March 31, 2010

Sea of Love

Saw this for the first time last night and loved its sense of humor. As always, I like a song more after having seen the video.


March 30, 2010

No Time Like the Present

What better time to talk about health care reform than when I'm home sick?

I just re-read Frank Rich's terrific op-ed piece from Sunday's NYT, and it drove home my own views on all the angry "pitchfork people," as I like to call the angry mobs of sheeple populists.

What concerns me about how the health care upheaval played out is this: People have bought into the belief that the less fortunate are morally inferior and don't deserve health care. How else to explain the reaction gone viral of a mob harassing a man with Parkinson's who was engaged in an act of non-violence? Even though they likely know somebody - an extended member of the family, colleague at work, or neighbor - in debt after a life-threatening illness, they don't realize that they themselves are, as one Harvard MD says, "One illness away from financial ruin." Indeed, more than 60% of bankruptcies filed in the U.S. are the result of medical bills.

Elsewhere in the developed world, health care is something its citizens share. Here in the U.S. it is something we horde. They see it as a basic human right...we see it as privilege. An article in Salon said it well: "[The sheeple] tend to believe healthcare reform helped 'other people,' not themselves."

A Canadian friend of mine recently told me that when Canada adopted universal health care, people assumed the sky was falling. Now the father of Canadian health care is considered the nation's greatest citizen. I can only hope that the polls trending upward since the passage last week of health care reform continues and that the hostility will die down. Actual signs, though, indicate the initial blip was just that...initial. And even more recent polling indicates that people believe Democrats are to blame for the violence perpetrated against its members in Congress post passage.

But I worry a low-level of hatred will remain, because for many, it all comes down to black. There's this "other," see, in the White House; an uppity, scarily-named, "intellectual" with a preternatural calm. And he signals a rising up of all the other "others" - is it any surprise that Newt Gingrich compared health care reform to passage of the Civil Rights Act as regards possible fall-out? Maybe he's just speaking a hard political truth, but his harsh, cynical view negates the actual purpose and result of civil rights laws. And that's the difference Bill Maher pointed to [again] on Friday night when he defined patriotism as doing what's right for the country as opposed to doing what's right for any particular political party.

Nobody's thrilled with the final health care reform bill; that million dollars a day spent by healthcare interests (insurance, medical, hospital, and pharmaceutical companies) to effect the outcome in their favor made sure that of that. But I sleep a little better at night knowing that as a nation we are trying to live up to a moral responsibility.


March 29, 2010

A Question for the Ages

Every time I've seen a television commercial for Almay eye makeup in the past five or so years, I've asked myself the same question: "What on earth caused them to choose such a squinty-eyed model?"

If both these photos were part of eye makeup campaigns, I would be far more likely to buy whatever Iman's wearing than Elaine Irwin-Mellencamp (and yes, she is John Mellencamp's wife).

What about you?


March 27, 2010

Asperger's, Autism, and Soothing

There's a terrific article in this month's Vanity Fair by "big swinging dicks" (Liar's Poker) author Michael Lewis about Michael Burry, a neurologist/hedge fund manager whose obsessive personality led him to understand credit default swaps and the sub-prime market in a way nobody else had; as a result he predicted for his investors the collapse of the financial markets in a manner that allowed him to make them boatloads of money. While his success was obviously interesting to read about, what intrigued me more was his personality.

The article begins: "Michael Burry always saw the world differently - due, he believed, to the childhood loss of one eye." Burry dislikes meeting people face-to-face because he can't read non-verbal signals, often takes verbal signals too literally, tends toward the obsessive in peculiar ways, spends most of his time alone, and, "By his late 20s he thought of himself as the sort of person who didn’t have friends."

All this information appears relatively early in Lewis' article, and as I read it I decided Burry must have Asperger's. I've known people with varying degrees of the Syndrome, and over the past few years have made an effort to become friendly with a few because they are often very interesting. Most of the piece details Burry's brilliance as a hedge fund manager; only towards the end does Lewis delve into his private life, his young son's diagnosis with Asperger's, and his realization that he also had Asperger's.

Most of the people I've known with Asperger's are at the low/lowish end of the scale (I have some Asperger-ish attributes myself); they are quirky people with quirky interests who mis-read social cues and just don't quite fit in. They often spout non sequiters, interrupt conversations, and can't be bothered with social niceties, but because they look at things in a slightly skewed fashion, they often observe things others miss. And because they tend toward the obsessive, they can be incredibly knowledgeable about the things about which they are passionate, be it cooking, music, or cheese.

This is not to say I like all the people I've met who have the Syndrome; they can be rude, and if they are very high on the scale, tend toward the creepy because although they've been taught certain behaviors to "fit in," they really haven't internalized them. Regardless of my personal feelings, though, I sympathize with them; they know something's wrong...but they don't know how to fix it.

Reading about Burry reminded me of a book I read last year - and strongly recommend - John Elder Robison's Look Me In the Eye. I spent a year eyeing the book at the bookstore, picking it up and looking at it, but never buying it...until Thanksgiving weekend when I finally bought it and read it in one sitting. It's a fascinating memoir and for any of you interested in understanding the thought processes of someone with Asperger's, it's terrific at providing that insight. Lewis' article also does that, but in far less detail. Even if you don't have a particular interest in Asperger's, this is a book worth reading because of Robison's voice, and the life he's led.

While we're on the topic of Asperger's, let's take it one step further, into full-out autism, and the story of Temple Grandin.I'd read profiles of her over the years, so when HBO aired her story some months ago, I couldn't wait to watch it. Though I have personal issues regarding its star, Claire Danes, she's a good actress and the movie an inspiration.

Of particular interest was the soothing device Grandin created for herself. She advocates the calming effects of deep touch pressure on the autistic and while I have no first-hand experience with that, I think it must be accomplish something similar to swaddling an infant.

Which brings me to this personal tidbit. There are times when I don't know what to do with myself; I'm out of sorts, I walk around the house and can't sit still, am unable to focus on anything in particular, and though I know I'm being weird, I just can't settle. I discovered something the last time this happened: When my husband and I got into bed (I was still antsy) and we got into our nightly spooning position, I almost immediately settled down. I figured out that his holding me against him was the adult version of swaddling.

When I told him he was my very own personal soothing device, he looked at me as he does when I say something bizarre, then smiled. Soothing, and sweet.


Succubi Like It Hot

Jill Myles

Grade: B-

Urban Fantasy

Amazon Vine just posted my review of this book, which begins...

After being transformed from a frumpy doormat into a gorgeous red-head in Gentlemen Prefer Succubi, Jackie Brighton is settling into being a succubus. Being immortal has its benefits; she'll never gain weight, doesn't need to sleep, and both her hunky masters are willing to give her the sex she craves every three days. The downsides, though, are troublesome; both angels and demons want to trip her up and she must do what is commanded of her by her two masters. Not to mention that her masters are fallen angels; Noah is a Serim, Zane a vampire...

Click here to read the rest of my review for Amazon


March 25, 2010

Is It Really True?

Can it really be true that 2/3 of Republicans (and 40 percent of Americans overall) believe that Obama is a socialist? According to a new Harris poll, as reported by Jon Avlon, it is true. Other results of this poll:

  • Nearly 60% of Republicans (one third overall) believe Obama is a Muslim
  • Close to half of Republicans (one quarter overall) subscribe to the Birthers' belief that Obama isn't eligible to be president
  • Almost 40% of Republicans (two in ten overall) agree that Obama is "doing many of the things that Hitler did"
  • Roughly one fourth of all Republicans (14% overall) question whether or not Obama is the Antichrist.

The one thing that isn't surprising in all this: Those with a college education are far less likely to believe such claims. Which explains, AFAIC, how monied interests are able to convince those who wear blue collars that the Republicans are out for the little guy.

Writing Reviews

I just turned in a review to one of my two Publishers Weekly editors...what a difficult review to write! I spent more than three hours writing, revising, and honing 300 words for my hardcover/trade editor. It's a haunting book by a debuting author and I'll share more info as August closes in and the book nears release.

It's the third review I've written in a week. I sent the first one to my mass market editor a week ago, and a few days later finished the first book and review for an annual hush hush PW project requiring the reading and reviewing of five books in a two week period. I'm currently in the midst of book two and should have plenty of time to finish before the deadline.

As a result of all this reading and reviewing, it may "go dark" here on my blog that nobody knows about but me - and a couple of authors I contacted after my Tuesday entry. I'm debating when...even if...I should tweet or comment on Facebook about the blog. So far doing nothing save including links here from my Twitter and Facebook profiles is the extent I'm willing to go. While I'm excited, I also remember some of the reasons I stopped writing online to begin with. Hence my dilemma, and why I named this blog "Toe in the Water" (so far it's just one).

March 24, 2010

This Is What I Meant

Yesterday while on the third leg of a flight to Salt Lake, I tweeted that in just one more trip, we would "bid farewell" to these frequent flights and say "hello" to normalcy. What's normal? Well...nothing, really, but there's more normal and less normal. Traveling every six weeks to Vermont, the Berkshires, the wildernesss of Utah, or Salt Lake City, then staying in various Comfort or Days Inns for up to a week at a time is something I categorize as less than normal - and it's how we've lived for the past three plus years.

The morning started with some pretty intense family work at the school our daughter attends, followed by a quick lunch before returning to our Comfort Inn in Salt Lake. Right now I'm sitting on a bed in the room, finishing up a book to review for PW, after which I'll write the review, which is due tomorrow. Sitting on the other bed is my daughter, working on her laptop on an assignment that she'll email back to school tonight. And sitting at the table working on his laptop is my husband.

This is a typical day for us during these trips, although during the Vermont and Berkshire years, much more time was spent at the schools in question, in various groups and forms of therapy. This last, final part of our daughter's long journey is the most intimate...and yet still it isn't. We're closer now as a family than we've ever been, but motel living can never substitute for the comforts of home.

Next month my husband and I will fly in for her graduation and take her home with us, where she'll spend the summer - hopefully working part-time at the bookstore and planting and maintaining a garden - before we take a well-earned family vacation. Then we'll load up the car and drive her to Conway, Arkansas so she can begin her freshman year at Hendrix College. This momentous event is something none of us considered even a possibility three years ago.

We've been talking the talk about personal responsibility and life-ownership for quite awhile now, and have begun to walk the walk, which all three of us have found a hell of a lot harder. But all those days away from home married lots of hard, life-altering work, making the time less than normal but oh, so wonderfully worthwhile.

And that is what I mean by "hello, normalcy." Totally normal? Never...but more so than the past three years. I think we've all earned it.

March 23, 2010

A Short Piece at the NBCC

A short piece I wrote for the National Book Critic's Circle on e-book reading was published today. Click here to read it.

March 22, 2010

Books To Look For

I've been very vocal about my love for Gail Carriger's Soulless, my only Publishers Weekly starred review for 2009. And I've hand-sold quite hard Lori Handeland's Phoenix Chronicles. At the bookstore I hand-sold about 50 copies to date of the former - and because of that sales record the store will be sent roughly the same number of copies of the sequel, Changeless. As for Handeland's series, I've sold roughly 3 1/2 dozen of book one, somewhat less of book two, and less still of book three.

Part of the problem is that with an urban fantasy series, you can't sell books two or three without selling book one. Because we haven't had many copies of each book at one time, I can't often do what I managed to do during my last two shifts: sell all three together. Most readers new to the series, though, take a slower approach and simply buy book one. When they come back, we don't have books two or three, and they end up ordering copies online, or they go elsewhere. It's tough because the series is very much a sleeper; I can only hope it catches on, and with Keri Arthur's Riley Jenson series coming to an end in June, there will be one less series with which it must compete.

Last week I read Changeless, which is terrifically funny, very visually Steampunkish, and, like Soulless before it, pitch perfect. The cliffhanger ending is its only flaw, but I'm sure all will be resolved in book three (Blameless), to be published at the end of summer. But back to Changeless...there's a moment during which a rather clueless character remarks about the love between "Pyramid and Thirsty" that so reminded me of A Midsummer Night's Dream that I marveled at Carriger's skill. (My daughter has so far been the only one to "get" the reference, which surprised me as those I asked were literate folk.)

I've not yet read Chaos Bites, although I did read the excerpt Handeland has up on her site. As expected, it was exciting, intriguing, and sexy, and I look forward to reading it as soon as it goes on sale. Because it's such a sleeper series, though, I worry about its long-term success and whether or not the author will be given the opportunity to take it where she wants it to go. At the author's website, just one title (Demons at the Gate) is listed beyond Chaos Bites...I hope the series won't end there.

So here are covers of both books, with links to the author's sites, as well as some of the other books I'm looking forward to in the near future:

What are you looking forward to reading...and if you read urban fantasy, can I convince you to try The Phoenix Chronicles?


March 21, 2010

Dipping My Toe Back In

I decided to start blogging again.

New blog site.

New name.

No hoopla. Nothing fancy.

I'm dipping my toe back into the water to see how it feels.