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23 November 2011

'Please Don't Eat the Daisies' by Jean Kerr

This is one of the books that kept me sane when my children were young. I constantly reread it, even now. The book, published in 1958, is a collection of essays Jean Kerr wrote and published in several magazines over a two year period. The essays discuss her opinions, observations and adventures as a working mother of four, she would eventually have six, children. Jean was a playwright. Her hilarious essays include topics such as career choices, decorating, house hunting, marriage, rearing young children and even how to handle a hospital stay.

She puts in perspective the challenges of the everyday, like disciplining children, keeping your sanity, handling big, friendly dogs and work wise, how to pick and hire a producer (tip: never more than two at a time.) She makes me laugh because I can relate. There is no such a thing as writing in peace when you are a mother, and in former times, if you were a woman.

A while back, I pointed out that the 1950's were a hypocritical time in American history. Freedom and equality came with the caveats of white, heterosexual, protestant male. Nevertheless, Jean Kerr wrote funny irreverent essays and plays. She wrote without a sign of guilt or complaint about her life as a working mom. She was funny because she wrote with wit and intelligence. She made jokes. Ever notice that 'women with a sense of humor' are women who laugh at jokes. She did not live a 'bohemian' life with multiple lovers. She did what she enjoyed. She was absolutely a participant of her social world yet confident and charming enough to laugh at it.

Jean Kerr is rarely remembered today. She may well be forgotten because she was so funny and intelligent and a mother of six, and a loyal wife of a famous New York theatre critic. How about that? A woman who did not 'try to have it all.' She set herself a goal and went to work to achieve it. Her goal, so she states even in poetry, was to linger in bed in the morning, with a proper excuse of course (apparently parties didn't count back then either). Historians do not like people who may have been happy in life.

A movie with Doris Day and David Niven was based on the book. True to form, all the bits about Jean's success outside the home were taken out. They also took her biting, observant humor. Doris Day was cute and sweet. No doubt so was Jean Kerr but that is not all she was. I wish an optimistic woman would remake the movie properly. Jean Kerr is an example we could all use in our hectic lives. Besides, I love to lay in bed in the morning. It is a small accomplishment and I refuse to feel guilty about any accomplishment.

And as for the daisies? She forgot to tell her boys NOT to eat the daisies before guests arrived. She felt she was not creative enough to foresee this situation. She'd only mentioned not using the guest bathroom, or leaving their bicycles on the porch.....From then on she told them, of course.

In that spirit, I would like to find a job that is flexible, challenging and lets me keep my sense of humor. Any suggestions?

ISBN: 9780005712467

08 November 2011

'Something Wicked This Way Comes' by Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury, in spite of his fame, is someone I discovered only recently.  About two years ago, I picked up 'Dandelion Wine' at Hatchard's in London.  I read it as an antidote to the long Winter.  It is a novel full of light, adventure and mystery, like every childhood Summer should be...perhaps.  His use of language is magical.  I can open his book at random and find sentences that give me shivers and set my imagination free.

And so I saw a book titled, 'Something Wicked This Way Comes' while browsing shelves at Hatchard's again (yes, I lead a wonderful life).  I picked it up and hoped it was the book a childhood movie is based on.  The cover was proof enough , as it shows a dark man with a top hat.  Then, to my delight, I saw the author: Ray Bradbury.

Once again my imagination sees impossible pictures brought on by the same language I use every day.  The difference is that I can paint a wall, he creates art.  The paragraph that describes Mr. Cooger going around the carrousel and getting younger is as wonderful as any in the book and yet terrifying.  It reminded me of Poe. Bradbury's words are beautifully chosen. The rhythm of his sentences make me smile each time I open his book.

I often suspect that some people I know are innately bad and some people are angels in my life.  This book reminds me that we make that choice, the choice for good or evil or to do nothing.  These choices happen not just in youth when girls become women, but every day.  Old men, mothers and lightning rod salesmen chose from moment to moment between good and evil . I chose to listen to the troubles of a friend and I chose to rejoice for the good luck of someone else.  Alternative behavior could include selfishness, indifference or envy.  The act of choosing makes us good or evil.  You do not necessarily have to act on your thoughts, the thoughts themselves are enough.  Bradbury plays with this fear of your own thoughts and desires.  All the times you internally tell yourself you are too old to do bungee jumping, or too long married to show up with roses, you are committing an act of evil by limiting yourself and killing your own dreams or romance.  The carnival he describes feeds on these small deaths and fears of every day life.  Small, petty, unkind thoughts, desires to be young or to be older for example, are equally tasty.  I never did like carnivals anyway, what a relief I am not alone.

I could continue writing in admiration and awe, but I doubt Bradbury needs it.  I am so overwhelmed by his creative, magical use of language that as I read my own words I am more and more embarrassed.

ISBN: 9780575083066

06 November 2011

'Snuff' by Terry Pratchett

Years and years ago, a friend gave me 'Small Gods'. She told me she couldn't read more than one Discworld novel a year because Pratchett warped the way she saw the world. She said "you'll like him".  I tried reading it, but could not finish it. I didn't get the joke.  I thought small mindedness, religious intolerance and violence were all too real. I read him as a sad and accurate reflection of our world.  A year or two later I picked up the book again. I had gained a family and was making serious choices of my own, for good or bad. The book was hilarious. Pratchett is about choices, responsibility, accountability and knowing yourself. His story telling, though, make these topics palatable. I had to make decisions in society about myself and my family to see the fun, freedom and yes, fear in taking those grown up steps . Humor is so often associated with laughing at what frightens you. I buy every Pratchett book I can find in different cities and countries.  I even have 'The Unadulterated Cat' in my bathroom.

Now back to 'Snuff'.

As usual, Pratchett brings back characters. My favorite part is to discover how his characters have developed and learned from past mistakes or adventures. Other series make money by giving readers more of the same. To an intelligent reader, book 3 often feels like book 1 in a different setting. Pratchett, on the other hand, lets his characters grow, sometimes in surprising ways. Moreover, he manages to stay true to a characters' fundamental traits. So Rincewind remains a coward no matter how many times he survives. Commander Vimes, the protagonist of 'Snuff', remains a good man in desperate need of a drink.  He seems to live in a world surrounded by bad men, probably on account of being a policeman.  Commander Vimes usually focuses (obsesses) on crime and justice (which is different from punishment).  He treats murder as murder; there are no political euphemisms depending on the victim or status of the suspect.  A goblin girl is as important as an ambassador.  But, and yes we need a 'but' or there wouldn't be a book, what if your own society did not view this murder as a murder, anymore than people view euthanizing a stray dog as murder?  What if dogs found you and demanded justice?

This is where Pratchett excels.  He gives the little ones in society a voice and a champion.  But, he makes us laugh in the process of finding justice.  This laughter is important because most of us fall in the category of those who look away, stay quiet, or comment that talking dogs are still dogs, not humans.  He wants us to look at ourselves and our motives, but not all at once, just in case we shut the book in fear.  Laughter helps.  Mark Twain and Kurt Vonnegut wrote satire which is filed under fiction; just because Pratchett uses trolls, dwarfs and goblins instead of blacks, the poor and women, his work is labeled fantasy at your local book store.  Our society has become expert at looking away and escaping into fantasy of many sorts.  Pratchett is a genius; he writes satire and lets us label it fantasy so we'll read it and look in the mirror.  With any luck we get the joke.

Terry Pratchett 
ISBN: 9780385619264