Read Brewster. Just read it.

Written By: sherridaley - Aug• 24•17

brewsterpicBrewster
By Mark Slouka

I can hardly wait to read the other books Mark Slouka has written to see if they are as gripping and sad and unforgettable as Brewster. Ostensibly a novel about teenage friendship, Brewster is anything but a typical coming-of-age story. Plots develop side-by-side as they charge through the book like they’re racing. Just when you get caught up in the love triangle of Ray and Jon and Karen, you learn to be afraid of Ray’s father’s cruelty, fear for the safety of Ray’s little brother, and come to admire Karen’s unbelievably steadfast commitment. Jon is on the track team and training for a race, Ray is fighting his battles – both physical and emotional, Karen is lighting up the narrative with her love and her quiet beauty.

The little town of Brewster, New York, is as much a character in the book as the people are. It’s alive with a haunting personality and verve; Slouka pulls his readers into town where they shiver in the bitter cold wearing thin jackets, smell the shit and mud that Ray pries off his boot soles with a stick, feel the autumn wind that sends dry leaves into spirals. The town is poor, the people resigned, and Ray and Jon hear the sleet against the window, “…dry, like sand, like somebody was trying to get [their] attention.”

The outside world is trying to get their attention, calling the three friends, but the town is holding them tight in its fist. The three of them plan to leave, they fight to leave, but the harder they fight, the tighter the grip, the more violent the narrative becomes, and the unexpected comes with breathtaking surprise and unspeakable butchery, although we should have known. We should have known.

Slouka writes with powerful ease, the dialogue is swift and authentic, and the descriptions are palpable. Brewster is a robust, intoxicating read. Ray and Jon and Karen, their families, and their friends will stay with you long after you put the book away.

Intimacy Idiot – Twice

Written By: sherridaley - Jul• 13•17

idiotI got the book out from the library again because I wanted to refresh my memory about exactly how funny this book is. Now I am half-way through the darn thing again and I do not – repeat do not EVER – read books or see movies twice. Life’s too short. This guy, though, this Isaac Oliver, a swishing queen of a New York City homosexual really is – as the book jacket promises – as funny as David Sedaris, Tina Fey, and Augusten Burroughs would be if they all got together for shots. Wouldn’t that be a trip?

But you don’t need that to happen You have Isaac. He calls himself an idiot when it comes to intimacy, but by the 5th page, it’s clear he’s no idiot. He’s smart and he’s brazen, but he’s afraid of his own boldness. He’s funnier ‘n shit and that’s the way he sees everything – from the rats in the subway to the guy he met on Grindr who likes to dress up as a dolphin. If he has not been able to solidify a relationship, it’s not for lack of brains .. or trying. He thinks too much and maybe he tries too hard, but by the time I finished the book (the first time) I wanted to track him down and go out on the town with him.

He writes about casual sex, serious sex, food, lipstick,funerals, and MoMA. There’s a chapter on how to build a fire (in thirty easy steps) and, a favorite of mine, a little note he writes in his mind to a one-night stand: “To the gentleman who made me hide in the closet so he could pay his cleaning lady: First of all, she totally saw me. Second, that’s all you pay her?”

Why have I heard so little about Isaac Oliver?

I’m going to Google him right now. Maybe he’s free for a cocktail later.

Instant Expert — not

Written By: sherridaley - Feb• 08•15

instant expert

 

INSTANT EXPERT (A visual guide to the skills you’ve always wanted)
By Nigel Holmes
Publisher: Lonely Planet 2015
OK, so the title is misleading. Reading this book will not make you an expert in anything, nor is it crammed full of skills you’ve always longed for. But then the title of GONE WITH THE WIND didn’t seem to have anything to do with Rhett or Scarlet or the Civil War or anything else for that matter.

PAGES AND PAGES OF GREAT ILLUSTRATIONS AND USELESS INFORMATION is probably a better title for INSTANT EXPERT but that was probably rejected by the publishers as too long and not very marketable.

Well, they were wrong. After over 200 pages of said useless information and great illustrations, I wanted more. This little book, published by the world’s largest travel guide book company, is entertaining, addictive, funny, downright clever, and has nothing at all to do with travelling anywhere. It will, however, make you a terrific party guest.

After reading this book, you can hold a valuable conversation about how to read those annoying little laundering tags sewn into the seams of your clothes. Careful translation of those mysterious symbols means you – and your dinner companion – will no longer end up with dresses the size of Barbie doll clothes or a load of pink underwear.

After reading this book, you will be able to make dependable weather predictions by looking at cows, impersonate a fitness trainer, explain the art of caber tossing, comment intelligently about climate change, tie a bow line, and meow in a dozen languages.

Imagine how you will charm your boss’s insipid wife with your knowledge of oriental rugs, the handsome man sitting next to your host with how to out-brake a Formula One race car, or the stunning Asian girl with what you know about the essence and grace of a tea ceremony. You will be everyone’s favorite dinner companion.

But let’s not forget the great illustrations. They are bright and clever, clearly drawn and informative. Much like a very good children’s book with a grown-up twist … which makes it a perfect bedtime experience for you and your children. They might like to learn about the possibility of extra-terrestrial life, shooting stars, the best methods for building sand castles, games for long car rides, origami, how to play a bagpipe, meow in several languages, or how to brew beer.

No, that would be you. You might want to brew beer. Or how to pair wines with your meal, make a crepe, or build successful sushi.

In either case, INSTANT EXPERT is a pleasure to own or bring as a gift to that dinner party where you will be scintillating.

No, on second thought, don’t give away your secret.
INSTANT EXPERT is written by Nigel Holmes, who was born in England and made a career in graphic design on both sides of the pond, creating graphics and illustrations for, among others, Apple, Fortune, Nike, The Smithsonian Institution, Sony, United Healthcare, US Airways and Visa. He also continues to create illustrations and graphics for Harper’s, The New York Observer and The New York Times.

He has his own Wikipedia entry which warns readers not to confuse this Nigel Holmes with Nigel Holmes the UK photographer of nudes — or Nigel Howard Holmes, a research scientist specializing in nano-particle coating technology research scientist.

INSTANT EXPERT Nigel Holmes lives in Connecticut with his lovely wife Erin and he always wears round eyeglasses with blue frames. He has twenty

Sometimes winter in New England is nice

Written By: sherridaley - Jan• 25•15

 

Jan 24,, 2015

I woke up with a strange feeling of having missed something. When I opened my eyes, my bedroom was bright and shadowless and the sky was white. Had the sun come up?  Is that what I missed?

At 3:30 in the morning, the sun wasn’t even nearing the horizon. It was the moon that was lighting everything up, making a low cloud cover glow.  Snow had fallen, covering everything with a couple inches of virginal white which softened corners and tree branches and made the shrubs in the garden look like like huge flowers. It was pure Hollywood.

Kimo, the little cat, gets what she wants. She pushes stuff off shelves and the sound of glass shattering would propel me out of bed to let her out. I lost a few bottles of cologne this way until I got smart and kitty-proofed the place, setting only unbreakables where she might reach them. The sound still gets me up because she’s relentless, and I’m pretty sure she’d figure out how to open the kitchen cupboards and shove glasses into the sink.

But this morning, she hadn’t done any damage. She only pushed at the covers till she found me and then stared at the side of face until I opened my eyes so I could share what she had already discovered. The world was beautiful.

Lately, I’ve been a little unhappy, although not unhappy enough to declare myself depressed.  Just disappointed in the way the days go. Not much happening, and when I get home, there’s nothing to do.  Sometimes I even make ridiculous lists of things I could do to fill the hours: take tap dance lessons, learn to weave – you know, get an actual loom – buy a keyboard and play the piano again.  None of this takes place, however.

What I don’t want to do, and it takes a great deal of will power not to do it, is what Mother did the last few years before she died.  She had boxes of old photographs and she emptied them out on the kitchen table and sorted through them for hours. Remembering her girlhood, mostly, before she married dad, before my brother and I came along.  I thought it was the saddest thing I had ever seen, those little piles of black&white photos, some with their edges curling up, reminding Mother that she was once young and pretty and laughing a lot.

I have a photos of my own, of course. Scrapbooks in the attic, and collages of  dozens of happy photos, framed. I used to have them on the wall of my office at home because they made me happy, but finally I took them down and put them in the basement. Those good times were too long ago, and I am not that girl any more. I need new photographs.

We all need new photographs., but when I rolled over this morning – or more accurately at 3:30AM, which frankly, I don’t consider morning – the silent beauty of the snow and the sky was, for the moment, all the photograph I needed. For a quiet moment or two, I wasn’t pressured by a need to do something and take a picture of it. I got up and walked around the house, looking out all the windows, and then I went back to bed.

And I was happy.

 

 

 

 

Put Your Underwear On

Written By: sherridaley - Jan• 19•15


Nothing says, “I mean business.” like putting on a bra. I am surprised that men have not noticed this and adopted this strategy themselves. On any random morning, men all over the country have watched their women transform from plushy, sleepy-eyed females into get-it-done, don’t-get-in-my-way, all-business sharks, sweeping half-dressed toddlers into strollers, dirty dishes into the sink, and husbands who can’t find a pair of brown socks out of their way. I am woman; hear me roar.
The minute a woman snaps that bra into place, she is focused and sharp. If men were to do this every morning, they would not be nodding off into their newspapers on the train or half-heartedly elbowing people out of the way to the coffee machine at the office.

I know this bra theory to be true because I have tested it. For example, I promised myself that I would do yoga every morning when I wake up, but the problem was I slept in a nightgown. Pretty, yes, but no one can do Pigeon in a nightgown. Getting up and changing into yoga clothes and then again into work clothes meant a lot of wardrobe decisions and some serious waffling. I’d drift from breakfast to thinking about yoga, to changing my clothes, to reading the newspaper, to checking my email, back to thinking about yoga, to changing my clothes again, until the time before I had to leave for work was all used up. And I hadn’t done Pigeon. Just a few minutes of Child’s Pose, and if you have ever been to one yoga class, you know what that means.

So I started wearing comfortable yoga pants and a tank top to sleep in, thinking I’d get up and get right on my mat and bloom into Warrior One. However, feeling comfy was not an inspiration to be a Warrior or even a Pigeon. It made me want to stay in bed longer because I knew I had saved serious minutes changing clothes. Then I had no time for yoga when I slobbered out of bed.

Sleeping in my yoga clothes didn’t work. So I gave up on yoga in the morning. Now I get up, put on a bra, get dressed, and go to work. Sometimes I look at my yoga mat.

Now let’s examine my bra-wearing habits when I go to the gym. A form-fitting Lycra tank top does the job of containing breasts for moderate exercise like walking and yoga. However, dressed like that, I feel good and healthy and calm and rested, so therefore, I do not have the animal spit it takes to lift weights, and most certainly I cannot run on the treadmill or jump rope wearing a pretty little tank top with spaghetti straps. Any woman knows this.
However, wearing a sport bra, I am girded for battle. Ready for the treadmill and Nautilus machines. Ready for anything. I am woman; hear me roar. When I take that extra minute to struggle into a sport bra, I head straight for the free weights. I know that I and my breasts are ready for a serious workout.

It’s the same at my job. I am a schoolteacher. I cannot discipline obstreperous students or command respect if I am not wearing a bra, no matter how many layers of undergarments I am wearing or how thick my sweater might be. Sometimes I don’t wear underpants, never when I am wearing leggings, and my verve and authority are not compromised. I am competent and at ease with myself. But if I want to go that extra mile, I always fasten on a good bra before I stride out into the fray.
There are women out there reading this, and they are nodding their heads. They know.
Regarding men and bras, on second thought, we ladies should keep this our little secret. Men don’t need the extra advantage. They’ve got the upper hand in too many arenas in our culture. We cannot let them go around wearing bras and herding more successes into their bank accounts.
Nope. Bras are for us girls.
Us powerful girls

Lone Survivor: the Book not the Movie

Written By: sherridaley - Jan• 01•15

lone survivorBecause that’s the kind of chick I am. I read books.  I want good stories and great writing, preferably together, and I almost didn’t finish Lone Survivor because the first third — almost half — of the book is not particularly good writing. It’s repetitive and ordinary, all about training to become a Navy SEAL: grueling, unbelievable, inhuman training which made me wonder if these men were really from this planet.  I have always admired Navy SEALs, but “admire” is not a big enough word now. I am in awe.

But I didn’t put the book down. I wanted that story, but frankly, I was exhausted running to and from the mess hall, swimming with combat boots on, climbing and crawling and shouting and rolling in the sand, and then running and climbing and crawling some more in wet gear and sandy underwear.  Their commitment and fervor stunned me.

And their talent with weapons and maps and military technology, radio transmitters, strobe lights and lasers. These men could find their way out of flooded catacombs, hog-tied and blindfolded, I am sure.

But I had to cut through some of the training chapters to get to the 24-hour  battle in the brutal Afghanistan mountains which led to the deaths of three of the Navy’s most well-trained, focused, and fiercely patriotic men. I wanted the story.

I’ve seen great war movies before, we all have, but none had exposed what the Geneva Convention, the Rules of Engagement, and the free world’s media have done to make it all but impossible for the United States military to win a war in the Middle East. Men who are risking their lives to protect us here at home, reading books and eating bad carbohydrates, must consider whether or not the American media will portray them as murderers before pulling the trigger in a situation where they KNOW they should kill.  Never have I read anywhere how acutely aware are soldiers of their vulnerability to their own country.

Luttrell, the lone survivor of Operation Redwing, explains that the enemy knows this, and they send their bombs and ammunition on the backs of goats, shepherded by unarmed men, knowing that even though our soldiers know that is a military convoy, they cannot shoot — because the goat herders look like ordinary peasants. And they have no guns.

It was the uneasy awareness that their own country could ruin their lives, that they could go to prison for doing their job, that made Luttrell the deciding vote to let a trio of goat herders free, their goats’ bells tinkling, when chances were good that the goat herders would give away their position.

And they did.

The resulting kill-fest was bloody and fast, 200 or more Taliban against four men. And one survived.

Lutrell also wrote about the unsettling hatred that he saw and felt there, and the lack of regard for personal life. Their own as well as for their enemy.  I did not come away with a feeling of kindness for my fellow man, despite the Pashtuns who risked their own lives – the lives of every man, woman, and child in the village – to rescue, harbor, and get Luttrell to safety. They did not do it because of the love of their fellow man; they did it because of an age-old tradition, older than rocks, older than hate.

I want to see the movie to see if Luttrell’s story has been white-washed, if the producers/writers took out the excoriating of the media and the Rules of Engagement.

And I wonder how many police officers, should they read this book, are feeling a teeth-grinding empathy.

 

 

I can’t believe all this happened in one summer.

Written By: sherridaley - Jul• 07•14

Product Details

Please don’t miss this book. The only reason I got it was because I love Bryson.  (If you haven’t read A WALK IN THE WOODS, do so immediately and be prepared to laugh your butt off.  I love this guy.)

But I’m not big on history, baseball, or aviation, so what happened in 1927 was just about last on my list of things to give a shit about.  I told myself to not bother, but thank God I don’t listen to myself.  First of all, baseball. This is not your ordinary history of baseball.  Much like PERFECT STORM, where the author made a bunch of weather reports riveting and suspenseful reading, ONE SUMMER snags its readers with unexpected connections and details. I’ve always been impressed with Bryson’s research, but this time, he’s outdone himself. The book drips with incredible statistics and little-known juicy facts – and not just about Babe Ruth, although Babe would have been plenty.

Just when I started to think that this was the book for my Yankee-obsessed friends, straight-laced nerdy Charles Lindbergh shows up and steals the plot away from Ruth, and I think I must tell my friend Kevin about this book because he will love all the aviation stuff. Even I am amazed that early pilots actually flew in those rickety contraptions made out of balsam wood and paper which often went up in a ball of flames.

But then somehow, Bryson manages to bring in Henry Ford and the sketchy transition from the Model T to the Model A (Those letters mean nothing, by the way.), the execution of Sacco & Vanzetti (They may not be as innocent as we have been led to believe …), the advent of the “talkies”, and the original Ponzi scheme. Did you know there really was a guy named Ponzi?  He built his house of cards with postage stamps.

It all coalesces into a completely understandable combination of fascinating stories, interwoven into a solid experience that sent me back to the library to get a couple of his older books that I missed.

ONE SUMMER is a perfect perfect book for guys, full of machinery and gore, kidnapping, explosions, speed, competition, politics, sports, booze, and lust.  Actually, I like all those things myself.  Except for baseball.  I don’t much care for baseball.

 

Woof Woof (book reviews)

Written By: sherridaley - Jun• 24•14

Product DetailsProduct Details

 

Usually, I hate short stories.  Just about when I get involved with the characters, the story ends.  However, I just finished two (yup, TWO) short story collections that I loved.  Really loved.  Enough to go back to the library and get earlier books by both authors, who happen to be women … another oddity for me.  There once was a time I didn’t read any women except Doris Lessing and Anais Nin. But I was stupid back then.

BARK by Lorrie Moore is her first collection  since Birds of America fifteen years ago, which I didn’t read only because I didn’t read the New York Times’ review which called it “fluid, cracked, mordant, colloquial …” adjectives which would have sent me screaming to the bookstore with my pocketbook. BARK had me at the page right after the dedication – you know, that page where authors put their favorite quotations lifted from obscure books which seem to have no connection with the book at hand.  Moore quotes Amy Gerstler, “Don’t be gruff. Anything that falls on the floor is mine.”

These stories deal with love, lack of it, longing for it, remembering it, creating it … you name it. Each story closes in on itself like a fist, separate, powerful, and fierce.

The stranger of the two books  is THE UNAMERICANS by Molly Antopol. Here, whatever love and discord talked about is set in faraway countries.  Well, far away from America, that is.  There’s war, there’s dying, there’s pain and nausea and hopelessness.  No need to know anything about these countries – people are people, no matter where they live – but the foreign settings bring a sort of brilliance to the plots, something unexpected, maybe a little strange, so that something which may have seemed ordinary on a street in, say, Pittsburgh has a poignancy, a loftiness, and sometimes grittiness.  The book jacket calls the characters “deeply sympathetic” and they are.

My advice.  Read them both. ASAP.

 

DETROIT by Charlie LeDuff (I know what you’re thinking.)

Written By: sherridaley - Jun• 22•14

Product Details

I was thinking the same thing.  Who wants to read a book about a city of smoldering detritus, where you are advised by hand-written signs to not gas up your car after dark?  (Once you step out of the driver’s seat, someone will deftly get in it and drive away.) Square miles of abandoned buildings. Dark streets where even the natives don’t venture out. Where residents are begging the city to bulldoze the houses next door. Drugs, coyotes, unemployment, deserted factories, and acres of weeds.

But I recommend this book for two reasons.

1.  It is a riveting, rollicking good read. LeDuff, long a journalist for the Detroit Free Press and for the New York Times, a Pulitzer-prize winner, and current television journalist for Detroit’s Fox 2 News, writes a damned good book.  Although the book flap says that the book is not a hopeless parable, I have to admit that I was convinced of Detroit’s hopelessness when I quit reading.  LeDuff is the quintessential, stereotypical, cigar-chomping, whiskey-drinking,  gruff-speaking reporter – perfect for a prime time TV series.  What makes this unsettling is that his stories are all true.  Throughout the book, you keep thinking, “They couldn’t have got away with that.”  Or “It can’t possible be that  bad.”    But they did.  And it is.

2. It’s a cautionary tale that I wish everyone would read and take note. What happened there can happen elsewhere.  Perhaps not in your town, but nearby.  Too nearby.  Somebody – maybe you and me – has to do something.  But I don’t know what.

I’m from Michigan.  My grandparents lived in Detroit in a beautiful brick house with French doors that opened out onto a rose garden. Grandpa owned a dairy, and my brother and I spent summers on the farm a few hours away. They were comfortable, if not rich, but maybe they were.  I was just a kid. Detroit was a beautiful city back then, with canopies of trees and elegant stores, restaurants, and wide boulevards. Going to Detroit was a special outing.  The Fisher Theatre. The Ford Rotunda. Joey Muir’s Restaurant. The London Chop House.

I remember the 12th Street Riot of 1967. It didn’t have a name back then.  We just knew that they were burning down Detroit, looting and shooting people. Mom and Dad and my brother and I lived about 5o  miles away, and I remember standing on the porch looking in the direction of Detroit, terrified.  I remember I could see the glow of the fires burning, but of course now I am sure we could not.  That’s just my memory making up things because my mind and heart could see the fire very clearly. Someone was burning down my grandpa’s  noble city.

If you have a minute, go to the internet and see how Hiroshima rebuilt itself. And then go look at before-and-after photographs of Detroit.  Detroit has never, ever recovered.

LeDuff’s book, unsettling as it may be, is a great read, even if it were fiction.

In fact, I wish it were fiction.

Tag. I’m it.

Written By: sherridaley - Jun• 05•14

 

I’ve been asked to take part in a game of writers’ tag where one writer answers a set of questions, posts the results, and then tags another unsuspecting writer.  My co-editor of WHAT WE TALK ABOUT (the book will be out this month and I expect you all to buy several copies) tagged me… and I am targeting the next victim.

Here’s mine:

How did it all begin?

I don’t count writing for the high school newspaper a beginning, or writing soppy poetry in college, or unsent love letters when I thought I was a grown-up.  I believe it all began when the man I was in love with committed suicide in 1982.

It was like something was torn asunder and there was no way to repair it. I know that if I had not been a new mother at the time, I would not have survived the insurmountable grief.  I could say that there were no words to describe it, but there were. There always are words.

I didn’t want him to be dead, so I started writing down all the wonderful and awful moments from the day I met him in 1976. It helped.  I felt like I had made him immortal, because each vignette made him alive again.

But it had to be read by someone else other than me, so I took the stack of writing to Gordon Lish, the editor of my favorite writer, Raymond Carver. I dropped it off at Alfred Knopf on my way to work.

Lish called me at 9:05AM.  Said he’d been on his way to wastebasket with it when he read the first line and decided otherwise.  I sold the collection of vignettes as an unfinished manuscript at WW Norton within two weeks. I was rich & famous (in my estimation!) for a little while, but it wasn’t about me; it was about keeping that man alive.  And even now, if anyone ever finds HIGH COTTON at a yard sale, on Amazon, Alibris, or some musty library shelf and reads it, he’s alive – over 30 years after his death.

 

What’s my writing process?

That depends on what I’m writing.  Nowadays, I mostly write for magazines and I am deadline-driven.  I have to work in my office at home. My brain knows I am at work when I go in there. I think it’s pretty great that I can get paid for writing.

People ask me why I haven’t written another book like HIGH COTTON and I tell them that I haven’t another dead boyfriend to write about. I’m like Margaret Mitchell, maybe.  One book in me.  I content myself with freelance work.

 

What am I working on?

I just finished co-editing a collection of writing from women over 60. My old college roommate asked me to work with her on it, and I think it’s a wonderful book of things we all talk about. In fact, that’s the name of the book WHAT WE TALK ABOUT, a title I stole from my idol Raymond Carver’s iconic short story “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.”

Other than that, I write for magazines about anything they want me to write about. Gives me a chance to write about anything from Buddhists to motorcycles.  Love it.

 

How does my work differ from others in the genre?

I like to think that I have a distinctive voice among magazine journalists. I like to think that.  Slightly tongue-in-cheek, sometimes self-deprecating, always respectful of my subject matter, and sometimes, when the moon is full, downright hilarious.  Or so I’m told. When I have an assignment, I have three goals: to educate, entertain, and motivate.

 

How does my writing process work?

I have no process, but I cannot write an article or a blog entry or in my journal until I have an opening line. I write in my head for days before I type one word. Then I often write the whole article in one sitting.  I can’t, however, maintain that focus for much more than two hours. White wine helps. And having one cat on the desk, swatting her tail over the keyboard. Something about cats.