Dixie Darr

Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Pop Culture

In Books, creativity, Learning, Learning Tools, music on January 22, 2018 at 4:18 pm

For years, I watched Entertainment Tonight religiously. If I had to miss an episode, I recorded it to watch later. At some point, however, I realized that I had no clue who the people were they were talking about. I think I aged out of their target demographic.
It may have coincided with the TV writers’ strike in 1988 when the networks started filling time slots with unscripted shows, reality shows in other words. I had absolutely zero interest in the various Survivor-like shows, although I did like the talent shows like American Idol and Nashville Star and So You Think You Can Dance.
Then came the Kardashianization of America when kids started stating their ambition was to “be famous” with no thought of what they might have to do to become famous. I blame Ryan Seacrest who created and produces the show. I mean, ick. Why anyone wants to know anything at all about any member of that family is beyond me, but I can’t look at a news website without seeing something about one or another of them.
Nevertheless, I do like learning about exceptional entertainment options, and I keep up with them by listening to the NPR podcast, Pop Culture Happy Hour. Host Linda Holmes and three thoughtful, intelligent guests choose one movie, TV show, musician, or play to discuss and recommend. This is my major venue for discovering worthwhile culture.
Recently, I learned from them about the Amazon Prime series, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, and also the captivating song, Havana, by Camila Cabella. Unlike ET, I don’t have to wade through a dumpster full of detritus to get to the good stuff. At my age, there’s no time for that nonsense.


The Day the Alphabet Died

In Books, creativity, writing on January 4, 2018 at 4:56 pm

Sue Grafton, author of the alphabet mystery series and creator of PI Kinsey Millhone, was my favorite author. Her passing last week stunned the publishing and reading world and left us bereft for the loss of both writer and character.

She started the series with A is for Alibi in 1982 while fantasizing about ways to murder her ex-husband. Y is for Yesterday came out in August last year and is, for my money, her best yet. I and her other fans had dreaded for years the coming of Z, the final book in the series. She had said there would be no more after that. She wouldn’t start on a second alphabet or switch to some other titling strategy. Friends frequently asked me what she would do after that, and I explained that she’d be almost 80, although she looked much younger in her pictures, so maybe she would retire. Nobody really believed that. Writers never retire.

My initial reaction to learning that she had died of a rare form of cancer was to mourn the loss of her stories. I suppose that’s natural since I never met her and had an endless, loving acquaintance with her books. Her family stated that she had not yet started Z, and there would be no ghostwriter. The alphabet would end at Y.

I wonder. Fans have extended the life of Jane Austen and Sherlock Holmes by offering new fiction featuring those characters. Why not Kinsey? Maybe some bright soul will bring her into the 21st century and let a sixtysomething Kinsey use computers and cell phones and the Internet to solve a whole new spate of mysteries. I’d buy that. She’d make a terrific old lady.

I need a new button, something along the lines of “Kinsey Lives.”

Favorite Books of 2017

In Books on December 29, 2017 at 9:43 am

I’ve been saying for years that I read too much and need to find a way to read less. Success! My count this year will barely be 100 books, which sounds perfect to me.
You’ve seen me mention some of these here throughout the year, so this is a roundup with maybe a few new entries. Most of them started out in that stack of library books on my antique student desk.
Some favorites include I Like You Just Fine When You’re Not Around by Ann Garvin and The Opposite of Everything by Joshilyn Jackson, both of which I would have read for the titles alone, but which turned out to be good stories, too.
James Altucher’s Reinvent Yourself is one of those books I’ll want to reread every year or so.
The incredibly detailed News of the World by Paulette Jiles was another favorite as was Celine by Peter Heller and Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Roo.
Some of my favorite authors, including J.A. Jance, C.J. Box, Sara Paretsky, Craig Johnson, and Sue Grafton offered excellent additions to their series.
Add Sourdough by Robin Sloan, and Artemis by Martin Weir to my list of favorites. Both feature strong and quirky female protagonists.
Lillian Boxfish is currently available on Kindle for only $2.99.
I enjoyed rereading several favorites including The Storied Life of A.J. Fickry by Gabrielle Zevin, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, plus the prequel novella, Ajax Penumbra 1969, Nine Stories by J.D. Salinger, Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach, Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon, and Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie.
All in all, it was a very good year for reading. I’ll finish at least one or two more before the end of the year, then bring on 2018.

Diversity on the Tree

In Books, Christmas, Church, creativity on December 18, 2017 at 9:28 am

My Secular Advent, Day Sixteen

Anyone driving past our church will see the big neighborhood Christmas tree in the corner of our parking lot at 32nd and Osceola, filled with thousands of white lights and big white snowflakes. Inside we have an elegant tree in the lobby decorated with teal and purple balls and gold Bethlehem stars. The sanctuary features a tree with Chrismon ornaments, white and gold symbols of Christianity.

Our family Christmas tree in the fellowship hall is my favorite. Each family brought decoration that reflected their interests. My contributions were the Beatles in a yellow submarine and a gay cowboy.

My two four-foot white trees at home follow no theme. Not for me a perfectly coordinated tree with only red (or even purple) glass balls. Boring. Instead, I display a wide variety of ornaments collected over a lifetime, including:

A star of David from the little girls next door in my old neighborhood;

Delicate clay sculptures of a bear fetish, a howling coyote, and a chile pepper, plus a couple of turquoise glass hearts from a long-ago trip to Taos;

A tiny sleeping angel from a trip to Scottsdale, plus a plump angel with black braids and rattan wings ordered from Guatemala;

Many cowboy hats and boots and a couple more of those gay cowboys;

One tiny red suede moccasin and tipi I made from a kit;

A duplicate of that yellow submarine ornament plus a blown glass drum from Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band;

Doll-sized ice skates and red sneakers;

A red and white doll dress crocheted by my Grandma Wood for my Tiny Terri Lee doll.

Some of my favorites came from my sister-in-law who has given me a unique ornament each year–from a purple sequined partridge to this year’s stack of tiny books (pictured). Has there ever been a more perfect ornament for me? Nope. I guess after almost 60 years of friendship dating from before her marriage to my brother 50 years ago, she knows me pretty well.

Bertie’s Christmas

In Books, Christmas, creativity, neighborhood on December 12, 2017 at 8:59 am








My Secular Advent, Day Ten

Bertie doesn’t ask for much. The beleaguered and frequently bewildered six-year-old from Alexander McCall Smith’s 44 Scotland Street series really only wants two things for Christmas, a Swiss Army knife and Irn Bru, a carbonated soft drink called “Scotland’s other national drink” (after whiskey).

He’s quite sure his mother, who considers him “The Bertie Project” will never allow him to have either. Instead, she insists that he attend psychotherapy and yoga classes, two things that annoy him the most.

She declared, “Christmas is a distraction.”

From what?” Bertie wondered.

From the real issues. From the matters that should be concerning us. Commercial manipulation, Bertie. That’s what that is.”

Bertie had remained silent.

No,” Irene continued. “There’s no doubt about it. We are being encouraged to spend on things we don’t need.”

But presents are nice,” said Bertie mildly.

He looked forward to the impending nativity play at school until the school asked parents for a volunteer to produce the play, and Bertie’s mother accepted the challenge.

Unfortunately, she thought “Nativity plays are very tired.”

I’m going to change the setting entirely,” Irene said. “We shall be in the contemporary West Bank.

They heard the news in Big Lou’s coffee bar on Dundas Street.

I feel sorry for that wee boy,” said Big Lou, from behind her counter.

Angus Lordie, the portrait painter from Drummond Place, decided to make the day special for Bertie despite his mother’s lack of Christmas spirit. He dressed as Santa and surprised Bertie on Christmas Eve with a can of Irn Bru and shared a whiskey or two with Bertie’s father.

When our families disappoint us, it’s always a blessing to have good friends and neighbors.

Fathers and Fantasy

In Books, Christmas, creativity, Learning on December 11, 2017 at 9:58 am








My Secular Advent, Day Nine
Although called the Father of Modern Fantasy, JRR Tolkein had influences dating from at least as long ago as the Victorian era. Predating his publication of The Hobbit in 1937, he wrote illustrated letters from Father Christmas to his young children starting in 1920. Each year more characters were added, such as the North Polar Bear (Father Christmas’s helper), the Snow Man (his gardener), Ilbereth the elf (his secretary), and various other, minor characters. The major characters would relate tales of Father Christmas’s battles against goblins who rode on bats and the various pranks committed by the North Polar Bear.

Here’s an excerpt from the 1925 letter to John and Michael, the oldest boys, in a shaky hand by the then one thousand nine hundred and twenty-five-year-old Father Christmas. He had to write to both boys at once because of troubles caused by his clumsy chief helper, the North Polar Bear.

“It all happened like this: one very windy day last November my hood blew off and went and stuck on the top of the North Pole. I told him not to, but the North Polar Bear climbed up to the thin top to get it down—and he did. The pole broke in the middle and fell on the roof of my house, and the North Polar Bear fell through the hole it made into the dining room with my hood over his nose, and all the snow fell off the roof into the house and melted and put out all the fires and ran down into the cellars, where I was collecting this year’s presents, and the North Polar Bear’s leg got broken.”

Tolkein lovers will appreciate the humorous and endearing stories and magical illustrations, which were gathered into a book, Letters from Father Christmas, in 1976, on the third anniversary of Tolkein’s death.

Story Time

In Books, Christmas on December 7, 2017 at 7:53 am

My Secular Advent, Day Five

You don’t expect a Christmas classic to originate on the pages of Playboy, and technically, this one originated in Jean Shepherd’s 1966 novel/memoir, In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash. One chapter of the book, Duel in the Snow or Red Ryder Nails the Cleveland Street Kid,” was adapted into a short story for Playboy and later combined with four other chapters for the 1983 movie, A Christmas Story.

I first heard of the movie from the late Roger Ebert, who championed it as a Christmas classic for years as its popularity grew steadily on video. His rave review made me seek it out and I became an early evangelist for it, too. You’ve undoubtedly seen it many times, but if not, Spoiler Alert.

Ralphie desperately wants a Daisy Red Ryder 200-shot Carbine Action BB Gun for Christmas–the one with the compass in the stock, “as cool and deadly a piece of weaponry as I had ever laid eyes on,” according to Shepherd who supplies the narrator’s voice for the movie. Everyone from his mother to his teacher to the department store Santa tell him, “You’ll shoot your eye out.”

Several of my favorite scenes were not in the original story:

The father’s unintelligible swear rants

The “major prize” leg lamp

The turkey-thieving dogs next door

Flick’s tongue stuck to the frozen lamp post

Duck, complete with head, at a Chinese restaurant for Christmas dinner

Showing in theaters, including the Alamo Sloan’s Lake, this weekend. Other people choose It’s a Wonderful Life or A Christmas Carol (which version, I wonder. I prefer it Muppets style.) as their favorite Christmas movie. Whichever you choose, take a couple hours out of the madness of the season and watch it this weekend.

Fa ra ra ra ra ra ra ra ra.

The Mitford Snowmen

In Books, Christmas, Church, creativity, Home, neighborhood on December 6, 2017 at 10:07 am

My Secular Advent, Day Four

It’s Christmas time in the small North Carolina mountain town of Mitford. Father Tim and his cronies hang around the Main Street Grill to hash out the pressing issue of downtown parking. Snow is falling and they see some of the other merchants building snowmen outside their shops.

It’s a contest,” someone says, with a prize of a dozen doughnuts from Winnie Ivey’s Sweet Stuff Bakery. They do their best work to win that. They add hats and coats and gloves and glasses to make the snowmen look like well-known neighbors.

As the merriment ends, they realize there was never a contest at all, just people having fun in the snow. The mayor declares them all winners and leads everybody to the bakery for doughnuts and hot chocolate.

This is a story about community and a town that prides itself on taking care of its own. This year’s Advent theme at my church is harmony. Pastor Brad told us the story of how the improbable pair of Bing Crosby and David Bowie came to sing the duet, Peace On Earth/Little Drummer Boy on Bing’s Christmas special. Bowie refused to sing Little Drummer Boy (not one of my favorites, either, David), so the writers dreamed up a brand new song, Peace On Earth, to act as counter-melody to Bing’s singing Little Drummer Boy. It’s a story about being true to yourself and finding harmony with others.

The Mitford stories illustrate this principle all year long. Every book is a Christmas story.

Not Exactly a Christmas Story

In Books, Christmas on December 3, 2017 at 8:33 am

My Secular Advent, Day One

Some stories happen at Christmas but aren’t particularly Christmas-y in theme. Hercule Poirot’s Christmas drags Agatha Christie’s beloved detective into an English family drama, which, on second thought, does seem pretty Christmas-y.

Simeon Lee is a rich, frail, and curmudgeonly old man, known for his ability to wait years to exact revenge, who invites his far-flung family home for Christmas. Four sons—loyal and controlled Alfred, pompous member of parliament George, artistic David, and bon vivant prodigal Harry converge on the magnificent if stolid family home. Joining them is the charming Spanish daughter, Pilar, of their late sister, who quickly becomes a favorite of the old man. Add a stranger in the form of the South African son of Simeon’s former partner in the diamond business plus a few furtive household retainers and you have the makings of a classic Christie whodunit.

Amid the expected sniping and jockeying for position among the family members, comes a brutal Christmas Eve murder in a locked room. Who had both motive and opportunity? Almost everyone. How was it accomplished? That’s the real question here.

As always, Christie delivers a satisfying story that even has a tidy happy ending. Merry Christmas and Happy Advent everyone.

Friday Favorites

In Books, Learning on December 1, 2017 at 3:01 pm

Festina Lente, a Latin phrase meaning “make haste slowly” is my new motto, especially for December. I learned it by reading the marvelous Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan several years ago. If you haven’t read it, you should make haste to your local library or bookstore and get it right now. I also recommend the prequel short story, Ajax Penumbra 1969, and Sloan’s latest, Sourdough, one of my favorite books this year.

Need recommendations for booklover friends? Check out the holiday recommendations podcast from BookRiot. Here’s a taste to get you started. For a friend who loves trivia and useless information, try Schott’s Original Miscellany by Ben Schott or What If by Randall Munroe. The first is a truly wondrous collection that isn’t the least bit practical, and the second offers serious scientific answers to absurd hypothetical questions. Either or both would be great for your favorite know-it-all.

Put down your books for a few minutes Saturday evening and wander outside to catch the rising of the Supermoon at 4:19 in Denver. A supermoon is a full moon coinciding with perigee– the moon’s closest point to Earth in its monthly orbit. Its scientific name is perigee syzygy. University of Arizona professor Gurtina Besla says the phrase means two specific things in reference to the moon’s placement and phase. “Perigee refers to the moon being at its closest distance to the Earth, and syzygy refers to the alignment of multiple bodies — the moon, Earth, and sun need to be aligned for us to see a full moon,”

Our weather should be clear and mild, so no excuses.