The weather last Thursday was give-me-a-break hot, the sort of heat that makes you irritable because it’s already September, for cryin’ out loud and DO WE REALLY DESERVE 94 DEGREES? REALLY? Then a front blew through — and I do mean blew — and 15 minutes of horizontal rain later, it was fall. Justlikethat. The temperature on Saturday didn’t touch 70. Weirdest thing.
To me, it was perfect. I’m like a brick house at this time of year — it takes me a while to lose my heat. And anyway, it was only an early warning. Eighties again today. Then 70s, and then we march for real toward the dying of the light. At the Eastern Market Saturday I ran into Jim from Sweet Juniper. He said this was the peak weekend for the market; by next week the blueberries will be gone, then the peaches and tomatoes, and “before you know it, it’s six months of root vegetables.”
They should put that on our license plate, a special foodie edition: Six months of root vegetables. I’d buy that.
One of the things I did on my time away from the blog, and the internet, and all the rest of it was, well, two things, actually. I did some reading, and I did some thinking. I carried Laura Lippman’s latest, “I’d Know You Anywhere,” through Cedar Point, reading while the girls stood in line for the coasters. I went in with about half the book already under my belt, figuring these little intervals would be plenty to keep me covered for two days of coaster-waiting. It was not. I churned through the whole second half in one afternoon. Folks, we have a page-turner on our hands.
“Lippman’s best!” would be my blurb, but that’s just me. I think I wrote before, in discussing the disappointment of Scott Smith’s second novel (“The Ruins,” which featured an evil talking plant) as compared to his first (“A Simple Plan,” which featured evil talking people), that there’s little in life as mysterious and ultimately terrifying as the human heart, but it’s the hardest thing to write about in a world where crime fiction routinely features albino monks and deranged thrill killers. Readers who have been numbed by those “The Girl Who Owned the Bestseller List” doorstops might find Lippman’s main character, the hostage and sole survivor of a spree killer, a pale sister to Lisbeth what’s-her-name, but I ask you: What’s harder to write? A page-turner about a genius hacker who can sniff out buried urges, stage a hidden-camera rape (of herself!) to turn it to her advantage and crack the tightest computer security in the world? Or one about an average girl who survives a harrowing ordeal mostly by being sort of average?
Which is to say, Laura writes about real women in extraordinary situations, and still makes the action tense and complex. This is genre fiction, and certain tropes are expected, but they were in short supply here, or at least they felt integral to the story. An ordinary woman, behaving not like an ex-Delta Force commando, but pretty much like…an ordinary woman. And yet still you can’t put her story down. Read, enjoy, and try to figure out how she pulled it off. Not an easy thing to do.
Then I got home, and drew down my Amazon gift-card balance* with two purchases — “Freedom” and “Last Call,” both of which strike me as keepers. I read the NYT’s review of the former with my jaw steadily dropping toward my chest, and put it down thinking, jeez, get a room. But I still want to read it. I was one of those who read and loved “The Corrections,” Jonathan Franzen’s last novel, although I was equally entertained by the author’s ability to shoot his own foot off. This was the announced-and-withdrawn Oprah selection, after Franzen was a little too upfront with his ew-the-proletariat act. It was also, oddly enough, key to my first souring on post-9/11 blogger triumphalism. Jeff Jarvis wrote at the time that he’d bought the book, but couldn’t bring himself to read it in the Wake of the Day that Changed Everything, because he found blogs so much more satisfying and engaging. Show me a man who’d rather read Instapundit than Franzen, and I’ll show you a real idiot.
Which sort of leads to my second activity of the weekend — the thinking. I spent a lot of time marveling, “It sure is nice not being online this weekend.” (Although I was, but not much.) I considered how much I enjoy reading for pleasure, how refreshing it is to give your focus to lines on a page and sustain it for an hour or more at a time. Hank wrote earlier this summer about another book, “Hamlet’s BlackBerry,” that seems to capture this longing for just a little more time in the slow lane, ignoring YouTube and blogs and all the rest of it.
One of my favorite things Bill wrote (and apparently one of David Carr’s favorites, too) was about the onslaught of “Did You See?” that infected our culture in the mid-2000s. (I like to write it as Didjusee?) It was about the beginning of the Internet all-you-can-eat buffet and the end of people actually reading or considering all the links they were clicking on or re-linking (now called retweeting). It no longer mattered. The question was only “Didjusee what so-and-so wrote on Slate?” “Didjusee the Lindsey Lohan video on TMZ?” “Didjusee what Mitt Romney told the Times?” Didjusee? Didjusee?
Ah, but did you read it as well? Usually no.
I want to read more. I want to write different things. I want to stop caring about viral video or what someone wrote on Slate. On today, the first day of school, the first day of Adult Summer (this still-warm, kid-free few weeks we grownups can enjoy before the weather turns for good), the beginning of a new year, it seems the right time to make a few resolutions.
So, some bloggage:
While we’re on the subject of Laura Lippman, from her own blog, a few thoughts about physical vs. digital books, and the frankly creepy digital triumphalism that has a lot in common with? See above.
Something I did not know until this weekend: There’s a film version of “The Big Valley” in production right this minute, and it almost shot in Michigan. “The Big Valley” was very popular with my high-school crowd, and yes, I guess you could say we watched it ironically. We each had a role; I was Audra Barkley, a girl too tempestuous to tame. I still occasionally run across an episode on the Western channel, and while I can see its many flaws clearly, I still think it’s a hoot and I see now why it was the embryonic gay men in my gang who singled it out — it had Barbara Stanwyck and Lee Majors, attitude and sex. The former was always ordering bad guys off her place with a shotgun, the latter posed a lot in chaps.
We had a party every Christmas in its honor — the Barkley party, cowboy hats and six-guns required. I’d suggest one for the release of the film, but alas, Jerrod and Nick are dead, Heath lives in the U.P. year-round and no one knows where Victoria is these days. That leaves me, Audra. Guess I’ll get some false eyelashes and give it a go.
And now my work week begins. Enjoy yours. Enjoy Adult Summer.
* If I haven’t mentioned lately how much I appreciate those of you who order your Amazon through my store, earning me a small kickback, let me do so now: I appreciate you.