Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Wednesday Poem: Leftovers, by Jack Prelutsky

This poem was sent in by Todd, who writes, "This is from an old children's book by Children's Poet Laureate Jack Prelutsky. Originally published in 1982, 'It's Thanksgiving!' was a staple of my childhood, and I was thrilled to track it down again recently with the guidance of several helpful bookstore clerks and the Internet. Turns out it's still in print, with a shiny new 'I Can Read!' edition from HarperCollins." To send in your favorite poem, e-mail:


Thanksgiving has been over
for at least a week or two,
but we're all still eating turkey,
turkey salad, turkey stew,

turkey puffs and turkey pudding,
turkey patties, turkey pies,
turkey bisque and turkey burgers,
turkey fritters, turkey fries.

For lunch, our mother made us
turkey slices on a stick,
there'll be turkey tarts for supper,
all this turkey makes me sick.

For tomorrow she's preparing
turkey dumplings stuffed with peas,
oh I never thought I'd say this —
"Mother! No more turkey... PLEASE!"

Friday, November 13, 2009

I Was Told There'd Be Cake

I've always been envious of authors like Bill Bryson or David Sedaris, who are able to put down vignettes about their lives in uproarious fashion. I'm sure if I thought long and hard enough, I could come up with several adventures from my own life that rival theirs, but I would never be able to do so with as much wit as they do.

Last weekend I picked up Sloane Crosley's I Was Told There'd Be Cake, which has been optioned by HBO for a small screen adaptation. The blurb on the front cover, by Jonathan Lethem, calls Crosley a "mordant and mercurial wit," though for me she never quite crosses into the realm of sheer hilarity. I went through a period of time where I would read Bryson on airplanes, to distract myself from the flight. To this day, I think they were the only times I ever laughed on a plane. But while Crosley wasn't as funny, she's a charming writer, and doesn't every twenty-something female in the U.S. in some way relate to every other twenty-something female?

From stories about her terrible first job out of college at a publishing house to being a bridesmaid for a woman she hasn't seen since high school, Crosley's essays are amusing and relatable (though no high school friend has yet asked me to don a pastel dress, thanks goodness). I Was Told There'd Be Cake is a quick read, and I'm looking forward to seeing what else Crosley writes in the future.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Her Fearful Symmetry

I really do like a good ghost story now and then, and Her Fearful Symmetry, Audrey Niffenegger’s (The Time Traveler’s Wife) book, fits the bill. Set on the edge of Highgate Cemetery in London, Her Fearful Symmetry is the story of two pairs of twins, one set middle aged and living apart (one on London, one in Chicago) and the other set the daughters of the Chicago twin. When Elspeth, the London twin, dies, and requires that her nieces come live in her apartment without their parents for a year in order to inherit it, the events of the novel are set in motion.

When Valentina and Julia arrive in London, they begin to take over their aunt’s old life. They meet her neighbors, like Martin, an obsessive-compulsive crossword puzzle maker, who can’t leave his apartment, and Robert, Elspeth’s younger boyfriend, who is writing his doctoral thesis on Highgate. They’re also haunted by Elspeth, who declares — “a bad thing about dying is that I’ve started to feel as though I’m being erased. Another bad thing is that I won’t get to find out what happens next.” — and then sticks around to find out what does.

There’s the ghostly mystery of Elspeth’s haunting Robert and the twins, but the living mystery about what happened to cause a rift between Elspeth and her twin Edie is much more interesting. The answers lie in Elspeth's old journals, which she leaves to Robert, but he is unable to let himself read them.

The world and underworld in Her Fearful Symmetry are populated by truly awful, selfish characters — Julia won’t let Valentina finish college or attend design school so she can remain with Julia forever, Martin’s wife runs away to Amsterdam since she can’t handle his obsessions, Elspeth isn’t quite the friendly ghost she seems at first — but they manage to pull you in, much like they pull various characters into their webs of deceit.

About three-quarters through, the novel takes a rather morbid turn, but Niffenegger is a brilliant plotter and her text, which is fantastical from page one, gets even more so. She uses the supernatural in her books, but it never seems like it actually is, and Her Fearful Symmetry evokes 19th century sensation novels. Dark, eerie and often funny, Her Fearful Symmetry is meant to be read while curled up under a blanket on a cold winter's night.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Girl Who Played With Fire

When I finished Stieg Larsson's The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo in August, I wanted to run right out and get its sequel The Girl Who Played With Fire, but I decided that I should wait a little while and read some other things first. I hate when books in a series start to blur together, and I wanted to keep these separate. I was able to dive right back in to the underworld of Swedish crime, since Larsson picks right back up where he left off.

The Girl Who Played With Fire revisits the main characters from the first book — Mikael Blomkvist, a journalist, Lisbeth Salander, a computer hacker, Blomkvist's colleagues at Millennium magazine, and Salander's former boss at a security company. Here, Millennium is working with a couple who are writing an exposé about sex trafficking in Sweden, and when they wind up dead, Salander's fingerprints are on the gun. When Salander's former guardian also ends up dead, there's a country-wide manhunt for her.

Larsson once again is an intricate plotter and master of suspense — he takes us into seedy worlds with kidnappings and has Salander and Blomkvist communicate via his hacked computer. And the books are high tech without being confusing for those of us who don't understand hacking.

I didn't think this book was quite as good as Dragon Tattoo, but that's partly because these were already characters we were familiar with, and we weren't introduced to any great new characters. But it's satisfying that Larsson picks up right where he left off and gives Salander and Blomkvist another rousing adventure.

I'm sure I'll read The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, though I'm not going to run out and get it when it is published in the U.S. I want to give myself another little break, since these books are so satisfying they should be read sparingly.

Wednesday Poem: Sick, By Shel Silverstein

This poem was sent in by Mark. To send in your favorite poem, e-mail:


"I cannot go to school today,"
Said little Peggy Ann McKay.
"I have the measles and the mumps,
A gash, a rash and purple bumps.
My mouth is wet, my throat is dry,
I'm going blind in my right eye.
My tonsils are as big as rocks,
I've counted sixteen chicken pox
And there's one more--that's seventeen,
And don't you think my face looks green?
My leg is cut--my eyes are blue--
It might be instamatic flu.
I cough and sneeze and gasp and choke,
I'm sure that my left leg is broke--
My hip hurts when I move my chin,
My belly button's caving in,
My back is wrenched, my ankle's sprained,
My 'pendix pains each time it rains.
My nose is cold, my toes are numb.
I have a sliver in my thumb.
My neck is stiff, my voice is weak,
I hardly whisper when I speak.
My tongue is filling up my mouth,
I think my hair is falling out.
My elbow's bent, my spine ain't straight,
My temperature is one-o-eight.
My brain is shrunk, I cannot hear,
There is a hole inside my ear.
I have a hangnail, and my heart is--what?
What's that? What's that you say?
You say today is. . .Saturday?
G'bye, I'm going out to play!"