Always use new underwear to wipe your car

Why is it illegal to carry a goldfish on a city bus in Seattle unless it remains still? Apparently, if your fish is sloshing around, it disturbs the other passengers. You also are not allowed to set fire to other people’s property without their permission, which makes arson legal under the right circumstances. I suppose the people most disturbed by the sound of sloshing water are the same ones who are setting fire to the backseat of city busses. Continue reading

Back in my day

Go to any restaurant gift shop and you can find pamphlets that give you the trends, favorite songs and average price for a house in the year you were born. This has the unfortunate affect of making you think back to all the changes since you were a kid and realize that your lifetime has become “history.” It also makes you wonder why a restaurant needs a gift shop.

Highlights of the new old farts (some lying is involved):

1946        The Baby Boomer Generation begins, and the first bikinis go on sale in Paris. Cottage cheese thighs come out of the closet.

1947        UFO allegedly found in Roswell, NM. U.S. begins mass production of weather balloons.

1948        First NASCAR race for modified stock cars is held at Daytona Beach. The term “redneck” is first coined by Jeff Foxworthy, Sr.

1949        First Polaroid land camera sold. Photographer complained, “You blinked” 60 seconds later.

1950        First television remote control is marketed. Joey Roenscheck becomes the first U.S. couch potato.

1951        First oral contraceptive (The Pill) is invented. The Pope pretends not to notice.

1952        Elizabeth, II becomes Queen of England after the death of her father, George VI. Welsh Corgis invade Buckingham Palace.

1953        Playboy Magazine’s first issue featured Marilyn Monroe. Magazines sold out in 32 minutes.

1954        President Dwight D. Eisenhower signs social security bill into law. Social Security system faces 1.2 million dollar deficit for the first time.

1955        Disneyland opens in California. The Magic Kingdom is rocked by scandal as Donald Duck is caught in public without pants.

1956        Elvis Presley releases his first hit: Heartbreak Hotel. First Elvis Presley impersonator hits Vegas strip.

1957        Peak of the Baby Boomer years, and foot and mouth disease reaches epic proportions in England. George Walker Bush was not to blame.

The eyes have it

Take fur Advil at the fist fight of a haddock, and on ever birthday theater? If I didn’t have a headache before going into the pharmacy, I did by the time I left. That tiny bottle had a fold out instruction sheet – an analgesic centerfold! I dashed for the magnifying glasses aisle, only to be able to make out that there was indeed actual printing on the label. Little did I know that a vision test was required for over the counter pain relief. Continue reading

The not-so-secret life of a Book Reviewer

An interview with Barbara Lloyd McMichael

When I was in my twenties, I lived in the Boston area for a while, and being a big Louisa May Alcott fan, I took the train up to Concord to visit her historic home, which was open for tours.  I’d never completely understood how interconnected the writers of Concord were — that Nathaniel Hawthorne lived in the house next door for a time; that Louisa’s father, Bronson, was a close friend of Ralph Waldo Emerson, who lived just down the road; that when another local, Henry David Thoreau, tried his experiment living as a “hermit” on Walden Pond, he actually built his hut on Emerson’s woodlot–it was just a short tramp down the road (or through the woods, as Thoreau probably preferred).  So there I was that bright autumn afternoon, scuffing through the leaves and marveling that all of these places were within walking distance of one another.  The Boston/Cambridge area of the 1800s was a great example, too, of writers supporting and inspiring and provoking one another.  Out of all that ferment came a very distinctive and robust school of writers.

Anyway, I wondered if that translated into the present day.  I’d recently earned my Master’s degree in literature and when I returned to my hometown, Seattle, I cooked up this idea that maybe I could keep myself in books, and educate myself more about the Northwest literary scene, and earn a little bit of money too (very little, as it turns out), if I could write a book review column that focused on Northwest books and authors.  I was already doing freelance reviews for The Seattle Times and some other West Coast periodicals, so I had a bit of a track record I could wave around.  My column, The Bookmonger, got picked up first by one paper and then by others. Currently I have a weekly circulation of over 236,000.

My governing criterion is that Northwest element — but I’ve hit almost every genre at one time or another.  In the last month I’ve covered literary fiction, zombie fiction, two nonfiction books on art of the American West, and a young adult mystery.  I’m always hearing from somebody or other that I don’t cover enough… fill in the blank: science fiction, poetry, you name it.  Last week I was chided for not covering steampunk.  I have a bookshelf groaning with books sent in my publishers, authors, and publicists, but with a weekly column, I only have 52 chances a year.  I definitely take a look at all the books I receive, but I can’t cover them all, and I end up passing over some good ones because I want to make sure I cover a variety of genres. Sometimes in one review I’ll pair books if they have similar themes.  I’m always glad to slip in a few extra books that way, but of course it means I don’t give those books the space they probably deserve.

As for identifying a distinctive Northwest “school”? — No, I haven’t found that, really.  Writers today are so connected with the entire world via electronic communication devices that they can pretty much write about whatever they please from wherever they are.  There is one really tight-knit group of women’s fiction writers just outside of Seattle… all of whom are achieving a significant level of success — although some are doing it more quickly than others.  I adore those ladies for their support of one another, even though I don’t much care for the genre most of them are working in (–contemporary romance, if you must know, which whenever I read it always seems to leave me feeling cranky with my poor, unsuspecting husband!)

Sometimes when people learn I’m a book reviewer, they’ll start asking me what I thought of this book or that book.  They’re generally reeling off names that are on the New York Times bestseller list, and while I might get to a few of those, that certainly isn’t my focus.  I really like to mix in coverage of small, local presses and newer authors — it’s gratifying to shine the spotlight on such efforts.  Anyway, after getting interrogated by some of those types who pride themselves on keeping up to date with the bestsellers, I’ll feel guilty and insufficient and go order up a bunch of those titles from my local library.  I confess I’m not the most up-to-the-minute reader, though.

I’m pleased to see that new avenues are opening up for authors along the lines of Kindle, etc., but I myself am not a reader of electronic books.  I spend too much time in front of a computer screen as it is.  I am so happy to hunker down in a chair somewhere and leaf through a good old-fashioned book with real pages.  I am one of those readers, by the way, who thinks it is perfectly OK to read the end first — I do that habitually — and I also do a lot of flipping back and forth as I read.

I read a couple hundred books a year — some for work, and some for pleasure.  It’s always nice when it turns out that I love the book I’m reviewing — and that happens with some frequency.