Books Personal Essays


So, a few weeks ago, I was packing up to move to LA, land of no clouds and overly happy people. I was holding up each item and asking myself, “If this went in a flood, would you cry?” If the answer was no, I got rid of it. If it was yes, I put it in a pile for further consideration later. I started to feel uncomfortable with all the things I have carted around for years and years. They haven’t any use to me, have no sentimental value, and take up space that I do not need or use. And, because my apartment in LA is substantially smaller than my house in the Hamptons, I have the dilemma of expensive storage and travel across the land.

I think of my long ago deceased mother-in-law. She was very wise and taught me many things. She was here for a long time and lived in a huge apartment on Fifth Avenue in New York City. She had tons of stuff. Lots of times when I would visit, she would encourage me to take something that I’d admired.

“I’m not taking your things.”

“I don’t know why not. I promise you when I’m gone, they will be disbursed within days and you won’t even know they were once the culmination of my life’s experiences. At least I know if you take it now you will get it.”

She was right. Within days, everyone took everything. Really fast. But I never saw the pillboxes she collected put out on living room tables the way she had them all those years. They were divided up between a ton of us, and the power of them as a group together was lost along with my mother-in-law. I use the one I have for pills and think of her whenever I use it. I also took a small green marble elephant that travels in my handbag with me, and because my handbag’s journey in a given day can be tantamount to one of those disposals you have in a sink, it lost its leg. I feel badly about that. I feel like I didn’t caretake it the way she did and it suffers because of it.

I look at the hundreds of books around me. I never look at them. Never. My daughter will never look at them. Never. I think about a close friend of the father of my child (I am also so pleased when I call my ex that instead of my ex; he’s really not an evil man), Joseph Alsop. Alsop was a political writer (after JFK did the rounds on inauguration night, he took a girlfriend to Alsop’s house, woke him up and they all had eggs). He had a massive library filled with books he bought at used book stores. He wrote in them – in the margins and on Post-its that would stick out of the top and side of the book. You would pick up a book when in his library and read his notes. He actually had a card catalog for the books as well. When he died, a good part of the book collection came to live with us. We actually built a library for it and a librarian spent the good part of a summer cataloging it. I never once went in and looked at the books. My ex would tell you he does, but he would be lying.

Truth is, Alsop used the books for his writing and his pleasure. They didn’t mean the same to those left behind. I realize that my view of myself as a book person is limited to a fantasy, not my reality. The idea of the books around me is what I like, not actually looking at them. So, I am sending them to the local library for their book sale. And, I’m going to buy more books on my Kindle where they will not take up space I no longer have instead of hard cover. While I do prefer to touch a book when I’m reading it, truth is I can regroup.

My sister recently moved from two houses to one. She was telling me how mad she was at herself with the culmination of stuff she had. She said she had tons of broken suitcases (you know the kind on wheels where the wheels break off). She called ‘We Cart Your Stuff’ or some such company, and it actually cost her thousands of dollars to dump it. If she’d thrown things away along the road of her life, she wouldn’t have had the trouble she did moving.

So, between my sister’s experience, my mother-in-law’s lesson and my recent expedition in looking at my belongings, I’m traveling the road of life a little lighter these days. Feels good. I highly recommend it.

Books Politics

Justice and Michael Sandel

Last night I went to hear Michael Sandel, Harvard’s Professor of Government, speak on What’s the Right Thing to Do at Los Angeles’ public library. Sandel teaches a course on Justice that is attended by 1,000 students at a clip. It’s one of the most popular courses ever at Harvard, and he has taken it on the road in a hour lecture touting his new book, Justice, What’s the Right Thing to Do?  The course is designed to make you think outside your ‘box’ and question your participation in the process (that’s my take, not his description).

It was fabulous. The lecture starts with a video where you watch Harvard students participate in his class, walk around the four hundred year old campus, and dig deep into the workings of their minds to answer questions that have no answers. The lights go on, he walks out and you are now part of that class. I had to smile at the use of media to create an environment where we all felt really smart and part of his inner Harvard circle. He had us all at hello, and it was a brilliant markeing manipulation and theater. And the liberal intellectuals, full of their own sense of smart, loved it.

But forget all that because really the message was that being part of a democracy calls for us all to be philosophers. To take Aristotle’s definition of Justice in a democracy – providing the people with what they deserve – and applying it to the issues of our moment in our own democracy. If there were flutes to give away in a democractic state, who should get them? An MBA guy who clearly had the goods and had studied Ari explained that according to A. they should go to the best flute players because the purpose of the flutes is to be played the best they can be played, ergo the best players should get them. I thought the answer should be to divide the number of flutes by the number of people who wanted them and do a time share. But, I went to the University of Nebraska and am left wing enough to believe that everyone should have a turn.

But let’s go with Ari’s point for the sake of this blog. If that’s the point, is there room for affirmative action? Should the spot at the top college go the best and the brightest, or should there be a diversity of student body to enhance the educational experience as well and provide education for all? Or, what is the meaning of marriage and should only heterosexual couples participate?

And, so on. I couldn’t help thinking that part of what everyone liked so much about the hour with the smart man was how it made you feel to be in his presence rather than new doorways of thought that he opened? He stretched the mind. But nothing he said surprised me. I just liked the way I felt listening to him.

And, I wanted to be a better citizen afterward. And, most importantly, it truly was a moment where you realize that staying home and watching Top Chef might not be quite as interesting as attending a lecture at the library whose dusty shelves no longer are part of one’s everyday life.

Books Shopping

Book Stores

Of course everything with me is a movie, and You’ve Got Mail comes to me now. Remember when Tom Hanks puts Meg Ryan out of business and she goes to the children’s book section of his ‘Barnes and Noble’ store? The person behind the counter has no knowledge of the customer’s question, and Tom Hanks makes a great face of dismay that his store has people with no knowledge helping those looking for books.

Well, today my friend Cathryn and I were at Barnes and Nobels in Santa Monica’s 3rd Avenue street mall. We were looking for the Ted Kennedy autobiography which was sold out. She bought another book and was at the cash register where the following conversation took place.

“Do you know when you will be getting more of the Ted Kennedy book?”

“I’m sorry, what is the name of the book?”

“i don’t know the name but it’s the book he wrote about his life before he died?”

“Is it a biography?”

“You know what? Never mind. I’ll just take this book.”


I used to love book stores. I loved feeling the books; there are usually only one or two of a book on the shelf and you browsed through them and the people working there did so because they loved the written word too.

I have a Kindle now (Amazon’s EBook) and that’s nice too because I can hear about a book and download it to my Kindle or my IPhone seconds later, right after the conversation. But it’s not the same as reading a page and turning it and seeing how much is left before the book ends so you can spread it out if you need it to last longer.

I listen to books on tape in my car. I will drive around an extra ten minutes (ok, sometimes longer) so I can finish a chapter before I get home. Sitting in the driveway which others say they do doesn’t quite work for me.

But there was nothing like a bookstore way back when. And, now it’s not the same. You know, B&N doesn’t even smell like a bookstore. Why is that? They have more books than the bookstores of old, but they don’t smell like books.

So, I guess the point (gads, it always comes back to that, doesn’t it?) is that there is a time for a bookstore, a time for Kindle, a time for books on tape. But if it’s time for a bookstore, they simply must fill it with those who care about the written word, or I’m not going anymore.


My Magazine Subscriptions

imagesI don’t read magazines anymore. I intend to read them. Actually, until recently, it never occurred to me that I don’t read them. If you came to my house, you would see them everywhere. I move them around from room to room, sure that I will sit down and start flipping through them at any minute. They go between my bedroom, my living room, my bathroom, and the last stop is my office where they sit in a pile until I can’t see over the top of them, at which point I take them to the trash. I pull out the Oprah magazines and keep them because it’s not right to throw Oprah away without at least glancing at the table of contents. I hope one day to write for her magazine, so it’s a superstitious thing.

Sometimes I take the bus to New York City. I usually lug a ton of magazines on the bus to read along the way. After reading one or two, I usually fall asleep. I lug them back when I return on the bus. You’d think I’d only pack two or three magazines since I’ve not deviated from this pattern in five years, but no, I carry ten extra pounds by continuing to pack ten to fifteen magazines that I don’t read. I should probably start selling them up and down the aisle of the bus because I think I’m the only one who comes with that much reading matter.

When I do sit down and read magazines, I rip out articles that I intend to send to friends and family on issues of interest to them. I have never sent one article to a friend or family member. They sit in a pile in my office on the off chance that I will write that cool note on a little card with my name embossed on the top of it for them to enjoy. “Just thought you’d like the attached article. Love, C.” “Saw this and thought of you. Remember…?” I love the image of doing that, but it seems to fall to the bottom of my to do list which is already longer than my life span. In addition, I don’t really have bricks-and-mortar addresses for most people. I only have their cyber addresses. Note to self. Send out an e-mail blast asking for bricks-and-mortar addresses so I can send out magazine articles.

I had friends here this week and while I was working they were looking through the magazines in the living room, which is the first stop for magazines upon arrival in my home. They came running in with an O Magazine in tow and said they needed the computer to sign up for a drawing. They spent over fifteen minutes trying to enter, and they couldn’t find the Web site listed in the announcement.

“I hate this,” said Lorie. “They do this to you. Draw you to their Web site and then you can’t find the entry forms.”

“It must be here,” said Carol, who now that she is a vegan has decided that all things are good and no one would try and pull one over on you.

I continued working, until Lorie smacked me on the shoulder.

“This magazine is from 2007,” she screamed. “What is wrong with you?”

It was in that moment that I decided to cancel all my subscriptions. Even Oprah is going to have to replace me with someone else because henceforth she and I are finished when it comes to print. I started to fantasize about the letters she will send begging me to renew. Each one will offer me a better deal until the subscription actually runs out and then she will know that I have won.

Then I started to think about how good it will be to not be a magazine subscriber paper consumer. Think of the paper I will save for the forests in Brazil? Think of the ease for my garbage collectors without having to lift all those periodicals a few times a year? Why, I will be a virtual environmental lifesaver.

Remember National Geographic? Everyone’s grandmother had them at their houses and they never threw them out.  The grandmother’s died and there were centuries of National Geographics in the garage that everyone always thought would be “worth a fortune one day.” Not so much.

I recently heard that the New Yorker, the snooty literary magazine that any decent writer aspires to have as a calling card, is close to being out of business. I don’t like that idea just because it feeds my belief that book writing and true literature – the kind that takes a really long time to write and can’t be done by the likes of you and me – is a dying art. If the New Yorker goes under, it just confirms that belief. I might consider keeping my subscription to the New Yorker. That’s a lie. I don’t have a subscription to the New Yorker, so I will get rid of all my other subscriptions and just get one to the New Yorker. I could save the magazine.  

So, the long and the long of all this is that I think I am no longer a subscriber to magazines. The new Obama Mini Me is trying to live this new life of change, and that will now include no longer pretending to myself and anyone who visits that I am a voracious print reader. 

Books Health

Carlotta Goes Vegan

My friend Carlotta and I went to college together. Actually, there were four of us that made up the Ata Beta Pie sorority, where dividing a pie in fours was part of every meeting. Carlotta has never been thin. She has been normal size at a time when that was considered on the large side. And now, like the rest of us, she is carrying extra weight. She has been on every diet known to person-kind over the years I’ve known her. Literally. Up. Down. Up. Down.

I picked her up from the IBM Center in Palisades yesterday after she attended a vegan workshop for four days. She hasn’t eaten meat since December. Getting there took me a long time because of traffic issues, and the whole way all I could think about is that I wanted to pick up a Big Mac, or some other highly terrible carnivorous item to eat before she arrived. Three days is a long time to support a friend in her new endeavor. I am not generally someone who craves things other than ice cream, so this was clearly me panicking. What if we have nothing to talk about without two ice cream cones in our hands? Eating has always been one of the pleasures of our company together. We were picking up the third in our trio who was flying in from Nebraska, and I figured, two against one, how bad could it be?

She looks great without meat in her system. Her skin is clear and healthy. She carried her bag out to the car like it was a feather. Granted, it was a carry-on bag on wheels, but she really owned it. They gave her a take away lunch in a PC (politically correct) throw away container that contained salad, some sort of noodle something or other and maybe a tofu thing. She offered it up in the car, but I said no, I’d wait for Loretta to join us. 

We picked up Loretta and went to KFC where Loretta and I had chicken and Carlotta had her salad thingie. Loretta and I fell asleep walking across the parking lot to the adjoining Baskin-Robbins for dessert, but Carlotta was still bounding. 

She talked a bit about it, not in the awful condescending way of people who took EST in the eighties. “If you didn’t take EST, you don’t get it.” “What is it?” “You can’t know until you take it.” I hated my roommate after she took EST.

Anyway, Carlotta spoke about animals and the treatment of them before the slaughter. She spoke of our teeth and how most of them are made to chew fruits and veggies, not thighs and breasts. My teeth are mostly capped, so I figure I’m ok there.  She spoke about joints not hurting anymore. She spoke about her energy level being much higher, and she spoke about the people there who had stage three and four cancers and now are doing much better. I know she is right.

I asked her if mostly people there were skinny, which for me is always the point in the end.

“Well, they range in sizes. But I think the ones that are larger haven’t been doing it as long. Come to think of it, everyone asked me if I was new to being a vegan. I should have asked them why they were asking me that.”

We stopped at the grocery store on the way home and Loretta and I lost Carlotta and found her in an aisle that is not usually on my pathway to the cash register.

“What are you doing in the dog food aisle?” asked Loretta. It wasn’t the dog food aisle, but that is our demeaning, loving way of speaking to each other. 

She held up a container of something or other and said excitedly, “Look at this!”

We didn’t.

Carlotta explained to us that it’s not just about what you put in your mouth, but what you do when it gets there. You have to chew your food a lot. Fifty to a hundred times per mouthful. I thought about it as she was talking and realized that generally I’m not a big chewer. First of all, an accident in January where my head hit the pavement means that my jaw now cracks when I chew. I don’t like the noise it makes or the feeling, so I chew as little as possible. Second, I am anxious to get to the next bite, so why waste time with the one in my mouth when I’ve already tasted it? Get it down and the next shovelful in as quickly as possible is the way I’ve always seen it. But I could change.

She brought books that she bought from the speakers attending the conference. I’m looking at one now.

This Crazy Vegan Life, A Prescription for an Endangered Species by Christina Pirello. Turns out she had a rare form of leukemia when she was in her late twenties and was given up on the side of the road for dead. She started eating vegan, and voila, she is alive today riding her bike and speaking on eating vegan. She includes recipes with names like Mustard-Scented Chickpea Salad. I have never seen a scented food recipe before.

Here is the thing. She’s right. It’s time to take animal fats out of my life. Think of the cost savings, think I? No joint pain? I’m in. Energy galore. Where is the question? But alas, the answer is a life without a burger now and then does not seem worth it. And, how do you do it? 

She had the answer. They discussed it at one of the meetings. The lecturer said, “Don’t take anything out of your diet. Add good things to your diet. The more you add, the more you will no longer go for the things you wish to stay away from.” I love that thought, not just about being vegan, but things in general. Don’t take away, just add. No matter if I join the ranks of vegans or not, I really think that is a cool way to eat better, and if nothing else comes of Carlotta’s new path for me, that alone is worth the trip.

Books Movies & TV Women

Julia Child, and what’s her name, Julie.

I saw the movie trailer for Julie and Julia, (is there any role Meryl Streep can’t play?), and I had to go buy the book. I like to read books before seeing movies, especially frivolous ones. It makes me feel well read.

“Did you read the book?” I can ask in a hushed whisper as the lights go down.

“No, did you?”

“Yes, of course.”

I’m sure all my friends think I read books every night instead of watching The Bachelorette, which is really what I’m doing on Monday nights. Not to digress or anything, but I’m pretty sure none of the guys are in love with the Bachelorette this time around, and I promised myself last night that this is the last one I will watch. Next season, I’m giving up TV.

The book is a disappointment. Basically, Julia Child isn’t in the book much at all. A few references, but that’s the really interesting story here, not Julie, who is mean to her very kind husband, and not in a funny way like she thinks, but in an “it’s all about me” way that I find embarrassing, like when you watch your friends fight in front of you. Skip the book for sure, but do delve into Julia, who it appears is someone who knew so much earlier than the rest of us that being yourself and doing what you want is really the way to go.

She was awkward, 6 feet something inches tall, a high voice that I love to mimic. Her voice is the kind that anyone can do if they want, and you never know when you might be asked to do an impersonation. Keep her in mind just in case you are.

She was filled with the Choose Joy motto of my friend Claire. She did funny things, said what she thought, rather than what she thought she should think, and I have decided to be like her moving forward.

I had the opportunity to see Julia in action. My step mother and I went to a cooking class (well, it wasn’t a class; we all sat there and watched her cook things on a stage). She was making poached pears. I never made them but intend to for my next dinner party in honor of her memory. Anyway, at the end she took a bite in front of all of us, started laughing and said, “I used salt instead of sugar (laugh, laugh). No matter. We’ll just start all over again.” And, she did. She cooked the whole thing over again from start to finish. It took an extra hour.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but that was another lesson. She didn’t have to do that. She could have just laughed and moved on. None of us would have even known if she hadn’t told us.

So, here are the new Julia rules that I intend to covet moving forward.

1. Never be in a hurry. If you flub something, do it over again, don’t try to make the flub work.

2. Never be embarrassed about what you look like. Look your best whether you are 6’4″ in a world that covets petite, or 250 pounds in a world that thinks size zero is the norm.

3. Find something to do that makes you happy. Oprah says that too, so if both O and Julia say it, you should surely pay attention.

Don’t bother to read the book though. I haven’t read her blog, but I will in hopes that her publisher made her be a jerk in the book just to get it on the shelves before the movie comes out.

Books Movies & TV

Movie Review: Angels and Demons

I read Angels and Demons when I was in Rome with Ms. Sarah.  I visited each location as it vividly unfolded in Dan Brown’s adjective-ridden prose. I remember how much reading ‘on site’ enhanced the book and the plot. But, the movie does the visuals even better than being there did. The fear, the dark side, the photographic angles in the shots are all genius. Ron Howard holds the shots just long enough to evoke the menacing fear or graceful beauty of the statues that are so critical to following the story line. Yet, he doesn’t let them be imbedded in our minds so they get in the way of the dialog or plot. I’ve never seen a film where series of stills make up part of the flow of the rolling camera in such a good way.

Ronnie is really good at that. He did it in A Beautiful Mind as well, but there he used Russell Crowe’s face as the statues as well as scenic Princeton. Kudos to him and the Cinematographer, Salvatore Totino who also has to his credit, Any Given Sunday and Frost Nixon among others. Quite a range.

Ronnie, Ronnie, Ronnie. You are such a nice guy, and I know that in the first film, The DaVinci Code, you really had to use Tom Hanks because it was his bat and ball, but the truth is, Tom Hanks is not smart enough to play the role of the brilliant, quick thinking Robert Langdon. He’s a Bobby, not a Robert. He’s the guy mowing his lawn and doing Advertising copy, not a Symbologist from Harvard. Even the Philips Exeter flag in Langdon’s office didn’t help to give Tom the credibility to carry the role. When he parrots the smart lines about what this or that means, you just know he has no idea what he’s what he’s talking about. Neither did I, by the way, but I need to know he does. It was the same in The DaVinci Code, and he hasn’t gotten any smarter since then.

All the Cardinals and Priests (they could have added a few more nuns here and there) looked like such nice people. They were beautifully cast with facial expressions that kept saying to the audience, “We so want to be men of the cloth, but alas, we are all flawed.” The Catholic Church has not banned this movie, and in fact, are basically leaving them alone. I figure it’s because they loved the way they appeared in it as opposed to The DaVinci Code where they more or less resembled that Devil that made a brief appearance in Rosemary’s Baby.  Do you think Ron did that on purpose? And, to all the Cardinals, love the red dresses with lace! Red is such a good color.

There are a few other problems, but they are details. I don’t really get the bad guy. Where did he come from? And, the three Cardinals who give up their lives in such cruel and violent ways didn’t bring out any horror or sadness because they weren’t shown enough to even have faces. Mistake. And, in the end, the way the Priest after he’s branded jogs up the stairs to save the day, and runs out to his waiting copter to flying high, high, high just doesn’t work. You brand me on the chest with a searing iron brand, I’m crying in pain, not jogging up some stairs.

If it’s Star Trek or Angels and Demons, head to outer space, but if you already saw Star Trek, it’s worth the time. One more thing, I like the ending you think it’s going to have better than the ending it has.

Books Parenting Politics Women

Book Review: Resilience by Elizabeth Edwards

I saw the Oprah Segment with Elizabeth Edwards in their home in Chapel Hill about her new book, Resilience, and sat mesmerized throughout the entire thing. Friends had it on their discussion list all through the weekend. I downloaded the book to my Kindle (have I mentioned how much I love my Kindle? Such instant gratification.) and read it Friday night.

I always get off track, and this book review is no exception. Can we first discuss the Edward’s house where Oprah’s interview took place? I thought John Edwards was all about environmental sanity. Before we get to the book, you have to look at their prideful presentation of their 28,000 square foot home on 100 acres for four people? Are you kidding me? 28,000 square feet including a full gymnasium? How much does that cost to heat John and Elizabeth?

“Our generation must be the one that says, ‘we must halt global warming,'” Edwards has said. “If we don’t act now, it will be too late. Our generation must be the one that says ‘yes’ to alternative, renewable fuels and ends forever our dependence on foreign oil. Our generation must be the one that accepts responsibility for conserving natural resources and demands the tools to do it. And our generation must be the one that builds the New Energy Economy. It won’t be easy, but it is time to ask the American people to be patriotic about something other than war.”

Ok, enough. But, I’m so glad he didn’t get the nomination.

I’m a mom, and yesterday was Mother’s Day. I read the book cover to cover, Elizabeth, (or really electronic page to electronic page) and can only ask what is your point? Did you really need to put the kids through this media blitz at this time so you could present a diversionary explosion to cover up a simple fact? John slept (for quite awhile) with another woman and that’s the end of that. The child looks just like him and you look like an ass when you say you have no idea if it’s his and it has no matter to you either way.

Supposedly, 60 percent of men cheat in a marriage. Granted, they aren’t doing it while on the campaign trail in 2008 when privacy isn’t even a word anymore, but that speaks more to the fact that John ain’t as smart as he sometimes appeared (remember that great line he had in one of the debates about Obama and Hillary – why do we always call Obama by his last name and Hillary by her first? – about being caught between the two of them?) Or, he’s more arrogant than most.

Her prose flows. (So does that sentence.) She can put a sentence together and tell a story.  My favorite is when she and her sister were walking to church. Her sister, playing with two dimes in her hand – one her allowance and the other the offering – lost one dime down a drain. She remarked, “Well there goes God’s dime.”

She talks about her feelings about her son’s death and those are amazing. With lines like, “Death doesn’t have the same impact after you have buried a child,” make you think about how something feels that you hope you never experience.

But when it comes to John, she’s all about the other woman. Why do we do that girls? Why do we always look at the other woman instead of the commitment made by our partners and the fact that they clearly didn’t mean it? She talks about how Rielle Hunter (yes, Elizabeth, she has a name) was waiting for John outside the hotel and came on with the line, “You’re so hot.” Please tell me you learned more in law school than to believe such an explanation by John. “He has no idea why he responded?” Please stop insulting my intelligence – and yours.

That said, there are points that she uses in her bid to forgive and move on that make sense in living our own lives. She talks about how John has been many things in their marriage; a great father, an attentive husband, a good provider. She says she doesn’t want to define their entire marriage by this one terible act. (Not sure it was one act, Elizabeth, but we get the point.) She’s right, why must we define those that disappoint us by the worst of what they bring to us rather than the best?

You cannot read this book and not think of Hillary. I did not support Hillary in her bid for the Presidency partly because of the Clinton history of lies and the bodies lying in the puddles created by them. But, I give Hillary kudos for focusing her life on actions in areas that matter to her rather than so much self reflection of the injustices of what happened to her. Both Hillary and Elizabeth are strong, mother figures to their childish, weak husbands whose boy-like charms do so well in politics. The parallel ends there.

I wish that Elizabeth left all of us out of her intimate life as Hillary has done. Elizabeth’s strength is in her brain and her toughness. She did so well when she spoke of poverty and their familial partnership desire to change it. I wish she had left her children some semblance of privacy at this very difficult time. Dying too early can’t be easy, and I try and give her that, but the book really serves to manipulate John into a lifetime of shame and guilt publicly, and you could see by the set in his jaw during his time with Oprah that he is paying his penance like the man he pretends to be but clearly isn’t.