Sunday, July 25, 2010

Midsummer Report Card

Summer is my least favorite season. It's hot. It's humid. It sucks energy and creativity right out of me. The myth of long, glorious carefree days spent in chlorine or sand died out about the time I had to take on summer work during college. Still, there have been a few bright spots. Let's rate the summer so far, shall we?

Thumbs Up:
  • Our Atlanta Braves. Outstanding season, fellers! Whatever happens here on out, you've been a joy to root for this summer.
  • Family time in Connecticut and New York City. The Brennan Clan is always fun to hang out with. Anticipating memory-making Bully Bartows family fun in August, with more wedding hubbub.
  • Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese. Best read of the summer. I highly recommend it.
  • 1970's British TV Drama Fest. Duchess of Duke Street, Danger UXB, and Upstairs, Downstairs have kept me cool so far this miserable summer. (Thanks, Netflix!)
  • Piragua cart at 116th and Lexington Avenue. Coming out of the steamy subway station into the oppressive air in Spanish Harlem, I dig for $1 and gladly pay it to the cart-guy for a coconut or mango icy treat. Yum!
  • "Play Me, I'm Yours" piano art installation in New York City. Fabulous! Fun! Let's do it again!
  • Garnier Fructis Full Control Anti-Humidity Hairspray. 'Nuff said.
Thumbs Down:
  • Humidity. Humidity. Heat. Humidity. I don't too well in either weather condition, and combined? Well, they just put me in a vortex of surly laziness. Ugh. (And this one "Thumbs Down" trumps all the "Thumbs Ups" combined.)
  • New York Public Library's dearth of class Southern literature available via audiobooks. No Flannery O'Connor or Carson McCullers. No Walker Percy. And the list goes on. Really? All sorts of light-weight bodice rippers and ranting conservative TV hosts' novelettes are ripe for download, but no classic lit from a mega-storytelling region of the world? Really?! This certainly shot to hell my goal of only listening to Southern classics on my iPod, I tell ya'. Bah!
  • Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. This won the Man Booker Prize? Yikes! Slogged through almost 200 pages before deciding that, yes, life was too short to waste any more time on this historical novel. Usually love a good historical novel, but she never pulled me in. One reviewer called it "spellbinding." Well, yes, if by spellbinding you mean eyes rolling back in head and nodding off every third sentence. Skip this, and reach for Cutting for Stone. Ignore the reviewers.
  • "Play Me, I'm Yours" piano art installation was gone too soon. Should've lasted all summer.
Well, fortunately, the whole dreary season should be over in a couple of months. Until then, I'll continue finding tiny bits of energy in a cold beverage, a dish of ice cream, or in my favorite chair letting the air conditioning work its magic.

Pass the cold cider and deodorant, please.

Free Belly Laughs

I usually reserve posts about my GrandBoy for my GrandMary blog but can't resist spreading the joy to my Shorty readers, as well. This little video is good for what ails ya', especially if you're down in the dumps. Even baby-resistant folks have a hard time not laughing along with Liam, Kate, and her friend Allison. I'm just passing along the belly laughs, free of charge!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Writing in the Spirit and the Style

Fancy your business letters smack of Hemingway? Your blogs have an air of Margaret Mitchell? The short story you wrote in high school sound a bit like a Stephen King tale? Well, now you have a way to find out at "I Write Like," a website that lets you paste in a few paragraphs of writing and have it analyzed and compared to 50 famous authors.

According to the Associated Press, this fun little website isn't the brainchild of some English professor from Kenyon or Swathmore. Nope. The creator of "I Write Like" is a 27-year-old Russian (yeah, Russian) software programmer living in Montenegro (Montenegro? Really?). Oh, and English is his second language.

He modeled the whole thing on software for email spam filters, so the analysis is keyword based. Though some elements of style are considered, your word choices determine the results of your analysis more than sentence structure with this program. And so far, only fifty authors are a part of the analysis, but the young programmer promises to add more.

For example, there's no Herman Melville at present, but when a passage from Moby Dick is analyzed, it comes out as written by Stephen King. Go figure. Author Margaret Atwood, who is among the fifty authors, seems to be Stephen King, as well (she ran her own experiment).

I ran a couple of blog entries, several short stories, notes taken from a meeting at work, and ad copy, just to see what came out. Results? One James Fenimore Cooper, one H.P. Lovecraft, and four David Foster Wallaces. Hm.  Oh, and I ran this blog post through the analyzer. Another David Foster Wallace.

Go on. Give it a try and see what you come up with. I'm going to keep trying until I get Eudora Welty or Dr. Seuss.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Good Scout

Of all the famous literary characters floating around out there, I've always most identified with Jean Louise "Scout" Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird. Tomboy. Check. Great daddy. Check. Tendancy to go anywhere posted as "off limits." Check. Dressing as a ham for Halloween. Well, no, but I would've if I'd've thought of it. (Darn!)

Today is the 50th anniversary of the book's publication, so it's been in the news a lot lately. I love the book, and I love the film. Alas, since TKAM is required reading in a lot of schools, I suspect many students hate it just because it's forced on them. Hope not. (A Tale of Two Cities and Silas Marner were required reading for me, and I ended up liking both.) I hope readers - students or otherwise - give Scout and Atticus, Jem and Calpurnia, Tom Robinson and Boo Radley a chance to work themselves into their lives.

Yes, it's a book full of great characters. Still, the story's narrator hooked me like no other. Scout is honest, petulant, inquisitive, and plain-speaking. She tells it like it is and doesn't understand why the crazy adults are so off-balance. Scout is who I hope I am inside.

With all the anniversary hoopla come the haters. That's fine. If you don't like the book, you don't like the book. If you think it's simplistic or stereotypical or too Southern gothic, fine. But I happen to love it. And I do love the little tomboy Scout, who sees things in a way that only a kid can see. "Hey, Boo."

I haven't read To Kill a Mockingbird in a long time. A fine way to celebrate its Golden Anniversary is to pull it down and spend a little time with Scout.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Little Ones, Lobster Rolls, and Long Island Sound

A pretty great way to spend a 4th of July weekend, actually.

The Brennan Clan gathered in Guilford/Madison, Connecticut, for nephew/cousin David's wedding and managed to make a rather fabulous time of it. Though now only a tangential member of the clan, I still show up for things and the family appears not to notice that my official Brennan Clan card expired in 1987. Plus, they continue to feed me, so what do they expect? Anyway, I was really brought along to take care of the two newest clan members, GrandBoy Liam and stepGrandBoy Aidan, during the wedding. Not a bad gig.

My immediate Brennan crew had never spent any (or much) time in Connecticut, so we took advantage of everything we could afford time- and cash-wise in this lovely coastal area. Cuteness at every turn - town squares, window boxes and hanging baskets of colorful flowers, white-washed clapboard two-story homes, docks and marshes and sailboats and casual seafood joints galore. Well, you expected Angela Lansbury as Jessica Fletcher to come cycling around the corner at any minute. Or maybe a Stepford Wife.

But if you're ever up that way, I have a couple of tips.

First: you must - must - pick up a case of brewskies, stuff some cash in your pockets, and head for Guilford Lobster Pound. Lobster rolls and clam chowder to die for. Really. Huge chunks of fresh, buttery lobster (whole claws!) piled onto toasty buns - my mouth is watering as I type. It's a family-owned establishment, and lovely Janice was a fabulous hostess, even bringing us a bucket of ice for our Coronas and Magners. (See how happy son-in-law looks with his fine food?)

Second: check out Hammonassett Beach State Park on Long Island Sound. We managed to stuff ourselves into a couple of vans/SUVs, found a great spot on the beach, and spent a relaxing - well, as relaxing as you can be with two babes under 9 months old - day sunning ourselves and people-watching. A cooler full of goodies added to the summer festivities. Both babies got their first experience with sand and salt water. The rest of us got the chance to stick our feet in Long Island Sound. And a good time was had by all.

The wedding at the yacht club was lovely from the pictures I've seen. Remember, while the non-tangential members of the clan were eating sea bass and toasting with champagne, I was keeping watch over two precious members too young to par-tay with the more sophisticated guests. (Both boys were asleep by 7:15. Whew.) I did get to partake in the morning-after brunch, which was yummy. And it's always such fun to spend a little time with the Brennan mob (and I mean "mob" in a good way.)

Regrets? Yes, one. That I don't have one of those Guilford Lobster Pound lobster rolls in front of me right now. Sigh.