Archive for August, 2007

I need to join a 12-step group for book buyers, I guess.  The Mark Twain Library had a huge used book sale today, and their prices were very, very low.  One of my new purchases was only 10 cents.  Here is what I got:

  • Footnotes on Nature by John Kiernan.  Published in 1947.  This was a 20 cent hardcover.  Kiernan grew up in Dutchess county, where I used to live, but this book is about his nature experiences near New York City, especially Van Cortland Park.  Illustrated.
  • Three Men on Wheels by Jerome K. Jerome.  Published in 1900 from an 1899 Saturday Evening Post article.  Only a dime!  This is about three men who decide to go on a bicycle tour.  It looks sort of goofy, but it should be fun.  Illustrated.
  • A Book About a Thousand Things by George Simpson. Published in 1946, and I got it for 50 cents.  My grandfather gave me a copy of this book a long time ago, but it got lost in one of my many moves.
  • Adrift in the Wilds; or, The Adventures of Two Shipwrecked Boys by Edward S. Ellis.  1887.  With a title like that, it can’t go wrong.  The best part is it has a 30 page catalog at the end of “Books for Boys” and “Books for Girls.”  I love old book catalogs.
  • The Mosquito Coast by Paul Theroux.  I saw the movie long ago, and now I can read the book.
  • Bech Is Back by John Updike.  This has a really smarmy 70s cover.
  • The Stephen King Companion by George Beahm.  I had this once and lost it in a move.  The cover features a great, demented picture of King standing in front of his creepy-looking Victorian house in Bangor.
  • It’s Not About the Bike by Lance Armstrong.  For some reason, I have never read this before.
  • Pigs in Heaven by Barbara Kingsolver.  Though I’m publishing an article on Kingsolver, I’ve never read this one.
  • A Graveyard for Lunatics by Ray Bradbury.  This should be good right around Halloween.
  • Plainsong by Kent Haruf.  This is one of those books that always looked like I should read it.  Now I will.
  • The Night Manager by John Le Carre.  Continuing my Le Carre fixation.

Book sale season is almost over in New England, so if I can just get through the next couple of weekends without buying more books, I should be okay.  One day at a time, right?

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Movies & My Blog Title

I saw from the search terms that someone was looking for the movie that quotes the Emerson line that forms the title of my blog. The movie is Next Stop Wonderland, and is definitely worth seeing. The quote takes on a funny life in the movie, as the main character, Hope Davis (I heart Hope Davis, as the kids say), keeps meeting stupid guys who try to impress her with the quote.  When she finally meets a guy who knows the entire quotation and who wrote it, she falls in love. It’s an ending an English professor can love.

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Agents=4; Hobgoblin=0

I actually received THREE rejections today!  Is that a record?  Probably not, but it does sound nicely ink-stained and wretched, doesn’t it?  One of them was an e-mail rejection, so I am only metaphorically ink-stained, I guess.  I am not just winning the Race of Rejections (tm, all rights reserved, etc.) with Litlove, I am positively dominating.  I think I’m going to start sending out to agents who only represent Christian Children’s books so I can collect even more rejections and win the race.  No, that would be cheating, kind of like using EPO or steroids.

I’m preparing my second round of attacks on the Fortress of Agents.  I also decided to try out new and innovative things and submitted the entire MS to Macmillan, which has a New Writers program.  It is not the best deal in the world, since they do not pay advances, but it is a straight business deal and I’ll earn one pound thirty (it’s a UK company) on each copy sold.  They guarantee that an editor will read the entire MS and they will respond in 12 weeks.   If they decide to pass, I hear nothing; if they like it, I will hear by November 21, the day before Thanksgiving.  I’ll be sure to keep you posted.  If they publish, I am requiring every reader of this blog to buy a copy so I can get my $2.62 (wow, the dollar really sucks, doesn’t it?) for each copy.  Based on my blog stats, that should yield about enough to buy a new tire for my bike.

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End of Season

The Tuesday Night World Championships, 2007 edition, are over–we had the last race of the season tonight.  After feeling that my legs were dead for a couple of weeks, I have started to feel that I was getting my late season form back.  Sunday’s races worked well for me and my team (we placed at least one person in the top ten in four different races), and I am finally starting to race consistently and intelligently.

The final race was short–only 20 laps.  For some reason, there were a lot of first-time racers participating, and Vs. (the TV channel) had a group of racers sporting black and red Vs. jerseys and a camera taping some of the action.  The promoter asked everyone in the top 20 to start at the back of the pack and stay there for the first three laps so the newbies could get some racing in without the insane pace set by the hammerheads. It was actually fun to start from the back, partly because that meant I was one of the hammerheads, and partly because it meant a mellower intro to the race.

Once the three laps were over, the attacks started and never stopped.  I did some work at the front when it looked like one of the dangerous guys might get away.  The rest of the time I sat in the pack, plotting.  At about three laps to go, I started to get bossy with my teammates, since I was the team points leader and designated sprinter.  I directed them and shouted encouragement while keeping a sharp eye on Lee from Pawling and Mark from Cycle Center, the two powerhouses in the race.  In the final lap, my leadout guy performed brilliantly, flawlessly.  When the powerhouses came flying past, he immediately jumped on their wheels, sprinting to hang on at 38 mph (no joke–we were flying!), and I stayed glued to his wheel.  When Pawling tried to sweep (a technique where one of the team placed about fourth or fifth in the line slows down so that sprinters from another team can’t stay on his sprinter’s wheel), Steve did not hesitate to roar around him.  He kept the pace high until the bottom of the hill, where I swing around and gave everything I had.  I managed to take second in the sprint, with one of my teammates right behind me in third.  We both let out a roar of triumph as we crossed the line.  It was a very satisfying way to end to season.

There are a couple of other races later in the fall, and I may even do one or two of them, but my season is effectively over.  I learned a lot about racing this year, and I can go into next season a much smarter racer.

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“Dear Author…”

My first rejection letter came in the mail today.  Actually, it is a card that begins “Dear Author.”  It was not my first choice of agencies, and I have braced myself for many letters like this, but it still is a little disappointing to get a rejection.  Dorothy said that this makes me a real author, and she’s right–collecting rejection slips is a rite of passage for any author.  When my MS finds the right agent and the right publisher, the rejections will not mean anything.

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We got the official word back from the laboratory on Muttboy’s tumor.  It is benign, so we don’t have to worry about metastasis, chemotherapy, or anything else along those lines.


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Cynical Thrillers

First, another riff on the optimist/pessimist analogy:  When John Le Carre looks at a glass, he wonders what powerful entity, government or corporate, controls the glass.  He wonders if taking a drink will kill him.  He wonders if the glass has been placed there as a provocation or a warning.

The Constant Gardener, published in 2001, is set in Kenya, and revolves around the British Foreign Office, Big Pharma, and various aid agencies.  As the action commences, Justin Quayle, a mild-mannered chap in the FO, learns that his young, beautiful, and passionate wife, Tessa has been brutally murdered.  Questions soon arise.  What was she doing in the dangerous wilds?  What was she doing with that handsome African doctor?  Was her killing simply random violence, a jealous attack, or politically motivated?

Le Carre tells the story slowly, building the evidence in a quiet, almost offhand manner.  He moves smoothly from one character’s point of view to another’s.  We see Sandy Woodrow was wildly infatuated with Tessa, and had sent her a letter offering to run away with her.  Woodrow is also wildly ambitious, longing to take the place of the kindly but ineffectual High Commissioner, one more step on his way to a knighthood.  Do his ambitions mask some of his baser motives?

Soon a couple of gigantic corporations loom into view: a company known as the Three Bees, and a pharmaceutical company with the Soviet-sounding initials KVH.  As he researches his wife’s death, Justin learns that these companies were essentially using Africa as a test laboratory for a TB drug known as Dypraxa.  Among the side effects are such minor concerns as blindness and death–that is, they are minor because they are happening to poor Africans and not rich westerners.  Tessa and her African doctor friend (who, it turns out, was a homosexual and thus not her lover, though the rumors persist and grow) were on a campaign on behalf of African aid agencies to make the companies accountable for their misdeeds.

The action in the novel moves slowly and methodically.  As Justin accumulates evidence, we learn more and more about the almost mad characters behind the scenes at the Big Pharma corporations, where megalomania and a thirst for absolute power seem to be the norm.  One medical researcher found her career destroyed for daring to question the Pharma protocols.  She got off easy.  Justin begins to realize that there is no way he can fight these companies–they have immense wealth and power, and their corporate interests are made to coincide with British diplomatic and economic interests.  Thus, the Foreign Office has no desire to investigate, and Scotland Yard fires the only two officers wh seem to be at all interested in learning the truth.

Le Carre’s novels often display the hopelessness of individuals trying to work within or without a system that cares little for the individual.  The huge, powerful concerns, governments or corporations, have been warped by their size and power to the point that size and power are no longer adjuncts to their being but are the only reason for being.  In The Looking Glass War, the games played by intelligence services became more important than the value or meaning of the intelligence.  In The Constant Gardener, the human characters either sell their souls to play nicely with their overlords, or they perish in their resistance.

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Double Pain, Double Fun

Our local race venue hosted another criterium today.  The race was originally scheduled for June, but some permit problems forced a delay.  As a result of this delay, and because people are getting tired at the end of the season, the race didn’t have as many participants as races around here usually attract.  Still, many of the top, really fit racers showed up.   I decided to race two races for the first time.  I did my usual Cat 4 race, and then two hours later I entered my first masters (over 40) race.  I was worried about the latter, since the old guys around here are terribly strong and fast, and their races are typically much faster than the Cat 4 races.

Race #1 went well.  I rode a tactically smart race, staying near the front, but never attacking hard.  There were a few attacks, but the race was strangely slow–at times we were rolling along at 20mph on the flat stretches.  Everyone was keenly watching the competition, waiting for someone else to make a move.  As a result, it ended up with a field sprint.  Right before the bell lap, my leadout guy told me when he would start his push, and where he would pull over to let me start my sprint.  One lap later, approaching the end, I waited patiently for my leadout, but he had found himself stuck behind the pack and had to sprint his way up to me.  Because of this, the leadout was a little slower than optimum, but it was still better teamwork than we usually show.  I managed to take 9th.

Between races, I rode home (one of the benefits of living less than 2 miles from the course!), put on a fresh, dry uniform, ate a couple of energy bars, and then rode back to the course.  The masters team captain, BW, came up to us before the race started and told us what to do.  “Kaiser,” he said to me, “race smart.  Stay in the pack.”  This race was not a lot faster than the Cat 4 race (24 vs 23 mph average), but it did seem to be somewhat smoother, with all of the racers knowing what they were supposed to do, and with almost none of the dangerous riding that marks Cat 4 races.  There were several attacks, and the pack managed to bring most of them back.  About halfway through, a large group got a good sized gap, and, since we had two teammates up ahead, the rest of us started blocking.  One guy on our team asked if we should try to bring the break back, since the teammates we had in the break were not our strongest.  “No,” said BW, “we don’t attack.”  I thought that was a nice gesture, even though both of our guys ended up getting spit off the back of the break and ended up finishing deep in the main pack.

At five laps to go, there were only four guys left in the breakaway, so we started to chase them down.  We didn’t have quite enough time left to take back all of the time they had gained on us, but we did a good job nevertheless.  At two laps to go, I helped BW chase, putting him in a good position to work for the main pack sprint.  He managed to take first in the pack sprint, good for fifth overall, and I took fifth, good for ninth overall despite cramping quads in the sprint.  I actually felt better during this race than in the earlier one.  I was also quite pleased to perform so well with the fast guys, especially since many of the masters are Cat 3 or above.  Two top ten finishes in one day!

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Our local library staged its summer book sale today. Dorothy volunteered to help out while I helped by buying a box full of books. At first, as I wandered the haphazardly arranged books, I kept thinking there was nothing I wanted. Then, I thought fifty cents was a small price for a paperback, so I might as well. That’s how it starts, you know. One fifty cent paperback, and then you’re mainlining the three dollar hardcovers and pouncing on complete sets. Here’s what I bought:

  • The Writing of Bret Harte. This is a four-volume set put out by Riverside Press in 1896. A little foxing, scuffed bindings, some loose pages, but in good condition. I have never really delved into Harte’s works as deeply as I would like, so this is my chance.
  • Stories for Men. The title of this one cracked me up, but the real clincher was the brief intro note: “The only claim we make for this book is that it doesn’t pretend to offer the best , or the finest, or the world’s foremost short-stories by contemporary masters. Simply, it is just a bundle of yarns by present day American writers, each dealing with a different phase of the actions and activities of men, designed for good reading.” Published in 1938, it contains Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Faulkner, and others. The social forces that informed the marketing of this book will be fascinating to think about.
  • The Confessions of Nat Turner, by William Styron. This is a 1967 book club edition in very good shape with a dust jacket. I know Styron’s star has dimmed since his height of critical and popular acclaim, but this looks like an interesting book.
  • Our Game, by John Le Carre. I’m reading The Constant Gardener now, and I am really beginning to like Le Carre’s somewhat understated style. He writes very quiet thrillers that are more political novels than spy novels.
  • The Trap, by Tabitha King. I have always intended to check out Stephen King’s wife. Wait, that came out wrong. I have always thought of reading King’s wife, and this hardcover was only a buck.
  • London, by Edward Rutherford. This is a big, fat historical novel, which looks like it will be perfect for when I’m in the mood for a big, fat historical novel. This one was the most expensive at $3. I think they were pricing the hardcovers based on thickness.
  • The Reef, by Edith Wharton. This edition might be a first; I’ll have to do some research. It’s a 1912 edition in good to very good condition, and only 50 cents. I am not familiar with this Wharton novel, but it looks intriguing.
  • Mildred Pierce, by James M. Cain. The master of noir. A Vintage Crime paperback that was abused.
  • Wildlife, by Richard Ford. Apparently previously owned by someone who is insane. The previous reader underlined words in what looks like a random pattern. Fortunately, this person seems to have quit reading after nine pages.
  • Mysterious Island, by Jules Verne. This looks interesting, since it has all of my favorite things: it’s historical, it’s about a place away from civilization, and it’s about some “supernatural force.”
  • The Fatal Skin, by Honore de Balzac. I haven’t read much Balzac, but this looks intriguing.
  • The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame. I read this about 32 years ago and loved it. Now I get the chance to revisit it.
  • Three Ellis Peters Brother Cadfael mysteries. Literary snack food. I can usually knock one of these off in an afternoon, and they are good fun.

Not a bad haul, but I’m running out of shelf space.

UPDATE:  I just did a search for The Reef and discovered that my 50 cent copy is actually worth $60.  Too cool.

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The Impatient Patient

Thank you to everyone who left comments wishing Muttboy well.  Pets (not just dogs, as I neglected to mention!) really are an important part of the family.  If you’re interested in reading someone who writes about dogs much better than I can, skip on over here.  And, if you’re in a charitable mood, or if you need emotional support because your best buddy is sick, hop over to the Canine Cancer Campaign.

Muttboy is turning into a rather impatient patient.  He has a four inch incision on his chest, and a bandage around his left hind foot (we had a dewclaw removed as well), but he is not all that interested in playing the invalid.  He usually gets a four or five mile walk every day, but since his operation, he has had to content himself with a quick half hour to the park around the corner.  As a result, he is full of energy, and wants to play wrestling games involving me, one of his squeaky toys, and lots of growling.

If you ever have a dog that has to take pills, I have a tip for you:  Cheese.  Muttboy has to take a huge amoxicillin pill twice a day, so I mush a glob of cheese around it before giving it to him.  It’s down in one gulp. The vet sells packages of mushy dog cookies called “Pill Pockets,” but the cheese technique is much cheaper and works on the same principle.

Now, at the risk of boring everyone to tears with yet another photo (but, hey, it’s my blog, and I’ll post photos if I want), here is one of me and Muttboy the day before his operation.


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