The modern girl’s guide to reading

I’ll cop to this: my shelves contain more books I’ve never finished than books I’ve read. But I don’t think I’m quite to the point that Charlie Brooker describes in the Guardian

I’m fairly certain I recently passed a rather pathetic tipping point, and now own more unread books and unwatched DVDs than my remaining lifespan will be able to sustain.

For one thing, I don’t buy DVD’s, except for an occasional pick from the $5 grocery store bin.

In related news, why hasn’t everyone in America viewed and memorized the eminently quotable Bowfinger?

My husband and I have committed to the more efficient strategy of arranging our Netflix queue to contain Important Subtitled Films for Cultural Literacy, then promptly shelving discs like Cinema Paradisio while watching SNL clips at Hulu. Then, when the children ask why their movie hasn’t come in the mail after a couple of months, the dusty red envelope goes right back into the mailbox and we await Scooby-Doo and the Mysterious Haunted Delicatessen. It works for us.

Here we’re back to the Partial Book Review feature that I’m really going to resume one of these days. My feeling is that even when I do read a book cover to cover, it’s not like I remember most of it (Fig. 1):
Thus, we see that the net result of the average book-reading session approximately three weeks out is a retention rate of 18.9%. Allowing for the increase in mental productivity from writing about what subjects the Subject has read, we may extrapolate that the composition of a review based on 43.1% of the book will result in a net retention rate of 23.5%, an improvement of 4.6 percentage points.

An additional benefit of coming to terms with the Failure to Read in Full is an overall reduction in library fines of $147 per annum, or approximately one and one-half shelves’ worth of commemorative library square footage, as could potentially be notated in faux brass engraved plaque to be affixed to said shelves, were the funds donated outright instead of funnelled through the “fines are fine” mechanism.

Pueri, a-cantoring

The world of music did not lose its crowning jewel when I opted to major in economics.

I couldn’t have been a contender. But maybe I could have been a chorister.


My grandmother taught piano and gave me my own upright as a thirteenth birthday present, which meant my parents’ occasional threats to cease paying for lessons if I wasn’t going to practice were then enhanced with guiltosamine and stubbornation. I enjoyed piano lessons but couldn’t shake the feeling that they were a waste of time if I wasn’t going to turn out to be a prodigy. So I took lessons up until high school graduation, entered exactly one competition, and was promptly terrified by the sound of students who played better than I.

And then I quit.

Occasionally, I’d sneak into a practice room in college, where I’d try to summon up my best memories of Beethoven despite months of atrophying skills. I’m generally good for about ten measures of the third movement of the Sonata Pathetique, and then it’s like someone came along with a magic eraser and scrubbed those memories right out of my head. I’d fiddle around for a little while, until I could hear an Actual Musician practicing in an adjoining room. They probably thought I was SUCH a LOSER. How EMBARASSING. I probably shouldn’t have even BEEN THERE. My classes were in a whole other BUILDING.

You can see that I’ve made peace with this chapter of my past, I’m sure.

I sang in any group that didn’t require an audition, and even ended up in charge of a couple of them. But it wasn’t until after my father died that I decided it was time to quit being stupid and just let somebody hear me sing, already. I survived the tryout for our local community chorale and spent several years learning what terms like “put the D in the rest” mean. Appogiatura. Oh, that other thing. Melisma? Calliope?

Like any good yuppie parent, I want more for my children. Actually, I want less – less fear, less self-consciousness, less obsession with perfection.

Christopher has started piano lessons this year, and although there’s an occasional bit of whining, he’s really enjoying them so far. Mary Margaret has started the recorder. My husband has started clarinet, the baby sings the blues, and I’m back to practicing piano.

I figure it’s far more likely that my son will meet his practice goals if I meet mine, and my goal is lofty: Practice. Ever. So far, I’m meeting that goal at least twice a week. We often practice everything at the same time. Coincidentally, our neighbors on the one side just moved out and left no forwarding address.

But singing – that’s the thing. You know? It’s scary, it’s pure, it’s eminently portable, and the neighboring diocese has one of the top chapters of Pueri Cantores IN THE WORLD. The WORLD.

I read in this book (which I’ll partially review someday) that “A need is not a call.” Then I ignored it, and ordered a bunch of materials, and now I’ll be starting the homeschool music Catholic choir class thing with a hardy group of seven or eight kids.

Stay tuned.

Amateur Movie Hour: The Informant!

To complement this blog’s Partial Book Review feature, I now introduce Amateur Movie Hour, in which I will draw upon my extensive reading of Entertainment Weekly and not much else to describe my moviegoing choices.

I think The Informant! is best experienced as I did, with little to no background knowledge except for: Matt Damon is in it, but not as Jason Bourne.

Okay, I haven’t been totally honest with you. The main thing on which your opinion of the movie will hinge is your opinion of Marvin Hamlisch, whom I personally consider MARVELOUS. Why, right now, I’m working on* Solace! (from The Sting!)

Thus, even though I do not appreciate it, Mr. Soderbergh, that you made 1992** feel like 1973***, I also delighted in the choice.

In the interest of full disclosure, and I’m just going to put it all out there, I know that not everyone would feel the same way. The trailer – at least the trailer I saw, and I have to say that I didn’t go out and find all possible trailers – doesn’t clue you in about the music. Or the fonts.

So, one more thing, and then I’m really finished with this. Don’t go to the movie expecting a wacky “The Insider.” The movie isn’t about the scandal; it’s about the Informant.

Okay, SPOILERS. One of my favorite aspects of the film/movie (still deciding about that) is the main character’s inner monologue, which complements the daffy music. They go hand in hand to show you Whitacre’s view of himself as he provides the FBI with the details of Archer Daniels Midland’s price-fixing practices. Love the references to Michael Crichton novels and “The Firm.”

Again, I’m an amateur here, but what I noticed is that there comes a point – a turning point! – where his interior commentary alternates line-for-line with his actual responses to questions from A Character, and you see how all of his previous actions come crashing down around him. And then – I’m pretty sure – and this is the final thing, really, I’m just going to tell you – the interior monologue stops.

In closing – and truly, this is it, as far as what I need to disclose, here – it is a fascinating meditation on the self-destructive behavior of a brilliant person, and it doesn’t offer any easy out for…no, I’ve said too much.

How do I know you all of my keystrokes haven’t already been catalogued by Google and you know all the things I just typed and deleted?

* on the piano! From sheet music!
** year of my high school graduation NOT LONG AGO
*** year before I was even BORN!