Monthly Archives: April 2015

“Audrey Hepburn’s Neck – A Novel” by Alan Brown.

Pocket Books, 1996. 290 pages.

This novel was way ahead of its time – everyone’s into “diversity” and “global awareness” these days. This lively cross cultural romance is too good to miss! It has the added attraction of being a “coming of age” story, likely to appeal to young adults. I plan to nominate it as a “common reading” at the University where I work. (Not that my nominations have gone anywhere…)

Toshi, our hero, is a young manga artist with a passion for American women. He studies English and dates any American woman he manages to meet. His long term best friend is a gay American who reluctantly accepts Toshi’s heterosexuality and coaches him in the nuances of the American psyche.

Toshi has left his remote childhood home for the bright lights of Tokyo, but suddenly his family’s past catches up with him. He has never understood his mother’s sadness, his father’s silence, and their divorce. After his father’s death, his mother reveals her shatteringly traumatic past and the nature of the bond between her and Toshi’s father. So unexpected and profound are her revelations that Toshi must reconstruct his entire identity. By good fortune, his most recent American GF is an ideal partner in this undertaking.

This novel, which received numerous awards, fell through a crack at some point and has been so forgotten that it is not available for e-reader! I trust that will soon be remedied. Wikipedia states that a movie version is pending. I think it will be great! Alan Brown has been more active as a filmmaker than a writer. I look forward to his future work in both of these media.


Birthday Greetings to JHD

Dear Joey,

Happy Birthday! I wish you health and every kind of good fortune.

Thank you so much for inviting us to share memories from age 25! OMG, that was 40 years ago! We’re not just talking pre-internet, we’re talking pre-microwave.

Age 25 was the year I (unexpectedly) stopped moving around. In the previous seven years, I had lived in three states, attended two universities, occupied two dorms, three apartments and three houses, and spent eight months in Europe (another apartment, another dorm, another house and many cheap hotels).

So I did NOT expect, when I moved to New Jersey, that I would stay. I was offered a job with a time limit of five years. But here I am! No regrets. I live in “the other New Jersey”, aka South Jersey or the Pine Barrens. I’m out in the country, surrounded by blueberry and Christmas tree farms, and wonderful farm stands brimming with fresh fruits and veggies and flowers.

Age 25 was the year of my second career change. At 23, I had abandoned chemistry to work in environmental regulation. Two years later, I moved to New Jersey to teach at what was then Stockton State College. Stockton was new (founded in 1970), small and willing to overlook the fact that my only teaching experience had been running Freshman chemistry laboratory sections.

I was part of Stockton’s last “expansion class” of faculty, hired into a new teaching line, so I could make up my classes as I went along. I taught in an Environmental Studies program, one of the country’s first, among academics from fields like ecology, hydrology, geography, geology and forestry. I was the “dirty side” environmentalist, teaching about pollution of the air and water, and about solid and hazardous waste management.

In New Jersey, I met most of the people who have become lifelong friends and companions, including my husband. I met Quakers and attended my first unprogrammed worship, joining that denomination years later.

Can I offer you any advice from my forty-years-older perspective? Nope! Forty years is two generations. You are growing up in a different world, facing different challenges and equipped with different training and tools.

I wish you joy and love and adventure and safety! Take care, and please keep in touch!

Night Climbing

This blogger always finds the interesting articles!

Not Merely For Fun

The London Review of Books has a regular back page feature called “Diary”.  Sometimes it is just that: Every so often, established contributors put together a selection of dated passages about their everyday lives.  Sometimes, it’s a short memoir. One writer described his time in the Air Force working with nuclear weapons, his growing obsession with accidental detonation, and his eventual discharge.  He was nobody I’d heard of, but obviously it was memorable.  And sometimes, the diary is so much like regular political reporting that I can’t tell why they run it there.  Sometimes, though, they’ll run something wonderfully odd.  A couple of years ago there was a surprising piece on fan fiction by an American undergraduate. (You can read it here.)

A recent issue’s diary (here) is on “night climbing”, which means sneaking up and climbing whatever building you like, in the dark and without…

View original post 254 more words

“Killer and Victim” by Chris Lambert

You know the expression “so many books, so little time”? It only becomes more meaningful as the years pass. I think I now qualify as a senior citizen, or senior reader, and I have given myself permission to read CASUALLY. Very casually! I used to finish any book I started… No more! And if I want to skip around, read from the back to the front, whatever, I do so.

And that’s how I read and enjoyed Chris Lambert’s Killer and Victim. It’s not very linear. It’s best read slowly. Some parts of it are devoid of paragraphs and light on punctuation, features that would bother me if I were in a hurry.

What Lambert has mastered is mood and atmosphere. The first chapter of the book was weird, creepy and totally intriguing. Lambert managed to trigger several of my phobias, like confined spaces and being separated from my cell phone. (Please don’t laugh.) I stopped to wonder just how scary the novel might be. I’m glad I kept going! After Chapter 2, I started skipping around and enjoying the adventure.

Killer and Victim is a wonderful and exciting first novel, and I look forward to further literary adventures with Chris Lambert.

“Tea with the Black Dragon” by R A MacAvoy – an old favorite of mine!

I don’t know when the term “chick lit” was first used. This book, published in 1983, might predate it. I consider it a gem of the genre! Another description would be romantic adventure.

Tea with the Black Dragon is just plain fun, the kind of book you would take along for a train ride or get lost in some rainy day. The heroine is flakey but loveable. Martha Macnamara travels to California at her daughter’s request, knowing that something is wrong but having no idea what it is. She is shocked to be unable to find her daughter at all. Before she can start to look for her, she meets a man who offers to help. Mayland Long is mysterious! He appears to be rich, old, very well educated and eccentric. That’s eccentric as in “not quite human”.

Martha and Mayland face off with dangerous criminals and save Martha’s daughter.

I was afraid, given the publication date, that this book might be unavailable, but, according to Amazon, it has been reprinted several times and they have it in e-format as well as new and used copies. So grab it, and enjoy!

“The Cold Moon” by Jeffery Deaver – goodbye to this author

I reviewed Deaver’s The Burning Wire in December and gave three of his books to a friend for Christmas. My friend said he enjoyed them, but mentioned that one (I think it was The Bone Collector, 1997) was “too gritty” for him, the first time he ever mentioned that problem to me. (We are talking about a man who averages four to six books a week, of all sorts.)

I started to read The Cold Moon (published 2006) and had the same reaction. Deaver’s psychopaths are terrifying. So, despite my interest in his characters and enjoyment of his writing, The Cold Moon has been relegated to my giveaway pile. I’ve only got a limited amount of brain space. Why waste it on fictional ugliness?

Recommendations for other mystery writers will be gratefully received! Sci fi, as well.

“Martin Guerre” and “Soren Quist”, two novels by Janet Lewis

My goodness, I missed a book! Forgot to write about it! This doesn’t happen very often – although sometimes I’m too embarrassed to write about real junk. (You know, bodice rippers).

So here’s my review of two excellent novels by Janet Lewis, The Wife of Martin Guerre and The Trial of Soren Qvist. Both are set in medieval Europe and based on real historical events. The first of these books, which I read a few months ago for a book discussion group, was made into a popular movie (The Return of Martin Guerre) in 1982. I liked the book very much. It is so simply written that I sometimes wished the author had taken the time for more detail. A young man leaves home because his father-in-law is giving him a hard time. Some years later, he returns, but despite an initially warm welcome, his wife begins to suspect he is an imposter. Ultimately, he is charged with deception, which he admits. When he is sentenced to death, the wife pleads that he not be killed, asking only that he be sent away. Before the imposter is executed, the REAL Martin Guerre appears on the scene, ill and half crazed. He cannot forgive his wife for her confusion and initial acquiescence to a fraud. Such drama! No wonder this made a good movie.

Then I read The Trial of Soren Qvist. I liked it even better! As in Martin Guerre, there is a mysterious disappearance, but the book focuses on those left behind. Soren Qvist is an admirable pastor with one severe character flaw, an explosive and violent temper. He frightens but does not harm his family. Faced with an evil, conniving enemy, he admits to a murder he thinks he committed while sleepwalking. His loving friends and family are unable to prevent his execution. Years later, the machinations of his (deceased) enemy are uncovered. This is really a book about a man’s relationship with himself and with God. Ultimately, Qvist decides his real crime was to doubt God’s love and protection.

I hope someone makes a movie of The Trial of Soren Qvist! Meanwhile, don’t miss these two short novels written by Janet Lewis (1899 – 1998) in the 1940s. Lewis was known mostly for her poetry and was perhaps somewhat overshadowed by her poet husband, Yvor Winters, but she was a fine novelist and you shouldn’t overlook her work.

“Good Morning, Beautiful Business” by Judy Wicks

Good Morning, Beautiful Business by Judy Wicks. Chelsea Green Publishing, 2013, 274 pages. Subtitle The unexpected journey of an activist entrepreneur and local economy pioneer.

Another long-ish pause in my blogging, as I read another long and thoughtful book…

This blog post counts as two items – a report on a lecture and also a book review! I bought the book when Judy Wicks spoke at my workplace on March 19, 2015. (It didn’t really take me three weeks to read her book. I had others in progress.)

Judy Wicks was brought to campus by the School of Business, with enthusiastic faculty support. Apparently three or four classes were required to attend, so the room was jammed with students signing in and extra chairs had to be set up.

Good Morning, Beautiful Business is a memoir. Wicks is just two years older than me, so we experienced many of the same events but followed very different pathways through life.

Odd features of this book:

  • Judy Wicks is not to be found in Wikipedia, except as the first wife of Richard Hayne, one of the founders of the extremely successful Urban Outfitters, a business than has generated a fortune. I thought everyone who EVER wrote a book would show up in Wikipedia. (Wicks is easily found on If she wasn’t, that would be spooky.) I thought the White Dog Café might show up in Wikipedia, but it is also missing. It shows up on at least a dozen “restaurant finder” web sites.
  • This memoir contains NO information about Judy Wicks’ college experience, not even the name of the school she attended. Why?! Was she disowned? Most colleges love to claim their famous alumnae. Her website says only that she earned a BA in English. Wicks’ descriptions of childhood and high school are vivid, as is her chapter on her post college experience with Americorps, which sent her to a very remote village in Alaska. A friend of mine collects written accounts of college experiences. I thought surely there would be something in this book for him!

Judy Wicks was a child in the 1950s, college student and young adult in the 1960s. One of “us”, a baby boomer. The 50s were distinguished by sexism and conformity, the 60s by the Vietnam War and its associated backlash. Wicks came out of these trials a feminist and a skeptic, but still an idealist. She stumbled into the restaurant business (starting out as a waitress) and later founded the highly successful White Dog Café, known nationally and even internationally for its commitment to using food that is

  • organic
  • local and
  • humanely produced.

It is also a hub for progressive social action and community building. Much of what she does and cares about can be subsumed in the category of “sustainability”, a term that has been so used, abused and co-opted as to be almost useless without detailed qualification.

Judy Wicks has enough energy for four or five average people! The account of her activities left me breathless.

So all of this was going on while I lived 60 miles down the road, in Southern New Jersey. How did I miss it? I don’t know. My only time of residence in Philadelphia was a three month sojourn in the Ronald MacDonald House, when my son had a serious medical crisis. I did, in fact, dine at the White Dog once or twice during that time, but I wasn’t processing much detail.

Of the three commitments listed above, the one that speaks to me most strongly is “local”. Wicks has the courage to envision an economy radically different from that in which we now live. She highlights ideas like self-reliance and cooperation that have been greatly diminished in our current competitive and globalized world order. (She scarcely needs to mention that it has brought us into terrible risk.)

Just today, I drove around looking for local eggs. I can, if I make the effort, buy eggs directly from farmers. The farm market “scene” around here fills my summers with delight.

I have almost no experience with the entrepreneurial spirit Wicks so embodies and values, and I can’t imagine owning a business. Maybe at some point I will invest in a local business! I like that idea.

As I read the last few chapters of Wicks book, I wondered how she maintains her optimism. I found the following formulation – Wicks believe that social action requires two generations. Efforts of the baby boom generation to resolve the ills that led to the Vietnam War failed because the “generation gap” between the WWII generation and the subsequent anti-war baby boomers was so traumatically, excruciatingly wide. She thinks that our generation and our children (down to the millenials) are working together much more constructively. Well, it’s a theory. I hope Wicks is right!

ALL business students should read Good Morning, Beautiful Business. So should most of the rest of us, since consumers determine which businesses flourish.