Saturday, April 30, 2005

“You may have noticed that I'm not all there myself.”

The Movie: Alice in Wonderland, 1951 (13 screenwriters, from the novel by Lewis Carroll; Clyde Geronomi, Wilfred Jackson, and Hamilton Luske, dirs.)
Who says it: Sterling Holloway as the voice of the Cheshire Cat
The context: The Cheshire Cat disappears, grin last, as he talks to Alice.
How to use it: When detaching yourself from a situation, or to acknowledge your virtual absence.

Baron Wormser, Maine's Poet Laureate, read his new collection of poems last night at the A1-to-Go. It might seem a little silly to you that Maine has a Poet Laureate; it seems a little silly to me, and I live here. But willingness to be perceived as silly -- hell, willingness to be silly -- is a job requirement for any modern American poet.

Baron Wormser is the real deal. His new collection, Carthage, is a slim volume of 14 poems told from the point of view of a fictional U.S. President who bears a strong resemblance to the man now in office. Wormser's personal politics don't have much in common with Carthage's, but the poems take no cheap shots. They are sometimes funny, sometimes tragic, always compassionate.

The book's heart is "Carthage among School Children," whose title honors Yeats and whose subject matter reminds us of September 11. These verses, read aloud, almost made me cry:

Now, Carthage reads a book to a classroom of children
About a mole and a rabbit.
They are friends despite their different personalities--
Mole is plodding and secretive,
Rabbit is always blurting out his feelings.

Carthage wonders whether he is the mole or the rabbit.
Maybe he's both.
He looks from the book to the children.
Like saints in frescoes, calm light glows in
Their rapt faces.

Perhaps he should keep a couple of children
Around his office.
"Here," he would say to other leaders,
"Are some of my friends.
"We all like the book about the mole and the rabbit."

Carthage (ISBN 0-971311-1-0) is published by The Illuminated Sea Press, and is available directly from the author; e-mail me if you want his contact information.

Friday, April 29, 2005

“I am Godzilla – you are Japan!”

The Movie: Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead, 1995 (Scott Rosenberg, screenwriter; Gary Fleder, dir.)
Who says it: Treat Williams as Critical Bill, a psychopathic criminal
The context: Critical Bill confronts Mr. Shh (Steve Buscemi), the assassin sent to kill him.
How to use it: To announce your plans to wreak devastation.

The Kennebec crested again this morning around 8:00 a.m.; you can see a current photo on the USGS website. Flood warnings continue until Monday, because we're supposed to get more rain tomorrow and Sunday.

Dizzy and I walked downtown to see it. I bought a cup of coffee and a croissant at A-1 to Go; we sat in McKay Park, which was half underwater, and watched cormorants diving for alewives. The Cobbosseecontee was high, but the current didn't seem as fast as it was during the last flood. Dizzy insisted on putting his paws in the water, which must have been freezing.

The Mystery Writers of America gave out their Edgar Awards last night, and T. Jefferson Parker's California Girl won Best Novel. This might be the first year I had actually read all the Best Novel nominees before the awards ceremony; I didn't set out to do that, it just worked out that way.

I liked all of this year's nominees, but the book I'd have voted for leads off this week's reading list.

Chris Mooney, Remembering Sarah. I avoid exploitative thrillers about crimes against children, I'm tired of crime fiction piling on the issue of pedophilic Catholic priests, and Remembering Sarah's jacket copy made it sound like more of the same. But the jacket does Mooney a serious disservice, because Remembering Sarah avoids every cliche of the genre. Six-year-old Sarah Sullivan disappears from a sledding hill one snowy night, and the only suspect is a defrocked Catholic priest. But as Sarah's father, Mike, struggles with his loss five years after the fact, he -- and we -- discover that nothing and no one in this case are what they seem to be. I'm not sure this book is even a thriller; it's a true mystery about families and the lasting effects of secrets.

James Swain, Mr. Lucky. Tony Valentine's company, Grift Sense, consists of himself, his neighbor Mabel, and his ne'er-do-well son Gerry, who help casinos identify gambling scams. I've been a huge fan of this series since the first book; Mr. Lucky may be the best one yet. Tony investigates Ricky Smith, who seems to win at everything. It's statistically impossible, but Tony can't figure out how Ricky manages to beat every game, even horse races and local raffles. Meanwhile, Gerry runs afoul of a psychopath in Mississippi, and both men confront the ambiguous ethics of what they do for a living. I wouldn't be surprised if the series takes a major turn after this book.

Louise Welsh, Tamburlaine Must Die. Leaving aside the ambiguous ethics of publishing a (generously-spaced) 160-page novella as a full-priced hardcover, Louise Welsh's second book is a masterful exercise in historical ventriloquism. The poet and playwright Christopher Marlowe knows he's marked for death, but doesn't know why, or by whom. We follow him through the last days of his life, as he tries to identify the man who has doomed him by posting heresies signed "Tamburlaine," Marlowe's favorite creation. Very well done, but Welsh's Marlowe is a sociopath I had a hard time caring much about.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

“Scorpion replies, ‘I can’t help it. It’s in my nature.’”

The Movie: The Crying Game, 1992 (Neil Jordan, screenwriter and director)
Who says it: Forest Whitaker as Jody, a British soldier kidnapped by terrorists
The context: Jody forgives his captor (Stephen Rea) for what they’re about to do to him.
How to use it: To comment on bad but unsurprising behavior.

The other morning, I was brushing my teeth in the bathroom mirror when I noticed a big bruise and scab on the underside of my forearm. I had no memory of having done this, and it freaked me out. Of course I immediately thought: "Unexplained bruising! A weird-looking scab! I have leukemia! I have melanoma!"

And then I remembered: I have a dog. The morning before, Dizzy had yanked me off my feet in pursuit of a neighbor's cat, and I'd knocked my arm against a post. I even said at the time, "Dizzy, you're going to kill me." But once the cat was gone, we kept walking, and Dizzy and I had both forgotten all about it by the time we got home.

My cousin Sheila calls this "doggie whiplash." Theoretically, Dizzy should be trained well enough that he is not distracted by squirrels or cats. He does leave birds alone, after a traumatic puppyhood experience (more traumatic for me than for him, but that's another story). But Dizzy is a hunting dog, and training can only do so much to override thousands of years of genetic programming.

A friend reminded me yesterday that this might apply to humans as well as to dogs. I was saying I'd been shocked by some recent behavior by a mutual acquaintance; my friend agreed that it was bad, but said, "Why are you shocked? Dizzy would knock you down to get a squirrel. It's how [our acquaintance] is."

I agreed, but now that I think about it, I've always been uncomfortable with that attitude. We are as God made us, no doubt about it -- greedy and insecure and envious and all the rest of it -- but isn't the point of civilization that we don't have to act that way? I seem to remember my fourth-grade teacher, Mrs. Holmes, saying something along those lines...

And anyway, even Dizzy wants to be good.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

“I can envision a day when the brains of brilliant men can be kept alive in the bodies of dumb people.”

The Movie: The Man with Two Brains, 1983 (George Gipe, Steve Martin, and Carl Reiner, screenwriters; Carl Reiner, dir.)
Who says it: Steve Martin as Dr. Michael Hfuhruhurr, the inventor of Screw Top, Zip Lock Brain Surgery
The context: Dr. Hfuhruhurr describes his latest advance at a medical conference.
How to use it: Hey, a girl can dream.

Anna stopped by this morning on her way out of town (again) to a couple of conferences, including one for the American Society of Anesthesiologists. That one sounds like a good opportunity for free samples, but she says otherwise. (Then again, if she admitted it, they'd have serious crowd control problems.)

Dizzy greets all visitors by ripping the stuffing out of his toys. He doesn't do this when he's home alone, and he doesn't do it when he's alone with me. Only when we have company does he insist on chewing the squeakers out of his latest best friend. I can't figure out whether this is showing off, an invitation to play, or some more ominous warning about what's likely to happen to anyone who gives him trouble. In any case, the result is wads of white fluff all over my living room floor, and usually one less toy in Dizzy's menagerie.

My cousin Moira's dog, Darby, does the same thing with his toys, but insists on keeping the shredded remnants, which he stores in his dog bed. His bed is full of the pelts of stuffed animals, like some serial killer's trophies.

I once said to my friend Carla that I thought Dizzy lived a rich fantasy life, and she said, "Someone does..."

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

“It’s a far, far better thing that I do than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest I go to, than I have ever known.”

The Movie: A Tale of Two Cities, 1935 (W. P. Lipscomb and S.N. Behrman, screenwriters, from the novel by Charles Dickens; Jack Conway, dir.)
Who says it: Ronald Colman as lawyer Sydney Carton
The context: Carton sacrifices himself in the place of Charles Darnay (Donald Woods), for the happiness of the woman they both love (Elizabeth Allan)
How to use it: To make a big deal of self-denial.

I'm fixated this morning on a small news item that's almost the complete opposite of this quotation:

Man Says 7-Year-Old Joke Led to Killing

PHILADELPHIA (AP) - A man shot a former co-worker to death on Easter because he was offended by a joke told seven years ago, authorities said Monday.

Stanford Douglas Jr., 29, was arrested on murder charges Sunday after a two-hour standoff with police. He allegedly shot William Berkeyheiser, 62, three times in the chest and shoulder on March 27 at Berkeyheiser's suburban home.

Prosecutor Diane Gibbons said that Douglas told police he had been thinking about killing Berkeyheiser since 1998, when the two men worked at a Philadelphia nursing home and Berkeyheiser told a joke that offended Douglas.

The prosecutor would not say what the joke was.

Douglas hired a private investigator to find Berkeyheiser's house, Gibbons said.

Now, I bow to no one in my ability to hold a grudge. I cherish grudges that date back to middle school, and one that goes all the way back to third grade. But this seems a little extreme, even to me.

Seven years this man was plotting his revenge? Do you suppose that Mr. Berkeyheiser even remembered Mr. Douglas, much less the joke he told?

But I can't wait to hear what that joke was.

Monday, April 25, 2005

“I don’t want to be worshipped. I want to be loved.”

The Movie: The Philadelphia Story, 1940 (Donald Ogden Stewart, screenwriter, from the play by Philip Barry; George Cukor, dir.)
Who says it: Katherine Hepburn as socialite Tracy Lord
The context: Tracy’s fiance, George Kittredge (John Howard), tells her that he thinks of her as a queen to be worshipped from afar.
How to use it: All women should have the opportunity to use this line at least once in their lives.

One Saturday night when I was in college, I was sitting around with a group of girlfriends, because none of us had dates. Someone -- it might have been my old roommate Leigh -- said, "It's because we're such goddesses that men are afraid to approach us." We all laughed, but secretly we hoped it might be true. Adolescent girls do want to be worshipped, and it's one of the major distinctions between girls and women. Women understand that being worshipped is just too damn tiring.

Today's post wishes a very happy birthday to the exquisite Ann Marie Stanton, who really is goddesslike. Sorry, Ann Marie, you can't help it. It's your nature.

On the subject of inappropriate feelings of adoration for ordinary human beings, did everyone see Bruce Springsteen on VH1's "Storytellers" this weekend? Somewhere earlier on this blog I said that Elvis Costello might be the greatest Christian existentialist of the late 20th century, with the possible exception of Bruce Springsteen; I request permission to revise and extend those remarks. Elvis Costello, genius that he is, runs a distant second. Distant.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

“Do you ever feel that you are just this far from being absolutely hysterical 24 hours a day?”

The Movie: Grand Canyon, 1991 (Lawrence Kasdan and Meg Kasdan, screenwriters; Lawrence Kasdan, dir.)
Who says it: Mary-Louise Parker as Dee, a legal secretary
The context: Dee has lunch with her best friend, Jane (Alfre Woodard)
How to use it: Seems like appropriate lunch conversation to me.

I drove down to Cambridge yesterday to get some work done with Mikki and drop in on Kate. I'd planned to take the bus, but the schedules didn't work, so I drove -- in the pouring rain, blasting Social Distortion and X in order to squeeze the last drop of satisfaction out of my road rage. I fully expect to be speeding down the highway with punk rock blowing out the speakers of my hovercraft when I am in my seventies. Heck, make that eighties; a fortune teller once told me I'd live to be 86, which still strikes me as unusually specific, although it doesn't sound as old now as it did then.

The rain has stopped long enough for me to dash out to Mass, so I'll go before it starts again.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

“God’s given me a gift. I shovel well. I shovel very well.”

The Movie: Mystery Men, 1999 (Neil Cuthbert, screenwriter, based on the comic books by Bob Burden; Kinka Usher, dir.)
Who says it: William H. Macy as The Shoveller, a most unusual super-hero.
The context: The Shoveller defends his mission to his loving but baffled wife (Jenifer Lewis)
How to use it: To take pride in an underappreciated skill.

The problem with book learning is that it doesn't leave you with many practical skills. I'd like to be good with my hands. I'm an okay cook, but I'd like to be deft about it, the way they are on TV. I'm not bad with a hammer, but I'd like to be able to build things without supervision.

Every so often I go through a phase of deciding to do something really practical, like take a course in car repair. I've been talking about taking a course in car repair ever since I bought my first car. The other day, at the library, I picked up a listing of summer adult education programs, and "Automotive Repair" was the first category I looked at.

The problem is, I don't even understand the course names. They're all certification programs, and I'd need to go back to school just to get the vocabulary to understand what the teachers are talking about.

It's another adjustment of mid-life, the recognition that some things will always be beyond me. I will never know how to fix a car. I will never be good with my hands. I'm still not completely okay with that, which I cling to as the last vestiges of youth.

And while we're on the subject, happy birthday to Steve Weisberg, who was once my high school boyfriend and will always be part of my family. And happy Passover, everybody.

Friday, April 22, 2005

“There was abuse in my family, but it was mostly musical in nature.”

The Movie: A Mighty Wind, 2003 (Christopher Guest and Eugene Levy, screenwriters; Christopher Guest, dir.)
Who says it: John Michael Higgins as Terry Bohner, leader of the New Main Street Singers
The context: Terry describes his childhood discovery of folk music.
How to use it: To criticize the musical taste of a close relative.

My mom said to me the other day that she notices more and more authors telegraphing character, and even foreshadowing plot, by mentioning the music playing in the background.

I hadn't paid much attention to it, but it's true. Books do this much more now than they did 30 years ago, simply because 30 years ago, no one had a personal soundtrack. Most cars didn't have tape players, no one had Walkmans, CDs weren't commercially available yet, and the iPod was science fiction. Playing records on the stereo was its own activity; people actually sat and listened to music, rather than incorporating music into whatever else they were doing.

Music is important in a lot of the books I read, so much so that several authors I admire have created limited edition CDs to accompany their books. Michael Connelly put together "Dark Sacred Night," a collection of jazz standards his character Harry Bosch listens to; George Pelecanos issued a CD of excellent, under-recognized R&B songs for Hard Revolution; and John Connolly has assembled "Voices in the Dark," an alt-country mix that will actually be bound into the U.S. edition of his new book, The Black Angel.

I couldn't tell whether Mom objects to this trend or not. She noticed it, which I'm guessing means it bugs her -- but I like it. Musical taste is an instant bond between members of a social group, and I do feel that listening habits tell you a lot about a person.

For what it's worth, this week I've been listening to "As Time Goes By," by Bryan Ferry; "As Time Goes By: The Best of Jimmy Durante;" "Feels Like Rain," by Buddy Guy; David Baerwald's "Here Comes the New Folk Underground;" and Jennifer Warnes' "Famous Blue Raincoat." Pretty mellow stuff, but I've been sick...

And this is what I read this week:

John Dunning, The Sign of the Book. The fourth Cliff Janeway novel finds the bookman/ex-cop investigating what seems to be an open-and-shut case of murder. Cliff's girlfriend, Erin, sends him to interview her oldest friend, now estranged, who is accused of shooting her husband -- who was Erin's ex-boyfriend. Along the way, Cliff discovers a book forgery scam that reinforced all my prejudices against paying a premium for signed books. Dunning is back in good form after last year's disappointing The Bookman's Promise.

Brad Geagley, Year of the Hyenas. A really impressive first novel set in ancient Egypt. The scribe Semerket, drinking himself to death after losing his wife to another, is assigned to investigate the mysterious death of an old priestess in the Valley of the Kings. He discovers a sacrilegious conspiracy that reaches to the highest levels of Thebes.

Marilynne Robinson, Gilead. Okay, give a book enough awards, and I'll read it eventually. But this small book deserves them all. I started reading it on the train from Connecticut to New York City, and stopped because I realized that I'd be sobbing by the end of it. (I prefer not to sob in public.) This is a beautiful, loving, almost miraculous book, written as a long letter from the elderly preacher John Ames to his very young son. Everything happens, and nothing happens -- it's a story of forgiveness and redemption and the bonds between fathers and sons, and it's just about perfect. And yes, I was sobbing at the end of it.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

“Please, don’t encourage him.”

The Movie: Gosford Park, 2001 (Julian Fellows, screenwriter; Robert Altman, dir.)
Who says it: Maggie Smith as Constance Trentham, an autocratic relative of the McCordles, who own Gosford Park
The context: Constance interrupts the applause after Ivor Novello (Jeremy Northam) performs at a house party.
How to use it: To comment unfavorably on a friend’s performance.

Thanks to my friend Susan Kinsolving for reminding me of this line.

I brought Dizzy out to China Lake yesterday, and he demonstrated his excitement by eating something completely disgusting off the lakeshore and finding one last (foilwrapped) Easter egg in Anna and Tarren's office. Amazingly enough, he shows no ill effect from either of those things. (Yes, I know chocolate is poison to dogs; it wasn't very much chocolate, and Dizzy is a big dog. I was more worried about the aluminum foil, which has yet to reappear.)

Spring is busting out all over. All the mini-golf & ice cream places between here and China are open again. We got some much-needed rain last night, but yesterday morning the fire risk in the local woods was marked as Very High.

And I keep seeing things that I can only explain as results of spring fever. Among these, a Mobil station on the eastern edge of Augusta is advertising a free live lobster with every oil change. For me, that would be like receiving a giant cockroach in appreciation for my business... gee, thanks.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Dizzy out front at Anna's Posted by Hello

“This means something. This is important.”

The Movie: Close Encounters of the Third Kind, 1977 (Steven Spielberg, screenwriter and director)
Who says it: Richard Dreyfuss as cableman Roy Neary
The context: Neary contemplates the pile of dirt he’s made, which will become a replica of the Devil’s Tower.
How to use it: When something apparently random or insignificant has caught your attention.

Like many Catholics, I felt a terrible pang of disappointment yesterday when I first heard that Cardinal Ratzinger would be the new Pope. But I turned on the television in time to see him come out onto the balcony of St. Peter's, and I felt hopeful -- because Benedict XVI looked radiant and loving, and I thought I could see the Holy Spirit in his face.

Christianity is difficult, but simple. It begins and ends, for me, with John 15:12 -- "This is my commandment: that you love one another as I have loved you." That's all. Nothing about one religion being more valid than another. Nothing about meat on Fridays, or sins of the body, or shunning those we think are less virtuous than we are.

Love one another, as I have loved you. Jesus explains what that means: "As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you." And he gave us plenty of examples to follow. Jesus refused to throw stones at the woman taken in adultery. He freely forgave his betrayers, including his closest friends, who deserted and denied him and left him to be tortured and killed. He cured the sick, fed the hungry, comforted the bereaved. He restored the dead to life, and he understood the importance of wine and the value of a good wedding. He shared everything he had, and raged at those who would take advantage of the pious and the poor.

So these are the questions that face the new Pope: how does God love us? How do we love each other? What does that require? Does it really mean denying the sacraments to anyone who loves God?

I can't believe that it does. I'm praying that this Pope will surprise us.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

“I haven’t even begun to let my imagination loose on this one.”

The Movie: Cutter’s Way, 1981 (Jeffrey Alan Fiskin, screenwriter, from the novel by Newton Thornburg; Ivan Passer, dir.)
Who says it: John Heard as maimed veteran Alex Cutter
The context: Cutter becomes obsessed with a murder his best friend, Richard Bone (Jeff Bridges) may have witnessed.
How to use it: To prepare to jump to conclusions.

My friend Sue Schulz sent me an article about a new phenomenon cropping up in her native Germany: Wal-Marts as dating services. I can't really get my mind around this; I'm trying to imagine a similar program at the Augusta Wal-Mart, which (as I think I've mentioned) is the size of a land-grant university.

On the other hand, it makes a kind of sense. People here get everything else at Wal-Mart: food, clothing, furniture, eyeglasses, hair cuts, even manicures and pedicures. Why not potential mates?

Wal-Mart is also the cheapest source of quality dog toys, so Dizzy thinks I should go there more often. Someone who reads the blog asked me yesterday what Dizzy looks like; I will have to get Anna to show me how to post photos to this thing. In the meantime, Dizzy is a large (80 lbs.) black and white pointer-lab mix. His head is black with white spots, and his body is white with black spots. He's usually smiling, and his tail curves up and over in a perfect "C," unless he's very unhappy.

Monday, April 18, 2005

“I have come to the conclusion that one useless man is called a disgrace; that two are called a law firm, and that three or more become a Congress!”

The Movie: 1776, 1972 (Sherman Edwards and Peter Stone, screenwriters, from their play; Peter H. Hunt, dir.)
Who says it: William Daniels as Massachusetts Congressional delegate John Adams
The context: Adams has not been able to convince his colleagues to vote on independence from England.
How to use it: When reading the morning paper.

Happy Patriot's Day, a state holiday celebrated only in Massachusetts and Maine; the rest of the country is only dimly aware of it as the day of the Boston Marathon. The holiday (not the marathon) commemorates the Battles of Lexington and Concord, which actually happened on April 19, and officially started the American Revolution.

It depresses me to think about how the political culture has transformed, in just over 200 years, from Thomas Jefferson and John Adams debating the rights of man to Tom DeLay and Barney Frank squabbling over lawmakers' rights to accept expensive trips from lobbyists.

To be fair, the nation's founders were mostly landowners, and many were independently wealthy; they never envisioned such a thing as a political "career," and would probably have regarded it with suspicion. But they could never have envisioned a country of 276 million people, either.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

“Bevare… take care… bevare!”

The Movie: Glen or Glenda, 1953 (Edward D. Wood, Jr, screenwriter and director)
Who says it: Bela Lugosi as The Scientist
The context: The Scientist sums up the moral of the story of Glen (Edward D. Wood Jr.), a transvestite, and Alan (Tommy Haynes), a transsexual, with a mind-boggling speech about dragons, puppy dog tails, and big fat snails.
How to use it: As a warning. For full effect, you need to use the Bela Lugosi accent.

Glen or Glenda may be the worst movie of all time. For a while, I thought Battlefield Earth had the edge, but its images don't resonate the way Glen or Glenda's do. The other immortal line from this movie is "Pull the string! Pull the string!" which Lugosi's Scientist says over scenes of war and stampedes that seem unrelated to anything else that happens in the movie, and which you can use to urge irrational action in response to a perceived disaster.

Most filmmakers I know are fascinated with Ed Wood, who embodies the idea that all you need in Hollywood is belief in yourself. They might have been terrible movies, but he got them made, which puts him ahead of many more talented filmmakers. Glen or Glenda is incomprehensible but worth watching, just because Wood's passion for the project is so apparent in every frame of the film. He has something to say, despite having no idea whatsoever of how to say it.

Last Saturday night I got a cold call from a would-be client who had seen my listing in a new directory of editors and ghostwriters. It was the first call I've gotten from this directory, and alarmed me a little. The man seemed unaware that 7:30 on a Saturday night might not be the best time to call about a new business project, and told me he couldn't correspond by e-mail because he didn't have a computer. When I tried to call the number he left me during business hours on a weekday, I got a voice mail maze that made me wonder just what and who this person was.

Clearly, he too had a story he was eager to tell -- but I doubt now that I'll ever find out what it was, and that's probably for the best. As is the fact that this directory only gives my P. O. Box, and not my home address.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

“You fell victim to one of the classic blunders, of which the most famous is, ‘Never get involved in a land war in Asia.’”

The Movie: The Princess Bride, 1987 (William Goldman, screenwriter, from his novel; Rob Reiner, dir.)
Who says it: Wallace Shawn as the Sicilian master criminal, Vizzini
The context: Vizzini believes he has won his battle of wits with The Man in Black (Cary Elwes)
How to use it: To gloat over a rival’s obvious mistake.

And so we come to the end of our Princess Bride week. It was an interesting experiment for me, but I'll be glad to switch away tomorrow. When I started this project, I wanted to limit myself to only one quotation from each movie I cited, but that didn't last long. Some movies are just too quotable.

It's a gorgeous day, and Dizzy and I will spend at least part of the afternoon in Vaughan Woods, a small wilderness on the eastern edge of Hallowell. After the year's first dose of flea-and-tick repellent, of course -- for Dizzy, not me.

Friday, April 15, 2005

“Get used to disappointment.”

The Movie: The Princess Bride, 1987 (William Goldman, screenwriter, from his novel; Rob Reiner, dir.)
Who says it: Cary Elwes as The Man in Black
The context: Inigo (Mandy Patinkin) begs The Man in Black to show his face, saying he must know who his opponent is.
How to use it: To deny a request.

Disappointment is an inadequate word, but there's no help for it: I can't go to Los Angeles next week. Even if I'm better by then, I can't face the cross-country plane trip. Plus, I know I'd be running around all weekend, staying up too late and probably drinking too much (I'm just saying, it happened last year). I'd come home even sicker than I am now.

So -- weeping with frustration, because I do not rule the world and can't even command my own health -- I cancelled the trip last night. My cousin Sarah's getting married in the desert in June, and maybe I can tack an L.A. visit onto that trip.

What I Read This Week

Pete Hamill, Why Sinatra Matters. If you have to ask... This mix of memoir, biography and cultural history explores Sinatra's identity as the son of immigrants and the archetypal self-made man. I liked it.

Simon Worrall, The Poet and the Murderer. When three people in a single week tell me I need to read a book -- and one of them actually puts the book in my hands -- I pay attention. My friend Susan said, "Great book, lousy title," and I agree. Worrall's curiosity about the exposure of a "new" Emily Dickinson poem as a forgery led to this profile of master forger Mark Hofmann, whose forgeries of early Mormon documents eventually drove him to murder. The Mormon forgeries are the center of the book; the Dickinson story serves as a bracketing device, and feels almost tangential.

Maeve Binchy, Nights of Rain and Stars. Maeve Binchy's novels are literary comfort food for me: they're nice books about nice people, in which everyone gets what they deserve. This story of four tourists fleeing their unhappy lives in a small Greek village is not one of her stronger efforts, but it was restful company for a sick day.

Laura Lippman, To The Power of Three. This is the novel I reread the "Betsy-Tacy" books for. Perri, Kat and Josie are high school seniors who have been best friends since childhood. Days before graduation, shots go off in the girls' bathroom, leaving Kat dead, Perri critically injured, and Josie shot through the foot. What happened here is less important than why; Lippman draws a searingly honest picture of the inner lives of girls and their friendships. This may be the scariest book I've read all year. Well done.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

“Rodents of Unusual Size? I don’t think they exist.”

The Movie: The Princess Bride, 1987 (William Goldman, screenwriter, from his novel; Rob Reiner, dir.)
Who says it: Cary Elwes as Westley, aka The Man in Black and The Dread Pirate Roberts
The context: Westley reassures Buttercup (Robin Wright) that they have already faced the worst of the Fire Swamp in escaping the Lightning Sand and bursts of flame; she asks about the third peril, R.O.U.S.’s. Immediately after Westley says this, one attacks him.
How to use it: As a statement of bravado.

The National Zoo didn't get giant capybaras until after I left Washington, so I had to go to Munich to see one. I'd never even seen pictures of them, though Goldman describes them pretty well in his book.

They are such unlikely-looking creatures that my brain at first refused to process what I was seeing; I wanted to make them wallabies, or bears, or something that resembled an animal I'd seen before. It was the first time I really understood that we can't see things we can't imagine; if your brain tells you that something is not possible, you don't see it, even if it's right in front of you.

I was thinking about the corollary to this on Sunday, when Maeve and I went up to The Cloisters. The Cloisters is my favorite museum in New York, and Sunday was the first time I ever saw it in good weather. It's most famous for its collection of unicorn tapestries, but what caught my interest this weekend were all the varying depictions of dragons.

Dragons, we all know, never existed. So why does almost every human culture have some idea of a dragon? European dragons breathe fire, while East Asian dragons are water monsters. Some have wings, some have legs, but all are basically giant serpents with superior motor skills.

A quick Internet search shows a vast body of academic research on this issue, and I haven't had time to do more than browse. Some speculate that early civilizations found dinosaur skeletons, and deduced the existence of dragons from them. Others say it's more likely to be an extension of the eternal human fear of snakes. Either way, it's a testament to how wildly the human imagination can embroider the tiniest scraps of facts.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

“We are men of action. Lies do not become us.”

The Movie: The Princess Bride, 1987 (William Goldman, screenwriter, from his novel; Rob Reiner, dir.)
Who says it: Cary Elwes as Westley, aka The Man in Black and The Dread Pirate Roberts
The context: Count Rugen (Christopher Guest), Prince Humperdinck’s henchman, has just told Westley that they must return him to his ship.
How to use it: To parry soft talk.

Today's will be a short posting, because I need to get some work done before crawling back to bed with a box of tissues and a bottle of cough syrup. Ack.

This morning's Kennebec Journal reports the return of robins, phoebes and ospreys to central Maine. See, the L.A. Times reports on celebrities; the KJ reports on birds. One more reason to be glad I moved.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

The Movie: The Princess Bride, 1987 (William Goldman, screenwriter, from his novel; Rob Reiner, dir.)
Who says it: Mandy Patinkin as Inigo Montoya, the world’s greatest swordsman
The context: Inigo questions The Great Vizzini (Wallace Shawn), who insists that it is “inconceivable!” that The Man in Black could be catching up to them.
How to use it: To challenge someone else’s unfounded certainty.

That word, today, is spring, as in, "a time or season of growth and development, specifically the season between winter and summer, usually March, April and May." Nice of Merriam-Webster to hedge with "usually."

Because it's snowing this morning. Not hard, but enough to mock my dreams of flowerboxes.

Dizzy was pretty excited about it. He's been baffled by the snow's disappearance; he's been keeping track of the dwindling snowbanks, which are now completely gone. Or at least, they were.

Happy, happy birthday today to Anna Maschino Bragdon, the queen of China Lake. It is inconceivable that you will ever grow old.

Monday, April 11, 2005

“Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”

The Movie: The Princess Bride, 1987 (William Goldman, screenwriter, from his novel; Rob Reiner, dir.)
Who says it: Mandy Patinkin as Inigo Montoya, the world’s greatest swordsman
The context: This is the speech Inigo has been waiting to use all his life, as he plans his revenge. He repeats it. Several times.
How to use it: To announce your own plans for revenge. Repeat according to your level of obsession.

Just to prove a point, this whole week will be quotations from The Princess Bride. This line makes my Top Five Movie Quotes of All Time list, and was the only line on both my list and my friend John Erath's.

Ah, revenge. They're the best fantasies of all. My last effort to wreak revenge, as far as I remember, dates back 20 years. I set a chain of events in motion, everything happened exactly as I intended it to, and I felt absolutely terrible afterwards.

Because here's the dilemma of revenge: what happens next? You took your revenge, you vanquished your enemy, what'll you do for an encore? Live happily ever after? What's that mean?

I've spent a lot of time thinking about this question lately, because it's relevant to my own life -- not the revenge part, but the happily ever after part. What happens after you complete a long-range plan or receive your heart's desire? It's not possible just to say, "Great, thanks, I'm done now, think I'll quit while I'm ahead." The only answer, obviously, is to find something new to do, or something new to want... which right now, since I've come home from New York with a tearing chest cold, is a daunting prospect.

Rumors have circulated for years that William Goldman might write a sequel to The Princess Bride, to be called Buttercup's Baby. I hope he does, we all could use the guidance.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

“It’s not my fault being the biggest and the strongest.”

The Movie: The Princess Bride, 1987 (William Goldman, screenwriter, from his novel; Rob Reiner, dir.)
Who says it: Andre the Giant as Fezzik the Giant
The context: Fezzik confronts The Man in Black (Cary Elwes), “strength against strength,” and The Man in Black points out that it is not a fair fight.
How to use it: To keep yourself from apologizing for your natural abilities.

Today's quotation celebrates Claire Bea's birthday -- she is neither the biggest nor the strongest, but must never apologize for being the smartest and the prettiest. Not that I'm biased.

Maeve's been talking for years now about getting a pug puppy, so yesterday afternoon she finally did. Milo is his name, and he's awfully well-behaved. He doesn't bark, drool or shed. He stands at attention at the base of Maeve's spiral staircase, with a handsome blue bow around his neck.

Milo is, of course, not a living creature but an astonishingly life-like stuffed animal. Dizzy would eat him.

And I got sunburned -- sunburned! -- walking around Chelsea and the Village. In case I'd doubted just how dark it's been in Maine.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

“I don’t want to, I want to stay here and annoy you.”

The Movie: New York, New York, 1977 (Earl Mac Rauch and Mardik Martin, screenwriters; Martin Scorsese, dir.)
Who says it: Robert DeNiro as jazzman Jimmy Doyle
The context: Jimmy chats up Francine (Liza Minnelli), a girl singer, until she tells him to go away.
How to use it: Aggressive flirtation with your crush object – always recognizing the fine line between persistence and stalking, of course.

New York, New York, it's a hell of a town. I stayed overnight with the hilarious Meredith McLaughlin and Michael Driscoll, one of my favorite married couples. In the cab downtown last night, Michael said, "See, this is why you get married: so you can drive each other crazy for the rest of your lives." It looks like fun when the Driscolls do it.

They live in a fifth-floor (walkup) railroad apartment on the Upper East Side. "Why do they call them railroad apartments?" I asked Meredith yesterday. "Because the rooms are lined up in a row, like a boxcar," she said.

Elaine's is their neighborhood bar, so we stopped for a cocktail before dinner and discussed today's royal wedding with the bartender. Neither she nor Meredith understood my need for that ASDA ring, so I was glad to see Sue's comment about it the other day. I'd hate to think I was the only one.

Dinner, at a biergarten on the Lower East Side, was one of those events that is already passing into legend: a birthday gathering for our friend Maeve where we almost had to mug our waitress just to get a drink. This is not how we celebrate Maeve's birthday... today's mission, obviously, is to make up for that experience.

Friday, April 08, 2005

“Ever gone a week without a rationalization?”

The Movie: The Big Chill, 1983 (Lawrence Kasdan & Barbara Benedek, screenwriters; Lawrence Kasdan, dir.)
Who says it: Jeff Goldblum as Michael, a celebrity journalist
The context: Michael explains to his old friend Sam (Tom Berenger), an actor, why rationalizations are more important than sex.
How to use it: To defend your rationalizations.

Greetings from Connecticut, where I stayed last night on my way to New York City. My friends the Kinsolvings live in a 200-year-old farmhouse in southern Litchfield County, with a back yard filled with birds. Spring is much farther along down here. The willows are already putting out leaves, and the daffodils are up. Early this afternoon I'll catch the train to NYC, so I don't have to worry about driving in the city.

It's a rather eclectic reading list this week -- I'm looking for a unifying theme, but don't see one. If you do, speak up.

Jon Krakauer, Under the Banner of Heaven. Krakauer traces the history of the Mormon religion and the development of Mormon Fundamentalism, looking at their links to the murder of a young Mormon housewife and her baby. Fascinating and scary as hell, although it feels a little unfocused. In his author’s note at the end of the book, Krakauer says he started to write one book and ended up writing another, and it shows.

Louise Erdrich, Four Souls. The latest book in Erdrich’s Ojibwe cycle fills in the story of how Fleur Pillager revenged herself on John James Mauser, bore the child who grew up to be Jack Mauser, and regained her identity after throwing away her souls. Because these books are a cycle, not a series, you can read them in any order. I probably wouldn’t start with this one, though; if you’re new to her, read The Beet Queen or Love Medicine before you read Four Souls.

Maud Hart Lovelace, Betsy-Tacy and Betsy, Tacy and Tib. A weird thing about being my age is being able to say, “I haven’t done thus-and-so in 30 years.” I hadn’t read these books in 30 years. I reread them this week because they inspired a book I’m planning to read next week, and I wanted to refresh my memory. Betsy and Tacy are five-year-olds who become best friends in the first book, at the end of which they meet Tib, who completes the trio. Betsy is the leader, bossy and imaginative; Tacy is bashful and dreamy; Tib is practical and matter-of-fact, with an inconvenient habit of bluntness. But Betsy and Tacy like her anyway.

C.J. Box, Out of Range. Box’s series about Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett is a thoughtful, panoramic view of the issues confronting the modern West. In this installment, Joe investigates the death of a fellow warden who had been his role model, and runs up against opposing extreme views about the ethics of meat-eating. The “ethics of meat” theme feels underdeveloped, but Joe Pickett is a consistently believable and engaging character, and always a pleasure to hang out with.

Dante, The Inferno, translated by Robert Pinsky. Okay, I didn’t read this – I’ve never read the whole thing, I’m ashamed to say – but I listened to it on audiotape on yesterday’s drive down to Connecticut. Pinsky reads it, along with Seamus Heaney and others, and it’s gripping. Now I am going to have to read it, dang it, just so I can look up all the historical figures Dante name-checks.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

“I don’t know, I’m making this up as I go.”

The Movie: Raiders of the Lost Ark, 1981 (Lawrence Kasdan, screenwriter, from a story by George Lucas and Philip Kaufman; Steven Spielberg, dir.)
Who says it: Harrison Ford as archaeologist/adventurer Indiana Jones
The context: Sallah (John Rhys-Davies) asks Indiana Jones how he expects to catch a truck and retrieve the Ark of the Covenant.
How to use it: Honest tactical planning.

Thanks to John Erath for reminding me of this quotation; he says it is one of his top five most-often used movie lines.

Last week, a client hired me to write a report that won't really get underway until November. The company is a large accounting firm, and since this is their planning season, the client wanted to make sure that I would be available, and wanted to nail down a price now, half a year before I really start working.

Part of me admires this level of advance planning, but most of me is baffled by it. I just made travel plans to go to Los Angeles, later this month. Anna was shocked that I'd left it so late. She makes travel plans months in advance, she says she feels too anxious otherwise.

I wasn't always this lackadaisical about it. I used to be meticulous about planning certain things, but when I did that, I'd get completely derailed when things happened that weren't in the plan. If I put off making decisions until the last minute, I don't get upset when things change, because I've -- kind of -- planned for that.

How's that for a rationalization?

Oh, and it's birthday season again. Dizzy sends special birthday slurps to Pam LaMarca, and I'm headed south today to help the fabulous Maeve Cunningham celebrate her birthday in New York all weekend.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

“You can't relate to other people, so you fill your life with stuff...”

The Movie: Ghost World, 2000 (Daniel Clowes and Terry Zwigoff, screenwriters, based on the comic book by Daniel Clowes; Terry Zwigoff, dir.)
Who says it: Steve Buscemi as Seymour, a depressed collector of jazz records
The context: Seymour is warning Enid (Thora Birch) against admiring his collection.
How to use it: To keep yourself from becoming a Collector.

When Buckingham Palace announced that the wedding of Prince Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles would be postponed because of the Pope's funeral, Anna said, "Wow, I wonder what they'll do with all the memorabilia." Somewhere, she says, she still has some commemorative items she bought for Prince Charles's first wedding.

Turns out, she wasn't the only one wondering. Last night's newscast reported that merchants are scrambling to replace the "Charles and Camilla, April 8, 2005" plates and tea towels with new ones showing the revised date -- and junk with the original date is suddenly very collectible.

I would turn up my nose at all of this, except that I saw an article in the news the other day about a souvenir I must have -- a replica, in sterling silver and cubic zirconia, of Camilla's engagement ring, available exclusively through the ASDA grocery chain after April 9. It's a crazy bargain, at only ₤19.

I don't even wear rings, because they interfere with my typing, but I absolutely love the idea of wearing a big tacky piece of glass on my finger and being able to say, "Yes, it's just like Camilla's." Is that wrong?

Because really, who doesn't want to identify with a 60-ish adulteress who publicly humiliated the most popular woman in modern British history?

Oh, and if anyone wants to get this for me, my ring size is 7½.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

“Adventure – heh. Excitement – heh. A Jedi craves not these things.”

The Movie: Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, 1980 (Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan, screenwriter; George Lucas, dir.)
Who says it: Frank Oz as the voice of Yoda, the Jedi master
The context: Yoda chides Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) for his impetuous nature.
How to use it: To counsel against recklessness.

Yesterday's flood was not as bad as it might have been, but it did take a victim: James McCann, 48, who lived just up the street from me. He took a kayak down the Cobbosseecontee at high tide, right in the middle of the day, and got caught in a stand of trees in the heart of town. He was struggling against the current when the rapids swept a large tree branch into him, and he went under. Anna was one of dozens of people who saw it happen; she tells the story on her blog.

Dizzy and I walked down to the Landing this morning, and walked back along the Cobbossee. The stream and the river are both still swollen, but the waters have receded, leaving a skin of mud behind. We passed the stand of trees where Mr. McCann died; it's painful to see, because the stream is not very broad there, and people yesterday must have felt that surely, somehow, they could save that man.

Monday, April 04, 2005

“Buying that bridge was no mistake. It will be worth a lot of money someday.”

The Movie: Way Out West, 1937 (Charley Rogers, Felix Adler & James Parrott, screenwriters; James W. Horne, dir.)
Who says it: Oliver Hardy as Ollie, a would-be prospector in the Old West
The context: Ollie defends his and Stan’s decision to invest in the Brooklyn Bridge.
How to use it: To reassure yourself about your favorite bad decision.

Bad decisions, I've made a few... but moving to Maine hasn't been one of them, at least not so far. I keep getting e-mails and phone calls from friends in southern California who say, "Do you think you'll ever move back here?" and, "No, really, why did you move?" As if southern California were the only place any rational person would want to live.

So today, I offer my list of ten advantages Maine has over Los Angeles.

Things That are Better in Maine

1. Maine has real weather, unlike southern California, which has long stretches of no weather, interrupted by the occasional apocalypse.

2. Local TV news. To be fair, local TV news anywhere is better than Los Angeles.

3. I have yet to call the Gardiner police to break up a fight between a hooker and her client under my living room window.

4. In central Maine, everybody is poor, so I don't have that sense of relative deprivation.

5. You will never see a Botox coupon in the Kennebec Journal.

6. Maine is a much better environment for live performance than Los Angeles, where people expect their entertainment to be edited and packaged.

7. Maine has wildlife beyond the occasional lizard, snake or desert rodent.

8. Maine does not need its own specialized vocabulary for traffic jams.

9. Maine has better public libraries than Los Angeles.

10. In Los Angeles, I looked older than my age; in Maine, I look younger. Or at least I can pretend I do.

The river's supposed to crest around 2:00 this afternoon. We won't have "catastrophic" flooding, but the water's pretty high -- as you can see here. That's Augusta, not Gardiner, but it's headed our way.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

“Dry land is a myth.”

The Movie: Waterworld, 1995 (Peter Rader and David Twohy, screenwriter; Kevin Reynolds and Kevin Costner, dirs.)
Who says it: Kevin Costner as Mariner, a wanderer on the sea
The context: Mariner looks at the strange markings on a girl (Tina Majorino); her companion (Jeanne Tripplehorn) says they are supposed to be a guide to dry land.
How to use it: When you’re surrounded by water.

Just last week I was saying that maybe I could get a little boat, a collapsible kayak or canoe to take out on the river, since the Landing is just down the hill from me. Little did I suspect that I might actually need a boat, as basic transportation.

Gaslight's final performance of Death of a Salesman went on last night as scheduled, in no small part because the spokeswoman for the Maine Emergency Management Agency is a Gaslight board member, and if she said Hallowell wasn't going to flood, it wasn't going to flood.

Even so, the shops on Water Street in Hallowell are empty now. Last night, U-Hauls lined Water Street in Gardiner, as the merchants cleared out everything below doorknob level. I haven't been down to the Hannaford, but there were several refrigerated 18-wheelers in the parking lot yesterday, ready for an emergency load-out.

So far, rumors of a hundred-year flood have been wildly exaggerated. But it seems likely that we'll get some flooding. It's been raining steadily for the last two days, with no sign of letting up. The walk back from St. Joe's this morning showed me the difference between "water-resistant" (which my coat is) and "waterproof" (which it is not).

Dizzy is disgusted. He likes mud, and he loves puddles, but he seems to consider the rain something that I'm personally inflicting on him, as punishment for a transgression he can't remember at all.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

“Whether or not what we experienced was an According to Hoyle miracle is insignificant. What is significant is that I felt the touch of God.”

The Movie: Pulp Fiction, 1994 (Quentin Tarantino, writer and director)
Who says it: Samuel L. Jackson as Jules, a gun for hire
The context: Jules and his partner, Vincent (John Travolta), have just survived an unexpected shootout, and Jules thinks it’s time to change his ways.
How to use it: To acknowledge divine intervention.

Unquestioning self-righteousness makes me crazy, but I'm baffled by those who dismiss the conventionally religious as under-educated fools. It's been interesting to watch the press coverage of the Pope's death (and the Pope is dying, regardless of Keith Olbermann's bizarre speculations on camera around 2:00 this morning). Everyone's working so hard to be objective about an event that no honest person can see objectively. I have friends who think this Pope has done terrible damage to the world; for myself, I feel that I am losing a beloved grandfather I never really got to know.

Last night was weird. I didn't go out, just stayed up much too late, flipping back and forth between Papal Deathwatch 2005 and a Laurel-and-Hardy marathon on Turner Classic Movies. The unifying theme, if there was one, was affection for the frailties of man. God loves us, but God laughs at us, too, which we know because we can laugh at each other.

My friend Barb, a folk musician, just sent me a description (because I asked) of what it means to "frail" a banjo. Frailing is a way of thumping the strings, as well as picking, with your hand in the shape of a make-believe gun.

And there's no point to that factoid except that it seemed to match the Pulp Fiction quote, and reminds us again of the wonders of English.

Friday, April 01, 2005

“May I admire you?”

The Movie: Pretty in Pink, 1986 (John Hughes, screenwriter; Howard Deutsch, dir.)
Who says it: Jon Cryer as Duckie and Molly Ringwald as Andie, two misfit high-school seniors
The context: Duckie and Andie say this to each other, to compliment their fashion choices.
How to use it: To compliment friends without embarrassing them.

Last night I ushered for the Gaslight Theater of Hallowell's production of Death of a Salesman, which was really a good production -- meaning, it was gut-wrenchingly painful. I'm ushering again tomorrow night, assuming that downtown Hallowell is not flooded, but I'm not sure I can watch the play again. I might just go out behind the City Hall and roll in crushed glass until it's time for the strike party.

The flood might happen, but the latest word is that the river won't crest until high tide on Monday morning. Dizzy and I walked down to Gardiner Landing this morning. The river's creeping up into the boat launch parking lot, but it's still within the bulkhead wall. We're in no danger, of course, because 1) this building is on a hill and 2) I live on the second floor. Waters would have to get seriously high before I started to worry. (My car, though... stop it, I'm not even going there.)

This week's reading list raises the question of expectations, which are always dangerous. It's impossible to approach a book without expectations, even if they're just from the cover. I've bought or checked out plenty of books just because the cover caught my eye, and discovered lots of great authors that way. But expectations are like light filters; without a doubt, they change the way we read a book.

One good thing about short story anthologies is that they short-circuit the expectation game. Any good anthology will include stories from writers you've never heard of, dropped in among writers you're probably familiar with. If you read the stories in order, a new writer might catch you by surprise. Even a familiar writer might be able to show you something you didn't think he or she could do.

So this week I read one book that exceeded my expectations, one book that disappointed me, and one short story collection that did all of the above. In reading order:

Gary Phillips and Jervey Tervalon, The Cocaine Chronicles. These short stories – as the title suggests – examine the allure and danger of the powder and crack. Laura Lippman stands out again, with “The Crack Cocaine Diet” – her novels, great as they are, only hint at the pitch-black sense of humor at work here. The emotional center of the book is a heartbreaking story called “Golden Pacific” by Nina Revoyr, whose novels I’m going to have to hunt down.

John Connolly, The Black Angel. This advance copy sat on my to-be-read pile for several days, although – or maybe because – the author’s a friend, and I think his books are brilliant. But my sky-high expectations didn’t come close to what Connolly achieves here: a gripping, hallucinatory synthesis of research, character, and theology that pulls together every loose thread in the earlier four books (and one novella) of this series. Private detective Charlie Parker is a man of constant sorrow, and in The Black Angel, we find out why. The search for a missing woman leads all the way back to a chapel of bones in the Czech Republic, and to the Book of Enoch’s story of how the angels fell. You can read The Black Angel without having read its predecessors, but you probably shouldn’t.

Christopher Fowler, The Water Room. Geriatric detectives Bryant and May, who head Scotland Yard's Peculiar Crimes Unit, investigate the death of an elderly Indian woman found alone in her locked townhouse, seated in her favorite chair -- with her lungs and nose full of brackish London river water. It's a clever puzzle and a fascinating look at London's underground rivers, but I liked these characters so much in their first outing, Full Dark House, that I resented not getting to know them better in this one. Still, I'd recommend this to fans of Agatha Christie, and particularly to fans of Ngaio Marsh.

The Cocaine Chronicles is available now, as a trade paperback original. The Black Angel comes out in the U.K. at the end of this month, and in the U.S. in June. The Water House is available now in the U.K., and comes out in the U.S. at the end of June.