Sunday Salon: July 15, 2012 – Touch Not the Cat






Busy reading weekend if not a particularly remarkable week, otherwise. The highlight was taking the cat to the vet to find out if there's a medical reason he's "leaking" all over the place. Turns out kitty has an infection of the urinary tract - and how the vet took the urine sample I do not want to know.  All I can say is when they brought him back to the exam room he was so freaked out he attempted to hide in one of those tiny pull-out keyboard trays - the kind that's about a foot long by three inches high. He launched himself up like a rocket, compacting his body into the tray, haunches and tail hanging out. It took two of us to pull him out the first time.


The physics involved, my friends… I can't even go there. This is not a small cat. This is a 14 pound, spoiled rotten cat who pees in the house like a damn lawn sprinkler.


All this – plus cat hair up my nose, down my throat and blowing across the floor like tumbleweeds – to hear Oliver needs a tiny bottle of antibiotic liquid, the cost of which is roughly equivalent to the price of gold per ounce. "The dose is small", the vet told me. "I'll have the tech come in and show you how to do it."

Okay. She shows me the syringe and tells me to fill it to one ounce. She doesn't do it for me, mind. She just shows me how, handing the box and syringe to me before bolting out the door. I pony up the $ 140, shove the cat back in his carrier, and it's on my merry way I am.

I got home and it seemed as good a time as any to go ahead and give the cat his medicine. After he's just had a nervous breakdown and all. What could go wrong? I filled the syringe to one, picked up the cat, cradling him like a baby and tried to stick the syringe in his mouth. After I wiped up my blood and found the cat again, it was round two: Oliver 1, Lisa o.  This time, in the blur of flying hair and drops of blood, he opened his mouth all the way and I squirted that medicine in for all I was worth. Good thing the family was home to tie a tourniquet around my bleeding stub of an arm. But hey, the cat's on the mend.


If all this doesn't work (and why would it, really?) the next thing it could be is "kitty stress," exhibited, apparently, via his preference for lying around the house on his back, like a bear rug, directly in the path of my Point A to Point B. I have to stop short rather than trample him, momentum taking me up and over, like a cross between a rag doll and a ballerina, landing when some part of my body encounters something sharp or otherwise unforgiving. Then I curl into a ball while I bleed and cry simultaneously. Looking on, the cat licks his crotch and leaves. I have spoiled his solitude. No doubt his having to drag ass out of the room contributes to his tension.

Thankfully, there's a cure for kitty stress, too. It doesn't even require a feline psychologist. It's a little something they call kitty phermones, phermones that promote kitty relaxation. Kitty weed, in other words. It's sprayable, or you can buy the sort you put in a warming thing in the electric outlet. Hell, if this works I'll be snorting the crap.

I was going to go on to talk about books after I quickly caught you up to date on Oliver but now, to tell you the truth, I don't even feel like it. I've exhausted myself. I was up late, hopped up on the rusty smell of blood. I didn't sleep much.

So I'm going to take a nap. Screw it.

Sunday Salon: June 24, 2012. Wot a week, wot a week.


What am I saying… they're all like this. They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and getting the same result, yet you still do the same things over and over. Getting the same result.


In my case, this translates to: I have the best of intentions to do something, become overwhelmed, then crawl into a corner and whimper because nothing ever gets done. I come out of the corner, eventually, to find the cat has relieved himself of urine on top of the still relatively new sofa, go back into the corner and sob until I've thoroughly emptied myself of water.

And I have no idea why nothing gets done!

So you know, I DID start Ulysses (SEE: Project 2012, Ulysses) though I was traveling over the weekend of Bloomsday and wound up starting a day late. I KNOW. For this I deserve a scolding and rap across the knuckles with a ruler but the good old days of scowling nuns are behind me, more's the pity.

Speaking of, Sister Jeanne, @!$%*@!!.

I started the book in the train station in Memphis, of all places, about as removed from Dublin as you can get. I made it through the first section, now I need to visit Frank Delaney's wonderful instructive video tutorial on this section, so he can tell me what I read.

No, really, a few pages made sense, at least to my mind, which regularly jumps around like a monkey in heat, much like Joyce's style. Stephen Dedalus was talking to Buck Mulligan and some Haines person, in the home they share. Mulligan right away shows us what a prick he is, for telling Stephen he caused his own mother's death by refusing to kneel beside her bed and pray for her as she was dying, Stephen leaves their abode justifiably pissed off. Then a bunch of other stuff happens.

Try using that on your exams, literature majors.

In other reading, my interlibrary loan of Kate Summerscale's Mrs. Robinson's Disgrace: The Private Diary of  Victorian Lady arrived and I started reading that Friday night, when I was gifted with insomnia until 5:00 a.m., fell asleep sitting up and nearly missed my Saturday morning doctor appointment, which was at 10:00.



Speaking of a monkey in heat, Mrs. Robinson (this is a true story,  mind) was. Very Madame Bovary so far but in Mrs. R's case she kept a diary of her sadness and attempted exploits, which eventually damns her. Duh. Silly, stupid woman! Didn't she know she was supposed to suffer in silence, like a good little Angel of the House, sneak around but shut the hell up about it?


Wot else? Oh, I read some here and there but nothing much to speak of, since I spent so much time alternating corners in which to cringe and weep. Still haven't completely unpacked from the Booktopia trip last weekend but I did manage to do something that has needed doing for months: I cleaned out the back of our van!! Calloo! Callay!

My children call our van the "bookmobile" and avoid it like the plague. Actually sitting in it involves the sweeping of books, magazines and various papers off the seats, the general atmosphere rendered toxic by the surplus of papers, pens and the occasional granola bar (In the wrapper!) that's been stepped on five times but which may come in handy should I find myself stranded some day and flat granola bars retain their nutritional value, thankyouverymuch.

When I make a turn – or stops suddenly – something's bound to fly through the air, with the potential to knock an unlucky soul unconscious. But no more! Half the crap has now officially been donated to Goodwill, the other half brought into the house in laundry baskets, now sitting in the entrance to the living room we never use anyway – well, save at Christmas – where it will reside until the time comes I'm unstuck from my usual ways again and repeat the process of separating wheat from chaff.

There was physical therapy for my piriformis syndrome issue, as well, and I am happy to report I'm finally seeing some improvement, cross fingers. Weather hotter than hell (giving me the opportunity to acclimate) and there's been no rain in forever, so the grass is turning that yellow/brown color I despise. Oh, and Forbes came out with an article listing Library and Information Science the absolute most useless master's degree!

We're number one! We're number one!

Shoot me.

I'll end here, while I can still refrain from crawling into a corner, and wish you all a lovely remainder of your weekend, depending on your time zone and I promise to vomit forth more eclectic and thoughtful prose in the very near future.



Sunday Salon: June 3, 2012


Made it through another week but it was a squeaker. So much going on Chez Guidarini. Too much going on Chez Guidarini.

I had my consultation with my new physical therapist on Friday, in yet another effort to work on getting me to the point I'm able to walk like a normal person my age, instead of an ailing 90-year old.

Chronic pain is depressing, you know? That's like saying people breathe an awful lot of oxygen – duh. But if you've never experienced it you don't realize to what extent it makes you feel awful or in how many ways. It has an impact on everything you do, from the inability to walk more than a half hour before you need to lean on something, to walking around hunched over for five minutes to warm up your legs enough just to straighten  them – in terrible pain, holding onto things for support - after sitting for any length of time. It's wicked nasty and it's gotten me way, way down. I have to plan around being unable to walk, so shopping trips or even leisure activities are a serious concern.  So I'll do what my doctor advises, exercise in the way the PT has approved and follow all the necessary steps until I get better.

As to the toll it's taking on me, I didn't have as far to fall as a lot of people, seeing as I battle chronic depression already. So in a way I'm used to it but it's easy to fall into a self-pity trap, thinking no one has so much to deal with as I do. Granted, there's a lot on my shoulders but then I hear about other people who have it potentially worse than I do and it adds a feeling of shame to my already overwhelming sadness.

I haven't talked about depression for a really long time here, partly because I was trying to turn into this New Person, so much more serious about blogging, trying to impress potential editors, etc., to keep the work coming in. Now that I've reached that tipping point, having taken on more than I should, I still want them to consider me professional. But I also want others suffering the same malady to know they're not alone, that a lot of people can relate; a lot of people have been there, or are there. If that's unprofessional I frankly don't care.

Clinical, chronic depression isn't a sanity issue. It's a chemical imbalance that occurs in the brain. A lot of my issues are Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder related, due in part to heredity and partly because I grew up in an abusive situation, raised by parents so far from normal I still don't always know what normal is. I lost a brother who was only 36. He had controllable diabetes but also a compulsion to eat what he shouldn't. In essence, he committed a very slow act of suicide out of what I now believe was chronic depression.

Depression is facing self-hatred every day, blaming yourself for things logic tells you are not your fault, feeling inadequate, afraid and alone. It can manifest itself in so many ways. You may not realize what you're feeling is clinical depression. Some people lash out; it's common to find yourself unbearably irritated by the people closest to you. Others are shopaholics, alcoholics or battle addictions to gambling, drugs or any number of other things. Then there are the sad ones who find themselves crying all the time, having no energy, taking pleasure in nothing. In a way I'm lucky, never having become addicted. Mine manifests inwardly, mostly, though you can ask my family how irritated I get, how much alone time I need. Those depression commercials are so right: depression affects everyone around you.

There is help out there, in the form of therapy and, in some cases, medication. But you have to do your own work in digging out from under depression. It requires so much work and it's so exhausting. I'm not in a position to give anyone the key to a magic cure. I still fight it every day. But it's so important not to feel ashamed, to tell your doctor, to ask for help from friends and family. It took me about 40 years until I started asking and I've been battling with help for six years. I still don't know when or if I'll think of myself as normal. Maybe I never will. Sometimes it's a matter of promising yourself – and others – to stay alive, day by day. Then you may have a reprieve lasting anywhere from a few days to – if you're lucky – weeks or months. But it comes back eventually and you have to use all the skills you've learned about battling the disease to get through to your next period of "remission."

Remember, when you're depressed concentrate on life's basics: try to eat well, get moderate exercise, take your meds (if prescribed) according to the doctor's directions and get enough rest. Concentrate on accomplishing these tasks, even if everything else feels beyond you. When you take care of yourself it will eventually convince you you're a person worthy of being cared about. The process is slow. You really have to work hard but it will happen.

If you know someone who is or may be battling depression keep judgment to yourself but help them, please, if they want help or not. And if you are fighting the battle you can always email me: lisaguidarini AT yahoo DOT com to chat. I will answer you.

Take good care – of yourself and others


Sunday Salon: May 27, 2012




Mood: Pissy to partly pissy.

I'm angry there are people actually celebrating that it's 97 degrees  today with nasty humidity: people who are biking, running, moving in any fashion, not shut away in their homes with air conditioning blasting. And it's blindingly sunny. When I'm pissy I hate the sun. Quit your smiling, people! If you don't I'm going to steal your Christmas. I hope all your shoes stick to your now-partially-liquid asphalt driveways.

You people who are out and about provoke my scorn. Have you lost your minds, riding in your cars with the windows open instead of hermetically sealing yourself in air-conditioned comfort? What is wrong with you? Don't you know your careless behavior slaps the face of whoever discovered freon?


I was out earlier today, risking my life hunting and gathering bagels for the family's breakfast, braving the 75 degree heat. That was about 20 degrees ago and I already had the windows up and the A/C blasting. Now I'm holed up, blinds pulled, a/c rumbling, cursing just about everything and everyone, but especially the fact at my son's eighth grade graduation ceremony I damaged something in the frontal area of my knee, beneath the patella – something by that one vertical tendon-thing. AND IT HURTS LIKE HELL! And it's hot outside! And I lost my iPhone last week! And I think it may have been accidentally (or maliciously) thrown away!

[You may notice a marked snarkiness to my overall demeanor. Just be glad you aren't here.]

Okay, let's do this thang. Maybe it'll get my mind off the almost overwhelming urge to rip the heads off squirrels with my bare teeth.


Book stuff this week:


Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante, Grove Press, 320 pages, March 2012

[Read for online book club facilitation; free copy from publisher]


Turnofmind Former neurosurgeon, Jennifer White, is descending quickly into dementia. During her long career she was an esteemed neurosurgeon, specializing in hands: the repair and amputation thereof.

A couple houses down the street, her friend of decades, Amanda, is found murdered, her fingers removed with surgical precision, though not completely "finished" as a professional would have done.

Could Jennifer have committed such a heinous act toward her best friend? If so, why?

The story is told both in current times and flashbacks, as the story of Jennifer's life is revealed, layer by layer. Meanwhile, the investigation into Amanda's death is ongoing. Jennifer is the prime suspect but too far gone to be reliable. Only one policewoman, Inspector Luptin, sticks with the case - a policewoman who's also lost a loved one to Alzheimer's.

The book's hard to put down, a "stay up late" read. I'm fascinated by novels that delve deeply into the psyche of those who aren't "quite right." Normal people bore me no end.

And I love flashbacks for the bits of revelation they give, things you can refer to after the book's done to see how the author pulled everything off. If it's written well, that is. A good writer always leaves a few breadcrumbs.

My only complaint is a couple threads are never resolved but some of that is a factor of the disease itself and Jennifer's inability to wrap things up neatly. But it's a fast-paced book kept taut all the way through. The ending may or may not feel satisfying but the overall a great read.



Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake by Anna Quindlen, Random House, 208 pp. April 2012

[Kindle, personal purchase]

LotsofcandlesThis is a girlfriend read for the more mature set. I'm younger than Quindlen (she proclaims with glee) but can still get where she's at in life, especially with my oldest perched to leave the nest.

I'm not quite halfway through yet but far enough to say Anna Quindlen speaks in a friendly, open and honest voice. If she's deceiving the reader I certainly can't detect it. The book feels like you're sitting with the author on her front porch, rocking on wicker rockers side by side, the ubiquitous cold tea at your elbow. Very comfortable, very laid-back.

Lots here about marriage of a long duration, how it isn't supposed to be happy, happy, joy, joy and why that concept is so unreal. Her husband irritates her, and she irritates her husband. It's very real.

Occasionally, she thinks the completely human "What if…" questions, what if I'd chosen a different path, etc. But, all things being equal, she's a happy woman. Not annoyingly so or I wouldn't still be reading this book.

Happy people are unbearable, really. Can't find a dark cloud for your silver lining? SEE ME.


The Red House by Mark Haddon, Doubleday, 272 pages, June 2012

[Free review copy from publisher]


RedhouseAny new book from Mark Haddon is reason for much rejoicing. Yes, even from this prickly old librarian. About halfway through The Red House and it's almost as unputdownable as Turn of Mind, so you may imagine this pleases me as well as anything ever does. Not counting attending a Sebastian Barry reading, that is. Or anything involving Sebastian Barry.

What ho!

Basic story: the matriarch of a family dies. One of the children – Angela, a mushy, middle-aged hausfrau, lived near her and did all the work taking care of her mother until her death. Meanwhile, her brother Richard – a disgustingly well to do doctor with a young trophy wife – doesn't show up 'til the funeral. And the mother had only asked to see Richard during her illness, natch.

Angela carries a bit of a grudge. Who could blame her? To try and make amends, Richard and his family offer to pay the way for a vacation in Wales with Angela and her family. Angela accepts, with reservations.

Turns out the area of Wales is a gorgeous backdrop as this family makes an attempt to let bygones be bygones. With occasionally very funny results.

A favorite quote, Angela's husband, Dominic, looking at his wife:

"She disgusted him now, the size and sag of her, the veins in her calves, almost a grandmother. He dreamt of her dying unexpectedly, rediscovering all those freedoms he'd lost twenty years ago. Then he had the same dream five minutes later and he remembered what poor use he'd made of those freedoms first time round … All those other lives. You never did get to live them."



In contrast, Louisa, wife of Richard the doctor:


"Richard had remarried six months ago, acquiring a stepdaughter into the bargain. Angela hadn't gone to the wedding. Edinburgh was a long way, it was term time and they'd never felt like brother and sister, just two people who spoke briefly on the phone every few weeks or so to manage the stages of their mother's decline. She'd met Louisa and Melissa [daughter] for the first time at the funeral. They looked as if they had been purchased from an exclusive catalog at some exorbitant price, flawless skin and matching black leather boots."


You see the set up. Not only are these siblings at odds but their children are so radically different. Melissa, Louisa's daughter, is high-maintenance, high fashion and hot. Alex, Daisy and Benjy, on the other hand, are – in order – athletic and hot for Melissa, going through a religious phase and very conservative in dress and manner, and intelligent in that acting very strangely, as if he's been dropped on his head as a child, way.

And it works… Does it ever work. Very, very funny.

So, that's not all there is but I need to take my daughter shopping so I'm cutting this off. It's a miracle I got this much in (that's what she said).

Have a day.





Sunday Salon: March 25, 2012


It's a loverly day here in Chicagoland: sunny and in the 70s. It would be ideal to get out and do something fun, like pulling weeds in the garden, but alas I must work from 1:00 – 5:00  this afternoon. On the way home I'll stop for groceries, then make dinner and switch loads of laundry, which pretty much shoots the day. May as well be a typhoon outside, as much good as it does me.

In Lisa's New Interest news, I've gone mad for an ethnic group called The Irish Travellers, or Tinkers. Sometimes they're called "gypsies," though from what I've read don't appear to be related to the Romanians – the more traditional origin of true, stereotypical "gypsies."  Rather, they're a group mostly settled in Ireland, as well as in several spots around the world, including the U.S.:

"Travellers in the United States are descendants of Travellers who left Ireland mostly during the Great Irish Famine of 1845-60. Travelers in the U.S. divide themselves up into groups that are based on historical residence: Ohio Travelers, Georgia Travelers, Texas Travelers, and Mississippi Travelers."

– Wikipedia

The group is very distinct keeping to themselves, marrying within their own group – which may explain the high number of deaths due to congenital problems. Their average life expectancy is 39, with very high infant mortality rates. Scotland has a group of Travellers, as well, and I don't really know yet how the groups differ, if at all. They're discriminated against, that I do know, wherever they settle.  I've only just started researching them so I've yet to confirm or deny details I've come across so far.

I learned about them via the program "My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding," something I'm forced to mention, but believe me, it doesn't make me proud to admit I watched such trashy TV! I was tired, you see… Not up for anything too intellectually stimulating, obviously.


What disturbs me is the amount of ethnic prejudice levelled against the Travellers. Seems to me they're similar in many ways to groups such as the Amish, another distinct group that keeps itself segregated from mainstream society.  There's also another group in this country, called the "Melungeons," equally mysterious in origin and different genetically from the general population of Americans. Likewise, they've also settled largely in the South.

But anyway, this is my latest bit of interest. Wanted to pass it along as I find it all so fascinating. Perhaps I should have been a sociologist or an ethnic anthropologist of some kind. Then again, the next best thing to majoring in anything is being a librarian, now, isn't it. Because if there's one thing we have at our fingertips it's information.

End of public service message.

Hope the weather's as lovely where you are as it is here.

Sunday Salon: March 18, 2012




A big part of me wants to use today's platform to go on a tirade against all the callous people I've dealt with over the past few weeks  but what good would that really do. Eveyone falls into the Deep Pit at one time or other and the fact I live on a ledge far enough down I can barely see a pinpoint of light puts me in a category with loads of other people, therefore unexceptional. It's cool and damp here, like a cave, so could be worse. I hate the heat, and sometimes the sun, so maybe it's here I'm best suited. Dare to poke your head out, expecting others to be compassionate despite the fact I've developed the huge, freakish eyes of those who dwell in the dark, and you'll be used as a stepping-stone for the "above" people who are bigger, therefore better, than you. If you're one of these people, you'll know who you are from the bit of sting you feel, the acknowledgement of your shame. Ah, but that's assuming you have a conscience.

And that's how my life life's been going. Enigmatic, maybe, but a shot back over the bow to a few people who more than deserve it and are fortunate I haven't named them. A pox on you and I will not let you ruin this week as well.

Now, let's talk about books.

First off, the Frank Delaney interview. God that went well! I did a good enough job picking the questions, he blew me away with his answers. It's of course up here on Bluestalking, as well as in the Chicago Tribune Local edition. Hoping Library Journal will pick it up, too. I review for them and have asked pretty please. It may be upcoming.

Funny aside that made that in some ways embarrassing debacle (trust me) a bit less painful, I received an email from a publicist/marketing person re: Mr. Delaney's answer to my question about technology and what impact it will have on book publishing. He went into his feelings on book blogs and how much he loves them. She sent me a note, along with a ton of other bloggers I'm sure, praising him for his stance on literary bloggers. From  my own interview, of course, without her realizing it! Made me laugh. Flattering, too, of course, as she enjoyed the interview.

I'm planning to post separately re: the recently announced Orange Prize Longlist, so I'm not ignoring that but just delaying it a bit. Building the suspense and all that, right?




Received this review copy out of the blue and they couldn't have picked a more willing blogger. I've long struggled with my complete lack of religious belief, though positive views on some things about religion/associated with religious belief, only no one's yet written anything I've found helpful on the topic. Most spew venom (SEE: Hitchens, Christopher – may he rest in peace) or, on the other side, make me want to put my finger down my throat and vomit. But Alain De Boton is, so far, hitting this particular nail right on its very  head. Loving it. He writes so well. I really do enjoy his work.



Another funny coincidence, I'm an advisor to a nonfiction publishing house and the latest author pitch they sent me for evaluation was so similar to De Boton's book it could have been its companion. I really hope they accept it for publication. It's a book I think is sorely needed in this literary genre that's been nothing but abused by those with a slanted agenda.

Still working on The Last Storyteller. A bit hard reading this after the aforementioned negative experience interviewing him (not him, personally, but…) but the beauty of it… Swoon-worthy. Sorry to sound like a broken record but no other nationality writes so well as the Irish. Except the gems of the U.S. South, and many of those authors' ancestors hailed from Ireland. Scotland, as well. And England. But, so far as I can tell yet, mostly Ireland, as did parts of my own family. I had two red-haired, blue-eyed grandfathers of Irish extraction, whose genes somehow hopped over all my other exclusively brown-haired and eyed relations to settle upon me. Statistically improbable but my blue-eyed, auburn-haired daughter is mightily grateful.

Further on genetics, it's my belief one reason the literature of the American South is so astounding owes itself to Irish immigrants settling there. When that light bulb went on I thought, "I am so original! I shall write a book!" #Turns out I'm not the sole soul to have noticed this connection, not that this means another book – from a different viewpoint – would be amiss. I simply wouldn't have the time, despite the inclination. A scholarly paper, perhaps? A long article? I think I have a few hours free in late 2018. I'll throw it in the pot, where a nice stew's already bubbling away.




And I'm not quite sure what to make of this:


A Rap Tribute to James Joyce by Frank Delaney


Otherwise, reading away for review, book clubs I've been asked to run online, prize candidates and a shameful amount of library books I checked out because a review comes under my  nose and I can't NOT pounce.

Especially dangerous are all those lovely literature blogs listing outstanding books read recently. If they're short I tell myself, "Surely I can fit in this ONE!" Trouble is, it's never just one.

Here's one:




Alison Wonderland by Helen Smith



"After Alison Temple discovers that her husband is cheating on her, she does what any jilted woman would do—she spray paints a nasty message for him on her wedding dress and takes a job with the detective firm that found him out. Being a researcher at the all-female Fitzgerald’s Bureau of Investigation in London is certainly a change of pace from her previous life, especially considering the characters Alison meets in the line of duty. There is her boss, the estimable Mrs. Fitzgerald; Taron, Alison’s eccentric best friend, who claims her mother is a witch; Jeff, her love-struck, poetry-writing neighbor; and last, but not least, her psychic postman.

Clever, quirky, and infused with just a hint of magic, Alison Wonderland is a literary novel about a memorable heroine coping with the everyday complexities of modern life."

I thought you'd agree.





Spurious by Lars Iyer



"A tiny marvel of comically repetitive gloomery…. [A] wonderfully monstrous creation."  
Steven Poole, The Guardian

"Viciously funny."
San Francisco Chronicle

"What could be more fun than laughing at intellectuals? This, Lars Iyer's first book, sprang from his blog, Spurious, which sprang from his career as a philosophy lecturer at Newcastle University. I'm still laughing, and it's days later. But who, exactly, am I laughing at?"
—The Los Angeles Times

"Ought to be unreadable, but manages to be intelligent, wildly entertaining, and unexpectedly moving instead."
The Millions




# How Celtic Culture Invented Southern Literature by  James Cantrell

Sunday Salon: March 11, 2012 Edition



Not reading quite the heavy volume I usually do lately, which you'll have noticed if you're still coming by to check my pulse regularly. Life events – in this case a terminal illness within the family, in case you haven't read my earlier posts – have turned daily routines on their heads, to a certain extent. My husband being gone so often, not to mention his general exhaustion paired with grief, forces me into a more active role at home. And with more going on within the household finding time to read has certainly suffered.

I'm being forced to read on the fly these days, or while the TV is on or the kids in motion and anything but quiet. I need heavy concentration to read. I'm not one of the lucky souls who could read in the middle of a war zone, if necessary. The days when shutting out the world was possible are over for me. I blame it on having children, becoming accustomed to having one ear on alert against the possibility of sudden choking or impending electrical shock, or any of the millions of life-threatening situations children are so well-equipped to get into. No matter their age, there's obviously some lever in the brain that trips with the increase in hormones involved in their development. Until and unless I can locate and reset that lever I'm doomed to a permanent state of fight or flight.






What I have been reading won't take me all that long to discuss, it's just that pathetic. For my Classics Group I've been attempting to re-read Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, failing miserably I'll admit. I first read this in high school – for my own pleasure, not for assignment – and my memories of it are glowing. This time through it's a plodding bore. It starts with a loooong section of padding, boring me nearly to tears. I'm reading it on my Kindle, so I don't know exactly what page of the actual book I'm on, but I should be well into something resembling plot by now. Instead, a few character names I vaguely recognize are just now being bandied about without so much as a hint of what I recall as the main plot. I feel quite irritated with myself for feeling this way, too, which drives another nail into the coffin. I'd been looking forward to this re-read for one of the most romantic plots in any novel I've ever read, yet I may have to abandon it, unfinished.





Next up, and much more to my liking, is Frank Delaney's latest The Last Storyteller. You may recall I earlier decided Delaney's video series on Ulysses will be the backbone of my read of the novel starting this Bloomsday. Well, the same man who's a broadcaster, speaker extraordinaire and scholar is also the author of several books set in – get ready for it – Ireland!

And this is a lovely one, for reasons that make it unique. It's written in such an unusual and pleasing framework – Irish legendary tales mixed with modern day re-tellings mixed with the beginnings of the era of the IRA – but it took a while to get into. In fact, I failed in my first start and had to go back to the beginning all over again.

Shades of Hunchback, I thought at first, but coming back into The Last Storyteller I realized attempting to start it while activity in the household was in full swing was a poor idea. This was not going to be Maeve Binchy's brand of writing, all thatched roofs and emerald green smiles with a heavy dose of broken hearts. This was much heavier, in the guise of a piece of fiction relying on Irish fiddle music and mischievous tales told by sage keepers of tradition.

It's all that, too, but woven in with much more substance and darkness. Like Ireland itself, you could say, with nearly unbearable beauty mixed with equal sadness. It isn't quite Sebastian Barry's Ireland – not so dark, or anywhere near as poetic and handsome heartrending – but more more like than Binchy's, let's admit it, fluff. Fluff I enjoyed as a youngster celebrating my Irish-American heritage, left behind with other childish things.

Frank Delaney's publicist sent me a finished copy of The Last Storyteller for review, telling me I could send him interview questions if I like. SEND FRANK DELANEY INTERVIEW QUESTIONS?! Slap me silly and call me Shamrock if that isn't a staggering offer. Have I mentioned he's referred to as THE MOST ELOQUENT MAN IN THE WORLD by NPR? Likewise, have you gathered I'm a blithering idiot, myself? Coming up with anything aside from stuttering foolishness will be a miracle.

Try asking such an author a question he hasn't been asked one million times. Okay, I've accomplished it before but not without a lot of brain-wracking and actual research in sources I won't tell as I'm greedy that way. It's nearly as tough a challenge as being asked to hug Sebastian Barry and then let go. Or finally visit Ireland, then return home to the States. Not sure I'm capable of doing either.

But yes, I will interview Frank Delaney. Posthaste, as it's nearly St. Patrick's Day and I have nothing at all prepared for that save the phrase I'd like to coach all non-Irish speakers to employ in addressing Irishmen on the holiday. A phrase sure to make an impression. We'll talk about that later.


In addition I'm reading a memoir written by Churchill's youngest child for review in Library Journal. Ron Rash's The Cove for review at and a slew of others for the Independent Publisher award. Then, there's the Charles Todd mystery I picked up for 99 cents for one of the Amazon Daily Deals and am finding more lifeless than I'd expected considering the lovely, compelling covers of his books.

Yes, I do judge them by their covers.


That will wrap up today's Salon, in which I wrote much more than I thought I would. Sorry about that. I just feel so discombobulated and a general mess. Then again, when don't I. But there you have it, a bit of what I'm working on lately, having finished so little and making slow progress on everything else.

Do have a lovely week.

The Sunday Salon: January 8, 2012


One whole week into 2012 and as far as I know I haven't broken a single resolution but then again that's not saying much as I can't recall what I resolved.

Oh, wait! I think one was something about my knees and taking positive action to improve my pain situation. If working out qualifies then I am ahead of that game. I did go, once. I was on the elliptical trainer for half an hour. With every step, ellip, or what have you, I felt a disgusting feeling of pain. It wasn't a sharp pain but did involve the sound of bone grinding on bone, with a pinch of loose cartilage or other organic matter being pulverized, accompanied by localized swelling.

For several days after I felt a distinct change in the status of my knees. Along with the stiffness and pain was added a general weakness in the joint, resulting in my knees giving way suddenly, and with no notice, the cheeky things. I guess you could say so far my resolutions are going gangbusters in 2012.




Basically, still reading all I was reading before:

Bleak House by Dickens (over halfway)

Striving hard to finish before the group discussion and I'm between half and three-quarters with a medium to pathetic chance of finishing on time. Still reading primarily from bedtime until I'm too tired to read further, which is usually a good hour or two. I've passed the rough patch in which I wasn't sure what was going on with a vague plotline and have passed through the much more fun and upbeat scene of Caddy's wedding to Prince Turveydrop. The deportment, I assure you, was impeccable.


A Long Long Way by Sebastian Barry (ditto)

Reading this slowly to savor.


A Magnificient Obsession: Victoria, Albert, and the Death That Changed The British Monarchy by Helen Rappaport

Nearly finished and will write the review today. It continues to be an exceptional work of history. Fascinating stuff.




Restoring Grace by Katie Fforde

Reading for Readers Advisory Interest Group – a professional library group dedicated to reading a variety of genre literature, and next up is "Modern Romance." When I first heard this was the upcoming genre selection I felt my heart sink. I can read fantasy, thrillers, science fiction, graphic novels, etc., but I'd rather have the dry heaves than read romance.

So, I selected by going for something with subject matter I have interest in: old manor houses, British settings and characters, an artist, and a divorced woman being wooed, reluctantly, by an Irishman. Throw some flowers on that ancient, drafty house and my interest is piqued well enough.

I'm around a quarter through and, aside from the short-cut telling instead of showing parts and occasional clunky dialogue, it's honestly not that bad. I don't believe in romance, at least not the storybook sort, which I guess makes me a good test subject. If I think it's a fairly good read you know most readers of romance – minus the bodice-rippers, and you people can just forget it – set in modern Britain will have a good shot at liking it. At the least it proves I'm a fairly good sport.


Essays by Truman Capote

One by one I'm getting through a fairly chunky collection of Capote's essays at a snail's pace, which is intentional since it's a great way to dip into intelligent writing when I have a few minutes here and there. I'm a fan of his fiction – what little I've read – plus he was a southerner. Slam dunk. Will have more to say about some of the individual pieces in a future post. Hint: Mixed reaction.


Have to go switch the laundry, so that's it for today.

Ciao, y'all.

Sunday Salon: October 9, 2011 Edition



Banned Books Week 2011 has been and gone.

My Booker Shortlist read has stalled, and besides, I promised Sebastian Barry (swoon) I'm putting all my karma on a Julian Barnes win. So I'm calling it: Julian Barnes for The Sense of an Ending. Never lie to an Irishman. Especially when it comes to karma. And when he's as fantastically, unearthly amazing as Sebastian Barry. Who should have won the Booker himself!


Not that Barnes's work isn't mind blowingly great. Oh, it is. It's great in the lean, concise style I love. And Barry's great in the poetic, soul-touching way. I love them both but I shall always feel bitter about Man Booker 2011.




Reading news? I'm working on S.J. Watson's fantabulous Before I Go to Sleep. Ironically, it's been keeping me up nights.




Ditto Nimrod's Shadow by Chris Paling.



I've also been downloading free eBooks from Amazon, long-forgotten older works someone should be reading. So I've elected me.

And the titles are occasionally hilarious:

Poise: How to Attain It

The Spinster Book

Books Fatal to Their Authors

Little Fuzzy

The Real Dope

The Unspeakable Gentleman

and, one of my personal favorites:

Space Viking


Also finished up Colson Whitehead's Zone One for review. Never thought I'd be so intrigued by zombie literature but it's heavily character-driven, written in Whitehead's lush style. I thought it a bit heavy-handed at first but it started to grow on me. Ignore the flippin' Amazon reviews. I'm not sure who's writing them, nor do I care why they've been so down on it.

The problem may be its style, actually. I found it perfect for this particular book but it does come off sounding fairly … Not sure how to put it. Dismissive? Aloof? Something like that. But my advice is to read it. It's started me on a Colson Whitehead hunt. I picked up Sag Harbor at one of the Borders funerals. Once I finish that I'll eventually get through his other stuff. Have you read his articles? Holy mother of God.

Plus, the cool of that man is legendary.




Need I elaborate? Didn't think so.

Post-apocalyptic fiction? I guess I was pretty enthralled by Stephen King's The Stand, back in my teens. I read the whole honkin' thing straight through, barely coming up for air. For food, rather and the occasional bathroom break. I holed up in  my bedroom with it; I could not put the thing down. Dismiss Stephen King all you will but The Stand is a fine, fine novel. Much better than that Dan Brown thriller crap as far as page-turners go.


Next week I'm meeting Chris Bohjalian, on his The Night Strangers tour. He's coming to the Waukegan Library on the 10th and I already okayed a short interview/chat with him. Excited for that.

May get to the Bill Bryson reading/signing via Anderson's Bookshop in Naperville, IL, too. Only that's one of those auditorium events. And I'm not sure I have the energy to chat up his agent for an interview. Lacking that, I'm sure he's a fun speaker. He's a damn funny writer. Maybe I will.

Week after that, Michael Cunningham, Goldie Goldbloom and Elizabeth Berg.


And that's it for now from Bluestalking Headquarters.

Tuesday Salon, anyone?


Maybe it's not technically laziness, but never mind the excuse. I'm arriving late to the party once again. But you would not believe the traffic.

Books. Anyone else get that same little shiver up the spine (HAHA!) or am I coming down with something? Maybe I should cover up. Put on a jacket.

Or maybe I should just shut up and get on with it.




The Borrower by Rebecca Makkai

Viking, June 2011


"Lucy Hull, a young children's librarian in Hannibal, Missouri, finds herself both a kidnapper and kidnapped when her favorite patron, ten- year-old Ian Drake, runs away from home. The precocious Ian is addicted to reading, but needs Lucy's help to smuggle books past his overbearing mother, who has enrolled Ian in weekly antigay classes with celebrity Pastor Bob. Lucy stumbles into a moral dilemma when she finds Ian camped out in the library after hours with a knapsack of provisions and an escape plan. Desperate to save him from Pastor Bob and the Drakes, Lucy allows herself to be hijacked by Ian. The odd pair embarks on a crazy road trip from Missouri to Vermont, with ferrets, an inconvenient boyfriend, and upsetting family history thrown in their path. But is it just Ian who is running away? Who is the man who seems to be on their tail? And should Lucy be trying to save a boy from his own parents?"


Have you seen the way a cat reacts when you throw down a pinch of catnip? Imagine the cat is a human (SEE: librarian, female) and the catnip is this book. Now, throw it down on the floor in front of me. You may want to look away. Then again, you may not.


That lovely mental image was pretty much my reaction when I read the cover blurb from this book. Slack jaw, string of drool, glassy eyes, followed by rolling all over the floor, meowing madly. Disturbing? Yes. A bit. With appropriate counseling you'll get past it, like I did.

I wanted to read this book so badly I deferred it until now. I realize that sounds nonsensical. I wanted to read it, so I didn't? But once I'd read it I wouldn't have it to look forward to anymore. It would have already been done. Never again could I read this book for the first time. I skimmed the first few pages, maybe the first chapter, saw how worthwhile it was going to be, then immediately stuck it behind the GREAT BOOK BARRIER REEF in my family room. Out of sight out of mind, right? It bought me a couple months, at least until most of the hoopla about it quieted down.

I was right to put it away. When I pulled it out again last week it was all the sweeter. The early reviewers had done their stuff, selling the book's wonderfulness to all the early readers who dig this crazy, nerdy sort of thing. It was just me and this wonderful book. All alone.

(I believe I hear a violin playing softly in the distance.)

The publisher's summary (above, courtesy of makes it sound like a goofy book. Parts of it are, but on the whole it's actually a little more serious. That's not a bad thing. You kind of want to see that in a book about kidnapping, even if it is consensual. Not that kidnapping is ever right. Except, maybe, when it is. Oh, go read a book on ethics.

The road trip is a great ride. Literally. Ian's every inch the obnoxiously spirited 10-year old, full of curiosity and way, way too much energy. He's hilarious, just a joy to be with. And, while Lucy adores him, never expressing any irritation with his spasticity (?), she's also a grown woman lacking real direction, confused about her place in the world. Her worry about Ian, about how this little boy's being raised, may have some legitimacy, but following that impulse to run away with him… That's a little sticky.

Still, Rebecca Makkai manages to sell it. Just when you're starting to think, "Now she'll stumble and I'll get angry with the book for its complete lack of reality, toss it aside and cry copious tears,"  guess what? She never makes one misstep, never fumbles a detail. She plots flawlessly, creates loveable, living, breathing characters you can't help wanting to hug, even if you do want to give Lucy a little slap sometimes.

It's just that ending… But I can't tell you that now, can I?

Just read it. If the summary raises your blood pressure like it did mine, just read the thing. Feel free to message me, comment here without spoilers, email me if you feel the need to scream WTF? And if you've read it you'll know.

And you need to read it.




But now, dears, I am out of time. When your back was turned I had to throw in some laundry. Now, lunches for tomorrow need to be made. I didn't get to any of the other books I've been reading or have finished since my last update, and, yes, I was already behind then. I apologize most abjectly.

Until next time, when I may or may not catch up catching up. Just don't bet the farm on it.



The Chicago Tribune

Publishers Weekly


The Blogs:

The Book Frog



Rebecca Makkai