Monday, July 31, 2006

Got The Date On The Golden Gate

Last Wednesday night at Cody's was a success in large part thanks to Kim Askew's fan club. If her posse hadn't arrived, we would have had a very small gathering. So thank you to Kim's friends for joining us!! Kim read a bit more than usual from her piece- skipping sections- but delighting the audience with her overall story. Dao played her songs High Flyer and When U Go Out. I noticed Michelle Richmond nodding along in agreement when Dao read about that particular isolation all mothers feel. Here, here. Michelle commented that when she was listening to Kim's story, she remembered falling in love with San Francisco as a teenager when she visited with her family for the first time. She asked how many in the crowd decided to move to SF because they had fond memories of the city as a tourist. No surprise that quite a few people raised their hands. (L-R Dao Strom, Michelle Richmond, Nicki Richesin, and Kim Askew)

In honor of the clang-clang of the trolley outside Kim's window and her memories of peeping in homes as she rode it up Nob Hill, I came up with a few questions for our local San Franciscans to answer. Here's the questionnaire if you would like to weigh in with your answers too.

If you've got three hours in San Francisco....

Where would you go for an intimate dinner?

Best neighborhood cafe?

Favorite building?

People should know...

Do you have a favorite SF view?

If you could own one place...

How do you escape summer in the city?

What is your favorite shop?

Where would you go for a dream date?

What's a San Francisco stereotype that fits?

After the reading, we went to that quirky watering hole The Owl Tree. The macrame owl hanging on the wall reminded me so much of the one my Mom made that held a place of honor above our staircase during the seventies. We were joined by a sweet crowd including our friend the sophisticated Ms. Linda Good, Edward Champion, and Beej Hall. I waited for Dao's friend, Vendela Vida, but after a long day with Lily I was officially pooped and begged off. Of course, Ms. Vida arrived a few minutes later. I'm sorry I missed a chat with this interesting San Francisican who has such amazing accomplishments like editing The Believer and co-founding 826 Valenica. Thanks to everyone for joining us- especially the contributors. You rock!

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Be Still My Heart

I first fell in love with Grant Lee's voice in college when I heard Grant Lee Buffalo's album Fuzzy. His whiskey-hummed words combined with the acoustic howl of the guitars, melodic bass, driving drums like 16 Horsepower, and the old world churn of pump organs and parlor pianos made me swoon. Not to mention their bizarre cover art that created a puzzling world of masks and hidden figures. I saw the band perform at Bimbo's almost eight years ago as part of the Jubilee tour. Although he hails from Stockton, you'd never know with his sexy, southern drawl and beguiling, rock poet lyrics. Last night, Kim and I luckily scored tickets from concertgoers at the door to his sold-out show at Cafe du Nord. I felt 21 again and for that Mr. Phillips, I thank you.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

TMQ at Cody's Books Tomorrow Night

Join me, Kim Askew, Dao Strom, Michelle Richmond, and Flor Morales at Cody's Books in San Francisco tomorrow night at 7. And then aftewards for drinks at The Owl Tree. Lucky us- the lovely Dao Strom has agreed to play her soulful folk songs including High Flyer- the song she used as an epigraph to Side of the Road, her story in The May Queen. Kim, Chris, and I loved seeing Dao perform her gorgeous tunes and read from her new novel The Gentle Order of Girls and Boys at Bazaar Cafe last week. My favorite song of hers is Day That We Met. I'm excited to see her perform again tomorrow night. I hope to see you there!

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Never fear: the world spins nightly toward its brightness and we are on it

Last night, Kim, my husband, and I attended the 15th annual Squaw Valley Community of Writers poetry reading in San Francisco. Poets Robert Hass, Harryette Mullen, Sharon Olds, C.D. Wright, and Dean Young read their poetry at the First Unitarian Universalist Center. This benefit raises money for the Poetry Scholarship Fund, enabling talented writers to attend the week-long poetry writing workshop held each year in Squaw Valley, California. Haas's wife Brenda Hillman also read one poem as a surprise guest of the evening.

Young began his reading with an explanation, "As poets we all have to make choices. I have to choose between Brad Pitt and Sean Penn. I choose Sean Penn." He then read his hilarious Sean Penn Anti-Ode which met with uproarious laughter and applause. Young commended Sharon Olds for writing her moving and eloquent letter to Laura Bush in which she refuses to attend a luncheon in DC as an act of opposition to war in Iraq.

CD Wright, who gave us permission to use the lovely epigraph for Carla Kihlstedt's essay The Late Bloomer in TMQ, read a few of her poems and then told a joke about a farmer and salesman.
Here is the epigraph in TMQ from her poem Crescent
Never fear: the world spins nightly toward
its brightness and we ae on it.

It is with great pleasure that I attend these readings each year (seven years now) for it is an opportunity to see some of my favorite poets like Sharon Olds and Galway Kinnell. I still remember the first time I read Sex Without Love in college and what a profound effect her poem made on me.

Sharon Olds waxed nostalgic for the innocent days when the men and women's tubs were separated at Esalen. She recalled one day hearing a beautiful voice coming over the wall- it was Joan Baez bathing. A prolific writer, she always has two to three books ready for publication so most of what she read last night was new and yet unpublished work. She read a poem about observing the fragility and silliness of men's penises while bathing at Esalen and another about tampons. As shocking and often disturbing as many find her work, she has also written poems of such depth and tenderness about her husband and her two children. These are poems of domestic bliss- poems about lovemaking, bathing her newborn son, and watching her children grow up. I believe she deserves a Nobel Prize for Literature.

On Thursday, July 27, the poets will read again at 8:15 pm at the Olympic Village Lodge, 1901 Chamonix Place off the SV Main Road. For more public events held in Squaw, click here for a PDF.

Friday, July 21, 2006

A Novel Idea

I was quite taken with this Novel Idea Vending machine at our gate in Heathrow. The brainchild of Irish booksellers, it vends the top 24 bestsellers complete with a gift box and bookmark. Clever and better than cheetos!

MQ contributor Julianna Baggott's new program Kids In Need- Books In Deed is bringing free books and author visits to underprivileged schools. Schools sign up to sponsor a write-a-thon and the money raised will bring books and authors to kids who need them most. You can also simply give a donation. To sign up for more info, send an email stating whether you are a school in need or possibly a write-a-thon school indeed or someone who's interested in supporting the program.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

West with the Night

Appropriately enough, I read Beryl Markham's memoir West with the Night on our return flight from Heathrow to SFO. I am grateful to my mother for recommending this book. She also introduced me to Karen Blixen with a gorgeous illustrated copy of Out of Africa as a Christmas present in 1985. I have remained a die-hard fan of Blixen's writing, so it was a surprise to me that Markham's vivid account of life in Kenya was as fascinating if not just as exquisitely written. She strived to run with the big boys and her role models were clearly her father, Denys Finch Hatton (Blixen's lover), and her flight instructor Tom Black.
There's some debate about whether she actually wrote the book as her friends claimed she rarely read or wrote anything. Her biographer Errol Trzebinski suggests that her husband and journalist Raoul Schumacher wrote it. I prefer to think she penned it herself, but whatever the case I thoroughly recommend it. Is it any wonder her authorship would be called into question when Blixen herself had to write under the male pseudonym Isak Dinesen? Markham quotes her father as saying, "After that, work and hope. But never hope more than you work." Sound advice, indeed and words she wholeheartedly embraced.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The World May Never Know

I hope you can join us for a reading at Cody's Books at 7pm on Wednesday, July 26. After the reading, we'll mosey over to The Owl Tree to discover just how many licks it takes to get to the center of a tootsie pop.

American Rites, Manners, and Customs

The August issue of Vanity Fair features Illusions of Arbus an article about the biopic Fur starring Nicole Kidman as Diane Arbus and Robert Downey, Jr. as her lover Lionel Sweeney coming to theatres this November. MQ contributor, Erin Cressida Wilson, wrote the screenplay for the film based on Patricia Bosworth's book, Diane Arbus: A Biography (1984). (Photo courtesy of Mary Ellen Mark.) Thanks for the tip, Emily!

Jennifer Weiner also has a fantastic piece about the current state of women's fiction and chick lit's staying power in ELLE magazine's July issue. She praises her favorite writers such as The Bitch in the House editor Cathi Hanauer and Plum Sykes.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

TMQ on The Happy Booker

MQ contributor Jennifer Baumgardner was kind enough to grant me an interview for The Happy Booker. She proved a fascinating subject and it was fun to hear the feedback she had garnered on the book. Thanks Wendi!

Monday, July 17, 2006

London Calling

Back from our Highland Fling, we visited Eilean Donan Castle, explored the southwest corner of Skye near a tiny fishing village called Elgol (shown above), toured Inverness, hiked the luminous hills of Glen Affric, and spent our last day in Dunrobin Castle.

The library at the castle featured above (with a portrait of Duchess Eileen by Philip de Laszlo) captured my fancy. I could have lain down on the lion rug on the floor and easily moved in permanently. We also found the falconry show on the estate grounds amusing. "How does one become a falconer?" Joel asked me. Must you come from a long line of falconers in order to take care of twenty-four birds of prey? Watching the golden eagle from Chile consume a rabbit foot made us hungry. So we drove down the road for take-away fish and chips and happily ate on the pebbly beach.

Jane's thoroughly traditional wedding ceremony with hymns and prayers at All Hallows by the Tower (that tis Tower Bridge) was moving. The Americans, Rachel and Nick (my good friends from Chicago and NY and working buddies in London 10! years ago) and Joel and I, stood in the back due to our tardy arrival. The reading from Song of Solomon (I, at first, mistook for lines from Wordsworth):
My beloved speaks to me:
'Arise, my love, my fair one,
and come away;
for now the winter is past,
the rain is over and gone.

I quite liked this stanza:
Set me a seal upon your heart,
as a seal upon your arm;
for love is strong as death,
passion fierce as the grave.
Its flashes are flashes of fire,
a raging flame.

Steamy stuff for a proper church wedding! The soloist performed Schubert's Ave Maria in the blacony behind us filling the cathedral with his commanding voice. After the blessing, Janey marched out like a giddy queen to the wedding march. Although we missed her entrance-according to the wedding booklet, Handel's processional is known as "the arrival of the Queen of Sheba." Very grand.

We crossed the Thames on the "wedding special" red, double-decker bus to the reception at The Lansdowne Club. In the main ballroom hung another Laszlo portrait of the Queen Mum as a young woman-known as the Duchess of York (later Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother) from 1925 . My friend Eleanor remarked that it happens to be one of the most famous paintings of the Queen. After dinner and speeches, a moptopped band in white patent leather loafers played Beatles and Stones covers as Anna's boyfriend pranced around like Keith Richards. The stately setting, hilarious company of my old friends, and soothing tinkle of my highball of G&T warmed my heart. Congratulations my dear friend!

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Le Debutant! Batwoman Returns as Lipstick Lesbian

"I don't know if the new Batwoman will be bulletproof, elastic or able to fly, but if Kane's manicured appearance is any indication, I don't think she'll be using power tools or even playing acoustic guitar."

MQ contributor Meghan Daum has a piece in today's LA Times about the coming out party for DC Comics' Batwoman. --Kim

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Days Here and There

In preparation for our trip to the continent on Sunday, I watched Four Weddings and A Funeral for the seventh time. On July 15, we'll attend the nuptials of my sweet friend from my working days in London, Janey Perris, to her knight in shining armor, Gavin Bell. They will be wed at the oldest church in England, All Hallows by the Tower, and the reception will be held at The Lansdowne Club. We're staying for four days prior to the wedding in the Highlands. I haven't been to the Isle of Skye since 1997, but once you've been you can never forget it. The memories of its etheral loveliness pervade my daydreams- especially the haunting fairy glen, a magical forest of hazel trees situated amidst strange and wondrous hills and valleys. I was warned not to remove anything from the enchanted spot and yet I was terribly tempted to collect a memento. I'm so looking forward to returning once again.

I was thrilled to find a charming B&B called Trafford Bank Guest House where we'll stay in Inverness. My Highlands packing list includes hiking boots, Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates, West with the Night by Beryl Markham, and Lonely Planet's Walking In Scotland, my prized wedding costume- a French Connection embroidered skirt, and a bottle of Reminiscence perfume I picked up in Aix en Provence.

Look for my interview with MQ contributor Jennifer Baumgardner on The Happy Booker next week!

Monday, July 03, 2006

The Devil's in the Details

MQ contributor Meghan Daum has an excellent op-ed piece on The Devil Wears Prada (from her weekly column in The Los Angeles Times). I saw the film yesterday with Kim and must admit to feeling a tad nostalgic for the days of busting my butt to prove myself. I don't miss making endless copies or being subjected to my psychotic manager's rants about her three ex-husbands and how much she regretted leaving New York. Nope, not that part. I'm more nostalgic for that particular brand of hunger- the late night talks about what was next and living off leftovers, take-out, and vodka gimlets. I miss that. I liked the movie very much. Meryl plays Vogue's ruthless Anna Wintour with all the grace and smugness her career has led her to portray. Apparently, she brought the b/w photos (in the foreground pictured above) to the set from her own home. Now that's commitment to a role! I especially enjoyed Emily Blunt's performance as "the first Emily."

Miranda July's short story The Shared Patio from All-Story has won a Best American Nonrequired Reading award (Notable Story). Love her!

I have been craving cupcakes lately. It's a sickness, but here's a great recipe for lavender cream cakes with citrus cream cheese frosting. For more cupcakes: check out Rachel Kramer Bussel's Cupcakes Take The Cake! YUMMY!
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