Friday, September 24, 2010


The moment I read the first NY Times review of the new novel Room by Emma Donaghue, I hopped on my bike and rode off to the library. It was so new it wasn't even there yet but two days later I had it in hand. I'm not usually much of a new book reader, but this one sounded...different.

And it was. It is narrated entirely through the POV of a five-year-old boy, in first person present tense. I felt I thoroughly knew this boy, and I vividly understood his mother and his environment through him.It was quite amazing and had the mark of a truly fine book -- I've been thinking about it ever since. The characters and places have stayed with me. So many books and movies disappoint in this -- they might be great as page-turners or exciting in their use of cliff-hangers and drama -- and don't get me wrong, I admire and envy them for that--but they're gone the moment you close the book or leave the theater or turn off the TV.

Here's what was most compelling about Room's story for me: in spite of being told by a small child, it was never once darling or precious in its telling. It would have been so easy to go there. And believe me, my radar was up. I keep looking back at it (even though I should really get it back to the library asap for the next person) to try to figure out how this was accomplished. The boy's speech patterns are childlike, and he is darling, but that's besides the point. He is doing his best to interpret his world. We see him turn five and start to ask questions. He is held captive with his mother in an 11x11 room with no way out, and not even a window. He has never been outside or seen another person. From his perspective this isn't a problem--it's all he knows--but he has new questions about things now. Questions that lead his mother to start planning a "Great  Escape." There's a lot of dialogue, and thoughts morphing into dialogue, and Donaghue never loses that train of thought. It is completely logical given the context.

There are some beautiful moments:

When they finally get "Outside," and the doctors are evaluating all the interventions and therapies this bright, precocious but sheltered (in the strangest sense of the word) boy will need, his mother says, "I thought he was okay...."

When the mother finally consents to an TV interview, and the interviewer callously asks her one sensational question after another (including asking if she sometimes misses the simplicity of her old life being locked in a shed), she turns to her lawyer and says, "Is she allowed to ask me such stupid questions?"

It's amazing how the world they escape to is so flawed. It's a world we recognize. Everyone's there, but distracted by their own lives. Sure, they are happy to see Ma and Jack, but they still have to stop at the mall for party gifts, book club members still show up at the door, parents still have their own biases and there are a lot of stupid assumptions. There's also a lot of effort and love. It's a familiar place to us -- full of imperfect beauty, good intentions and best efforts, all kinds of people, cracks, flaws and hope. Jack notes there are a lot of amazing things in the world, but coming from a tiny world where there is only one of every necessity, there's also a lot of "repeats." He forgets that if something is in a new place it won't be in the old place anymore. He doesn't understand how a book he had back in Room could have gotten somewhere into a store and assumes it is his. There's a lot to get used to. There's a lot for us to recognize -- of how much we have, how much we take for granted, how much we don't see or recognize.

Anyway, enough spoilers.

Many books when you get toward the end, you can feel yourself being eased out of the story -- airlifted, or pushed toward the door, or a tiny voice saying, okay now we're going to tie things up! Sometimes endings are abrupt and unsatisfying. Sometimes they are beautiful but not fully earned. Sometimes you realize the author has nothing important to say at the end but has to stumble towards one anyway. Room ends in the most perfect, fully earned, and resonant way.  A way that balances the arc of the book, is utterly faithful to its characters, and best of all, exhibits their growth right up to the very last moment. This is a complete rarity and wonderful gift.

Well done, Emma Donaghue. My sincerest thanks and appreciation. Everyone else, read this book!

Thursday, July 1, 2010


I've always held a fascination for molting. Squirming out of your skin and leaving it behind. Maybe because I've had psoriasis since I was 18 this seemed very appealing if I could figure out how to do it. This week one of our hermit crabs molted, leaving behind its entire skin intact. It looked exactly like a crab and barely weighed less. I couldn't figure out how another crab got in the tank! But then Aaron figured it out.

The same week, after doing my proper bending and glide-walking and building up my gluts in the Esther Gokhale 8 Steps to a Pain Free Back process (which, let me tell you, is worth the whole thing even without the posture and other health benefits - you get a great butt!), I actually split my pants.

Okay, stop laughing. It might have had just the tiniest, tiniest bit to do with gaining a few extra pounds over the winter or the jeans getting worn and old, but for me, I prefer the molting scenario. There was not, alas, a new pair of jeans underneath, or even a new skin, just shell-colored underwear. And my husband and kids each took turns poking me through the hole in my pants on the way out of the Chinese restaurant.

But still, I was pleased in an odd way. And I fared better than Spikey the hermit crab, who sadly didn't survive long after molting. (R.I.P. Spikes). Except now I have to go shopping.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

In memorium of Effie Lee Morris

In honor of my old friend Effie Lee Morris, children's librarian and tireless advocate for children and literature who died this winter and whose memorial service is being held Monday at the San Francisco Main Library, I am re-posting my June 9, 2008 blog post:

Two Old Ladies

More stuff has been crammed into the past week than I can believe. End-of-year parties, Sophie's 8th birthday, Aaron's preschool graduation, a full weekend workshop for me, and grabbing hold of its foothold tenaciously, the San Francisco Chapter of the Women's National Book Association's 40th birthday party, which I almost couldn't squeeze in. But heck, it was on the calendar for longer than some of the rest!

I was exhausted--Jon had been traveling and I'd been single-parenting all week-- but Saturday night found me at the historic Sir Francis Drake Hotel in San Francisco sitting around a table with women from all over the country. We were moms, grandmas, writers, agents, publishers, book lovers, and chapter presidents. With, of course, lots of combinations of the above.

This was an historic event. I don't know what it is about 40th's. They somehow seem like a bigger deal than 50th's, more of a magical number. Like 40 years wandering in the desert.

Anyway, we hard a great speaker -- humor writer Beth Lisick. She was very funny and genuine and started off with, "I feel like I'm with my people." There were speeches, food, books. At the end, almost delerious to get to my car and get home and fall into my bed, I got on my jacket to walk the couple of blocks to the parking garage. Effie Lee Morris, our founding member and president of 40 years ago, and Adele Horwitz, a member and former president for about as long, were heading to the garage, too, so we walked together.

Adele walks with a cane now, and both of them are slower than they used to be. I thought of myself as their escort, but they didn't need me, not even to lean on an arm. I refrained from offering my arm, even though I felt like I should. After all, they were old ladies. But some old ladies! Effie Lee still serves on several boards, has a special collection named for her in the San Francisco Public Library as well as an annual children's book lecture there. She held forth on the podium that night on the history of the WNBA SF chapter and its many members and glories. She would have talked all night if we'd asked. Adele was driving an hour home and does it all the time. She has raised her children, her grandchildren, and now in her retirement, her great-grandchildren as well.

These two old ladies ARE supports in their homes and communities, with experience far beyond mine, and I knew I could lean on them if needed and they wouldn't bat an eye.

Monday, March 1, 2010


Of the 3,000 blog topics that are swirling around in my brain...I will select: Fire.

Specifically, toaster oven fires, of which I now have direct experience. Friday I had a school Read-A-Thon meeting scheduled at my house right after the kids left for school. For breakfast, I popped some Trader Joe's mini morning buns into the toaster oven and went to get dressed while they baked and the kids got ready. Less than 10 minutes later (the buns were scheduled for a 15-20 minute snooze in the toaster oven), smoke was pouring out and flames leaping up inside as the black plastic tray designed to go into the oven melted to pieces. Then those pieces flew all over the kitchen, settling everywhere.

The funny thing was (the only funny thing) the theme of this year's Read-A-Thon is "Fire Up With Reading." I really didn't mean to take it so literally.

The best part: some really nice firefighters came by a little later to make sure the kitchen wasn't toxic. By then, three other women were here for our meeting. I wondered later if the firemen thought I had called all my friends from the neighborhood for their visit.

The worst part: the fire made a big mess, but did not ruin our kitchen cabinets which need replacing anyway.

The really best part: no one was injured and our house didn't burn down.

The disturbing part: smoke alarms didn't go off and my 7-year old was so intent on studying the boxes of cereal in the cabinet across the room that he never noticed the smoke and flames.

The second best part: a professional cleaning crew has been cleaning up the last 3 days.

The second worst part: it comes out of our insurance deductible.

It's a little scary to think about. Fire, I mean. How fast things can happen and go wrong. I always think of it as such an unlikely thing, but it turns out it isn't.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Happy New Decade

Happy New Year to everybody - slightly belated. My computer is not going to make it very far in this decade, I'm afraid. But I'm on-line for now.

Stay tuned for:
My Most Romantic Moment of the Year so far...
Updates on Lisa's Bookstack (lots of YA and more evolution!)
Thoughts on the Blackberry and other screens
Embarrassing truths revealed...
And More, coming your way soon!

What was the first thing YOU did in the new year/decade? I always think of the story of the baker who was all out of flour, sugar and all his other ingredients. He shared his dinner with a weary traveler, and the traveler told him whatever he did first the next morning he would do all day long. Well, the first thing he did was open his flour and sugar and ingredient bins to see what he could scrape together, and they magically refilled themselves and he baked all day and sold everything and bought more ingredients and had a fine year!

My first action? I'd forgotten to turn off the heat before going to bed. Our furnace is in a hall closet and is old and loud. Think vacuum cleaner noise rushing through the house. It came on at 6:45, which is fine during a week when we have to get up at that time. But of course, New Year's Day we didn't. So my first moment of the year was waking with a start and shouting, "I hate the heat!"

A couple of hours later, I tried to counteract that "false start" by going for a nice walk in the new day, the new year, the new decade, the neighborhood. It was quiet. The air was fresh and a little misty. Only a few others were out, on bikes, walking dogs. We greeted each other peacefully. I walked over hill and dale, and back through the shopping center to pick up eggs and a Starbucks nonfat double capp for Jon on my way home again.