Category Archives: Library Card

No Shame: I Love Reacher

I’m deeply distrustful of authors whose books appear on the tiny book rack at my local Walgreens . You know them: Nora Roberts, Nicholas Sparks, James Patterson and his “co-writers,” Dean Koontz.

Now I’m scared that I’m an elitist asshole because I’ve discovered  Lee Child, another habitue of cheesy book racks everywhere, to say nothing of Hudson Books in airports. To quote Wikipedia, he started out in the tv biz , lost his job and moved on. His birth name is Grant.

“Grant joined Granada Television, part of the UK‘s ITVNetwork, in Manchester as a presentation director. There he was involved with shows including Brideshead RevisitedThe Jewel in the CrownPrime Suspect, andCracker.” (I still weep thinking about “The Jewel in the Crown.)He moved to New York City and started to write action novels. His series protagonist is Jack (None) Reacher , an ex MP Major. He’s six five, muscular and not big on nuance. He travels the country with no kit except what can fit in his pockets: an expired passport, an ATM card, a roll of bills and a folding toothbrush. He hitch hikes, and buys new clothes every three days because he fears the domestic delights of a house and a washer. I think I may be the first person to call him an existential hero.

Reacher is smart and invincible. There is — and this is the comfort factor in these scary books — the reality that Reacher will, every, every time, mangle, with his bare fists, the Bad Guys. He’s a modern cross between Sir Galahad and a mendicant monk.

Child writes a smart plot. Although he’s made huge progress as a writer, he’s no Elmore Leonard. But he’s learned St. Elmo’s greatest commandment: “Leave out the stuff people don’t read.”

The Tom Cruise Reacher movie is a bomb and I’m glad. The physical miscasting, for a start, is ludicrous. When you’ve been hooked into Reacher’s strange mind, you know it’s not going to be the basis of a Tom Cruise thriller. Totally lame.

So, the Reacher novels have got on to our reserve list at the Warrenville Library, along with Tess Gerritsen and Steve Hamilton. Maybe it time to read Nora Roberts? Nah.




Filed under Books, Library Card

Dick Lit

I actually believed I’d made up the literary descriptor “Dick Lit” but a quick Google proved me behind the curve. But, whatever, I love it, because I’ve become so pissed with the “Chick Lit” thing. I mean, what happened to “Romance Novel?” Allison Pearson’s tremendous “I Don’t Know How She Does It.” was a star in the Chick Lit category, and now, big sigh, is a Major Motion Picture starring Ms. Parker. (Why couldn’t it have been set in its original London setting with a British cast?) Point is: “I Don’t Know How She Does It” had, um, literary merit.

“I Don’t Know How She Does It” is no Sophie Kinsella meringue about shopping. It’s no bodice ripper –it’s a witty straight-up novel about being a modern professional and mother.  Sorta like the hero of Joseph O’Neill’s hero in my fave literary novel of the last ten years: “Netherland.”

OK. I was going to say “Don’t get me started,” but my foot is hard on the gas pedal. My husband has admitted that he’s never read Jane Austen, George Eliot or Virginia Wolff. WTF? Why did I have to sit through endless paralyzing hours of Melville, Faulkner And Henry James in college? I mean not a single novel by a woman author?

Now, there are Good Dicks — Balzac and Trollope, for two — who cared about what women thought and felt. But why the heck is “Moby Dick” still required reading and “Sense and Sensibility” isn’t? I’m sorry if I’m sounding like a hairy-legged feminist in a Womyn’s Commune in the ’70s (not that there’s anything wrong with that!) and I’ll return to the fascinating topic of Dick Lit.

(BTW, Lou adores Donna Leon, Louise Penney, Tess Gerritsen and Agatha Christie. He probably checks out more books from the Libe by women than by men.)

Dick Lit can be fabulous, as long as it’s  being written by say, Carl Hiassen, Elmore Leonard, and BOOK RECOMMENDATION OF THE WEEK: George Pelecanos’s The Cut. 

Pick it up and wave bye-bye to your day –and night. I’ve read all three of George’s previous novels with admiration and the feeling that there was a DC film over my body and mind that would never shower off. I’m haunted and coated by “The Cut” but the  new protagonist Spero gives me that rarest quality of a Pelcanos novel: hope. I’ll be waiting to take you out for a beer, Speros.

Any Dick Lit faves? Lemme know.

Read it.


Filed under A Couple of Bucks, Books, Into the Mystic, Library Card

Newspaper Names: Read all About It!

I sport some newspaper genes. Many of my McArthur ancestors were journalists, my father spent his career producing the very paper on which your daily is printed, and, I, in my small way, write a regular column that appears on newsprint. I remember when there was a morning paper and an evening paper in most towns of any size, and when I first moved to Chicago there were four dailies: The Tribune, the Sun-Times and the Daily News. We’re down to two. (**Edited to mention that the fourth paper was the Chicago Daily Defender.)

But this isn’t going to be one of those nostalgic pieces full of millennial gloom and doom about the disappearance of the daily rags. (I am glad to see my hometown journal,  Le Nouvelliste is still around with all the lurid stories filed under “Faits Divers.”)

Those who know me well know I have a weird kick in my gallop about names. People names, pet names, place names, botanical names, brand names, grocery store names — I roll my tongue around a good name, then store it away in the rental storage unit my brain’s become.  A discovery of a great newspaper name among all those ho-hum Timeses and Posts and Gazettes and Suns and Newses makes me happy, well, forever!

Among the big market papers are some really good names. How about The Cleveland Plain Dealer? I have no idea about the paper’s politics, but it just sounds so solid. So plain. The there are the portmanteau names, where the second word dispenses some character to the blah first word: the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, The New Orleans Times-Picayune, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Should I ever become a newspaper magnate I’ll rename my paper to include the word Picayune.

In fact, there’s a paper in Texas that I might need to save up some apron money and buy: The Beeville Bee-Picayune. The Rochester, New York daily Democrat and Chronicle has some nice old-fashioned newspaper name heft. But hey, all these guys don’t make the cut, or would have to qualify, to get into the Best Newspaper Name Tournament.

I don’t have to drive but a couple of hours downstate to Bloomington-Normal,( home of the Redbirds!) to find a beaut: The Pantagraph.  Then there’s the Laramie Boomerang — what the heck? The Nome Nugget ? Perfection! I’d love to shake the hand, backward over the years, of the wag who named The Tombstone Epitaph.

Go pour yourself a big fat flute of champagne, stand up, and shake out the folds of your de la Renta gown. Drumroll. Ladies and gentlemen, the award for the best newspaper name in America goes to the Linn, MO Unterrified Democrat!

Do you have any nominations for next year’s ceremony? Or maybe you’re like Lou, who’s been making up names of his own while I’ve been writing this. He likes: The Rockford Files, the St. Paul Epistle, the Ledger Demoines, (yeah, it takes awhile and isn’t that great,) The Lincoln Log and the Aspen Tablet. Send them this way, and we’ll read all about them.


Filed under Collections, Free, HeeHee, History, How Cool is That?, Library Card

Things I Learned This Week

It was a weather week and an insomnia week. Weather: grey skies, nearby tornadoes, humidity and temps in the sixties. The low sixties. Insomnia: Asleep by four am, though I’d been twitching in bed since midnight, then bolt upright at nine. Five hours sleep  = Margaret, Zombie Empress from Hell.

It was an unproductive week. It was too wet to garden, my mind was too fuzzy to write, yadda yadda yadda. So, I’ll try to scrape my errant brain cells together and try to sum up the things that I learned this week. Or relearned this week.

I won’t spring for cable, but these two weeks tempts me, every darned year. Why? Wimbledon. I want to see every match on the outside courts, the white tennis costumes against the green grass, the passion and brilliance. I’ll get over it in a couple of weeks. But then the US Open will commence and I’ll have to hold serve and stay tough not to call some Godawful cable company.

I admire the writing of Elizabeth Berg, and I’ll write a full Library Card post about her. She can string together a plot with poetry.











I learned that stabbing a half onion on a fork then dipping it in olive oil is a swell way to oil a grill.

I’ll never stop missing my daughter and son-in-law. Ever.

I just don’t understand people who want to retire to a rustic farmette. I love the ‘Ville and all, but I want to walk out my front door and stroll to a street scattered with shops, restaurants and businesses run by folks I’ll get to know.

My archaeologist next-door-neighbor, “Little” Dale Simpson, (honorary nephew) was climbing Machu Picchu two days ago. I reel with jealousy, and salute Dale for his passion, and, as we say, following his dream.

I might not ever be a Jeopardy champ, but I could come home with a few thousand bucks.

Basil is always, always, reliable grown from seed.

No news here, but let me tell you, editing another writer’s work isn’t a clinical affair.

Friday night cheeseburgers with grilled onions and a beer is Friday night comfort.

I need insomnia advice.

And NBC is broadcasting Wimbledon tomorrow!


Filed under Body, Books, Free, History, Into the Mystic, Library Card, On the Street Where I Live, The 'Ville

Carjacked by Carl Hiassen

I have more lists going on than Santa gets at Christmas. Preparing for our trip to my Nation’s Capital is never easy, involving as it does: organizing the bucks, renewing prescriptions, mailing off aprons, quality time in the laundry room and at the ironing board, laying in bulk cat food, planning road trip picnics and trying to make the house presentable for our beloved cat sitter, Charlene Simpson. (Hey, Char, Lou painted some kitchen cabinets for you!)

I swung by the library yesterday, to avoid late charges, clutching eight books to my bosom. I dropped three on the floor as I walked to the circulation counter, and my kindly librarian said: “Lady, you need a bag!” She handed me , for free, a cloth Warrenville totebag, which I’ll forget I own next time I go to the libe.  I won’t need it next time I swing by with my returns, because I’ll be toting just  one volume.

The Tom Jones classic “Mama Told Me Not to Go” has been rattling around my brain since I  watched( online) Bristol Palin’s tacky turn on DWTS. I had promised NOT to check out New Releases, because I have enough on my multiple lists that I should avoid any reading except a turn through The New Yorker or Martha Stewart Living.

FAIL! I strolled up to the New Releases and glommed onto the H authors. My God, there it was, as irresistible to me as a pile of horse poop to a Pomeranian.

The new Carl Hiaasen.

I checked it out in a hurry and buried it in my purse so Lou wouldn’t snatch it from my hands as I walked through the door. Carl is addictive as the white powder most of his characters in South Florida inhale as often as Jane Austen’s ladies drink tea. Hiassen is an award-winning journalist for the Miami Herald, a passionate Floridian who mourns the cooption and corruption of his state by real estate sleazeballs, drug dealing, and corruption. A collection of his journalism on Florida is called (one of my fave ever titles) Paradise Screwed.

His over-the-top “crime” novels are what’s got me as hooked as a starlet on Vicodin. They are environmentalist agitprop for south Florida, and the greed and excess it attracts. They always include a cynical good guy, an intelligent woman, a crazed outta control enforcer , and Skink, a mentally ill Viet Nam vet, ex-governor of Florida, with great teeth,and  one eye: an environmental enforcer and road kill gourmet.

Carjacking in Miami is an everyday thing in Hiassen’s novels, and he carjacked my to-do list today. Not entirely: I heard the dryer tumbling as I willingly gave up a day of my life to one of his profane, outta control , hilarious romps. Chemo, the crazer with a weed whacker attached to his stump of an arm, is back. There’s a feisty heroine (Carl likes smart women, always) an obese South Beach paparazzo, a real estate scam, a Brittney/Lindsay clone, press agents, plotting, and lots of roadkill.

Yeah, he kinda made me his literary bitch today, and I loved every minute. I’ll get up earlier tomorrow and tackle that list.


Filed under Books, Free, HeeHee, Library Card

A Lifestyle Change and Bits and Bobs

I’m going to have to get up earlier. Thing is, I’ve been a night owl since I learned how to read and find my father’s flashlight. I whiled away my first-grade late nights hiding under the blankets reading Madame Bovary. (Kidding: it was What Katie Did.) The pattern hasn’t changed. It doesn’t matter if I’ve read all day, I still can’t go to sleep unless I’ve turned over the pages of a bedside table book for at least an hour. I have friends who tell me they can’t sleep unless they’re lulled to sleep by the television in the bedroom and that’s just a modern version of my affliction. I can count on the fingers of two hands the number of lifetime nights I’ve gone to sleep without a book drooping from my hand.

That’s never going to change, but I think I’m going to have to impose a time limit. Not being able to punch in at a job has destroyed my sleep patterns; I’m more than ever likely to stay awake until 2 am reading. Reading, I may add, nothing I haven’t read at least twice — if I dreed my weird to bed with a new Carl Hiassen or Tess Gerritsen, I’d lower my lamp,( or flashlight) when I’d finished it, even with dawn’s pearly fingers splashed on the ceiling.

Through seventeen readings I know how Madame Maigret’s Case turns out. My days are getting busier: I should set the clock for eight hours after I turn out my light and drag myself out of bed, no snooze, when the alarm goes off. Geez, I did better than just get by in my professional life with much less sleep.

Heavens, Roger Clemens admitted to vitamin B12 injections! (Keep it under your hats — I feel better after I’ve had one.) To think that Satchell Paige’s miracle drug was hooch.

August has long been known as The Silly Season in politics. This year is no exception: vide the Islamic Center flap.

I received an advance reading copy of Niki Segnit’s “The Flavor Thesaurus.” I think it’s genuinely interesting, the recipes are terrific, and I suggest you check it out when it’s published.

Because every blog post needs a picture to break up the type,  I offer this snap: Ajax’s ears peeping from behind the love seat as he checks out his hood for dogs, safe inside.


Filed under Animals, Body, History, Home, Library Card, On the Street Where I Live, The 'Ville

Apron of the Day and Odds and Ends

Yes, Friends, I went to Sears yesterday and forked out for a new Kenmore sewing machine.I had to: I was feeling as jittery about not having a working machine as I do when I don’t have computer access. It’s nothing fancy — I’ll probably lust as vainly for a Bernina as I do for Rafael Nadal — but, by gum it works! Here’s the result of today’s session at the machine. You’d split a gut if you saw my sewing setup. My dining room table is generous, but not if it’s being shared with 1) The New York Times 2) a man who’s set up for his crossword session, which includes a coffee mug, a coffee carafe,  an ashtray, reading glasses and the remains of a dish of potato salad3)today’s mail 4) a calico cat who likes to help me sew. She entertains herself by trying to slide her paw under the needle when it’s on the up, pulling it out before it nails it to the feed dogs.

I’m no lonely little seamstress toiling away in obscurity in a garret. Nor does my setup resemble the atelier at a great maison de couture! Here’s today’s yin/yang apron.

The Guy side. Here’s a closeup of the Guy fabric:

The Girl side, followed by a closeup of the very pink bonbon fabric:

Cheerful, yes?

I listened to “All Things Considered” on NPR as I stitched and pressed and tried to find a clear square foot on the table. I was sad, not cheerful, when I heard that the great journalist Daniel Schorr died today. I swear I heard him two weeks ago being smart about something. Ninety three is a fine quiverful of annual arrows, and he did live quite the life. He was justly proud of being on Nixon’s Enemies List.

Cheer returned within ten minutes. Helen Simonson (whose very modern and very touching Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand I read last week) was speaking on the Guilty Pleasures segment. You heard it here first:

Here’s her take on the Grand Georgette Heyer:

I’m not going to tell you much about  Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand except that it’s about choices, easy and hard, in modern multicultural Britain. Simonson can write.

So hie thee to the library. I’m going to hie me to a martini.


Filed under A yard of fabric, Apron of the Day, Books, Library Card, Needlework

The Grand Georgette Heyer

Oh, you’ve never met Georgette? Come with me and I’ll introduce you. You must get to know her.

She’s given me more hours of reading bliss then any other writer, living or dead.

I’m not comparing her to other, greater writers I love: she’s no Balzac or Trollope, Dickens or Pelecanos, , Raymond Chandler or Mark Twain. But none of these giants ever had the power of Heyer to transport me to another real time and place and hold me there, turning pages as the plots twist through the landscape of Regency England.

Heyer can be dismissed as Jane Austen for shopgirls.  That she was not a genius of the  likes of the  Divine Jane shouldn’t be held against her. Austen glows gold, Heyer sparkles like sequins.

She invented the Regency Romance genre still filling shelves at Borders — all those titles like “The Sinister Baron” or “The Seduction of Samantha.” I don’t read romance fiction, and after a bit of browsing I especially don’t read Regency Romances. Heyer is the lightning, all those other lady writers are the lightning bugs.(Thank you Mark Twain.) I read through this shelf every dreary winter:

This is not her complete oeuvre, though I’ve read it all. Between 1921 when she was nineteen and her death in 1974 she wrote one book a year, and for many two books: her police procedurals are excellent in the style of Josephine Tey or Ngaio Marsh.

The device that drives her plots is, like those of Balzac and Austen, not romance but money. Estates are lost at the gaming hells or race tracks, poor girls and young men must marry for money to restore family fortunes, jaded rich men and heiresses struggle to meet a true love, not a fortune hunter. Lucky speculation on the outcome of the Battle of Waterloo brings relief from debt and disgrace for one worthy young nobleman.

These are no more bodice rippers than Persuasion. (I remember that one bodice got ripped, but is was the result of a duel, not sexual assault.)They’re novels of manners, adventure and wit. Buckles are swashed, cravats are tied, light nuncheons are eaten ( the n is correct,) dancers twirl to that risque new dance, the waltz, family members drive you nuts, and Venetian Breakfasts are attended.

The characters are fresh, the heroines spunky, the heros manly and the ending is always happy And these books are funny! I’ve read The Talisman Ring fifty times and I gurgle at all the old familiar places. What’s my fave Heyer?  You’d need to waterboard me for a month before I decided. It is: The Grand Sophy, which was the first of her books I read. Sophy arrives in the repressed household of her cousins, attired in a riding habit tailored like a Hussar uniform with an entourage that includes a monkey and Arabian horses. She sets up her own stable, introduces light and levity into the stuffy household, saves the life of a little cousin and ends the engagement of her cousin to the horrid Eugenia. Of course she gets her man.

Things Georgette taught me:

  • The battles of the Peninsular War
  • Five ways to tie a cravat
  • The Bow Street Runners — the precursor of Scotland Yard
  • All about George III and his children
  • The rules of the duel
  • Fashion fashion fashion
  • The elegant way to take snuff
  • The order of the British nobility
  • Regency food, all those “removes” that feature ten or twelve sweet and savory dishes at a time
  • When I visited Bath I already knew its geography
  • When I first saw Wells Cathedral it was familiar
  • The sensational bodice-ripping thrillers of 1815
  • That a lady would never walk down Bond Street, to be ogled by the rakes and roues of the clubs
  • How a trip in a  badly sprung coach could leave you bruised, battered and all shook up
  • That pawning your jewelry is always a bad idea
  • Ratafia

That’s the edumacational stuff for my male readers, who’d rather be caught with an issue of US magazine in their hands than an historical novel. But I wish all of you this: 275 pages of character, plot, wit, frivolity and the great happy sigh of turning over the first page of a novel by Georgette Heyer.


Filed under Books, Food, History, Into the Mystic, Library Card

Joe Queenans’s “Closing Time”

Just a literary quickie tonight, as the kids set off fireworks and the mosquitoes nip my ankles. I’m sleep-deprived — humidity? The excitement of throwing a tiny dinner party last night? But I thought I’d post a tiny something about a terrific book before I go eat my leftover ribs.

As far as I can figure, Joe Queenan is exactly my age. He grew up poor and brutalized by a monstrous alcoholic father  in Philly, I grew up middle class and loved in Canada. I took his memoir of his father, “Closing Time” from the library last week, and staying up to read it is one of the reasons I couldn’t sleep last night. Can you say page turner? It’s plainly one of those books, like Chris Buckley’s excellent “Losing Mum and Pup” that was written as an exorcism after a parent’s death. Joe grew up poor Irish with a brutal drinking father, Buckley in wealth and comfort — the Catholic Church is the only thing these men had in common.  Queenan’s book is an American “Angela’s Ashes” and how he pulled himself out of his destiny, as Frank McCourt did decades before, is fine reading.

Check it out. Forgiveness can be hard.


Filed under Free, History, Library Card

Catching Up at C &C

This is going to be a mingy  on-the-fly blog post, because it’s been that kinda coupla of days.

Yesterday was library day and Post Office day, always a bitchin’ combo. I mailed out a couple of packages and bought those Animal Rescue stamps — the ones Ellen’s the Spokeswoman for. When you live in the “Ville, even the Post Office employees know  you. They whip out that binder of stamps when they see me in line — they know what I’ve bought, what I haven’t, and what I like. And they know that when they say “Do you need stamps?” it’s not just the professional written-in-stone sales template from the Postmaster’s Office. They know I’m a sucker and I’ll buy something.

I tagged a couple of antennas in the PO parking lot. HeeHee!

The haul from the library: Kim Severson’s “Spoon Fed,” Julie Orringer’s “The Invisible Bridge,” Louise Penny’s “A Rule Against Murder,” Laurie R. King’s “The Moor, Donna Leon’s ‘A Question of Belief ” (which Lou hijacked,) and Patti Smith’s “Just Kids.”  That should hold us for a week.

Today, I made the caftan, which in its seersucker is an amusingly Sloane Ranger/Preppy kind of caftan. It fits the bill for what I was yearning for back here:

It’s cool,crisp and it flows. I’ll make it again in shorter, more decorated and chicer versions, but I’m happy with the template. My model is fine showing off aprons, but the caftan thing — not so much. He refused to show off the line of the sleeves or do any serious posing. Willow got into the shot, of course.

Trust me here: It looks better on me.

Last: if you follow my food writing, “The Daily Gullet” at published a piece combining my passion for Procul Harum and White Sauce: A Whiter Shade of Sauce.


Filed under Library Card, Media, Needlework