Friday, December 31, 2010

Blue Valentine

Ryan Gosling is heartbreaking in Blue Valentine, the new movie about how devastatingly sad it is when two people stop loving each other. He's an extraordinary actor, different in every movie. In this film Dean, Gosling's character, is the one whose pain I felt most keenly. You've read about the movie, I'm sure, and the experience of watching it, for me at least, was diminished by knowing a little too much about it. But I don't think it will be a spoiler to hear that Gosling's character has a tattoo on his upper arm that features the cover of The Giving Tree. It's such a killer image, because the book has duped Dean into believing its cold-hearted message: the more you give, the more will be taken, until you've given everything, and there's nothing left.

I thought of Dean reading The Giving Tree over and over to his daughter, having so much faith in it that he had it carved into his skin -- which even recalls Kafka's In the Penal Colony, in a way. I guess there are ways to erase tattoos these days, but I somehow think Dean won't have it removed. I can't shake him from my head, and I only wish that he had read a different book to his little girl. There are better books about love.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Rara Avis

I love the view from the 15th-floor window of my office at 55 Fifth. Village rooftops with white-robed men practicing martial arts. Lots of trees, green now in summer. A handsome swath of the Hudson River with its mighty river traffic. Sometimes I see red hawks being beaten up by crows. Bluebottle flies, too high up, take a breather on my windowsill.

Here's the unexpected rara avis that perched on that same windowsill today. He wasn't there long; he just took time enough to do his job, swiftly and neatly.

I held my breath the whole time. Then he straightened his wings, clamped onto the next set of bolts, and was gone.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

It's hard to be mad at your daughter...

...when her reason for not doing the dishes is that she was reading Billy Collins aloud with her best friend.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Poetry Friday: Cruel, Clever Cat

For a moment there today, I couldn't remember whether it was "bated breath" or "baited breath." Just for a moment. Then I remember bated/abated, and realized it was the former. But I had already googled it, and thence came upon this little ditty by a poet unknown to me, Geoffrey Taylor. I could not resist pairing the poem with a photo pared from the Facebook page of author/artist Brian Floca, from his celebrated "Wildlife Photography, 23rd Street" series.

Clever, Cruel Cat

Sally, having swallowed cheese
Directs down holes the scented breeze
Enticing thus with baited breath
Nice mice to an untimely death.

Clever, cruel Sally! We could use her on the F train.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Hooray for Cake

I was a bit slow to blog about a book party the Bunny hosted for her erstwhile author, Jennifer Finney Boylan, whose terrific new book, Falcon Quinn and the Black Mirror, is now happily published by Katherine Tegen Books at HarperCollins. I was a bit slow because I thought perhaps Betsy Bird would blog about it in her own sparkling and irresistible style, and now she has.

Here's one secret even Betsy Bird didn't know: When I heard that certain well-known authors were planning to attend the affair, I looked around the house for the copies of their books I knew I had. But they were almost all absent. The Richard Russos were in place, but the Cecily von Ziegesars were in storage; my two copies of Running With Scissors -- hardcover -- had been lent out and never returned; and my Jennifer Finney Boylan backlist was at my sister's. (I'll admit I did not have any copies of the plays of Edward Albee. Then.)

I figured if I were an author and I came to someone's house, a house pretty much filled with bookshelves, the very first thing I would do would be to scan the shelves, oh so nonchalantly, for my own name. And I could not bear to have these authors look on my shelves -- shelves that had once held their books, most bought at retail -- and find themselves missing.

One of the glories of living in New York is that there are bookstores all over the place. So the day of the party, I high-tailed it uptown to an indie, and downtown to a chain and a used, to pick up copies of what I was missing. I slipped them into their rightful places (alpha by author, except for the plays, which went on the slender Drama shelf), about half an hour before the first doorbell rang. Then I took a belt of the Sicko Sauce, and declared that the party could begin.

Did the writers scan the shelves? I'll never know. But I was happy to look up and see those names, and those books. Parties come and go, but words endure.

Many thanks to A.B. for the photo, and to HarperCollins for underwriting the affair.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Why People Read

So they can spend their mornings reading in West Village cafes.

And she was reading Freud. In French.

Actually, this post might be better titled, "Why People Come to New York."

Because they can read Freud in French. Or meet people who do.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Poetry in unlikely places

I know magazines are folding and newspapers will soon cease to exist, but what will ever replace the little gems of meteorological narrative non-fiction that appear in the upper right-hand corner of the New York Times each day? Here's what the Late Edition told us this morning, and so far it's all come true:

Today, mostly sunny, not as warm
nor as humid, high 76. Tonight,
mostly clear, comfortable, low 58.
, mostly sunny, nice.

The world is gushing chaos, but somehow gentleness survives.

(The photo was taken on my way home from work today. Tango by the River at sunset.)

Monday, May 31, 2010

Poetry Friday (Memorial Day weekend edition)

Things slow down on Memorial Day Weekend, especially if you stay in the city. So here's a belated Poetry Friday post in commemoration of this weekend, Siefried Sassoon's "Everyone Sang." I know this would better posted on Armistice Day, as that was when it was written -- days after World War I was declared over on November 11, 1918. But in my mind, there is never a day when a poem about the end of war is not welcome.

Everyone Sang

Everyone suddenly burst out singing;
And I was filled with such delight
As prisoned birds must find in freedom,
Winging wildly across the white
Orchards and dark-green fields; on—on—and out of sight.

Everyone’s voice was suddenly lifted;
And beauty came like the setting sun:
My heart was shaken with tears; and horror
Drifted away … O, but Everyone
Was a bird; and the song was wordless; the singing will never be done.

-- Siegfried Sassoon

(with thanks to Richard Barnes of the New York Times for the photograph of starlings over Rome)

Saturday, May 29, 2010

How the Sphinx Got to the Museum

Jessie Hartland's terrific book is coming out this fall. Featured at BEA -- with its own timeline poster -- it will be on the shelves of the Metropolitan Museum and bookstores all over the country this fall.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Margaret Wise Brown Birthday Party

Let's call it the First Annual MWB Birthday Party, because I for one would like to do it again. There were cupcakes, baffled tourists, pleased parents, delighted cupcake-eating kids, random teens, and some stalwart librarians, game artists, and children's book enthusiasts. Dianne Hess of Scholastic Press stole the day by actually dressing like Margaret Wise Brown. Betsy Bird knowledgeably informed us that Margaret and Ursula Nordstrom would have had their protest tea on the north stairs of the Library, as that was the entrance to the children's room. But we had our celebration on the front steps, and we here at Bunny Eat Bunny hope you celebrated the life of this fabulous woman with fur and poetry and sensuality and rash behavior.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Margaret Wise Brown Birthday Sing-in: May 23

Margaret Wise Brown deserves the laurel leaf crown for many reasons -- the last line of The Runaway Bunny, the real moths in the pretend Little Fur Family, Maine -- but the prime reason is this: She once staged a literary tea on the steps of the New York Public Library in defiance of Anne Carroll Moore. Margaret was defiant because Miss Moore had chosen not to include Miss Brown's books in the NYPL's children's collection. Leonard Marcus tells the story beautifully in his wonderful book, Awakened by the Moon, but, in a nutshell:

Miss Moore hosted an annual tea party at the main branch of the library for authors she supported. Margaret and her adored editor, Ursula Nordstrom, set up a tea for themselves on the library steps, which meant that all the included authors and publishers had to step right over the refusées in order to enter the event. Very naughty. Very Margaret.

The 100th anniversary of Margaret Wise Brown's birthday is Sunday, May 23. I'll bring cupcakes if you'll come out to sing Happy Birthday on the steps of the New York Public at 2PM. Isn't it the least we can do for her? And wouldn't she have loved it?

Friday, April 23, 2010

Poetry Friday: Too big to fail

With the presidential Marine 1 helicopter chopping its blades over our offices yesterday, Earth Day didn't feel very green here at Sanford Greenburger. Obama was on his way to scold Wall Street at nearby Cooper Union. Sirens blared, traffic snarled.

But then I received this beautiful message in an email from poet and novelist George Ella Lyon, and the two worlds grafted together.


about the stock market.

Today she is worth

exactly what she was worth

yesterday, a year ago, at creation.

I don’t mean property value,

taxable assets. I mean

milkweed and copper moths

honeybees, cow vetch,

king snakes.

Meadow life

is not money.

What rises

and falls here are stems

and flowers, leaves and fruit.

No zigzag line of profit and panic

but the great wheel turning.

Here God gives of her

extravagance and here, like

flicker, viceroy, dragonfly

we come into our inheritance.

-- Earth Poems, George Ella Lyon

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Acts of God

Today was the closest we'll ever get to The Devil Wears Prada at Sanford Greenburger. Volcanic ash engulfed European skies -- just as the London Book Fair was about to begin. So as some of us were assiduously attending to our clients' needs (i.e., glumly going about our business as our fellows dashed off abroad), others were madly canceling flights, rebooking through Bournemouth, through Glasgow, through Paris, through the Chunnel, via Liverpool, over land, sea, air, foam. I'm not sure whether my colleagues actually will make it to London, but they gave it their all, trying to get there.

Our newest hire, dewy-eyed Rachael, observed wonderingly: "At my last job, they would have said the volcano was my fault!" It's good to know that in book publishing, at least, we can't resort to flying on Donatella's private jet, and sometimes must stand aside as God and Nature, in all their glory, have their way.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Mozart Season rises again

Do you know about the Phoenix Award? I have to admit, shamefully, that I did not -- until tonight. Tonight, Virginia Euwer Wolff was named the recipient of the 2011 Phoenix Award for her glorious novel, The Mozart Season.

Could there ever be a better reason for giving a prize than this one? Here is the citation:

The Children's Literature Association Phoenix Award is presented annually to the author of a children's or young adult book, originally published in English twenty years earlier, that did not win a major award at the time of its publication. The award recognizes works of high literary merit and lasting significance.

Jinny Wolff is almost pathologically modest, so I will crow on her behalf. The Mozart Season is a book that bears reading and re-reading. (So great was my respect for her novel that I'd clean my apartment on druggy St. Mark's Place -- vacuum even! -- before I'd allow myself to open her manuscript and read her sentences.) Read it if you have a chance.

Hats off to the 2011 Children's Literature Association committee for their far-sighted choice; three cheers for the 17-year-old boy who composed that stunning violin concerto; and kudos to the brilliant Virginia Euwer Wolff for writing a book that will rise again and again.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Poetry Friday: What's truly English?

My walk to work takes me through Central Park. It's like walking through a picture book: dog-walkers, joggers, school children, the turning of the seasons. I passed a host of golden daffodils this morning and thought: Shall I use Wordsworth's well-worn chestnut for Poetry Friday today? Nah. Who can bear to read that one again.

Then came to mind "Oh, to be in England, Now that April's there!" a poem I once had by heart but which now mercifully is gone from memory.

No to Browning, no to Wordsworth, but England seemed to be in the air. Hence the below, from that great unsung Irish laureate, Spike Milligan:


English Teeth, English Teeth!
Shining in the sun
A part of British heritage
Aye, each and every one.

English Teeth, Happy Teeth!
Always having fun
Clamping down on bits of fish
And sausages half done.

English Teeth! HEROES' Teeth!
Hear them click! and clack!
Let's sing a song of praise to them --
Three Cheers for the Brown Grey and Black.

Thanks again to the brilliant anthologist Wallace Tripp, in whose Marguerite, Go Wash Your Feet! I first found this poem.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Poetry Friday: Missing Bologna

Yesterday was the end of the Children's Book Fair in Bologna. Many have waxed lyrical about the beauties of the place, the bounty of the food, the flowing of the wine, the vaulting of the porticos. So I won't spend too much time on those. What I miss: the hardware store with its smaller-scaled Italian household goods; the candy/jam/grappa shop where I would have bought Easter chocolate; the mermaids; the waiters; the vacuum-packed parmigiano from Tamburini.

But to be honest, what I miss even more is the community. Many is the international dinner where you are seated next to someone whose language you do not share. It's hard to communicate, even if you're doing business in common. So what do you do? If you're very lucky, you're at a dinner where the guests sing or declaim or recite in their own language. Does it matter if you don't understand the words? It does not. What matters is the tone, the sound, the feeling, the surprise.

I hosted a dinner once where, after antipasta and pasta and carne and insalata and dolci and caffe and vino bianco e rosso and of course aqua minerale (gazata o non-gazata), I asked the participants if they would grace us with a little rhyme from their own country. It doesn't take much for Europeans to come up with poetry. We went around the table and we each recited a nursery rhyme. Some of the rhyming patterns were shared, country to country. Mostly we didn't understand the Swedes and Finns, but we all understood that we'd reached deep into ourselves to find first the cadence and then the words of an old rhyme. This was mine:

Ride a cock horse to Banbury Cross
To see a fine lady upon a white horse
With rings on her fingers and bells on her toes
She shall have music wherever she goes.

When we're next in Bologna, what will be yours?

Friday, March 19, 2010

Poetry Friday: Wasn't today the quintessence of Just- spring?

in Just-
spring when the world is mud-
luscious the little
lame balloonman

whistles far and wee

and eddieandbill come
running from marbles and
piracies and it's

when the world is puddle-wonderful

the queer
old balloonman whistles
far and wee
and bettyandisbel come dancing

from hop-scotch and jump-rope and



balloonMan whistles
-- E. E. Cummings

(And yes, I'm daring to use the capitals in his name: