hey you there, reader or weblog author: send me a link

I used to have a list of links to websites I read regularly (or try to read regularly), over there in the sidebar. I finally got rid of it when I realized it would always make me uncomfortable. Who was I forgetting? Who was I offending? Who was wondering how I got such a high opinion of myself (Catholic school. What can I say?). Better not to have it there at all.

Then I got a bright idea. I would put up links to writers’ weblogs, but only if I could include a direct link to a specific post that I particularly liked. Some accountability, thought I. That’s the ticket.

Except, two things: 1. It would take a lot of time to carry this out, because being the compulsive type I am, I would not find it easy to pick a representative post. 2. I would end up worrying just as much about this list of links as the old one. It’s still a good idea. I just needed a different way to implement it. And here it is, I think. Coincidentally, it lifts most of the burden off my shoulders and puts it — well, on yours. Here’s the plan.

There are two kinds of people who come by here. Those who read weblogs, and those who read them and also write one or more of their own. First to those of you who read weblogs but don’t write one, a question: can you name one of your favorites, and (most important) can you point to what you consider to be a really excellent post?

To those of you who write a weblog, can you point to one of your own posts that you think was particularly successful (how ever you define success; that’s up to you).

Now, I know nobody will come out and say something like this in public, so this will all be anonymous. If you’ve got a weblog & post to recommend, you can do that by signing your comment as your favorite fictional character, or by sending me an email. I am hoping that weblog authors will actually take heart in hand and point to their own favorite posts, because I think this would be the making of a really useful list of links. Not just for show. A list with some umph. Some character. And best of all: you won’t know if the link & post were suggested by a faithful reader, or by the author him or herself.

To put my money where my mouth is, if I had to pick one post of my own… damn, it’s hard. But okay, this one: On Depression. I didn’t say it had to be a funny post, just a post that you feel strongly about. I have other posts I like that turned out funny, but none of them ring quite so true as this one.

Imagine this, that when people click come by here and look at the list, when they follow the link to your weblog they don’t end up on today’s post about the mail being late, or the rant about the bookstore clerk, or anything else you consider not your best effort. Instead, they end up at a post you feel good about. I think people would be more likely to click in the first place. Everybody wins: more good stuff to read, and more readers discovering writers they didn’t know.

Here are some caveats (you knew these were coming). I expect I’ll get a lot of suggestions for some of the more popular blogs, and that’s fine. However, if I get fifteen different favorite post suggestions for the same weblog, I can’t put them all up. I will put up the first three. If the weblog author has a suggestion, that link will be one of the three, but you won’t know who suggested what.

Does this sound complicated? It really isn’t. If you’ve got a weblog, send me a link to a post you like a lot. If you have a favorite weblog, send me a link to a post you like a lot. You can say why you like the post in a few words, if you like, but it’s not obligatory.

And again: Anonymity all around.

If this takes off, I’ll have to find room for all the links, but I’ll take that chance.

Sweet Land: a review

All I knew about this movie before I watched it was (1) the title, which is evocative; and (2) the premise: A young German woman travels to Minnesota in the 1920’s to marry Olaf Torvik, a Norwiegan immigrant and farmer.

This could have been sticky sweet, a tale of young love facing the elements and winning. But it was more complex than that, and more rewarding. In Minnesota in 1920 there is no love for anything German. Too many fathers and sons didn’t come back from WWI, and they hold Germany responsible, even years later. Inge and Olaf don’t have the awkwardness of dealing with each other, because the pastor refuses to marry them. She could be a spy. She could be amoral. They will have to look into the legalities.

I know from first hand experience how small farmers live and work, and the director doesn’t pull any punches here. Inge and Olaf aren’t married — they must wait for papers from Germany — and they sleep separately, but they are partners in a very elemental sense. Inge takes on field work, and together they manage when around them farms are going bankrupt and being auctioned off.

The joy of a movie like this is the clarity and simplicity of the relationship. For most of history, marriage was a survival mechanism. There wasn’t time to consider what it meant to be married, what goals they had in common. That was really straight forward: food on the table. Of course marriages went wrong in those circumstances as well, but not because the couple couldn’t agree on a political philosophy, or if they wanted to live in the city or suburbs. They just wanted to live.

This is a love story, but it’s a very quiet and subtle one. It is sweet, but it’s not artifically so. The young farmer and his soon-to-be bride are very well drawn, given how little dialog there is. A few of the secondary characters were a bit flat — the avaricious sheriff in league with the heartless banker, for example. But Inge and Olaf are the important characters, the ones you want to have on the screen. I’m sure I’ll watch this movie again, to see what I missed in the photography and imagery. There was so much of it — up to the very end, when the titles are rolling — that it’s hard to look away.

Still Summer

I’ve talked about domestic drama before. I think of it as the genre that-dare-not-speak-its-name, because it flies under the radar of the litcriterati. A genre written mostly by women and read mostly by women — one that doesn’t get trivialized or bashed (for the most part) — that’s something to nurture. The bigger names (Jodi Picoult and ELinor Lipman, for example) get serious reviews in the big name places. And that’s good. In fact, that is excellent.

[asa book]0446578762[/asa] Jackie Mitchard is one of my favorites in this select group of women who produce well written, intriguing stories about women who live what might seem to be traditional or even boring lives. Many of the subjects are no surprise: divorce, sick children, unexpected violence, family dysfunction. But as is ever the case with a story — it’s not where you end up, but how you got there.

Mitchard’s most recent novel is Still Summer. This is a novel that took me by surprise — and excuse me for sounding know-it-all, but that is hard to do. Still Summer breaks out of the genre in an unexpected and interesting way.

Instead of a small town or a suburban neighborhood or a farm, we have four women on a sailboat. Three of them are old friends who charmed and rabble roused their way through high school together twenty-five years earlier. Tracy, Holly and Olivia as well as Camille — Tracy’s 19-year-old daughter –set out on a great adventure.

There’s enough material right there for a novel, albeit a quiet one. The backstory is chock full of conflicts, enough to power the four women all the way to the Caribbean and back again. But Mitchard doesn’t stop there. The four women set out on what was meant to be a lighthearted adventure, but it turns into a struggle to survive the elements, the sea, predators (some of them human), and twenty-five years of personal history.

Still Summer is a rocking good story, one that pulls you along. I picked it up thinking I’d just read the first few pages and didn’t put it down again until I finished. What Mitchard managed to do here is to take the best of the domestic drama genre and an adventure story and interweave them so that they support each other beautifully.

It is in fact Still Summer, so I suggest you get a hold of this book. Except maybe not on a sailboat. Another one of Mitchard’s novels that I like a lot: The Most Wanted.

on the last day of poetry month

I have one more poem to post. I’ve talked about it before because it’s one of my very favorites. A whole complex, interesting story in a few stanzas.

Before I do that, I wanted to say that I have been thinking about starting a series of posts on plot/story. With any luck I’ll get the first post up in the next couple days.

Here it is:

Love 20 cents the First Quarter Mile
Kenneth Fearing
All right. I may have lied to you and about you, and made a
few pronouncements a bit too sweeping, perhaps, and
possibly forgotten to tag the bases here or there,
And damned your extravagance, and maligned your tastes,
and libeled your relatives, and slandered a few of your
friends, O. K. ,
Nevertheless, come back.

Come home. I will agree to forget the statements that you
issued so copiously to the neighbors and the press,
And you will forget that figment of your imagination, the
blonde from Detroit;
I will agree that your lady friend who lives above us is not
crazy, bats, nutty as they come, but on the contrary rather
And you will concede that poor old Steinberg is neither a
drunk, nor a swindler, but simply a guy, on the eccentric
side, trying to get along.
(Are you listening, you bitch, and have you got this straight?)

Because I forgive you, yes, for everything. I forgive you for
being beautiful and generous and wise,
I forgive you, to put it simply, for being alive, and pardon
you, in short, for being you.

Because tonight you are in my hair and eyes,
And every street light that our taxi passes shows me you
again, still you,
And because tonight all other nights are black, all other hours
are cold and far away, and now, this minute, the stars are
very near and bright.

Come back. We will have a celebration to end all celebrations.
We will invite the undertaker who lives beneath us, and a
couple of boys from the office, and some other friends.
And Steinberg, who is off the wagon, and that
insane woman who lives upstairs, and a few reporters, if
anything should break.