Wednesday, December 9, 2009

A Rave Review & a Holiday Offer

It suddenly occurred to me that I might have a blog reader or two who doesn't also visit my website or follow/friend/whatever me on some social media platform. In case there are indeed any of you out there, here's a heads-up about a couple current events.

A Merger of Equals
just received a rave review in SUE Magazine, which is an aptly (and hilariously) titled e-publication for women in litigation. The reviewer gave my book five gavels, the magazine's highest rating, and the review is delightful. Click here to read excerpts or to download a PDF of the complete review.

To celebrate both the review and the season,
I'm offering free shipping and special prices on A Merger of Equals through December 18. If you've thought of buying copies for yourself or to give as gifts, now's the time to do it. The more copies you buy, the better the savings. Click here for the particulars.

Thanks to all my readers - books, website, social media platforms, and blog. Writing is a huge pleasure for me; knowing you're out there reading is the richest of icing on the cake.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A Little Help?

Thanks to the bookshelf review I undertook for this post, I'm now rereading Mary Renault's The King Must Die. It's the story of the mythical hero Theseus, King of Athens. One of Theseus' early adventures (before he gets to Crete and deals with the Minotaur, the book's centerpiece) takes place in Eleusis, a kingdom ruled by women. The women are like despotic rulers throughout time: contemptuous and dismissive of those not like them. In Eleusis, men are considered childish, weak-minded, and utterly unfit for the worlds of business, government, religion and everything else the society deems important.

Women rule in Eleusis because the society is an antiquated one, still wedded to cultural dictates developed in response to the ancient notion that women and the gods create life. Although the Eleusians in Theseus' time know the role earthly men play in conception, Eleusian culture has not evolved to take that into account and elevate men above second-class status. Everyone seems OK with this except, of course, our hero.

As events spin out, Theseus ultimately finds himself in position to modernize (it's killing me, but I'm not going to put that word in quotation marks) Eleusis. The following passage made my hair stand on end:

Later that day, I appointed my chief men, from those who had been resolute in defying the women. Some of these would have had me put down women from every office in the land. Though I tended myself to extremes as young men do, yet I did not like this; it would bring them all together to work women's magic in the dark. One or two, who had pleased my eye, I should have been glad to see about me. Only I had not forgotten Medea, who had fooled a man as wise as my father was. And there were the old grandmothers, who had run a household for fifty years, and had more sense than many a warrior with his mind only on his standing; but besides their magic, they had too many kindred and would have managed the men. So I thought again about what I had seen in Eleusis of women's rule, and chose from those sour ones who took their pleasure in putting the others down. And these did more than the men to keep their sisters from rising up again. A few years later, the women of Eleusis came begging me to appoint men in their stead. Thus I was able to make a favor of it.

I recognize that Mary Renault wrote those words in the 20th century, but they haunt me anyway. There were written records in the times the book depicts; I presume she relied on them for political and cultural realities just as she did to paint the book's remarkable depiction of the time's religious rites and its architectural, scenic and other physical realities.

Obviously, the passage says a great deal about the nature of power and how and why institutions as well as individuals promote on the bases of sexism, opportunism, tokenism, protectionism and atavistic fear, rather than solely on the basis of merit. But does it also
illustrate something fundamental in the nature of women? Or does the passage simply confirm that in times of oppression and discrimination, when power is scarce for one gender or the other, some of those with power will do anything to hang onto it?

Most career women have at some point in their careers run across a successful woman who's reached an elevated position and acts as if she believes there's some honor and glory in remaining alone there. Instead of trying to help other women succeed, she revels in her exclusive status. This sort of queen-bee behavior does as much to mask opportunity and hold women back as do sexist men or the pressures of the status quo. It horrifies me to think it might have been going on since ancient times.

Either way, I'm feeling galvanized. I'm determined to do something right this minute to help another woman succeed. I hope you will, too.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Valley of Fire

We've had visitors here for the last few days and on Saturday, a perfect day for being outside in the desert sun without roasting (as are most October days), our guests decided they wanted to see some Vegas glories of the natural versus man-made variety. Not being either shoppers or out-of-towners who are obliged to clog up the Strip on weekends in order to see it at all, we were delighted (and a bit relieved) by this choice. Our definition of hospitality includes letting guests decide on plans, then chauffeuring them, keeping them company, and otherwise doing what we can to make sure they have a wonderful time. This policy occasionally leads us down dubious paths activity-wise, but not this time.

Valley of Fire, Nevada's oldest state park, is within an hour of Las Vegas. Its name comes from its eye-popping red sandstone formations. These
fantastical shapes and sinuous layers were created 150 million years ago by enormous shifting sand dunes, then sculpted by both the uplifting and faulting of the entire region (which occurred in pulses from about 80 million years ago until about 35 million years ago) and by erosion, geology's most dogged player. The park also features layers of limestone, shale and other gorgeous and geologically fascinating rocks, chipmunks as bold as game-show hosts, lizards, jackrabbits, coyote, birds, and the usual array of desert plants.

It's amazing how distinct and colorful these plants now appear to us. When we first moved here, our eyes accustomed to the splashy colors of Midwestern foliage, all the desert flora looked similarly scrubby and more or less beige. Familiarity has transformed subtle beauty into vivid beauty, as splashy in its own way as the rich rainbow of humid climate colors or the gaudiness of the Strip. Here as elsewhere, I guess, perspective is everything.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Sunday Night Outrage

Most on-air football commentary is bubble-headed. Lowering the volume so you don't really have to listen to it usually suffices; in extreme cases, there's always the mute button.

The Sunday night announcing team (formerly the Monday night team, but times change) was about as good as it gets. This isn't saying much. In fact, it isn't saying anything other than that the commentary did not customarily have to be reduced to gentle white noise or muted altogether. Al Michaels, while utterly dorky, knows the game pretty well and has some ability to watch the proceedings as opposed to blathering inarticulately about unrelated matters (a distressing habit shared by too many of his colleagues). John Madden was enthusiastic and, if occasionally incoherent, also incredibly knowledgeable and never mean-spirited. Cris Collinsworth, who has taken Madden's place, has been bland so far, but he may settle in and be as good as he was in his previous broadcasting gig.

Tonight, however, both Al and Cris achieved new lows. In a blast of vulgarity, Cris crowed, carefully enunciating each word, "The Pittsburgh Steelers are kicking their stinkin' butts!" Nice. Really elegant commentary.

Worse - far worse, if you ask me - was Al's casual, gratuitous and highly offensive sexism. As he went into raptures like a teenager with a crush over Mike Tomlin (the Steelers' coach, for you readers who aren't football fanatics), Al gushed that the day before the opener against Tennessee, Tomlin had spent four hours attending his kids' teacher conferences. "Of course," Al enthused, "it's easy to tell the wife to go do that. But [Tomlin] was there."

My husband and I turned to each other, aghast. "Tell the wife to go do that??" The wife?? Leaving aside the dismissive nomenclature, let's count the offensive implications of Al's statement: (1)
wives are subordinates who exist to be ordered about; (2) attending school conferences is women's work; (3) fathers who choose to attend their own children's conferences are doing something exceptional, noteworthy; (4) there's no way Mrs. Tomlin might have a career that would preclude her being dispatched to handle this child-related matter; and (5) it's perfectly OK to express sexist sentiments such as these to the Sunday night football audience because, of course, we're all guys and all guys are sexist pigs, right?

I think Al owes the actual Sunday night football audience an apology. I think NBC does, too. This kind of throwaway sexism is outrageous. Its time has long been past. Even dorky football guys in their 60s should know it no longer flies, whatever their personal opinions may be. It's indisputably harmful - to the women, the men and the children it presumptively shackles in stupid, confining, restrictive, gender-limited boxes. For shame!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

For Your Reading Pleasure

Inspired by an invigorating literary conversation on Twitter with my friends @Amalari and @Angpang, I decided to compile a list of my favorite books in the categories of fiction and biography, the two categories I love best.

The list below is not even close to complete nor did I go about compiling it in any scientific way. I merely went to most of my bookcases and wrote down the titles of books that have swept me away - from my own work, my own world, and my own sense of time and responsibilities. These are the books that made me glad I was an adult and could stay up all night reading without parental interference or the need for a flashlight under the covers. In a few cases, they're books I did read with said flashlight when I was young enough to be told to get to sleep by said parents.

Because of the "swept away" criterion, I have not included books I think are very, very good, but which fall more in the eat-your-vegetables category of reading than in the tear-through-a-box-of-Belgian-chocolates category. (Don't get me wrong. I love vegetables. That's just a different list.) Mrs. Dalloway, for example, is a fine book, but for sheer delight and irresistible forward motion, it cannot compare to Michael Cunningham's extraordinary The Hours. (If you've only seen the dumbed-down movie in which the central plot complexity is given away in a very early frame, you've missed quite a treat. The book requires you to be smart as it magnetically pulls you in and along; the movie requires only that you be awake.)

Just so you know, it's killing me a little not to include mysteries, which I adore. Agatha Christie, P.D. James, Ngaio Marsh, Josephine Tey, Sara Paretsky, P.G. Wodehouse, Dorothy Sayers, Dick Francis, Elizabeth George, Elizabeth Peters, Deborah Crombie, Patricia Cornwell, Anne Perry, Sue Grafton, Nevada Barr - and many others whose names I'm sure will come to me the instant I hit "Publish Post" - have afforded me hours adding up to years of pleasure, puzzlement and revelation. But that's also a list for another day.

Finally, I didn't have time to go to all my bookcases this afternoon. Even if I had, there would still be omissions. I loan and give books to people all the time, so my collection doesn't begin to include all the books I once owned, let alone the ones I've borrowed from other people, loved, and returned.

For all these reasons, the list below is only the beginning. I doubt I'll ever manage to compile a truly complete list of my favorites, but I promise to get closer in subsequent posts. Will you add your favorites by commenting on this post, either with the names of your additions or with a link to your own list on your own blog?

Biographies (I think the first four are superb, the others very good):

Savage Beauty, by Nancy Milford (about Edna St. Vincent Millay)

Henry James, by Leon Edel

John Adams, by David McCullough

Emerson: The Mind on Fire, by Robert Richardson (about Ralph Waldo)

Frida, by Hayden Herrera (about Frida Kahlo)

The Lonely Empress, by Joan Haslip (about Elisabeth of Austria)

Eleanor of Acquitaine, by Alison Weir

Fiction (in no particular order, because I follow no shelving system. I rely on my memory when I'm looking for a book; the occasional frustration caused by memory lapses is more than outweighed by
the adventure of running into something unexpected or forgotten):

Iain Pears, The Dream of Scipio

David Liss, A Conspiracy of Paper

Robert Girardi, Madeleine's Ghost

Gloria Naylor, Bailey's Cafe

Reynolds Price, Kate Vaiden

Gabriel Garcia Marquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude, Love in the Time of Cholera, Chronicle of a Death Foretold

Graham Greene, Our Man in Havana, The End of the Affair, The Quiet American

Aldous Huxley, After Many a Summer Dies the Swan

Susan Fromberg Schaeffer, Time in its Flight

Erich Maria Remarque, All Quiet on the Western Front

Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre

Henry James, The Portrait of a Lady

John Updike, Rabbit, Run

Gregory Maguire, Wicked

Jane Smiley, A Thousand Acres

Orhan Pamuk, Snow

Arturo Perez-Reverte, The Seville Communion

George MacDonald Fraser, Flashman

Yann Martel, The Life of Pi

Jhumpa Lahiri, Interpreter of Maladies (short stories, which normally irritate me slightly, but these are a marvel)

Alice McDermott, Charming Billy

Joan Chase, During the Reign of the Queen of Persia

Joseph Heller, Catch-22

Anne Tyler, Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, Ladder of Years, The Accidental Tourist, Breathing Lessons (all her books are highly readable; these are my favorites)

John Irving, A Prayer for Own Meany, The Cider House Rules, The World According to Garp (ditto the Anne Tyler comment)

Zadie Smith, White Teeth

Kent Haruf, Plainsong

William Faulkner, Light in August, The Sound and the Fury, As I Lay Dying (my all-time favorite writer; these are the best of the best, but all his books are glorious)

Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things

Wally Lamb, She's Come Undone

Haruki Murakami, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

Michael Cunningham, The Hours

Pat Conroy, The Great Santini, The Prince of Tides, The Water is Wide, The Lords of Discipline

Theodore Dreiser, An American Tragedy

Anthony Trollope, The Barsetshire Novels

Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird (in my opinion, THE Great American Novel)

Mary Renault, The King Must Die

Dorothy Allison, Bastard out of Carolina

Ignazio Silone, Bread and Wine

Steven Millhauser, Martin Dressler

Thomas Hardy, The Return of the Native

Julia Glass, Three Junes

Michael Malone, Handling Sin

Paul Theroux, The Mosquito Coast

J. D. Salinger, Nine Stories (the sine qua non of short stories)

Tom Wolfe, A Man in Full

Michel Faber, The Crimson Petal and the White

Evelyn Waugh, Decline and Fall

John Fowles, The Magus

Madeleine L'Engle, A Wrinkle in Time

Louisa May Alcott, Little Men, Jo's Boys

Mona Simpson, Anywhere But Here

Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid's Tale

Jane Mendelsohn, I Was Amelia Earhart

Thursday, August 6, 2009

On the Road Again - Post 12

Today was a driving day, but around here even getting from one place to another offers a scenic masterpiece. Here are pictures from the road between Evanston, Wyoming, and Torrey, Utah:

The mountain in the picture below is Mt. Timpanogos, so named after a pair of doomed lovers. According to a nearby sign, Ucanogos was the lovely daughter of the chief of a tribe of Indians living on the shores of Utah Lake. She was in love with a young brave called Timpanak. Her father nevertheless held a contest to determine whom she would marry. Jealous of Timpanak, the other braves killed him and threw his body down the mountain. Ucanogos climbed the mountain and died atop it, grieving. The mountain then took on the outline of her body, and it has been called Timpanagos (a combination of the lovers' names) ever since.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

On the Road Again - Post 11: Gold Rushes & Ghost Towns

Gold strikes and the towns that spring up around them evidently follow a rather sorry pattern most of the time. Gold is discovered, usually in a "meet-cute" story worthy of a romantic comedy. Thousands or tens of thousands of people flock to the area and a boom town is born. Lawlessness, vigilantism and high hopes abound; non-gold-claim-related infrastructure is entirely absent. Then the gold runs out, and so does the town's raison d'ĂȘtre. The once prosperous boom town becomes a ghost town, nothing more than a name on a map and, sometimes, a few rickety buildings.

Bannack was the town that boomed in response to the first of Montana's three major gold strikes. It was the first territorial capital when the Montana Territory was carved out of the Idaho Territory in 1864, but it held that honor very briefly and was a ghost town by mid-1865.

Why? Bannack's easily accessible gold was exhausted and word of a new strike had spread. A group of prospectors on their way to the Yellowstone River encountered an unfriendly bunch of Crow tribesmen and had to beat a hasty retreat. Legend has it that on the retreat, one Bill Fairweather made a joke about finding something that would fund the purchase of some tobacco, stuck his pick in the ground near Alder Creek, and came up with something that funded a very large amount of tobacco and a whole lot more.

Fairweather and his buddies couldn't keep their find a secret, and Virginia City sprang to life a mile or so south of the gold field. Within a few weeks, it boasted 10,000 residents (many of them refugees from Bannack and most of them arguing about individual gold claims) and it was in short order named the new territorial capital. Like Bannack and most of the rest of Montana, Virginia City was ruled by a Vigilance committee that operated on both sides of the law. Also like Bannack, within a year or so it too was a ghost town, its population having lit out for Helena in response to the Last Chance Gulch strike.

Bannack is now a state park, preserved but unrestored. Virginia City was reborn as a tourist destination in the 1950s, thanks to the efforts of a couple who bought the town in the 40s and funded its restoration. While it is no longer home to 10,000 as it was in 1865, Virginia City is far from deserted. Some 130 people and, according to local lore, more mean-tempered and obstreperous ghosts than in any other city in Montana call it home.

Click on the picture below to get some fun info about Bob Gohn's grandfather. Bob is the owner of Bob's Place (above) where we bought surprisingly sophisticated sandwiches for lunch. With their pesto, fresh tomatoes, delectable cold cuts and superb focaccia, the sandwiches were anything but authentic Old West, but we weren't complaining.