Sunday, August 31, 2008


Sarah Palin, from an Alaskan's POV

So, Guanaco waxes political:

The biggest news around here this week, of course, is John McCain's somewhat surprising (and excellently timed) selection of our governor, Sarah Palin, as his Vice Presidential running mate. Wow! I have been a big fan of Sarah Palin for a long time. She is as genuine as they come. No "handlers" needed. She says what she means and she means what she says. Agree with her or not, you'll find her honesty and forthrightness to be refreshing. Watch out Washington D.C. Do you really want to see "change"? Well, here she comes! I'm pretty sure she wrote her own speech she delivered Friday in Dayton - only an Alaskan would use the term "snowmachine"; lower 48ers say "snowmobile".

She first came to my attention when she took on the "system" as city council-person and later as Mayor of Wasilla. Normally, small-town politics are not very interesting, but in a "small" state like ours, anything out of the ordinary becomes news. And she was definitely out of the ordinary. She quickly made a lot of enemies within the establishment, but for every entrenched politician or bureaucrat that she angered, she gained a lot more respect and admiration among the voters.

Then along came Frank Murkowski. Bear with me, because this tale has some interesting twists and turns that might help explain Sarah Palin's sudden rise to prominence:

When I moved to Alaska in 1975, one of our senators was Mike Gravel - yes, that Mike Gravel. What a buffoon! His illustrious career as a senator ended not long after he championed a domed city near Mt. McKinley. More ridiculous, though, was his insertion (and subsequent secretive removal) of a rider in some bill calling for a study to determine what happened to all the penguins in Alaska!!! Apparently he'd watched too many episodes of "Tennessee Tuxedo". Fortunately, we got the chance to dump him in 1980 and Frank Murkowski was an easy shoo-in to replace him.

Murkowski was a staunch Republican, and a strong defender of Alaskan issues such as oil, fishing, etc. I had the chance to meet with him in Washington D.C. in the early 1990s on behalf of a company project I was involved in, and I found him to be personable, and seemingly attentive to what I was there to talk about. I have to say I think he did a reasonably good job at the time. Six years ago, though, he decided to run for Governor and easily won the position. Sadly, he didn't measure up. His first action as governor was to appoint his daughter to complete his term as US Senator. Key positions in his administration were mostly filled from the ranks of the oil industry. He seemed more interested in the perks of the job than in the people who'd elected him. The most ridiculous example was when - against unanimous opposition - he used state funds to buy a corporate jet for travel around the state. But worst of all, was the close connection between his office and Alaska's oil industry. After ramming a new tax structure favoring the oil companies through the legislature and then championing a sweetheart deal with Alaska's big 3 oil companies for a new gas pipeline, people finally began to get vocal and demand accountability.

The loudest questions came from none other than Sarah Palin. From within his own party, no less. She'd recently resigned as chairperson of the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission after uncovering several instances of ethical misconduct by other (Republican) members - allegations that were largely ignored but later proved to be true. Later she called out Murkowski's Attorney General after he publicly championed a company that it turned out he was deeply invested in. This too brought down the wrath of the establishment on her - how dare she take on her own party in a public way? But after Murkowski's tax legislation passed she announced she would run for governor to try to put a stop to his rampant abuse of power and cleanup the mess. Coming from relatively nowhere, with no party support whatsoever, she won the primary by an overwhelming margin - Murkowski came in 3rd. Then, this unknown maverick had to face off against Tony Knowles, another entrenched (Democratic) politician - a popular former mayor of Anchorage and also a former governor.

She handily won the general election and immediately went to work cleaning up the mess her predecessors had left behind.

First she put up Murkowski's jet plane for sale. Then she reopened Murkowski's tax give-away, and this time she persuaded the legislature to pass a fair tax plan that encouraged reinvestment, while not giving away the farm. She threw out Murkowski's cozy pipeline deal and proposed an alternative approach that the legislature approved and she signed off on just this week. It remains to be seen whether this will be as good a deal as she intended, but no one can say that the process was not clean and transparent. I remain optimistic.

Meanwhile, the establishment that she took on two years ago when running for governor has collapsed in a wave of investigations, indictments, plea bargains, and the like. At the center it all was Alaska's largest oil field service company, Veco, which has also served as the oil industry's political arm in Juneau and apparently in Washington. Veco's owner pleaded guilty to various bribes and illegalities involving a number of legislators in order to pass Murkowski's generous tax and pipeline deals. Most of the implicated legislators have since been convicted. Alaska's other senator, Ted Stevens, faces trial this fall on charges related to work done by Veco on his home in Alaska. Alaska's only representative, Don Young, is currently under investigation as well.

Palin's outspoken opposition to this "good-ol'-boy" system has clearly made a lot enemies within the state. I'd be surprised if either of our US Senators will do much more than give lip-service support to her candidacy this fall. Not surprisingly, though, is her approval rating among the general population of 80% (some of her opponents claim it is only 65%). Here's where Alaska politics get bizarre, though - Ted Stevens, even under indictment, handily won his reelection primary this past week. Don Young may have been finally been knocked out (we're waiting for absentee ballots and a probable recount) - it's close. [Don Young was originally appointed to this seat in Congress in 1970(?) after losing an election to a dead man, Nick Begich, who with Hale Boggs from Louisiana, disappeared with their plane en-route to Anchorage from Juneau.]

Sarah Palin has gotten where she is by her own determination and guts to take on the system. Her background and values reflect most long-time Alaskans I've known in my 33 years here. Family first, followed by schools and kids' activities, and religion - supported by a strong sense of self-determination and self-reliance. Many of these people cleared their own land and built their own homes. Electricity and telephones came much later. Hunting and fishing was for food, not sport. Much later, after civilization arrived with high-speed internet, satellite TV, and cellphones; that pioneering spirit remains - that sense that we can only count on ourselves and our local community, that we can't trust government to step in and solve our problems. A mistrust of bureaucrats and big government and the bottom-feeding politicians that run it, is a defining trait for most long-time Alaskans.

Her squeaky-clean reputation for honesty and integrity has been ruffled a bit in recent weeks after she fired the commissioner of public safety. He claims he was pressured to fire a state trooper who used to be married to Palin's sister. That trooper apparently had made threats against Palin and her parents in the past, and he apparently once used a taser on his 10-year old stepson (Palin's nephew) in order to teach him some respect, and so on. Earlier internal investigations by the state police good-ol'-boy system (run by this commissioner) saw no reason to dismiss this trooper... hmmm... I think I would have tried to find a way to fire them both.

I believe she'll stand up to the national good-ol'-boy networks, especially if they try to make her compromise her own principals. I believe she will always be controversial and will make a lot of enemies on the right and on the left as she gains more and more admirers like me. I doubt if most lobbyists (expecially insurance, pharmaceuticals, trial lawyers, and the like) really perceive that much difference between Ted Kennedy and Trent Lott - for example - when it comes down to voting for their special interests. I'm pretty sure they'll see a difference if Sarah Palin gets involved!

I'm looking forward to the Vice Presidential debate. I've always respected Joe Biden - mostly whenever he spoke his own mind instead of parroting the daily party-line talking points. I like his bluntness and directness, but I don't like his tendency to get personal. I doubt he'll intimidate Sarah Palin, however. She's more than ready for this kind of challenge - that seems to be where she excels. If I were asked to advise Sarah Palin on how to prepare for this debate, I'd tell her to continue to speak her mind as she sees it; to set aside all the position papers and talking points; to give all the party handlers assigned to brief her a fair hearing, but don't let them tell her what and what not to say; to continue to be honest about what she knows and what she believes. No one can expect her to be an expert on things she clearly is not. So say that; but then feel free to state her own opinions - as long as she acknowleges these are simply her own opinions. Most voters aren't experts on any of this either, but we all sure have our opinions, and would respect her for giving us hers. If she goes out there as simply who she is, Sarah Palin, not as some packaged, handled, media personality, molded to appeal to whatever focus group, then she'll knock the socks off of Joe Biden.

Already we're starting to see an interesting reaction by the far left bloggers. Some are threatening to move to Canada. Some are sniggering over her choices of names for her kids (apparently because none were named Ethan or Madison, or whatever). Some have even had the gall to snidely suggest her newborn daughter is actually her daughter's baby. A few sneered because the baby was dressed in Carhart coveralls. (My kids wore them until they entered school; I wear mine every time I am out cutting wood or shoveling snow.) Others appear to need to feel somehow superior by commenting that she was a beauty queen after High School... (I'm guessing there might be just a little sour grapes, here.) The strangest criticism is that she was simply a mayor of a small town, and now is only the governor of a small(!) state.

People need to be very careful, here. Many voters in this country (who don't just talk about elections, but actually get out and vote every time) live in small towns. They are apparently forgetting about the political origins of Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and to some degree, even George Bush-II. They were all governors and had to deal with their state bureaucracies and legislatures. Sarah Palin has been remarkably successful in that so far. What has Barack Obama done that compares?

The obvious question, amplified by John McCain's age, is whether she is ready to be president. Sarah Palin is a quick study. She's smart enough to attract smart people. She's smart enough to listen to them and learn from them. She's savvy enough to cut through the BS and smug self-importance that seems so prevalent in Washington. The democratic talking points are currently targeting her lack of foreign policy experience - but once again: what experience does Barack Obama have? Like him, she's been to Iraq twice to visit Alaska troops stationed there.

I'm not so sure foreign policy experience is that critical for a vice president. I'd rather vote for a president (and vice president) that I believe will do the right thing for this country, not for one who claims to be more popular overseas, or has wined and dined with prime ministers and heads of state. Foreign policy decisions are always taken after great deliberations and discussions in and out of Washington. They are seldom made off the cuff. Few such decisions ever turn out as expected, so the ability to look at the big picture, to look beyond whatever situation is at hand, is a critical factor, in my opinion.

The Bush-II fiasco in not seeing beyond the initial overthrow of Saddam Hussein and consequently failing to prepare for the chaos that followed is the most recent example of how this went wrong. Clinton's overly eager deal with North Korea is another example. For that matter, how about Carter failing to deal with Cambodia and later Iran? How about Reagan arming the Taliban in response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan? Or his failure to take on the nascent terrorism in Lebanon? (although he did put an immediate stop to Qaddafi.) Or Bush-I and Clinton failing to adequately deal with a new Russia trying (and recently failing) to emerge from the chaos that had been the Soviet Union? Or Clinton failing to deal with the massacres in Rwanda, or the ethnic wars in Croatia and Bosnia? [Finally he stepped in to stop a repeat in Kosovo]. And so on. I don't see how having any foreign policy experience has really done that much good in any of these situations. Too many of these were simply events occurring beyond our control in spite of our belief that we can and should be "doing something".

A lot of this debate about foreign policy experience has to do with that sense of being "inside the beltway". These Washington insiders are convinced that they alone are capable of dealing with the rest of the world on behalf of the US. Trouble is they have failed to deliver, time and time again.

So, back to Sarah Palin. Based on what I've seen so far, I think she has the necessary capabilities to make decisions if needed that are in the best interests of this country. She's wise enough to seek out advice and counsel from all sides before blundering into any adverse situation. As VP, she'll have plenty of opportunities to travel abroad and wine and dine with the glitterati, and hopefully to see what's really going on around the world.

All in all, American voters should not make the mistake of underestimating this woman!

This was a very interesting pick for McCain - I am very intrigued by her and it is forcing me to take a second look at the McCain ticket. What McCain needs to do is figure out how he can leverage someone like her as a VP. Until he does that - it's the same ole Republican agenda. Unfortunately, it may be too little too late.
Eight years ago I would have unambiguously supported John McCain. I was a big fan of his (I have always, always been thoroughly disgusted with George W, extending back well before South Carolina in 2000). Since then, my opinion of McCain has declined considerably, so much that I could very well vote for Obama.

McCain's Sarah Palin choice was shocking. I thought it an act of desperation. Your words tell me to keep an open mind, but Palin will still have to pull off some major campaigning feats to restore my faith in McCain.
Thanks for your insight. I happened upon your blog as we have several books in common and every once in a while I tend to see who else likes what I like. Your insights confirm what I have suspected, and McCain's choice of running mate has made this election even more interesting. I can't wait to see how it all plays out. Quite exciting!
Dianne Miller
Check out my blog candy!
On an unrelated, but still political note -- even though I'm not an Alaskan and, in recent years, I've been more and more dismayed by a good many Republicans --- I'm pleased to see the prosecution's case against Sen. Ted Stevens seems to be unraveling. Good for him!
Although the Prosecution's chief witness, Bill Allen, has been up to his ears in the recent graft and corruption cases against several state politicians that are still swirling around Juneau and Anchorage, I'd begun to suspect that the case against Stevens was more of a stretch.

As with all prosecutions of politicians, the motivations of both sides are always suspect, but it sure appears that this time, at least, Ted Stevens will survive and probably be reelected.

[Glad to see you're still around, Terry, and that you're still celloing.]
God I hope that most of the people in this country have not drank as much McCain/Palin koolaid as you have.

She dodged most of the q's tonight.
It's fascinating to see all the places copies of this post are showing up.
You're the only Sarah Palin fan I know (or know that I know), living in the leftist academic bubble that I do. Now that the election is long over and Palin has announced her intention to resign, I'm wondering what your assessment is. (As charmed as I find myself by her, I thought her reasoning made no sense.)

And since most of what I read about her comes through liberal blogs and things like the Vanity Fair piece, I'm also curious as to your take on the various ethics charges (most of which have been dismissed, right?) and the reports that many Alaska Republicans don't think she's been an effective governor.

I was interested to see in the midst of the "this is the political death of Sarah Palin" reports that while down from 80%, her positives among Alaskans were still at 54.

Anyway, happy 4th of July!

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September already?

August's weather was such a disappointment. We reluctantly had to accept the fact that we'd see no summer this year. And September is starting off much the same way... cold, cloudy, drizzles (no such thing as "indian summer" here). As someone who only tolerates our long winters because of the usually wonderful summers that come in between, I have been having a hard time coping. Well, at least we don't have to worry about hurricanes...

So, not much else has been going on around here. I'm still practicing my cello for 2 hours each day, but I don't really feel as if I'm getting anywhere. I wonder if maybe I'm trying to work on too much at once, even though only one piece, the Breval Sonata, is really out front; the rest are workouts in Mooney's books to fine tune shifting, etc. The biggest challenge is trying to get a decent sound out of those double-stops. I seem to run out of time (and energy) before I get through everything I want to do each day.

Our oldest son, A, turns 32 tomorrow... Wow, that sure reminds us of time's passing.

School started last week. Z wasn't able to get into the power technology science class he wanted because of scheduling conflicts, so he ended up in an earth science course instead. This can be a fascinating and challenging topic, but it takes some creative effort by the teacher. [I know; I taught this course in a previous life, 35 years ago in Jamaica.] Sadly, at parent's night this past week (where less than 20% of the junior class parents showed up, compared to 30% of sophomore parents, and maybe 40% of freshmen) Z's earth science teacher announced that all a student had to do to make an A in his class was to show up, stay awake, and do the assignments. Great motivation, there...

Also they've rearranged the class schedules to incorporate a 45-minute "advisory period" three days a week [study hall]. Each teacher is assigned a group of 25 students that they'll "work with" throughout their HS careers, advising them with college applications, scholarships, career choices, etc. Z's "advisor" is the shop teacher... We are fortunate that Z is self-motivated and eager to learn in spite of our rapidly diminishing school system.

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Saturday, August 16, 2008


The rain continues

With the rains continuing this week, we have finally abandoned all hope of having any sort of summer this year. But as a special form of sunshine, B showed up for a week with our 5 1/2 year-old granddaughter. We hadn't seen them since last summer and probably weren't going to be able to travel out to see them at all this year. It sure was fun watching her carry around our immense cat...
As they helped Z celebrate his 16th birthday yesterday (while we celebrated our 37th anniversary), it was somewhat poignant to see in her a reflection of Z a mere 10 years ago [that really isn't a lot of time, believe me.] They share an outgoing, curious, playful, and generally happy demeanor - always eager to learn and eager to be part of everything.

For his birthday, Z got "Guitar Hero" for his XBox, and a cell-phone. It made sense to buy a family plan that would include Y's old phone, so I decided to get my own phone as well. So now we're the proud owners of two new Razr phones. I'll be busy the next several days figuring out all the features and settings, one of which is the BlueTooth compatibility with my car. My first attempt at Guitar Hero brought a chorus of 'boos' from the on-screen audience, until Ann (or maybe it was Nancy) Wilson stopped the show and shook her head at my avatar in disgust.

Thursday's cello lesson (#55) was really good. It had been four weeks since my previous lesson (hmmm, sounds a little bit like confession...), but even though I'd missed a few days' practice this last week, I'd been working diligently on my assignments. So we started out doing some of the Mooney "Position Pieces", and I was pleased to be able play through a couple of them with little trouble... somewhat less successfully, though on the "Double Stops" piece I played next. Then we turned to the Breval "Sonata". We spent quite a bit of time talking about the string-crossings, and going over the proper arm motions and bow movements... whew, I've still got a long way to go there. But the rest of the first 50 measures are coming along quite well. I began work today on the next 25± measures.

At the end of my lesson when her next student arrived, I stayed over for a few minutes so we could try out an interesting trio, "Canon á la Mode, for three cellos" by Tom Flaherty, that Ellen Gunst had recommended to our cello trio. This was really fun. It takes the Twinkle theme and twists it all around, backwards, forwards, and inverted. Each cello takes turns on the melody; then at times they all merge together briefly before diverging on separate paths again. It's a great exercise for a group like ours. I'm not sure it's the type of thing a general audience would appreciate, although other music students - especially Suzuki students - ought to appreciate it.

Congrats on all of the festivities. One of my students gave me this Apocalyptica version of In the Hall of the Mountain King for 4 cellos, if you want me to scan it for a, intense, sightreading session with your teacher. :)
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Sunday, August 10, 2008


Ignatius J. Reilly

"Ignatius Rising", by René Pol Nevils & Deborah George Hardy, is a biography - no that's not really it, it's more an investigation into the origins of my favorite book of all time, "Confederacy of Dunces", by John Kennedy Toole. Nevils & Hardy start out examining the life of the author, and then recount the remarkable efforts of his unusual mother to get this book published after his sad demise in 1969.

Ken, as he was known to friends and family, created a most bizarre assortment of characters that portray the underbelly of New Orleans with a deadly accuracy unmatched before or since. A tormented misfit like his protagonist, Ignatius J. Reilly, Ken was the product [victim] of an amazingly dysfunctional family [mother]. His characters are undoubtedly a twisted reflection/refraction of his own life and family, as well as his keen evaluations of the people he encountered and observed around him. He wrote "Confederacy..." in the early 1960s, and even though his manuscript garnered immediate attention by a major New York publishing house - by Joseph Heller's publisher no-less - he could not come to an agreement with them over their suggested revisions and ended up abandoning his manuscript in a box on top of his chifarobe [closet]. Toole never could find his way in life, and, saddled with an unbelievable demands of his increasingly demented mother, he ended up committing suicide in early 1969 at the age of 31.

His mother, Thelma, then made it her life's mission to get her son's book published, and eventually managed to attract the attention of renowned author, Walker Percy, who became its biggest fan. After 11 years of persistence, browbeating, cajoling, and an intensity of purpose by Thelma that no one could easily avoid, the book was finally published in 1980 by the Louisiana State University Press. An immediate best-seller, it won the Pulitzer prize for literature in 1981, and continues to earn significant royalties for its publisher even now.

I grew up in Baton Rouge, and spent my college years in New Orleans in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The novel's protagonist, Ignatius J. Reilly, was a composition of many "types" - locally known as "yats", from their greeting: "whe' y'at, muddah?" - that I encountered throughout the side-streets and back-alleys of uptown New Orleans - bloated, often-unwashed, bizarre, egotistical, boorish, arrogant, overbearing, loud, obnoxious, imperious, rude, outrageous, pathetic, often quite hilarious, and totally oblivious of their effect on others around them. I often went to the Prytania Theater on Thursday nights - one of the few theaters in town that showed "art-flicks" (the rest of the week they showed porn). I'm convinced Ignatius - or someone like him - was often perched in the middle row, surrounded by tubs of popcorn and drinks, hollering obscenities at the screen, loudly berating the director for every lame plot contrivance, ridiculing every continuity lapse. I also saw him - or someone like him - carelessly navigating a hot-dog cart through the alleys and sidewalks of the French Quarter, accosting the tourists and calling out to the locals sitting in the doorways of the various clubs and bars lining both sides of the streets.

Growing up in the heart of "uptown" New Orleans, Ken attended Tulane University and got his Master's degree at Columbia University, then taught English at the University of Southwestern Louisiana in Lafayette. This was followed by a two-year stint as an English-language instructor for new army recruits in Puerto Rico, where he began working on his manuscript. Upon his release he taught for many years at an all-girls high school on St. Charles Avenue, where he became their most popular and entertaining teacher due to his biting, sarcastic wit and hilarious caricatures. During this period, he finished his novel and spent a few years trying to get it published. Failing at that, he began spiraling downward and at some point he crossed over the edge into madness. He began to frighten his students with his rantings and ravings, and was eventually fired.

Then, in the fall of 1968 Ken enrolled as a doctoral student in the English Department at Tulane University. I entered Tulane as a freshman that same fall semester of 1968. I took the mandatory Freshman English Literature course (Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays(!) from 9 am to 10 am). I would like to believe that as I dragged myself through those dimly lit hallways and stairwells of that ancient building during that semester, at least once I might have crossed paths with Ken Toole. By this time, he was drinking heavily and constantly mumbling to himself, blaming the world for all his misfortunes. I imagine that at best he would have ignored my lowly presence and at worst snarled some incomprehensible insult and demanded that I remove myself from his path. Who knows?

Ken Toole disappeared in early January 1969, apparently taking a road-trip across the country. His body was found in late March of that year sitting behind the wheel of his locked car off a dirt road in Biloxi, Mississippi, a hose running from the tailpipe into his rolled-up window.

When I first read "Confederacy of Dunces" in 1981, I knew immediately - within pages - that I was reading a masterpiece. I have never read anything like it - it is still my favorite book of all time. I don't really understand why I was so attracted to it, other than my own personal experiences in that same time and locale. Maybe I see a bit of myself in Ignatius, although I think I've successfully managed to keep that part generally at bay [except when I have to suffer through a poorly written or poorly made TV show or movie - thanks, Ken, for those epithets :) ]. Too, reading his exploits appealed to a certain reckless side of me. But also, I think maybe it's certain resemblances between Ignatius' mother [and Ken's] and mine...

The book was published with a forward by Walker Percy that [rather kindly] describes the remarkable efforts by Thelma to get the book published. Percy did refer to Ken's suicide, but without the context of his whole life story, it comes across as just another interesting fact. Nevils and Hardy have painted a fascinating portrait of this sad and tormented man, and by the time they've described how Thelma treated anyone who got in her way, it is not hard to understand the intense pressures that eventually drove Toole to take his own life.

I rarely read any book more than once - but I've probably read "Confederacy..." at least half a dozen times by now. I suspect that the next time I read it, I'll approach it from a new, somewhat sadder perspective, knowing so much more about its author and his time.

My local newspaper had an article about authors today. You must be linked to the collective unconscious.

The back stories are the best stories. Tue, Aug. 12, 2008

Former journalist Peggy Marsh had been quietly working on her novel for more than a decade when she was discovered by a publisher who was scouring the South for new authors. Starring a heroine named Pansy O'Hara, Marsh's manuscript was a theatrical, longing ode to the lost, pre-Civil War era in the Deep South. Its working title: Tomorrow Is Another Day.

By the time the novel was published a year later, in 1936, Pansy had become Scarlett, and Marsh had reverted to her maiden name, Margaret Mitchell. And her title famously had been transformed into the more poignant Gone With The Wind.

This is just one of the literary morsels offered in Who the Hell Is Pansy O'Hara? (Penguin, $13 in paper), a compilation of the little-known back stories behind 50 of the world's most famous books.

''When you understand the book's history or something about the author or what influenced his or her work, you can't help but have a finer appreciation for the book, for the art work,'' Chris Sheedy, the Australian who wrote Who the Hell . . . with his wife, Jenny Bond, says from their home in Sydney. ``We were looking for wonderful pieces of information that told us something more.''

So Bond and Sheedy set out to write a book about books, to unveil shadowed truths by journeying through the authors' minds, lives, loves and inspirations. A broader knowledge of an author, they say, makes for a richer reading experience.

Among the works they investigated: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen; The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle; For Whom The Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway, The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss; Mario Puzo's The Godfather; Alice Walker's The Color Purple and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling.

The book's fiction section spans almost two centuries, from Pride and Prejudice (1813) to Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code (2003). The nonfiction section includes The English Dictionary by Samuel Johnson (1755), All the President's Men by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein (1974) and Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time (1988).

Readers learn that, once its pages were stacked, Mitchell's manuscript towered almost five feet -- taller than she -- and that she had hidden parts of it under the carpet; that Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita was rejected by every publisher to which it was originally sent; that for her Bridget Jones's Diary -- conceived as a column chronicling the experiences of a 30-something single woman in London -- Helen Fielding used Pride and Prejudice as a template. Readers also learn that Ian Fleming, author of Casino Royale, was part of the team that cracked the Nazis' Enigma Code and that 20,000 readers canceled their subscriptions to The Strand mystery magazine after Doyle killed off Sherlock Holmes in order to concentrate on more serious writing projects. He was later forced to revive the character for The Hound of the Baskervilles but set the story prior to the detective's death.

Bond and Sheedy, 37-year-old freelance journalists who have been married for 13 years, came up with the idea during a literary conversation over dinner. In some ways, the project was a natural. Bond had once taught high-school English and drama, and Sheedy, a former vice president of Guinness World Records, keenly appreciated the reading public's appetite for trivia.

So for 18 months of evenings and weekends -- son Sam was born halfway through -- the couple began whittling down a list of dozens of contenders, then visited libraries, studied academic papers and pored over the Internet in search of obscure and quirky facts. ''We would have dinner with friends and argue about what books should make the cut,'' Sheedy says. ``The list changed many times.''

Bond still remembers introducing her students to her favorite book, Emma, and how they had been moved by the story-behind-the-story Bond had pieced together about Austen's family tragedies, which included a handicapped brother sent away to live with another family, another brother adopted and an aunt wrongly imprisoned for theft.

''The realization was for me that once they came to know Jane Austen's back story, they began to discuss the reasons that Austen put her characters in certain situations and the reasons that characters reacted certain ways,'' Bond says. ``The students looked deeper into the book as a work of art created by a specific and special person.''
Your post and the sad story of the Dunces author reminds me of a great documentary I'm sure you've seen -- The Stone Reader. It tells the story of a documentarian attempting to track down the nearly forgotten author of a book called "Stones of Summer." What interested me the most was not what happened to that author, but the stories told by people all along the way, about how much books and reading inspired them.

On another subject, keep up the good work with cello. I came looking for practice inspiration (I took several months off and now face getting back on the horse; it's so hard to start again after getting rusty). Also, I have some other cello and blog-related questions to ask you, but can't locate your email on this site. Would you email me again at
Your description inspired me to check both books out of the library, having not previously read Confederacy of Dunces. I quite enjoyed the novel, though made the serious error of starting into the last third at 11pm, intending to read a chapter or two before sleeping. Bad place to start with any intention of stopping. I don't have quite the ties to New Orleans that you do, but have been there often enough to experience a special nostalgia for what used to be. And the best time to read the biography has to be right after finishing Confederacy... for the first time. It's fascinating to see life refracted through fiction.
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Wednesday, August 06, 2008


All done

I've finally finished recording 221 vinyl LPs and converting them into approximately 2,500 MP3 songs, which are now ready to play at a moment's notice on my iPod. I generally prefer using "shuffle" and just letting whatever comes up play. But sometimes I wonder about the validity of the random functions used by the iPod, some artists sure seem to come up much more frequently than their relative distribution would suggest. Still, it's easy enough to just call up the next song. So much nostalgia...

I left out about 25 albums - these were the ones that just didn't interest me now, or were comedy albums that I long ago realized weren't that funny after the second or third replay, etc. There were also a few that just made me cringe to think about - I actually used to listen to these??

Last weekend I collected several dusty boxes of old albums from my brother's basement, and I'll spend a little time sorting through these before starting up the process once again. After that, I'll start on my CDs - I have at least 400, and my brother has another couple hundred in his collection.

We're in the middle of the two week Kenai Peninsula Orchestra Summer Music Festival. I've attended several of their lunchtime concerts, and even played in one of them. Last Friday I attended a performance by the guest musicians, "The Madison String Quartet", along with a few others. This will finish with a concert by the full orchestra this Friday.

Other than all this music, there's not much else going on. I'm still sawing away at my cello every morning. I guess I'm making some progress on the Breval Sonata, I am able to play through the first part - quite slowly, still - with some sense of the music... although not much quality, yet. Since we skipped our biweekly lesson last week, I decided to go ahead and start working on the next passage on my own. Also, I'm beginning to see some progress with the first six or seven pieces in the Mooney Double Stops book - this really has forced me to pay more attention to my left hand, curving my fingers more so I can stop the strings with the fingertips.

Oh yeah, after another five or six days of clouds, the sun came back out yesterday evening and it's supposed to be nice for the rest of the week.

Wow. 221! Maybe when I retire I can do mine.

And I love those Mooney books. The double stop pieces in particular are great for cellists of every level.

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Saturday, August 02, 2008


More Moosechief

They wandered back through the yard again the other night....

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