Monthly Archives: September 2012

ISBN 0-684-80152-3

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

I had just returned from Spain, externally tanned, internally burned, as any good trip ought to do to a writer, when Captain Sexy Voice came over the intercom to tell us we were landing.

CSV: Welcome to Chicago.

I saw the lights of the city shining under the plane, and I knew everything below me was part of me, and no mater where I went in the world, that would always be me: a neon parade against a dark night.

I had approximately 48 hours to spend in Chicago, and while all 48 of those were spent jet-lagged, I tried to make the best of it by squeezing in time to see every one that I could. Here are those 48 hours & The Great Gatsby:

My friend A and I went to dinner the first night at 90 Miles Cuban Café .

One look around, and I could tell the place would be Hemingway approved. Over ropa vieja, black beans, rice, plantains, and passion fruit ice tea, A let me go on and on about politics, my theories of time, and past lives.

Maybe it was the TV playing I Love Lucy re-runs or maybe it was the live band, but I didn’t want the night to end. We skipped dessert, thinking that we’d grab an after dinner cocktail instead.

A knew of “just the place” to take me, and after trouble finding a gas station, a U-Turn fiasco (It’s the Fuzz, abort mission! Abort mission!), and the usual hardship of finding city parking, we finally ended up at The Barrelhouse Flat on North Lincoln.

Just as stepping into 90 Miles felt like we were stepping into a café in Cuba, stepping into The Barrelhouse was a bit like stepping into a time warp. It was a dark, classy, joint, themed in the 1920s. In my mind, at least, maybe they’re going for the 30s? I kept thinking, Lewis Sullivan would drink here . . .

There were rumors that there was an upstairs portion of the bar that was even classier and more refined. A told me that we simply were not dressed appropriately to be up there.

So we hung out downstairs where there was a welcoming undercurrent even for me in my jeans and T-shirt. The drink menu had $4 beers on tap as well as $11 cocktails. The piano player, S, wore a denim jacket and played every other Tuesday, “just to keep his fingers flexible.”

Read: West Egg downstairs and East Egg upstairs.

I ordered a CK Dexter Haven and A ordered a Cat’s Cradle. After trying each other’s drinks we switched. I’m not going to go into detail about how good the drink was, just look at the picture.

CK Dexter Haven & Cat’s Cradle

At some point A went to the restroom and I struck up a conversation with J the bartender.

ME: Tell me about the drink menu.

J: Each month we [the bartenders] come up with new drinks to feature on the menu. It’s stressful.

ME: Which drink is yours?

J: Mine isn’t on there, I was in Belize at the time.

ME: How was Belize?

J: Good except for the hurricane.

ME: I write this blog. . .

At this point, I ordered a $4 tap—the Jolly Pumpkin Weizen Bam, or what I thought was a pumpkin beer. (Wait for it.)

I made a trip to the bathroom and wrote this in my journal:

“Barrelhouse Flat/Dyson hand dryer/ give it another star.”

I wasn’t driving that night.

The next day I woke up thinking, I have to write about this bar, but what book do I own and haven’t yet read would go perfectly with this place?

Enter The Great Gatsby.

All through graduate school, I pretended that I had read, The Great Gatsby. There was a certain necessity in this, as Hamline University is stationed in Saint Paul, MN. They are so closely tied to Fitzgerald, that one alumni group was cheekily titled, “West Egg Literati.”

When I started graduate school, I discovered that there were SO many things that I hadn’t read. Writers can be absolute snobs, and the fact that I had spent years dealing with pharmaceutical sciences, organic chemistry, and psychology classes didn’t matter.

I hadn’t read Richard Yates, Ruth Stone, Lorrie Moore, Hemingway . . . I had read Robert Frost from time to time, but that only got me eye rolls—he was SO out of fashion. I liked Stephen King, and horror in general, and because of this I was <<GASP>> deemed a GENRE writer. I felt I was dismissed.

ART SCHOOLS BREED CONFORMITY*. Sorry about that, I’m sometimes prone to outbursts.

I never had the time to sit down with The Great Gatsby the way I wanted. Instead of rushing through it, I went online and read a few reviews and critical essays about Gatsby, one summary of Fitzgerald’s life, and called it good. I stood toe to toe with any snob during my Hamline years.

After reading the book this week, I see the irony in my actions. Trust me, I see the irony.

But I firmly believe that one finds stories when they are meant to find them, and it meant something to me that Nick Carraway, the narrator, turned 30** on the day that the climax of the novel takes place.

A bit more about The Barrelhouse:

I enjoyed the bar so much that I dragged both E and M back the next night raving about pumpkin beer and a mysterious upstairs.

The bartender that night, W, created a custom drink for me based on this description:

ME: I was here yesterday and had the Cat’s Cradle. I loved it, but I want to try something different. I like champagne and sweet drinks.

Judge me all you want, but W made me the best drink ever. It didn’t have a name and wasn’t on the menu.

ME: You ought to name this The Jackrabbit.

W: I like that. Why do you say that?

ME: I can’t tell you. It will be in my blog.

Well, W, the reason that drink ought to be called The Jackrabbit was because half way through it (Yes I realize my mother-in-law reads this blog. Hi, L!), us girls started talking about lingerie, and what lingerie often leads to. We also discovered the real reason E liked Gimlets when she was 23. I don’t know what was in that drink, but it didn’t taste that strong . . .

Then we tried the pumpkin beer.

W: It’s not made from pumpkin, you know.

ME: Really?

M: Obviously, I mean, a pumpkin beer would be dark.

ME: (Glaring look in M’s direction.)

I was wearing jeans and Book It  T-shirt. Sure I dressed it up with a scarf, but despite this (or maybe because of it) I met Kit, the upstairs attendant. She showed me the pool table where a man named Frank was dominating the game.

I didn’t play Frank, but I did explain Book It to a construction worker from the suburbs:

CW: So they basically promoted obesity in America’s youth?

ME: It was the ‘80s; they didn’t know any better.

I sauntered back downstairs and met The Old Timer. E was convinced I knew this man, so she let him take M’s seat.

OT informed me that he was a famous dancer and a very special person. If I knew just how special and famous he was, I’d laugh. He took out a Hello Kitty notebook to prove it to me. He and his wife used to have 14 cats. He went on to explain that he had snuck out of the old person’s home across the street. He even let me try on his glasses because they were made of solid wood.

M: (sad look on her face) He’s senile. I feel sorry for him.

ME: You’re just pouting because he stole your seat! If I get to be old and in a home, I hope to God I escape at 12AM on a Wednesday night and have drinks with pretty girls!

As we were leaving, he called to me—

OT: Come here and give me a hug! I’m from Saint Paul, Minnesota and we are huggers there.

And there it was, the heart of The Great Gatsby.

I hadn’t needed Nick Carraway to explain about this decade of loneliness, the fact that St. Olaf could only hold Gatsby for two weeks because of their ferocious indifference to the drums of his destiny, or that The Great Gatsby was always a story of the Middle West.

The drunken man with the enormous owl-eyed spectacles saw it all clearly, and for a moment I did, too.

Seeing the world through another’s eyes.



* Even if they don’t mean to. Hamline University had an extraordinary cross genre program that promoted multiple voices, but there was always a hierarchy between students.

**I turn 30 in 11 days. Not that I’m counting.

**If you stop by The Barrelhouse Flat and think the doorman smells really good, it’s a mix of Jean Paul cologne and strawberry bubble gum.



Filed under Art, Books, Fiction, Life, Literature, Random, Travel, Writing

ISBN 1-885211-92-9

Sand In My Bra and Other Misadventures (funny women write from the road)  

ME: Why is this luggage so heavy? Is the car in back? Want me to marry you with this broom? Are these berries poisonous? SOUND THE CANNON!

As I dragged my 50 lb, or  22.68 kg, hot pink suitcase down three flights of stairs, these were the questions I asked my best friends (love ya like a sister!)  K and B. I think they had forgotten that I have no filter between my brain and my mouth, and if I think it, it comes out. Nine times out of ten I will make an obscure book reference and not explain it to anyone.

Sand In My Bra and Other Misadventures, a collection of essays written by funny women from the road, seemed like the perfect book to pair with my recent trip to Barcelona, Spain. E gave me the book (a year ago? 2 years ago?) because she and I have been known to take a road trip or two. Sarah Vowell, Ellen Degeneres, and Anne Lamott are featured in the collection, so E reasoned that the book had to be good.

I took an Ambien on the plane. Subsequently I do not remember getting into a taxi at BCN, nor having a first magical impression of Spain. The first thing I remember about Barcelona is K unpacking her luggage in the hotel room and whipping out a switchblade.

ME: What’s that for? West Side Story?

K: If someone tries to mug me I’m gonna shank them.

ME: Don’t you go on humanitarian missions with the Air Force? And in your current occupation don’t you spend the day curing sick and injured people?

International Burn number one.

K: The tour books said that this city is RIFE with PICKPOCKETS. Ain’t nobody gettin’ my Euros.

ME: Why would you take me to a place that requires a switchblade for protection?

K: I knew you could hang.

You can take the girl out of the South Side, but you can’t take the South Side out of the girl.

In other news, a bidet makes for the perfect book rest when it is stationed directly across from the toilet. Or, I hear if you fill it with ice it makes an impromptu cooler for beer. #NowIKnowWhyTheRestOfTheWorldHatesAmericans. #ShortStoryIdeaNumber12784959.

A cooler so awesome even MacGyver would approve

Photo from Marlene’s Life In Tuscany

A day into the trip, we were wandering the streets of La Rambla, a historical, labyrinthine, neighborhood turned tourist trap, when I was plucked from my writer musings by the alarming sound of drums and a large, chanting crowd armed with bull horns.


Graffiti is so much better in Europe

K: (Look of utter distain) That’s in Pamplona. In July. Those are protestors fighting for Catalunya’s independence from Spain.

Fighting for independence peacefully

International Burn number two.

The thing about Spain, at least in the La Rambla district, was that it was sort of like America, but not America at all. It was like running into a Canadian, and thinking, something’s off, but you can’t tell what because they speak English and seem to appear American in every way. . .

America runs on . . . WTH?

I think our friend J (he hopped a plane from Madrid and met up with us for the weekend) summed it all up when he stepped into El Corte Inglés, a five story, diamond encrusted, gold plated department store.

J: Ummmm . . . it smells like a Nordstrom’s in here.

If you need to pee and grab a queso burger, McDonalds, or Miguel Domingos as my friend JR calls it, is never very far away.

But, I would not have this Americanism! I would hold my pee until we went to Sandwich & Friends . I wanted to experience the culture. I begged everyone to go to a live Flamenco show, which was amazing, but as it turns out, Flamenco is not really practiced in Spain anymore. It’s just around for the tourists. Damn.

Music? Barcelona has music.

People like this set up in the street.

How did they get that piano out here?

And people like this play in the metro station and on the train.

I tipped this man nearly $10 because I still do not realize that Euro coins are equivalent to American dollars.

The metro station is incredibly hot for some unknown reason. MAMAN DIED TODAY. OR MAYBE IT WAS YESTERDAY. . .

And if you wander through enough used record stores, you will eventually discover local music. I found out about Manuel  by asking the store clerk what the youth were into.

Art? You can do the tourist thing and check out the Pablo Picasso museum, but go pee before you head over there because the line is literally a hundred people deep. There’s some sort of modern art museum directly across the street, with no lines, and a lonely attendant working the booth, #ShortSotryIdea847594. But I suggest checking out local galleries, like La Basilica Galeria. Sure you’ll get weird looks wandering in in flip-flops and shorts, but you’re foreign. You’ll get weird looks wherever you go. Or maybe that’s just me. But you’ll have the chance to experience new artists like this:

You’ll have to visit the gallery’s website to get the name of the artist. Sorry.

And if it’s food you’re looking for, I suggest finding a La Bomba. Unfortunately, I didn’t write down where I ate this. But it is, from what I could tell, a deep fried ball of mash potatoes with cheese and meat.

Then try some tea brewed with fresh mint leaves from Salterio.

I would work here every day if I lived in Barcelona.

Everyone <<cough. Lonely Planet>> says it opens at 3pm. It’s really open at 5pm, or maybe it opens whenever they feel like opening, that’s how it is in Europe, just keep checking back. The proprietor was the nicest person I have ever met. She posed with me for pictures, took my hand in hers, looked me in the eye, and expertly busted all language barriers with her smile. Then, you guessed it—I cried a little.

Drinking: don’t forget Cava. I’d list the ways to ask for different wines in Catalonian, but then you wouldn’t be able to have fun exchanges like this:

Wine Shop Owner: Do have an apartment [in the city]?

K: No me gusta el jamón.

ME: What does ham have to do with an apartment?

International Burn number three.

I recommend going to the beach. Every. Day.

ME: What day is it? What sea am I swimming in? Why is everyone topless? Why does the water sparkle like that? Do you think high tide will sweep me away if I swim out there to deliver this letter to the sea? THE VOICE OF THE SEA SPEAKS TO THE SOUL.

When the heat of the sun makes you hungry try Siempreviva. Okay, I know everyone <<cough. Lonely Planet>> says to go to Can Majó, and you should go there, if it’s after 8pm or before 4pm because for some unknown reason (Siesta. I get it! Alright already!) EVERY RESTURANT is closed during 4pm-8pm—every restaurant except Siempreviva. The waiter brought us a bottle of peach Schnapps and three shot glasses because he thought B was Mexican.

Six shots of Schnapps later (apparently my friends stopped drinking Schnapps in high school, and since my mother taught me never to pass up anything free, I had to drink everyone else’s shots . . .), I thought it would be a great idea to dance to the club music blaring from a frozen yogurt stand on the way back to the hotel.

Random Passer By On Bike: Tot Americana!

International Burn number four.

The very best part of Spain, though I hate to admit it, was hanging out in the hotel room surfing the Internet and playing Bubble Explosion at 3am because none of us could sleep with this whole time change thing. B is an international business woman/badass chick that travels with nothing less than an iPhone, Blackberry, iPad, and laptop. B explained what she does for a living to me over 100 times, but I still have no clue. Whatever it is that she does, it allows her to have Internet access 24/7 in any country in the world.

ME: You know how Japan has Ninjas? What are other sleuth warriors? What? Vikings aren’t sleuthy! Has anyone seen this video, How To Date Charleen ? Can someone please explain the phrase, ‘rubber bands will make her dance?’ Who can break down this JLo video? Do you think she gave herself initials to make it easier for the general public to remember her name? Laffy Taffy is slang for what??? I haven’t laughed this hard since . . . yesterday.

Guess what Barcelona! I drank from your fountain. I’m coming back.

The fountain of youth.

Oh, and for those who wanted to know more about Sand In My Bra and Other Misadventures, it’s just like this blog post. Only less random, funnier, and better written. And it doesn’t have pictures. Except for the cover, but that doesn’t count.

Now, I got some writing to do. Although it doesn’t seem like it, Barcelona was a work trip for me. I finally cracked an idea I was thinking about since last year for a novella. I have the first line. Thank you for that Barcelona.

“The air was so quiet he could hear the broken pieces of the sun knocking on the water.” Okay, so maybe I was traveling with Flannery O’Connor, too.




Filed under Art, Books, Life, Music, Non Fiction, Random, Travel, Writing

ISBN 0-312-87320-4

I Am of Irelaunde

Guest post by C Lee Tressel, blogger on Fifty Rows Up []


I love this time of year.

Early September brings back to school, cooler nights, candy corn, and football. This year, it has also brought a barrage of acorns onto the roof of my new old house. I jumped at the first few loud hits, but now I’m used to it. I’m waiting for the day one thunks me square on the head.

In addition to falling nuts and the NFL, something else important is on my mind: druids.

Besides the half hour I spent at Stonehenge twelve years ago, I can’t say I’ve thought much about druids. Juilene Osborne-McKnight’s novel, I Am of Irelaunde, has changed that.

If you had asked me to define a druid before I read the book, I would have given you a roundabout description: A druid was a priest-like person who performed pagan rituals – probably in robes, probably outdoors – and lived in the UK, long before the UK became the UK. Having read the novel and having been swept up in the reimagined story of Patrick (that’s Saint Patrick, to you), now I will tell you that though I wasn’t completely off, there is much more we can learn from druids.

Druids have often gotten a bad rap for being shady (in the sense of both “shrouded” and “shifty”) practitioners of the dark arts. The way Osborne-McKnights druids are portrayed is much more marvelous and also far more familiar. The druids in this story have some magical healing capabilities and finely honed intuition, but they are also powerfully in tune with nature. Man’s relationship to nature is indeed the seat of their “magic.” Consider this: One word predating the Celtic language that might have been a root for the term “druid,” means “oak-knower.”

As someone living with a whole world of modern conveniences, I could stand to know much more about oaks, like the one dropping acorns on my house. I could also stand to know more about what grows when and how best, what I can do to be more aware of the seasons and their rhythms, and why I interact (or don’t) with nature in the ways I do.

What I also came to know about the druids in the story is the way they passed knowledge to each other. The written word wasn’t their medium, but stories were. Much of Osborne-McKnight’s novel is comprised of stories told within the larger story. The layering is wonderful, and it makes me want to gather some friends, pour the mead, and trade the best yarns from our family histories.

I’ll be honest: I felt some resistance to reading this book. I chose to read it for this blog project because it has sat in my collection, unread, for six years. My dad had asked me to read it and report back those many moons ago, and I have always felt badly that I did not complete the quest. However, one of the themes in the book is hearing a story when you’re ready to hear it. That is certainly the case for this book. The poet-warrior (!) who tells most of the stories in the book would say my timing was exactly right.

Another bit of subtext suggests that stories can come to us from unexpected sources. In this case, the book came from my dad. He is not a particularly odd source, but he received the book from the author, who sent him the book acknowledging a kindness that he had paid to her. Years before, my dad wrote a letter in praise of a column the author had written about the Cleveland Browns when she was a sportswriter. Lo and behold! I rediscovered the book within a month of moving to Cleveland, in the year I started my own sports writing venture.

Sometimes, it seems, the right story just falls from the sky, just the right time, and not unlike a big, juicy acorn – destined to hit you right where it counts.

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Filed under Books, Fiction, Life, Literature, Random, Writing

ISBN: 0-14-20226-7

Word Freak by Stefan Fatsis

Today’s guest blogger is Sarah Turner. Check out her blog, Sarah In Small Doses after you give this post a read.

Hello! I’m guest-posting this week while Charlie is away, but rest assured: she will return in a few weeks, no doubt with many more books under her belt (reading glasses?). Anyway, Charlie and I go way back, so I was very honored when she asked me to fill in for her.  Plus, it was a great opportunity for me to read a book that I had been meaning to read for some time.

I acquired Word Freak  from a former roommate of mine in Brooklyn, an editor for Penguin Publishing whose personal library would make any bibliophile swoon.  When she and her husband moved out of their room and I moved in, I inherited the books they left behind, and this nonfiction account of the Scrabble world by Stefan Fatsis was among the spoils. I liked the cover and the title, and since I was soon-to-be an MFA student in creative nonfiction, I felt like it would be a good book to have in my possession. Unfortunately, I felt that way about a lot of books (20 boxes worth, in fact) so when I moved from New York to Minnesota, this book got stuck on a shelf and forgotten about. Three moves and about a hundred required-for-class books later, I picked it up again, again because of the cover.

Part memoir, part journalistic reportage, Word Freak exposes* a world that I never knew existed** and examines*** the interesting, often quirky****, people who inhabit that world.  As a devotee of language and linguistics, I appreciate the sounds and spellings of words, as well as their meanings. Those who have committed their lives to the pursuit of Scrabble fame and fortune are only concerned with spelling, however; definitions, and especially pronunciations, are unimportant.

The writing in this book was pretty sharp, something I also care about, and I got caught up in the characters, including the narrator/author, who finds himself spiraling into obsession, not unlike the people about whom he’s writing. It even gives the history of the game, created during the Depression by an underemployed architect named Alfred Butts*****, who made only a modest living off of what may be the best-selling board game of all time.

I must confess that I have never played a full game of Scrabble, except in Spanish class with Chico, in which we could only play Spanish words (but with English tiles). Try spelling “niña” without the “ ~ ”. I have, however, played several thousand games of Bananagrams, which is essentially Speed Scrabble, or Pick, as we called it growing up, when we used the wooden Scrabble tiles to create our own crosswords directly on the table. As a writer who loves unusual words, I’ve gotten so notorious among my friends for my Bananagrams-playing that most of them won’t join me in a game, and when they do, they comment on how I play.

LK: Sarah, you play so slowly when we play together. I see you inching the tile over to add to your words, and you still beat me.

Or they have to suffer through me “helping” them.

ST: You could spell “tumbling” and then play “goofy” off one of the G’s.

Boyfriend: Um, thanks…I guess…+

I played at least half a dozen games of Bananagrams in the middle of reading this book and I didn’t win a single one, however. I think I was so wrapped up in trying to find rare, high-points words that I missed the easy small ones.  Never underestimate a well-placed two-letter word.

One of the real reasons I chose to read this book now (ahead of the many other books I’ve moved from place to place), is I am in a page exchange with another writer, a classmate and friend of mine named Jordan Wiklund (no “C”), who is writing a book about another game that has an almost cultish following: Cribbage.  Jordan’s book, Cribbageland, is a fascinating look at not just the people who play cribbage but why, where, and on what bizarre and unique****** boards. There is actually a cribbage belt you can buy, which has holes all the way along it for the pegs. So you’re never without a board if someone wants to play. And my favorite story is of someone who made the largest cribbage board ever out of ice fishing holes, using fence posts as pegs.  When his book comes out (he already has an agent) you will definitely want to check it out because it’s already phenomenal, a word that in Scrabble would only be worth 17 points, but which means so much more by definition. And that, for this “word freak,” is all that counts.

*16 points

**15 points

***17 points

****22 points, and a good way to use the K and the Y with the Q. Also, if you played it on a double or triple word/letter space, you’d rack up even more points. Exposes and existed are “bingoes,” words that use all seven letters in your rack, and examines would have to be used with an open letter somewhere, probably an S, and would also be a bingo. See? I learned stuff.

*****Yes, that is his actual name. Not to be confused with his brother, Seymour, who is the, um, butt of many a joke.

+Boyfriend is very good at humoring me. And not so good at Bananagrams.

******Only 15 points. I would have thought it would be more, but at least it’s a way to use Q without starting with it. To calculate a word’s point value, check out this website. I have no guarantee that it is accurate, but it is amazingly fast. And that’s all we want in this ADHD world, isn’t it?


Filed under Board Games, Books, Non Fiction, Random, Writing

ISBN: 9780151013838

Life of Pi by Yann Martel

 “If we, citizens, do not support our artists, then we sacrifice our imagination on the altar of crude reality and we end up believing in nothing and having worthless dreams.”

-Yann Martel, Life of Pi

I’m glad that Charlie decided to write this blog. I enjoy reading her posts.  I went to school with her since 7th grade, and throughout high school, taking almost all of our International Baccalaureate classes together.  For as long as I have known her, she always loved to write, and whenever I got to read her writing, I was always amazed at how well she was able to express herself.

I’m not a writer myself, but I always loved to write.  As a young girl, I kept a diary for many years. I also love to read. This is why I decided to blog about one of the books that I enjoyed reading a few years ago and never forgot: Life of Pi by Yann Martel.

Life of Pi is unlike any other book I have read. The main character of the book is a boy called Piscine Molitor “Pi” Patel from Pondicherry, India.  In the book, he faces the most difficult and life-changing experiences.  Throughout the book, the reader learns about spirituality, zoology, life in India, survival, and obstacles Pi has to face after leaving his home.

The book talks about life in Pondicherry, India.  While reading this part of the book, I am reminded of the time I spent in Pune, India.  Thanks to spending two months in India, I was able to understand and relate to the description of life in this country.  I saw the poverty, old cave temples, and different cities throughout the country.  I tasted all kinds of spices and different types of Indian food, heard their music, took rickshaws around the city, and after everything that I experienced, I can say that it is a county unlike any other, so unique and beautiful in its own way.

The book teaches us not only about life in India, but about spirituality as well.  We learn of Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity.  Throughout my life, I studied these three religions.  In fact, I had to leave my home country, Bosnia and Herzegovina, because of a war that broke out as a result of three different religions/ethnicities that lived in the same country.  Even though I am not a religious person, starting in high school, I took interest in reading about different religions and read books about Hinduism in India, and even read about the conflict between religions in my home country.

This is what led me to major in Anthropology in college.  I wanted to learn more about different cultures, religions, traditions, art and food around the world.  Even though now I have a full time job and I do not have much time to travel to different countries, in my free time I enjoy making jewelry that is influenced by different cultures, traditions, and art that I have seen in different countries I visited.

Here are some examples of the earrings I make.  You can find them by visiting my online shop:


The book also talks about animals, a zoo, treatment of animals, and the survival of both humans and animals. Throughout the book we learn about the nature of a Bengal Tiger called Richard Parker.  Sometimes even people can identify with animals, especially when they face hardships in their lives and have to follow their instinct to survive.  People living in a society, surrounded by other people are shaped by their surroundings.  If a person is all alone in the middle of nowhere, fighting to survive, they might find themselves acting out of their character, resembling a tiger that is following his instinct in order to survive.

It has been years since I read this book, but I have not forgotten it.  I would like to reread it again sometime soon, so that I can remember some of the details I may have forgotten.  This is the kind of book that you can read as many times as you would like,but each time you read it, you experience it in a different way, finding out new things, learning something new about life, and about human nature.

I recommend this book to everyone!  It is definitely a book that you will remember many years from now!

* The artwork seen in this blog comes from a special addition of the book with illustrations by a Croatian artist Tomislav Torjanac.  This artwork is a great addition to the book and represents the events throughout the book really well. *

Story Design Life of Pi

“You must take life the way it comes at you and make the best of it.”
― Yann MartelLife of Pi

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Filed under Art, Books, Cats, Fiction, Life, Literature, Random, Travel, Writing

ISBN: 0-375-50725-6

Hi. I’m Elizabeth, the sub. I’m taking a break from all-night Doctor Who marathons to re-read Cloud Atlas, just so I can tell you all about it. The combined effect of all that timey-wimey might make me explode into a supernova . . . here we go!!

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell


Edward Gorey said that any piece of art worth talking about should be indescribable. So by that logic, Cloud Atlas is amazing. Not perfect, and maybe not for everyone, but it’s the kind of a book that can alter how you perceive the world—or if you’re like me and your perception is a little altered to begin with, it makes you feel like you aren’t alone.

It’s a gigantic thinky fable about how every choice we make has a ripple effect through time and human experience. That may sound lofty and ethereal, but think about it: you’re reading this on a device that was made by a stranger on the other side of the world. Every choice you make in your life will determine the fates of people who won’t be born until after you die. We don’t really think about things like that because we’re all trapped in the same cycles, the same stories, that have been playing out since the beginning of time—breathe in, breathe out, birth, death, cause, effect—but those stories will continue long after you and everything you’ve ever known is gone. Does this fill you with hope or despair?

I saw Christopher Plummer perform his one-man show in Canada a few weeks ago, which means that I’ve exchanged oxygen molecules with Ewan McGregor, so I’m in the “hope” category.

This has nothing to do with anything. I’m just including it as a public service. Sorry Charlie

Cloud Atlas is a nested novel, composed of six individual stories—we’ve got six characters in six different times and vastly different places, all making choices that will ripple forward through time. Each protagonist experiences the life of the character preceding them via letters, a novel, or holographic record, and foretells the characters that will follow through dreams and visions of the future. The stories are fitted together in delightfully non-linear fashion, bounding from 1850 to the distant future and back again, but don’t get bogged down by all the nifty temporal devices, because it’s ultimately about humanity and the dilemma of being alive. Everyone is connected, for better or worse, but we journey through our tiny stretch of time alone . . . or do we?

I’m not allowed to give away any plot points, but if you’ve Googled Cloud Atlas by now, you’ll have garnered that the overarching story mighhhht have a little somethin’ somethin’ to do with reincarnation. If that’s something that floats your current incarnation’s boat, all the more reason to give Cloud Atlas a whirl. If not, enjoy it for David Mitchell’s dexterous juggling of wildly different voices, settings, and genres to create one cohesive narrative that manages to blend historical adventure, epistolary melodrama, capers comedic and thrilling, and dystopian science fiction into one big fuzzy orchestra of humanity.

My favorite character is Frobisher, and not just because he uses lots of baroque words and lives in the ‘30s. This is my favorite line of his—wish I’d had this in my pocket during any of our interminable writing discussions at school . . . “Composers are merely scribblers of cave paintings. One writes music because winter is eternal and because, if one didn’t, the wolves and buzzards would be at one’s throat all the sooner.”

Even if historical fiction or science fiction isn’t in your wheelhouse, Cloud Atlas is ultimately about very small individuals and their choices and feelings, and how those relate to all of humanity’s choices and feelings. So if you’ve made any choices or felt any feelings lately, you’ll find something in the book that connects to you.

And if you have a comet-shaped birthmark on your shoulder . . . please let me know.

I love books that make you feel all the feelings. I need stories about connection to keep good ol’ fashioned alienation from bogging me down. Lately, it’s cheered me up to think that since I was within fifteen feet (only five meters!) of Christopher Plummer, I now have a tenuous connection to all seven Von Trapp kids and everyone who attended the Oscars this year, including the dog from The Artist.

Fair warning, this book throws a lot of things at you—there’s a great reading guide here that covers most of the historical/cultural/geographical references so you’re not constantly Googling things. I’m here to help!!

If you’re the kind of person who naturally sees a movie version as they read, like me, it will occur to you that such a high-concept, idea-riffic book is pretty much unfilmable.


Cloud Atlas Movie Poster

Cloud Atlas: THE MOVIE is coming out on October 26th, co-directed by the Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer, of Matrix and Run Lola Run fame, respectively. CUE THE MONTAGE!!

It’s safe to say that I’m excited. The last line of the *trailer* makes me cry. Ben Whishaw’s voice is the sound of an angel’s tears!

Jim Broadbent and Ben Whishaw’s magical hair are just two of the stars in this movie

It’s obviously a marketing nightmare, but early screening buzz is really positive, and the studio is so pleased that they’re courting the Wachowskis to direct the Justice League movie. I would extrapolate on the implications of this (a Joss Whedon/Wachowskis box office battle? Who wins? EVERYONE) but Charlie might yell at me.

Tom Hanks is in it (Hollywood’s mayor!), it’s super ambitious and unlike anything else getting made these days, so that alone should deserve your hard-earned money. David Mitchell has a cameo. Spot him and feel superior to your friends!!

PS—because I was close enough to Christopher Plummer to make direct eye contact while he was speaking perfect French (swoon!), I am theoretically connected to everyone involved in making Cloud Atlas. Behold—Christopher Plummer was in the Last Station with Helen Mirren, who was in The Tempest with Ben Whishaw, who is in Cloud Atlas. BUT SOFT Christopher Plummer was in Nicholas Nickleby with Jim Broadbent, who is in Cloud Atlas. Two moves!!

Visit me at for more weird stuff.

Christopher Plummer says ‘So long, farewell!’


Filed under Books, Fiction, Life, Literature, Random, Writing

ISBN: 0-385-24774-5

The Power Of Myth- book and DVD

K recommended The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell to me six years ago. I was a recent transplant to Sioux Falls, SD, a novice writer struggling with the blatant lack of artistic values in the community. K handed me the PBS miniseries, six hours of interviews, and smiled.

K: I recommend this to anyone trying to understand their internal feelings and desire to pursue their dreams. It’s for anyone being confronted with these feelings in a real and profound way and trying to break out of the doldrums of conformity to roles they were born into.

I only half knew what K was talking about. But apparently, this Joseph Campbell guy abandoned his pursuit of a doctrines degree and went to the woods to read; that was all I needed to know. Also, the title seemed like it should be said in a booming voice, THE POWER OF MYTH! George Lucas claimed that Campbell’s work had an overwhelming impact on the creation of Star Wars. Why wouldn’t I watch this miniseries?

I watched the DVDs in marathon fashion, eating Fun Dip to keep me awake. The miniseries was dry and made me snoozy, and I kept thinking, Han Solo was born from this? I knew that I was missing out on something big by not fully comprehending Joseph Campbell’s message, but the Fun Dip gave me a stomachache and the room I was renting had a wasp infestation. Excuses I use when I say I never finished watching the DVDs.

I bought The Power Of Myth in book form, hoping that I would come back to it when I was ready.

I hadn’t thought much of the book until I started correspondence with local artist Susan Elnora*. I was dawn to her booth at the Uptown Arts Festival, and one necklace in particular. She urged me to try it on, but I knew how that would turn out . . .

The quality of her work spoke to me, so when she told me that all pieces were initially hand-

Susan Elnora, Barn Necklace

fabricated—most shapes sawed out, then refined with tiny files, forged, assembled, and soldered together, often textured and oxidized to bring out delicate details and sculptural dimensionality—I wasn’t surprised.

What surprised me was SE’s impressive reading list: Trickster Makes This World by Lewis Hyde, The Crossing by Cormac McCarthy, Spell of the Sensuous by David Abram, Geek Love by Katherine Dunn, Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls, The Whale by Philip Hoare, Anam Cara by John O’Donahue, Pema Chodron, Jacob Needleman, Sherman Alexie . . .

I wanted to start a new blog in which I read her bookshelf.

But wait—it gets better.

SE’s response to what inspires her was so thoughtful I decided to post the whole thing unedited, word count be dammed:

“I’ve always loved animals, and have read extensively about them since I was very small. Although I am most fascinated by living animals, my work tends to focus on skulls and skeletons. The skulls began as a response to Victorian memento mori jewelry, which was intended to remind the wearer to live in the present, because death is always with us. I wanted to preserve that idea but to keep it light and playful, sort of a way to befriend that darker sentiment and keep it close. Bones, skeletons, and the skeletal forms of buildings and landscapes are also aesthetically beautiful, in a raw and resonant way. I’m intrigued by dead or abandoned creatures, objects, and structures that still retain something of the energy and life they once held.


I’m finding it fascinating that some of the animals I’ve been exploring in my work lately are classic Trickster figures in many of the stories Lewis Hyde brings up (Raven and Coyote, specifically). According to Hyde, Trickster is the character who questions and disrupts the status quo, and often serves as an agent of change when the systems in place are no longer beneficial to those they were meant to serve. Trickster is something of an outsider and uniquely positioned to shift the cultural perspective. Another new favorite of mine, Joseph Campbell, claims that our own culture lacks a mythology to address these types of ideas, which becomes especially problematic under conditions when a Trickster is needed. Perhaps when works of art, music, and literature resonate with us, what is actually at work is a deeper connection to a manifestation of some necessary archetype.”

Buffalo Skull

Me = jaw dropped.

It was time for me to experience Joseph Campbell again.

I finished the book in Sioux Falls over Labor Day weekend. Here are the direct applications of the book I saw in my life:

During the Inward Journey chapter of the book, I read about how life begets life, which reminded me of Donald Barthelme’s, “The School,” and for those of you who know me, that is never a good sign. I once tried to calculate how many deaths were in this three-page story. I got to one hundred and sixty-four before I stopped counting. (You can read it here.)  JC explained that a snake shedding its skin is a symbol of continual life, as is a moon shedding its shadow each month. In the same way humanity, generation after generation renews itself. This was made clear to me when I saw Grandma holding new baby Little A, or as I like to call her, Nugget.

It was a powerful image, one that made me want to cry, but I held it together. I wasn’t just seeing the individual family unit; I was seeing something much grander. I saw the big picture, how all of humanity is our family, not just the clan we belong to immediately.

The next night, I was in the kitchen discussing politics with Big A (my father-in-law) and Middle A (soon to be sister-in-law). I don’t recommend discussing politics with your in-laws. Stick to easy topics like bird feeders and board games.

Of course the abortion topic came up, and of course the right to bear arms came up. I felt like I was thrown in a snake pit (being outnumbered by the Republicans), but something J (Husband’s little brother) told me earlier kept me going.

J: There’s a story “Sinbad the Sailor” in The Tale of Seven Voyages. Well, in this one village all the diamonds are down in a pit that is infested with snakes. The people of the village wanted the diamonds, but obviously they didn’t want to get eaten. So, they took chunks of meat and dropped it on the diamonds. Eagles came down, ate the meat and in turn ate the diamonds, because the diamonds had stuck to the meat. Later, the villagers climbed the trees and pulled the diamonds out of the bird scat.

J told me this story because he had just gotten engaged to Middle A. (Congratulations to you both!) And we were talking about why it’s important to know where your diamonds come from.

Back to the right to bare arms conversation. Middle A told me that she believed in the right to bear arms so that one could protect their family, and gave a story of how a gun came in handy to her dad.

ME: If someone broke into my house, I would fight back, but I wouldn’t be able to kill them. They would kill my child and me first. I just don’t have it in me.

By now, I was crying, and Middle A, obviously uncomfortable, left the room. What I wanted to say—but didn’t—was this: Jesus teaches us to love our enemies, but how can you do that with a gun in your hand?

I believe government and religion are separate issues, and I was tying to keep it that way. Big A and I sat down to finish the conversation. We stayed up until well past 1AM. I cried for most of it, but at the end, we hugged. It reminded me of politicians shaking hands after a debate, and of course, it was more than that: it was a diamond mined from shit.

As a flaming liberal surrounded by Republicans, I felt like I was in a bizzaro world. I needed an escape, so the following day I went to Black Sheep Coffee on 11th Street. While Balkan Beat Box played over the radio and Ethiopian men played an intense game of chess, I settled in and read the chapter on love. I just finished highlighting this sentence, “Love is the burning point of life, and since all life is sorrowful, so is love: the stronger the love, the more the pain,” when I received a text.

Text: Weird question. I’m at Trader Joes. Which dog biscuits should I get? And how do you know when you are in love?

My friend did not own a dog, but I knew their lover did. The domestic flavor of the text was proof enough of some type of love, and this made me smile.

ME: Most dogs eat anything. Chicken wins with Shadow. Re: Love- when you don’t have to ask.

Explaining to my friend about, pain, sorrow, the absence of God’s love, Jesus, and other mythos seemed a bit too heavy for a text message while shopping for dog treats, but it was clear to me that myth was missing from my friend’s life.

I texted EH: I view the blog as the modern essay, and so I feel like it’s an appropriate platform for anything. But I also feel like the stuff that goes along with The Power of Myth is a bit too intense for eight hundred words.

EH: Joseph Campbell is my animal guide.

For whatever reason, this reminded me of SE’s response, and the role of the Trickster. I laughed. I’d have to remind Husband (and the universe) that my birthday is coming up, October 7th, the big 3-0. A Trickster ornament would make an excellent gift for a girl who reads books.

I texted EH: Han Solo is my animal guide.

My Animal Guide

I put the book down and asked the men if I could watch them play chess. One of them turned to me and asked: what are you reading?

ME: THE POWER OF MYTH!! (I opened my arms to illustrate the power; plus, I had wanted to do that all week.)


*For more of her work check out her website: She has a show today! First Thursday, September 6, 2012 Northrup King Building Minneapolis, MN 5 to 9 p.m. I think they have this the first Thursday of each month, if you can’t make it today.


Filed under Art, Books, Fiction, Literature, Non Fiction, Politics, Random, Star Wars, Writing