Monday, September 28, 2015

Spooky & Kooky & Surreal Stories

Available at Amazon
This collection by my friend Carla Sarett is a delight from the first story, “My Name on It,” where a conference room is described as smelling “like dead roses and coffee” to the last story in which an academic learns from his pupils. In the other stories you will meet a robot cat, a scarily too trusting woman, a real cat who appreciates classical music, young lovers, middle-aged lovers, and an eight year old boy. The boy appears in “Stranger in Paradise,” my favorite story in the collection. In this exquisitely crafted short story the author describes the little boy wearing a Spider-Man costume as follows: “His suit was neon red, and he glowed in the dark, like a tiny supernatural being, with twinkling stars behind him.” Spooky & Kooky Tales is perfect for mystery lovers, cat lovers, and anyone who enjoys short stories imbued with intelligence, wit, and surprise.

Friday, September 4, 2015


The current political climate and verbal barrages from United States presidential candidates has caused me to think of traveling outside the country - way outside. Here is an older post I published about my wanderlust.

"The stars were bright and the blue Martian ships were skimming across the whispering sands."
Ray Bradbury, The Martian Chronicles

Almost seven decades before the roving robot Curiosity, Ray Bradbury brought readers to Mars with his fantastic imagination and shining style. In a chapter called "Night Meeting," an old earth man describes why he likes Mars. If you substitute the word "genius" for "junk" in the following quote, you have a perfect description of Bradbury's phantasmagorical writing. "You know what Mars is? It's like a thing I got for Christmas seventy years ago - don't know if you ever had one - they call them kaleidoscopes - bits of crystal and cloth and beads and pretty junk. You held it up to the sunlight and looked in through at it, and it took your breath away. All the patterns! Well, that's Mars. Enjoy it."

Rereading The Martian Chronicles recently did take my breath away. Bizarre things like singing books and talking watches Bradbury envisioned in 1945 when his science fiction classic was first published exist now. If only that magnetic dust that collected dust bunnies and blew them clean away and those robot housecleaning mice that Bradbury's Martian housewives used existed too. This kind of household help would certainly allow more time for creative writing and, more importantly, major daydreaming. My two favorite stories in this extraordinary novel are Bradbury's tribute to Edgar Allan Poe,"Usher II," a story so scary and brilliant, I suspect it would delight Poe, and the achingly tender "The Long Years" about a lonely astronaut and his odd but loved family.

Not surprisingly, I've started thinking about my own chronicle. I'm not old enough to be a curmudgeon and not young enough to be taken seriously. I'm at that awkward age between older woman and death. There's nothing left for me but truthfulness. And the truth is I would love to volunteer for any future NASA expedition to colonize Mars. The thought of a world without mommy porn, reality TV, or politicians is stunningly appealing. I envision a community of charming cottages painted soft pastels to complement the red soil, a neighborhood of scientists, artists, and others, single folk, married folk, kids, cats, and canines. A small cottage is all my husband Victor and I would need, one with room enough for his tweeters and woofers. All I require is my Kindle and a twenty year supply of Peppermint Patties. I will miss fresh peaches grown by local farmers, Woody Allen movies, and the way the sky looks during cocktail hour. I promise to keep in touch with family and friends though I imagine interplanetary postal service may be somewhat ify. Thanks to Ray Bradbury I see the Mars neighborhood, hear those whispering sands, and imagine my name on the spacecraft passenger list.

Illustration: Copyright © Socrates/

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Dogs and Dogma

Recently,  I started reading a memoir by an atheist, one who used favorite old chestnuts to describe people of faith, "fairytales" and "mumbo jumbo" being the most popular cliche words. I assume "mumbo jumbo" is a veiled reference to the Latin Mass in Catholicism. Fairytales have been around for 2,000 years and so has Latin, the "mumbo jumbo" of Virgil, Ovid, and Seneca. What is not thousands of years old is the religion of irreligion, the kind spouted in this memoir. I thought I would be reading about a woman's life. Instead, I was reading about what fools the writer perceives those who believe in God and an afterlife to be. This memoirist states the emotions of humans and dogs are very alike, only our emotions are somewhat more refined. I hasten to add we also use the facilities and not a tree when it is time to relieve our bladder. I  did not finish reading the memoir, not because I am a Christian, but because the writer was boring in the way all proselytizing zealots - whether believers or non-believers - are always boring. Groucho Marx said, "Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read." If a writer is dismissive and ridiculing toward those with whom she disagrees, I lose interest in her book.

When I think of atheists I know, I think of a member of a book club I participate in, who no matter what book is being discussed, always manages to work in a reference to the Inquisition in a way that suggests it happened last Wednesday. When he does, I think of the Monty Python Spanish Inquisition sketch (you can watch this treasure on YouTube). I also recall a friend telling me she cringes every time she sneezes when someone says "God bless you." I remember what a bit of a bother my atheist friends are during the holiday season (note I did not say Christmas). To avoid offending them, I have to purchase secular stamps, and cards with bunnies in the woods or santas peeing in the snow. On the very great plus side, I think of another friend, a writer who is an atheist and whose writing is filled with wit and compassion. There is not an ounce of missionary zeal about anything in her work. It is just graceful, luscious writing. When I was young, sometime after the Spanish Inquisition, there was a great deal of hoopla about the threat of godless communism. Odd conversations took place about whether or not an American could enjoy the work of a communist artist. I felt then as I do now, I can, as a loyal American, only enjoy the work of talented artists.

I can't help wondering why zealous atheists are so obsessed with denouncing faith and those who possess it. Why is faith such an apparently enormous psychic enzyme in their lives and literature? There is a wonderful scene in a film by my favorite atheist and relentless nihilist, Woody Allen. Annie Hall and Alvy Singer are waiting on line to see a movie when someone near them expounds loudly about the work of Marshall McLuhan. Alvy is upset because the man is so pedantic and so wrong in what he is saying. Suddenly, McLuhan appears and tells the man "I heard what you were saying! You know nothing of my work!" Alvy turns to the audience and says "Boy, if life were only like this!" More than once when listening to the condescending talk of an unusually smug atheist, I have thought how awesome it would be if God would make a miraculous appearance and say, "Here I am."

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Why No Dostoyevsky?

No matter how lush the production values and engaging the acting performances in PBS Masterpiece Theatre programs like "Wolf Hall" are, surely I can't be the only one thinking the Henry VIII and the Queen Elizabeth sagas have been done to death. I imagine too that I am not the only one wondering why those in charge of programming seem to feel that viewers are only interested in the history of England and the authors of England. PBS stands for Public Broadcasting Service not Public British Shows. It is as if a sort of psychological TV imperialism exists. PBS is a broadcaster and a distributor so all of the program choices are not theirs, but who is deciding what Americans will watch and why are they almost always selecting English authors? Why no Dostoyevsky? Or Cervantes? Or Moliere? And, in this age of interconnectedness, why are there no Asian or African authors represented on Masterpiece Theatre? Admittedly, I never tire of Shakespeare but the suggestion that there is no viewership for the plays of Ibsen, Strindberg, Chekhov, Brecht, or Beckett and other great playwrights seems limiting and somewhat patronizing. It is as if those in charge of selecting programs for Masterpiece Theatre believe Americans have no interest in the literature and theater of countries and cultures other than England.

American novelists and playwrights are represented on the excellent PBS biography series American Masters and the PBS history series American Experience. "August Wilson: The Ground on Which I Stand," a documentary presented by American Masters and  "Eugene O'Neill: A Documentary Film," presented by American Experience are examples of that excellence. Biographies and excerpts from the works of great American authors are presented but rarely are adaptations of their novels or televised productions of their plays presented. America was and is still a nation of immigrants - immigrants from many countries, not just England. It would be lovely to see their work on PBS. The novels of Isaac Bashevis Singer come immediately to my mind.

The words "award-winning," "peerless," and "intelligent" are often attached to PBS programs because they belong there. Still, representation of the classics, both novels and plays, of great authors from countries other than England and America would be welcome. A new princess has just been born into England's royal family. Why not a new approach to world literature for Masterpiece Theatre? Why not put that much-married Henry to rest for a while and let other historical and literary figures onstage.