Sunday, December 25, 2011

Twas the Night Before Christmas

Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
The felines were chasing a toy catnip mouse.
The stalking began in the hall and from there
They managed to corner it under a chair.

I attempted to nestle all snug in my bed
But the kitties decided to dance on my head.
An idea it hit me, it came like a clap
And I sent them off chasing a Poland Springs cap.

When out in the kitchen there arose such a clatter
I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter.
Away down the hall I flew like a witch
I entered the kitchen and groped for the switch.

The moon on the breast of the white kitchen tile
Gave the luster of mid-day to the cats' chew toy pile.
When what to my wondering eyes did I see?
The remains of my poster of Angelina Jolie.

Without giving much thought or having to check
I knew in a moment it must be Steinbeck.
More rapid than eagles, his paws were such trouble
Adept at turning possessions into piles of rubble.

"You bastard! You monster! You rotten little cat!
I'll skin you alive and make you into a hat!"
To the top of the fridge! To the top of the desk!
The kitties took flight, away from the mess.

As dry leaves before the wild hurricane fly
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky.
So out to the bedroom the felines they flew
"I'll get you, Millay, and your little son, too."

And then, in a twinkling, I heard in the hall,
The batting and pawing of each toy cat ball.
As I raged in my head, and was turning around,
Down the hallway the fur-beasts then came with a bound.

They were dressed all in fur, from their heads to their feet,
And they yelled out they still needed something to eat.
But a bowl full of food still sat on the floor
As I'd fed the two monsters a mere hour before.

Their eyes - they were wild! Their tails, how they twitched!
As they rubbed on my ankles and they moaned and they bitched.
Millay's droll little mouth was open like Jaws
And Steinbeck kept batting my knees with his paws.

They wouldn't listen as I explained I'd fed them before
Continuing to howl and to writhe on the floor.
So I got out the Friskies, and I got out the cup,
And gave them more food so they'd shut the fuck up.

Steinbeck mewed not a sound, but went straight to work
At filling his belly - the little fur-jerk.
Millay sniffed at the bowl, then with nose in the air,
Pretended no interest in what she found there.

"Eat the damn food, you rotten little cow!
I hope that you're happy - I'm wide awake now."
The clock, it read four - I thought I would weep.
I turned toward the bedroom, hoping for sleep.

"Merry Christmas, you monsters, with your cold little hearts.
I'm taking a nap - then I'll sell you for parts."
And I heard them exclaim as the two of them fled,
"Merry Christmas, dear human - your gift's under the bed."

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Alone in My House

Alone in my house,
I am as talented as Regina Spektor
(but my piano is at the cleaners.)
I can write like Virginia Woolf
(but my dress has no pockets for stones.)
I am as witty as Dorothy Parker
(but I don't really care for gin.)
I am as alluring as Cleopatra
(but my asp is in my other pants.)
Alone in my house,
I am Meryl Streep
I am The Marquise de Merteuil
I am Shirley Jackson
I am Marie Currie.

I am not feeling like myself today
(but maybe I am you.)

Saturday, October 22, 2011

I Am Here.

I am here. You do not realize it, but I am. High above you, I am here. I can smell the smoke from your cigarettes, the exhaust from your cars. I can see you walking, alone, in pairs, in groups. I can hear you, your drunken celebrations, your cell phone conversations, your life's disappointments. I can hear your fights, your hearts breaking on the street, words you can't take back. I can hear your naked anguish, your pleas. I am here. Life is hard, but I am here. And I just want to tell you: Shut the fuck up - I'm trying to read.

Friday, October 21, 2011

A Curse on Book Thieves

"For him that stealeth, or borroweth and returneth not,

this book from its owner, let it change into a serpent in

his hand and rend him.

Let him be struck with palsy, and all his members blasted.

Let him languish in pain, crying aloud for mercy, and let

there be no surcease to this agony till he sing dissolution.

Let bookworms gnaw his entrails...and when at last he

goeth to his last punishment, let the flames of hell consume

him for ever."

-Curse on book thieves, from the monestary of San Pedro, Barcelona, Spain

The 'Bib' in 'Bibliomaniac'

*editor's note - This is a post from my old blog, "Red, White and Esoteric." It was originally posted February 22, 2007.

Most of you have met, or know of my cat, Bella. Bella is my favorite thing in the whole world. She is gray, tailless and quite fat. She is also vicious, violent and unrepentant. It would take weeks of therapy to even begin to touch on why on Earth I worship her so. Aside from Bella, my very favorite things are books. Books, unlike Bella, let me pick them up, carry them around, pet them lovingly and, in some cases, break their spines, all without complaint. I pride myself on how much I read. I was a secretly thrilled the other night at dinner as I listened to Significant Dave tell someone I don't just read books, I consume them. And it got me to thinking: what if I did really consume one?

I didn't eat a whole book of course. I thought about it, got the mental image of me sitting down at the table, fork and knife in either hand, napkin tucked in to my shirt, book on a plate. Unless you eat a paperback, I can only imagine the cover is tough to chew. And books have no nutritional value. I didn't think eating a whole book could be good for my digestive system. The term 'book binding' would take on a whole other meaning, I'm guessing. But a page, where's the harm in that? I've eaten paper before. Not recently, but I've done it. Once, in high school, I guilted my mother into buying me an expensive Georgetown Hoyas sweatshirt. She told me she wasn't sure she was going to let me keep it, so to hold onto the receipt. Of course, as soon as she turned around to leave the store, I swallowed it. Then there were those little pieces of Trident gum they said you could chew with the wrapper on. So my friends and I did, because we were cool and tough. And weird, apparently. Who chooses the "eat paper" option?

So, a page. The question was, what page? Not one from a book I didn't like. I could imagine it making it taste worse. Not an important page, from the body. That would ruin the book. I settled on the title page from a copy of Light House by William Monahan. I own two copies, because its easily the funniest book I've read. I have one copy for myself and one I lend out to a very lucky few. Next, how to eat it? There's very little preparation necessary. You don't have to peel it, slice it or bake it. I thought cramming the whole thing in my mouth would be like eating a giant spit ball, so I ripped it up into little one-inch pieces. The good thing about my apartment is that while I have no actual sustenance, I do have lots of condiments. I ate a couple of pieces dry, wadding them up into little balls, then I tried a couple dipped in ketchup and a couple dipped in maple syrup. They didn't help with the eating, though, they just hid the cardboard flavor a bit. I finished the rest by slugging them down with Diet Coke. There. I ate a piece of a book, actually consumed it. I'm proud. And still...weird.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

I Am a Reader

I am a reader. I have been shaped by books. I have a thirst, a need, a hunger, quenched only by reading. When I open a book, the pages of all the books I have ever read fall open before me. Every book leaves its signature on the fibers of my being. Words swim through my brain like little silver fish. I am born of ink and paper.

I am a book shark - I eat and I eat and I eat, never satisfied. I see a book that I think looks interesting - I take a bite. Sometimes, it's a surfboard. Sometimes it's a delicious seal. No matter - I swallow it down and go off in search of more. Must keep my two rows of teeth sharp. Must keep my brain swollen with information, fact or fiction. I sleep very little. I am a book predator.

I am a reader. Don't fuck with me.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Snarly & Me


"Bruce needs a cat," I announced one afternoon. I had been hiding at Bruce's house for three months, ever since my ex-boyfriend turned up at my apartment, despite a court order telling him he wasn't allowed within 150 yards of me. Bruce, the father of a friend from school, was an Outward Bound instructor who spent most of his year on the West Coast, giving my boyfriend Dan and I the run of his place.

"Oh, it's Bruce who needs a cat, is it?" Dan didn't believe me for a second. He knew that having grown up surrounded by felines, I found it a little disconcerting not having a four-legged creature in the house. He also knew that Bruce was the most easygoing person on the planet, and that he adored me: If I told Bruce I wanted to put his bed on the lawn and set it on fire, he'd go along with it without question.

I called Bruce in Washington, where he was working. "We're getting you a cat," I told him.

"Sure," he said. See?

Twenty minutes later, having seen a "Free Kittens" advertisement in the local paper, we were led by a woman onto the porch of a house not far from where we lived. There, piled quietly atop one another in a basket, were five fluffy gray kittens, blinking and yawning.

"Mitsy got out for a night," the woman told us, pointing to an adult cat reclining nearby. "Had herself quite a time, the hussy."

"They're so cute!" I squealed, picking one of the kittens up. "They're so - OH MY GOD IT DOESN'T HAVE A TAIL!"

"No, Mitsy is a Manx," the woman explained. "They're born that way. A couple of the kittens have stubs, but the others are completely tailless."

My brain melted a little. Teeny tailless tabbies - KITTEHS HAVE FAILED TO LOAD. I knelt down and proceeded to pet them for several minutes. Two fell asleep, and the others lay there, uninterested.

"Which one?" Dan asked. I didn't know how to choose. They all seemed relatively the same - furry and inactive. I was about to close my eyes and randomly pick one, when I noticed motion across the porch. It was a tall rubber tree plant, and its leaves were rustling violently. Near the top of the plant, a kitten clung to a branch, engaged in a fight to the death with a leaf twice its size.

"That one," I pointed.


From the minute I picked Bella, it was obvious that she was going to belong to me, not Bruce. I imprinted on her immediately. It was as though my heart had been plucked from my chest, outfitted with fur and fangs, and then handed back to me. Every conceivable free moment I had was spent following her little tailless butt around the house. I was delighted by all her adventures. She grappled with giant moths, insolent shoelaces, swarthy tissue boxes. She managed to get herself shut in the cabinets, the closets, the fridge. She suffered pratfalls of Wile E. Coyote proportions, and would shake them off like they were nothing. At night, she slept in a Saltines box by my pillow, coming out occasionally to stalk our feet under the blankets.

I was fascinated by everything about her - she was my familiar. And she knew the sway she held over me, occasionally stopping in mid-play to bite my fingers or ankle in case I forgot for a second that I was her bitch. I talked about her incessantly, took her picture constantly. I even bought us matching leopard-print collars, with little heart tags that read "Bella."

"You love that cat more than you love me," Dan told me, after several months of The Bella Show.

Did I? Surely, that couldn't be the case.

"Yes," I answered. 

Our relationship didn't last much longer.


In spite of all the love I showed her, or perhaps because of it, Bella grew up to be a royal monster. She became 25 pounds of nasty-cat, hissing and scratching at everyone around her, myself included. She would let me pet her for only a few moments before latching onto my hand and rabbit-kicking me with her back feet. She growled and clawed at guests, meter-readers, pizza delivery guys. The vet refused to see her, unless I shelled out an extra $50 each visit to have her sedated so the vet could examine her without being injured. She was banned from every kennel in the area. "Not only did I have to put on the elbow-length leather gloves just to put food in her cage," said one kennel owner, who was near tears, "but she was also verbally abusive." (I admit, that made me a little proud.)

"Why does she hate me?! I love her sooooooo much!" I cried to her vet, after Bella's attack on our building's maintenance man nearly resulted in our eviction. "What did I do wrong?"

"You didn't do anything wrong," the vet told me. "Animals are like people - they each have their own personality. Sometimes, they just turn out bad. Or, in Bella's case, really, really awful."

The only person she didn't seem to have a problem with was my husband, probably because he had no interest in her. He had moved in when she was two, and they immediately went about ignoring one another - he didn't talk to her, and she didn't try to eat his face. Me, I would try to rub her on the head, and in turn, she would try to remove my spleen through my ear.

She was all mine, though, and I loved her fiercely. I was so happy in the brief moments I was able to pet her before she turned into Psycho Kitty, or the times she would sleep at the foot of our bed or entertain us with the midnight cat-crazies.

"Tell me again, how long do cats live for?" my husband asked, as he helped me bandage my most recent Bella-inflicted wound.

"Bella is never going to die," I told him. "Evil lives forever. Besides, you shouldn't want her to die, because I love her, and you love me. Despite my cat."

"Yes. Despite your cat."

She outlived him by four years.


Bella mellowed out in the last few years of her life, taking to sleeping by my pillow, just like when she was a kitten, and even letting me pet her for extended periods of time. She became more vocal, loudly expressing her opinion about everything, and even affectionate, following me from room to loudly express her opinion about everything. We settled into a comfortable routine - we were two old maids sharing an apartment, eating and sleeping and occasionally hissing at people.

She had a stroke two weeks after her fifteenth birthday. I had always imagined when she died, I would lose my mind. I would come home and find her dead, and I would be hysterical. I was sure they'd have to tranq me and put me in a straitjacket. But when it happened, there was no time for hysterics. She was barely moving and her breathing was shallow, her eyes filmy. I wrapped her in a towel and rushed her to the emergency vet.

When the vet examined her, she told me there was no hope of her recovering. I was actually, surprisingly, very calm. There was no question about what needed to be done. Bella gave a few feeble last growls while the vet prepared to give her the shot. I put my face down close to hers, kissed her on the head, and thanked her for being my best friend for fifteen years. Then, for a split second, I panicked. I shut my eyes and thought, "There's no going back from this moment." But you can never get any moments back, no matter what choice you make. So I opened my eyes and looked at her as she closed her eyes for the last time.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Laugh It Up, Fuzzball

The last few days, I have been Mistress Crankypants. I am in need of cheering up, kittens. I want to laugh. And you can help. For your efforts, you could win a copy of Lighthouse by William Monahan. It is the FUNNIEST book I've ever read, and I would love to share it with you, because it is out of print, for unknown, ridiculous reasons, and I think everyone should read it. (Unless you're easily offended - it's extremely profane.)

Here's all you have to do - in the comments below, post these three things:
  • The title of the funniest book you've read
  • Your favorite joke
  • Your email address
You have until 11:59pm EST, on Sunday, August 21st, to post, and then I'll pick a winner at random on Monday.

Hooray - I'm feeling better already!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Books I Love

I had this weird thought earlier, about the books I love: If I put on a big, fuzzy sweater, and that sweater represents my brain, and I take a big jar of glitter, the glitter representing the books I've read, and I dump it over my head, most of the glitter will fall to the floor, but the glitter that sticks to the sweater, those are the books I love.

So...that was my thought.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Trigger Happy

When I was little, my dad would tell me stories about what it was like growing up on Guam. (His father was stationed there when he was ten.) The idea that my dad, from plain old Maine, could have grown up on an island, was fascinating to me, and I was transfixed by his tales. My favorite stories were about how they would wake in the morning to find their house infested with geckos, the little lizards attached to the walls and ceiling, and how they would have to go around and collect them all in a bucket and release them outside. (The whole process would have to be repeated the next morning - tenacious little buggers, them.) And about how he would chase tropical fish through the shallow waters, trying to catch them to bring home for his aquarium. One of the fish I remember him telling me about was the trigger fish, so named because when pursued, the fish would swim into a crevice in the reef or rocks and release its "trigger," a fin which came up off its back and made it impossible for prey to pull it out of its hiding place.

Vanessa Veselka's ZAZEN is like that trigger fish - it is a brilliant, weird, brightly-colored book that swims through your eyeballs and into your brain, where it releases its trigger in your amygdala, and doesn't come out. ZAZEN is one of the first releases from Red Lemonade, a publishing imprint of Cursor, created by literary giant Richard Nash. (He is, to the book world, what Quincy Jones and Martin Scorsese are to their professions. He's a rock star, capital 'ROCK'.) I had the privilege of receiving an advance copy, and was just floored by it. I immediately began telling everyone within arm's reach and on the internet how amazing it was. I couldn't stop thinking about it - it swished through my brain like the sound of skis on snow: Za-zen. Za-zen. Za-zen.

ZAZEN is the story of Della, a twenty-something waitress in a vegetarian restaurant, and the social and political upheaval that is taking place around her (in a country that is just one click of the dial away from being America's actual future.) War is breaking out across the States - some people are leaving the country, some are sticking it out, and some are using this opportunity to carry out their own agendas. The city Della lives in is rife with bomb threats and actual bombings, and she soon finds herself swept up in the revolution. The book is intense and funny, and Della is such a witty, incredibly flawed character - I loved her so much.

I am so unbelievably thrilled that Vanessa is going to be here at RiverRun Bookstore on Wednesday, August 17th at 7pm! (For those of you not in roundhouse-kick range, we will be live-streaming the event, too.) And don't just take my word for it - ZAZEN is getting amazing praise left and right, and Vanessa herself is a really fascinating person. Here is a mini-interview I just did with myself:

Me: Will you ever stop talking about Vanessa Veselka's ZAZEN?
Me: No. *knocks camera out of my hands* *shoves self out of my way*

I hope you can join us and find out for yourselves.

Friday, July 1, 2011

"Even though my life was full of surprises..."

‎"Even though my life was full of surprises and odd occurrences and bolts of lightning and darkness, I felt lonely, in that unique and frightening way you feel lonely when you are a child. And yet, at the same time, I hoped that the next morning I would wake to discover that I was a queen." - Stefano Benni, MARGHERITA DOLCE VITA

Saturday, February 5, 2011

"Memo: Today is July 7, 1977."

I found this in a used copy of LITTLE WOMEN: "Memo: Today is July 7, 1977. You can also write that 7/7/77. No one will be able to write that again for 100 years. I am 13 years old. Maybe I'll live for another century. Goodbye 7/7/77."

Thursday, January 27, 2011

52 Weeks of Twitter Authors: Week 2

Like most people, I have irrational fears. And one of those fears is sharks - I am terrified of sharks. I think they are amazing creatures, but I do not go in the ocean. Or in lakes or rivers. Or swimming pools. (Don't roll your eyes - I saw Jaws 3-D!) Because, with my luck, the one time I go swimming, I will be eaten by a shark. Which makes for a great story, but I am awfully attached to my mortal coil. (I have so many more books I want to read!) Large bodies of water kinda freak me out, anyway. There's, like, stuff in them. This creeps me out. It will surprise no one when I say I also do not go on boats. Because if they stop floating, where do you end up? That's right - in the water. With the sharks and the other creepy stuff, like jellyfish. And Squidward.

However, a few of the books I have read recently involve boats and water. Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand, told of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic runner who spent 40+ days adrift in a life raft after his plane crashed in the Pacific during WWII. I also read The Curse of the Narrows by Laura MacDonald, which is an amazing account of the day in 1917 in Halifax, Nova Scotia, when a munitions ship crashed into another vessel, and the resulting explosion leveled the entire town, and caused a tsunami so large, it lifted people and objects up and set them down miles away from the blast site. They are both incredible stories.

And that brings me to the second book I read for my 2011 goal: Safe from the Sea by Peter Geye. I first heard about Peter's book on Unbridled Books Twitter feed, and then a few weeks later, at our Emily Mandel / Dan Chaon event at RiverRunBookstore, our rep gave me a galley, along with a rave recommendation of it.

Safe from the Sea is the story of Olaf Torr and his estranged son, Noah. When Noah was young, Olaf was in a boat wreck that altered his life, and changed his behavior, making his home situation tense and difficult. Now, 35 years later, Olaf believes he is dying, and he wants Noah to come visit him at his cabin in Minnesota. Noah's first instinct is to say no, so he is surprised when he agrees. The book alternates between the events that caused the chasm between them as Noah was growing up, and the time they have left to spend together, trying to reconcile.

The wreck, told in flashbacks, is terrifying, and Peter has done a wonderful job making it an entirely believable novel. The character of Olaf poked at my heart a bit, as he reminded me of my laconic grandfather I adored so much. Looking forward to more great things from Peter!

To learn more about Peter Geye, visit here.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

52 Weeks of Twitter Authors: Week 1

Last month started off great - I was nearing the end of a great year of reading, and I actually came up with my goal for the new year before 12:59pm on December 31st. I decided for 2011 that I will read one book a week by an author I interact with on Twitter. Having already read wonderful books by several authors on Twitter, I was so excited about this goal, I decided I couldn't wait until January and wanted to start right away.

Hahaha - silly bookslinger!

In return for my enthusiasm for starting a project before the last minute, the universe made me its bitch: I got bronchitis, the heat in my apartment was broken for a week, I took a nasty fall, and my dad had a stroke. December definitely thought that negative attention was better than no attention at all. So, I took my godsmacks and retreated under my blankets to hide until the new year. Once I was ensconced in 2011, I felt safe enough to attempt my goal again. My first pick: Into the Beautiful North by Luis Alberto Urrea.

So, here's my PSA for the day: if you're thinking of throwing a party, and are worried you won't be able to keep your guests entertained, invite Luis. We hosted him this summer at RiverRun Bookstore, and he was marvelous! There can hardly be a more charming storyteller out there. He's a natural at telling tales, and funny, funny, funny. He and his lovely wife Cindy were kind enough to come to see @readandbreathe and I when we traveled to Brooklyn this past fall, and Luis was a rock star at the Brooklyn Book Festival.

Into the Beautiful North is the story of a Nayeli, a teenage girl who convinces her friends to illegally cross the border into the States to help her find her dad, and also seek out 'warriors' to help run the drug dealers out of their Mexican village. Luis's writing is a warm breeze - even in the face of sad situations, the story radiates hope and joy. The teenagers are so delightful, and their adventures are, for the most part, very funny. I particularly enjoyed the road trip Nayeli and her friend Tacho take to look for her dad in Kankakee, Illinois. The descriptions of the scenery and the tourist attractions along the way reminded me of Pee-Wee's Big Adventure, a classic. I also really liked their 'bodyguard', Atómiko. This book is great fun. Viva la Luis!

To learn more about Luis Alberto Urrea, visit here.