Newspapers are crammed with information, as they should be. I read a newspaper every single day. It’s usually the old-fashioned kind that must be held with outstretched arms, but if I don’t have the paper version, I go to the Internet.
Newspapers present a conglomeration of information that is important, alarming, pathetic, heart-warming, gut-wrenching, explosive, opinionated, bland, humorous, boring and more.
I think most of the articles should, in fact, be in print, but it might be a slow news day, so you never know.
One of my all-time favorite articles was about a python whose eyes were bigger than its stomach. (Do pythons have stomachs as we know them?)
The huge snake gobbled up a six-foot alligator in one gulp. Too much at once, it turned out, because the python exploded. (I’ll bet that was messy.) The article provided gory details of the blast as well as several speculations about why it might have happened.
Was the gator not yet dead, the writer pondered, and the reptile wreaked revenge from the inside? Did the gasses from the decomposing alligator cause the snake’s stomach to expand beyond capacity and burst?
Great breakfast table reading.
How’s this article for reinforcing a stereotype about motorcycle owners. It appeared in the July 14, 2012 issue of the Detroit Free Press.
41 Members of Motorcycle Gang Arrested
“Forty-one members of the Devils Diciples (sic) Motorcycle Gang have been arrested on charges of crimes including murder, drug trafficking and
robbery under a federal indictment unsealed Friday in U.S. District Court in Detroit. Among those charged are Jeff (Fat Dog) Smith and national Vice
President Paul Darrah.”
The word disciples was apparently misspelled by the gang members, not the Free Press. Also note:
the word Devils has no apostrophe. I hope this was also the gang’s goof, not the Freep’s. And one of those arrested had his nickname in parentheses, in case his real name didn’t ring a bell with readers.
“. . . Besides the arrests, U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade’s office said, more than 60 firearms and
more than 6,000 rounds of ammunition were seized during the investigation, and eight meth labs were
Think about the law-abiding motorcycle clubs which are trying so hard to get publicity for the good deeds they do. Some of these clubs work hard
for local charitable organizations. Other motorcycle clubs have provided security at funerals for soldiers whose grieving families have been threatened by fringe groups of anti-war protesters.
I once blogged about writers of death notices who seem to be addressing the deceased person as if he or she were sitting on a cloud, leisurely scanning the obituary page. I saw one obit recently that went on and on about how the deceased Mom would be someone you’d have loved because of her friendly, caring nature. I wondered, after a paragraph or two, if Mom had specifically instructed her children NOT to put any schmaltzy stuff in her death notice.
The kids did it anyway, but added, at the end, “Sorry, Mom.”
Finally, how about this icky little feature I found in last month’s Free Press? The headline caught my attention right off:
Belly Buttons Teem with Life
It seems our navels are tiny Petri dishes filled to the brim with bacteria. Everyone’s bacterial mix is different, just like DNA.
This conclusion was reached after a 500-person, 500-belly button study by the Belly Button Biodiversity Project, a study funded jointly by North Carolina State University and the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences.
If you’re a one-celled organism, the researchers claim, a warm, dark, moist belly button is THE perfect place in which to reside.
Most of these bacteria are harmless, it says, but the Belly Button Project’s purpose is to “educate the public about the role bacteria play in our world.”
A worthy mission.
I read it in the newspaper so it must be true.
Last month I wrote about some of the best books I read in 2012. I promised to write about the bad ones, too.
Why do I finish these less-than-engrossing books? Who knows? Sometimes I just want to see what happens, or how the writer gets her protagonist out of some complicated predicament. Sometimes I don’t have another really good book begging to be started, so I slog on. Sometimes I want to see how bad a novel can get. It helps me believe I can write one myself.
Here are six I wish I had never started:
The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown. Three adult sisters gather at their parents’ home. All are at a low point in their lives. Rose, the oldest, has remained in the town where they grew up, apparently to care for their ageing parents. She's bored, unhappy. Bean, the middle sister, has been caught embezzling from the New York firm where she works. Cordy, the youngest, is unmarried/unpartnered and pregnant.
The three don’t get along, of course. They’ve come home because their mother is dying of cancer.
Finally, of course, they begin to see each other in a more sympathetic light, then change their ways for the better and move on to better living. Incidently, their father, a Shakespeare scholar, has named them after the Bard’s heroines: Rosalind, Bianca and Cordelia. I finished this brick just to see what happened. The characters’ motivations were murky, it was not that well written, and much of it was not even close to ringing true. Eh. ★★ out of four stars.
Songs for the Missing by Stewart O’Nan. Talk about slow moving plots? This story schlepped along aimlessly and repeated itself over and over and over and over It was a disappointing book after reading O’Nan’s Emily, Alone, which I loved.
One summer Kim, a teenager in Kingsville, Ohio, goes missing. Her family does everything possible to find her – search parties, fundraisers, walk-a-thons, posters, TV pleas, etc. O’Nan gives the reader every single miniscule detail of every freaking bit of the search, dropping hints here and there about who might be the culprit – her boyfriend, her father, her sister, a drug dealer, a kidnapper/serial killer. By the time I was three quarters of the way through this dud, I didn’t give a flying fig who did it. Just get on with your lives, people.
O’Nan examines the family dynamics as the search goes on for more than a year, but the details drove me nuts. Ultimately, unfortunately, bore-ing. ★★ out of four stars.
The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian. Chip and Emily Linton and their twin 10-year-olds, Garnet and Hallie, move into a remote Victorian house in northern New Hampshire. Chip, an airline pilot, is suffering from PTSD caused by a plane crash in which 39 people died. He was the pilot, but was only able to save some of the passengers. He feels guilty.
This is a gothic ghost story. It’s plot driven. It involves ghosts, witches, gory descriptions of death scenes and all that goes with this kind of tale. I didn’t like it, probably because I don’t like ghost stories, but I kept reading to see how this disaster would end.
The end was unsatisfying. ★★ out of four stars.
Dancing on Broken Glass by Ka Hancock.Treacle. Sugary. ChickLitty. Romantic. Tragic. But too much so. Way too predictable. It reminded me of a Thomas Kincade painting – light and schmaltzy -- but with a nasty storm brewing in the background.
It’s the story of a breast cancer survivor, a woman with a high risk of the cancer recurring (it’s genetic, in her case). She falls in love with and marries a man with bipolar disorder.They’re in love, for sure, but oh my Gawd. Of course he has episodes of mania and depression. Of course her breast cancer returns with a vengeance. But to top it off, in spite of a tubal ligation to prevent their conceiving a child and passing along their terrible genes – she gets pregnant. It's her life or the baby's life. A 10-year-old could predict the ending.
The paperback version is 394 pages and Hancock
described more than 394 different ways to cry. Here are some direct quotes: “a film of tears in his eyes;” “I pushed tears off my cheeks;” “her face crumpled;”
“tears filled my eyes again;” “I was trying to hold back tears;” “I saw her wet-eyed concern;” “tears of anguish filled his eyes;” “a tear rolled down his cheek;” “new tears were brimming;” “I let my tears run freely;” “there were tears streaming down her face;” “tears fell despite my reasoning;” “my eyes
filled with tears;” “I sobbed big heaving sobs;” “seemingly endless tears blurred the scene;” “hot tears were running down my face;” “her eyes were moist with understanding;” “he gave in to tears that had been threatening.”
Are you bored yet? The last five or six chapters were
agonizing. ★★out of four stars.
Goldberg Variations by Susan Isaacs. A very
rich self-made woman, Gloria (Goldberg, but she changed her name to Garrison) invites the three grown grandchildren she has neglected for more than 20 years to her palatial home in New Mexico for a weekend, with the intention of turning over her multi-million dollar business to one of them. She hasn't decided which one. She’s built an empire by herself doing instant makeovers for women and men by suggesting make up, hairstyles, clothing choices, etc.
The three grandchildren, Rachel, Matt and Daisy, have their own careers, their own lives, their own strong personalities.
All reject her offer.
The grandchildren spend the rest of the weekend getting to know their cold, disapproving, nasty grandmother. Chapters alternate points of view among the four characters. The whole thing was flat. The characters didn’t act like real people, but like people an allegorical tale. Maybe it was intended
to be a fable or something, but I missed the point. I
usually like Isaacs’work, but this was underwhelming.
★★ out of four stars.
I Still Dream About You by Fannie Flagg. Kind of a silly story. Lots of coincidences and clichés. Lots of sappy sayings, which, I think, were meant to be humorous.
Maggie, a former Miss Alabama, is in her 60s and reduced to selling Real Estate in Birmingham, AL. She plans to kill herself. We know that right off. She makes elaborate preparations –pays all her bills, cancels her credit cards, closes her bank accounts, gives her clothes to the local community theater, changes the oil and fills the gas tank and cleans her leased car, puts ant traps under the sink, writes a “To Whom it May Concern” letter and places it on the kitchen counter. She’s a perfectionist.
Her attempt to commit suicide is sidetracked and postponed again and again until – who could have
guessed this? -- she realizes that things don’t have to be perfect and life is worth living.
Duh. ★★ out of four stars.
The year 2012 is old news. Between Christmas and
New Year’s Eve, recaps of Top 10 Everythings were as common as wire coat hangers. Every publication, it seemed, had its list of stuff -- the Top 10 news stories, the Top 10 weather disasters, the 10 sexiest men, the 10 most exciting new products, the 10 most heinous crimes and so on.
I have a list, too. These items are not newsworthy. They’re humdrum, often-overlooked things for which I was grateful in 2012. Ten of them. Give me a break. I’m getting older and I’m delighted by much simpler things than ever before.
1. Music, or lack thereof. I’m thinking about musical pauses. The University of Michigan’s alma mater “The Yellow and Blue” has a breathtaking pause at the end of the 12th measure, right after the word “Hail” that brings tears to my eyes when one hundred thousand people stand and sing -- and pause -- in unison. I get teary eyes when all those people sing the Star Spangled Banner, too. Here’s a link to “The Yellow and Blue” performed by the Michigan Men’s Glee Club and its alumni at their 150th reunion two years ago. Go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lgpp9FEAhsA
Another lovely pause occurs in Samuel Barber’s
“Adagio for Strings.” The short orchestral piece oozes passion and pathos. The emotion builds. After a shimmery violin/viola stair-step crescendo, the
listener’s expectations are suddenly dashed! Egad! An exquisite, breathless pause. Nothing. Take a deep breath. The orchestra resumes softly and slowly recaps the original themes.
2. One tiny piece of dark chocolate, melting slowly on my tongue.
3. The aroma that slaps you in the nose when you open the door to enter a coffee shop.
4. The smell of little boys who have been playing outside in the fresh air all day.
5. Reading aloud to a clean, snuggly small child in his jammies. The smell of that small child’s freshly shampooed hair.
6. The excitement of airport terminals. The parking and waiting in line sucks. I do not like the idea that my purse and laptop must be scanned and that I have to schlep my carryon luggage from the parking lot to the gate. I get impatient with departure changes and boarding lines. But I love the excitement of airports. People are bustling. Some are running. Carts are beeping. Kids are crabby. Parents are either impatient or pushovers, just for the sake of tantrum-prevention. All the food for sale is loaded with fat, salt, carbs and sugar, so you’ve got to eat it or you’ll starve.
7. Leisurely Sunday mornings with a mug of black coffee and a thick newspaper full of brand new articles, updated stories, interesting facts, misguided and guided opinions, a new Sudoku and a new crossword puzzle.
8. Public TV offerings like Downton Abbey and Upstairs Downstairs and Call the Midwife. Most TV shows these days aren’t fit for the dumpster. Public TV has solved that dilemma. If my TV set only showed Public TV stations, the evening news and Frasier reruns, I’d be content.
9. Being so engrossed in a good, thick novel that I have to put it down occasionally to make it last longer.
10. Learning something completely new like how to play Mah Jongg. Or finding out that my Mom and Dad actually wrote love letters to each other. I just unearthed a stack of these. Both of my parents were born and raised in Cincinnati. Just after they got engaged, my dad landed a job at an advertising agency in Detroit. He moved here and she stayed in Cincinnati until after they were married. (This was the 1930s. Things were different then.) He was an artist, so his letters are enhanced with sketches and drawings and cartoons. She was a secretary, so her letters were typed on an old Underwood typewriter. I found the letters in an old chest that was transferred to my basement after they both died. Pretty tame stuff, actually, but I like to think of them as love letters.
Margie Reins Smith
I'm a retired journalist, a mother and a grandmother. Currently, I'm freelancing for a local magazine and working on a short play. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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