan of P. D. James. Who can resist the writer or the detective. Not me.

I always have mixed feelings when I’m immersed in a good book. Enjoying myself. Driving toward the ending--wondering what will happen. But resisting. Knowing that the sadness associated with being done will be as strong as the pleasure of finishing.

This time I find myself thinking incessantly about the fact that P. D. James is 88 going on 89. How much more can I expect. Could this be the last one? No not that ending.

Adam is musing on retirement, and planning marriage to Emma--looking forward. I’m thinking that those events won’t happen in this novel. Which gives me hope. There may well be more in the wings. . . . . . .

If only. . .

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Trying this out

Posting from my iGoogle page. How easy is that.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

And Drive

I love to read and drive.

A habit I acquired when I drove each Friday night from San Jose to Sacramento. I found that music, which I love, put me to sleep. Listening to audiobooks engaged my mind enough to keep me awake. And so the practice came into my life.

I don’t remember my parents reading to me. I doubt that they did. Though we had books (and my mom was an English teacher). So audiobooks introduced me to that pleasure. Having a book read to me. I grew to young adulthood in a time when “speed reading” was seen as positive. Graduate school taught me that “slow reading” was better. But listening to a book read with relish and talent really taught me about slowing down with a book, sinking into the world, enjoying the slow, delicious sound of each word spoken a relished.

And there is definitely a practical side to being read to (AKA listening to audiobooks). I still read in bed, at tables, over coffee, sitting on the couch, in restaurants and libraries. But now I can read in times and places never before possible. A truly blissful discovery for the girl always called a bookworm. I can read while I’m doing dishes and cleaning the house. I can read while walking, running, exercising. I can read when I wake up at night--I don’t need to sit up, turn on the light, wake myself up. I can almost look forward to my insomnia.

And I can read while I drive. This brings together two blissful experiences from my childhood. A good book. A drive (with my folks that generally meant towards the Tetons or Yellowstone, a picknick, a move in the direction of mountains and streams and creaks) on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon.

Now I drive as a hobby? An obsession. And a good part of the pleasure is the pleasure of the sounds of books--trash, classics, histories, thrillers. I’m an omnivore on the reading front I’m afraid.

And so the the real sub-text of my story about fear on the roads in the snow. I was a afraid. But I was also enjoying myself. In the middle of a good book. Which kept me from worrying too much on the other front. And with my perfect driving/ reading companion--Bevin. She never complains about what I am listening to. All she needs is an occasional poppy and a stop from time to time to relieve herself. And food (though she, my daughter, will eat most anything).

A good part of my recent two-week plus holiday was spent in the car (a hybrid, my nod to responsibility on driving as a hobby/compulsion), reading. (A couple of books may have been part of my Thanksgiving driving in Virginia. . . . . .)

Here are some of the books (what pleasure)--I have included brief reviews of most of these on my Facebook account (Susan Staker) and on Library Thing linked here on my blog:

Netherland: A Novel by Joseph O’Neill
When Will There Be Good News by Kate Atkinson
The Comfrots of a Muddy Saturday (Isabel Dalhousie) by Alexander McCall Smith
Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
A Mercy by Toni Morrison
His Illegal Self by Peter Carey
I See You Everywhere by Julia Glass
Fleshmarket Alley (Inspector Rebus) by Ian Rankin
The Interpretation of Murder: A Novel by Jed Rubenfeld
The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski
The Careful Use of Compliments (Isabel Dalhousei) by Alexander McCall Smith
The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry (this one may have been before the trip)
Home: A Novel by Marilynne Robinson
The Girl of His Dreams (Commissario Brunettie) by Donna Leon

What grand fun!

Monday, January 05, 2009

Whence the moment?

In a famous passage in William Wordsworth’s autobiographical poem “The Prelude,” he is on a walking tour in the Alps. He imagines the moment when he will come to the highest point in the walk and begin the downward trek into Italy. Looking forward he has grand plans and expectations for the moment. But at some point he realizes that he has already passed the summit and has been heading down for some time.

For some reason, this moment in the poem popped into my head as I thought about my experience the weekend before Christmas driving in the snow toward California. It may seem a stretch, but who can second guess the free association of the mind (I think I was driving back to Seattle when this came to me).

I spent the Saturday before Christmas looking for chains that would fit my car. With all of the snow in Seattle of the previous few days, finding chains was not an easy task. I was not the only person in Seattle to decide that buying chains was a good idea. After several stores and many hours, I finally found a pair that would fit my car.

Sunday morning was a horror. Snow everywhere and still falling. Forecasts for more snow and freezing rain all along the I-5 corridor into California. But Bevin and I set off in the morning for Sacramento. I finally decided that I would be better off cutting to the coast (I love to drive the coast but I do think there was basic sense in my decision).

We did fine until Aberdeen. But the drive between Aberdeen and Astoria was some of the worst snow driving I’ve encountered. First I took a wrong turn that added 40-50 miles extra to the drive. And then I headed up into the coastal mountains. Hardly anyone on the roads. Nothing plowed, just tracks of previous cars and those filling fast. For nearly three hours plus I drove at about 20 miles an hour, encountered one highway that had been closed and had to retrace my tracks.

I kept wondering when I should stop and put on the chains. No signs that said do it now or you can drive no further. Encountered no one else putting on chains--or using chains. (Actually few other vehicles and most, in retrospect, were pickups.) So I kept wondering and thinking about the chains and finally I was on the road along the coast, leading across the bridge and into a very snowy Astoria.

I’m relieved we made it. And left remembering that it’s hard to tell when the moment is passing, when it’s downhill from here for better or worse.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

2009 Resolutions

        ❑        Finish an article on 1830 and send for publication.
        ❑        Write at least weekly on blog. I need to develop a habit of writing.
        ❑        Less meat, more vegetables.
        ❑        Go to the dentist and the doctor.
        ❑        Take Bevin to the dentist and the doctor.
        ❑        Lose 10 pounds.
        ❑        Walk. At least 2 days a week. Can it be more. How do I add more exercise to my life? Figure this out.