Kate's Queen City Notes

Blundering through Cincinnati, laughing all the way

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100 Books by 40: ON THE ROAD Scroll Edition

Natalie Merchant is responsible for what I’ve become. Compulsive listening to 10,000 Maniacs caused neurons to fire with recognition at the sight of Jack Kerouac in the book store at the beginning of my last year of high school. The unremarkable walk out of Walden Books in the crisp October afternoon sun in 1993 seemed like any other, just as an inconsistency in metal rails is just as much until a train comes barreling down on them.

While it was never my dream to get married and have children, I also didn’t see any alternatives to that future. There was only one road to the future. Everyone I knew planned to navigate it.

When my friends would enthuse about their future families, a tiny quiver in a dank, seldom-visited corner of my brain would induce sweaty palms and a dry mouth. I had dutifully obtained a high school boyfriend thinking that it would unlock my vision of my future self, mom, wife. I felt sure making all the preordained choices would silence that troubling quiver.

And then this happened:

“… they rushed down the street together digging everything in the early way they had which has later now become so much sadder and perceptive.. but then they danced down the street like dingledodies and I shambled after as usual as I’ve been doing all my life after people that interest me, because the only people that interest me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones that never yawn or say a commonplace thing.. but burn, burn, burn like roman candles across the night.” Jack Kerouac On the Road (Scroll Edition)

Like a blaring alarm clock that jolts the sleeper upright, waking came to me abrupt and complete. Inhabiting On the Road opened me to the pursuit of truth. The power inherent in chance encounters. The heartbreak and beauty in seeking authenticity in a world saturated with facades and costumes. I saw in On the Road the quiver grow to a rattling. The train jumped the tracks.

The book describes late 1940’s America with love and smoldering intensity. Every crevasse and sewer grate from New York to San Francisco is found with a quiet beauty in its disarray. They roar across the country looking to drink every real experience in every moment stealing real connections from the jaws of 1950’s conformity.

Since I took the other road in 1993 that led me to move away from home and come out, I read On the Road again in the early 2000’s. So, I selected The Original Scroll edition for this reading. This edition was written in 1948, whereas the published version of On the Road was rewritten several times before it finally hit the shelves in 1957. The versions are different in that the punctuation typically used in quotations is eschewed and the names of the characters haven’t been changed. Sal is Jack in The Original Scroll edition. These are the most obvious differences. There are other minor differences that will only be obvious to the most obsessive fan.

My third reading of this finds me at thirty-nine. It finds me coming to the realization that I love experiences over things. It finds me shedding my furniture. It finds me putting down all the things I’ve collected over the years. It finds me single with a string of failed relationships behind me all collateral damage in part due to my incessant searching for more. It finds me throwing clothes, guitars, and cat into my car in three weeks to move across the country. It finds me hungry for authenticity. It finds me going on the road.

I don’t know what Seattle will hold for me. I do know that I need to face this down. I do know that I will make a pilgrimage to this bridge in Big Sur while I am out West. And I know like Jack Kerouac and Ben Gibbard, I will be reminded that it’s about the journey and not the destination. And I know that I couldn’t have better muses to carry me on this journey than Jack and Neil.

“Bixby Canyon Bridge” – Death Cab for Cutie

I descended a dusty gravel ridge
Beneath the Bixby Canyon Bridge
Until I eventually arrived
At the place where your soul had died

Barefoot in the shallow creek
I grabbed some stones from underneath
And waited for you to speak to me

In the silence it became so very clear
That you had long ago disappeared
I cursed myself for being surprised
That this didn’t play like it did in my mind

All the way from San Francisco
As I chased the end of your road
‘Cause I’ve still got miles to go

And I want to know my fate
If I keep up this way

And it’s hard to want to stay awake
When everyone you meet, they all seem to be asleep
And you wonder if you’re missing a dream

You can’t see a dream
You can’t see a dream
You just can’t see a dream

A dream [x12]

And then it started getting dark
I trudged back to where the car was parked
No closer to any kind of truth
As I must assume was the case with you

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100 Books by 40: GIRLS IN LOVE

Book: Girls In Love (Book 1)
Author: Jacqueline Wilson
Published: 1997

I can only feel thankful that I found this book available for download from The Hamilton County Library after striking out at Amazon and living on the hold list for months to borrow the physical book. Had I been left with no choice but to skip this book or put my dollars against having it among the great books in my library, I would have skipped it, leaving my project technically unfinished.

This is the second book from this author in my list. Lackluster is a word that comes to mind. While the focus of the first book is around losing a close friend, it has enough romantic side stories that I left that read with a chapped ass. Based on my previous experience with this author and the the title, I knew the displeasure ahead.

My expectations were validated completely. Spoiler alert: thirteen-year-old girls have dramatic experiments in love while chafing under the totalitarian rule of their unreasonable parents. And shock of all shocks, insecure main character manages to mend her relationship with her parents and achieve the perfect middle school romance. WHY IS THIS IN A BEST 100 BOOKS LIST? BBC! GO HOME! YOU’RE DRUNK!!

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100 Books by 40: KANE AND ABEL

Book: Kane and Abel
Author: Jeffrey Archer
Published: 1979

Passing 10 hours of time can be done in many more pleasant ways than reading this book, like reading most of the other books further up in this list. Putting Jack Kerouac close to this title makes me seriously doubt The BBC’s understanding of American Literature. Let’s hope the end of this list was put together by a summer intern. And really, this conjecture seems reasonable considering The Princess Diaries is next on my reading list.

The book follows the lives of two successful men, Kane and Abel, naturally. One man is born into luxury, the other poverty. Due to an unfortunate turn of events, the characters feud for most of their lives.

The feud would have been considerably more interesting if Kane had dimensions rather than a dimension. William Kane always makes the right decisions. He is a successful banker. When Kane is shot in the face in WWII, all the scars heal, and he escapes permanent disfigurement. Of course he does. His wife is as beautiful at fifty-four as she was at twenty. Of course she is. Their children and beautiful and geniuses. Of course they are. See how tiresome this is? Now consider one thousand pages of it.

Partially due to the one dimension of William Kane, the foreshadowing could have only been more ham-fisted if the author provided a book summary at the end of every chapter. The plot was as predictable as the plot of an American rom-com. To round out this list of shame, the Biblical reference to Cain and Able fails to apply in significant ways.

Abel is developed further, but only slightly. The standard hard-working, successful immigrant story is trotted out. He occasionally makes poor choices, which make him slightly more interesting. Good stories never start off with, “I drank a nice herbal tea and went to bed early.”

Here’s the thing. Mark Twain didn’t try to write novels about Brits… set in England… a place he did not live. Jeffrey Archer is British. He’s lived in England his entire life. Here’s a theory. Perhaps the characters fall flat because these American archetypes are so tired to me. The archetypes succeed with foreigners because they reinforce their misconceptions of opportunity in America.

Are you an American? DO NOT READ THIS BOOK. If you want a easy summer read about immigrants, for god’s sake, pick-up The Godfather instead.

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100 Books by 40: THE COLOR OF MAGIC

Book: The Color of Magic
Author: Terry Pratchett

Terry Pratchett took me on a romp through space and time. I flew on dragons. I contemplated the implications of a multidimensional universe. I was confronted with the enormity of our world and how this vastness is at once terrifying and comforting. He sharpened the truth that all control is an illusion. Fear and anxiety fall impotent, useless at its steely feet.

My plate is filled with high risk and high impact decisions that spring from big disappointment. And now more than ever, I needed constant whispering in my ear… “The present is always enough.” “Control is an illusion; worry serves no purpose other than to spin a web of suffering.”

Thank you, Terry Pratchett, for your words. Thank you for sharing your playful yet profound mind. Thank you for bringing me comfort at a time when it was scarce.


100 Books by 40: NIGHT WATCH

Book: Night Watch
Author: Terry Pratchett
Published: 2002

It’s an accident that I finished Night Watch a few days after Terry Pratchett passed away earlier this month. But I will call it a happy accident. Because I can’t think of a better way to celebrate him and his life. While I’m sorry that I didn’t get turned on to his books earlier in my life, I am thankful that I found them at all.

In the same way that I cannot resist any combination of chocolate and peanut butter, dry British humor in any form will delight me. The humor obscures the science fiction elements of the plot; since I am not a fan of sci-fi, that works for me. This is an excellent outcome considering that time travel is often a lazy plot device, a device that this book uses. Although, I don’t think time travel is used in a lazy manner in this particular book. This was a dazzling, funny whirlwind. Read it.

Time for an update on my list.

Reading now:
82. I Capture The Castle, Dodie Smith
84. Gormenghast, Mervyn Peake
92. The Clan Of The Cave Bear, Jean M Auel

Finished reading:
1. The Lord of the Rings, JRR Tolkien
2. Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
3. His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman
4. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams
5. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, JK Rowling
6. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
7. Winnie the Pooh, AA Milne
8. Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell
9. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, CS Lewis
10. Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë
11. Catch-22, Joseph Heller
12. Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë
13. Birdsong, Sebastian Faulks
14. Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier
15. The Catcher in the Rye, JD Salinger
16. The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame
17. Great Expectations, Charles Dickens
18. Little Women, Louisa May Alcott
19. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, Louis de Bernieres
20. War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy
21. Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell
22. Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone, JK Rowling
23. Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets, JK Rowling
24. Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban, JK Rowling
25. The Hobbit, JRR Tolkien
26. Tess Of The D’Urbervilles, Thomas Hardy
27. Middlemarch, George Eliot
28. A Prayer For Owen Meany, John Irving
29. The Grapes Of Wrath, John Steinbeck
30. Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
31. The Story Of Tracy Beaker, Jacqueline Wilson
32. One Hundred Years Of Solitude, Gabriel García Márquez
33. The Pillars Of The Earth, Ken Follett
34. David Copperfield, Charles Dickens
35. Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl
36. Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson
37. A Town Like Alice, Nevil Shute
38. Persuasion, Jane Austen
39. Dune, Frank Herbert
40. Emma, Jane Austen – only 99 cents for Kindle edition
41. Anne Of Green Gables, LM Montgomery
42. Watership Down, Richard Adams
43. The Great Gatsby, F Scott Fitzgerald
44. The Count Of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas
45. Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh
46. Animal Farm, George Orwell
47. A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens – have on Kindle
48. Far From The Madding Crowd, Thomas Hardy – have on Kindle
49. Goodnight Mister Tom, Michelle Magorian
50. The Shell Seekers, Rosamunde Pilcher
51. The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett
52. Of Mice And Men, John Steinbeck
53. The Stand, Stephen King
54. Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy
55. A Suitable Boy, Vikram Seth
56. The BFG, Roald Dahl
57. Swallows And Amazons, Arthur Ransome
58. Black Beauty, Anna Sewell
59. Artemis Fowl, Eoin Colfer
60. Crime And Punishment, Fyodor Dostoyevsky
61. Noughts And Crosses, Malorie Blackman
62. Memoirs Of A Geisha, Arthur Golden
63. A Tale Of Two Cities, Charles Dickens *I read this when I was too young to appreciate it; I would like to read it again as an adult. I will do so if I have time.
64. The Thorn Birds, Colleen McCollough
65. Mort, Terry Pratchett
66. The Magic Faraway Tree, Enid Blyton
67. The Magus, John Fowles
68. Good Omens, Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
69. Guards! Guards!, Terry Pratchett
70. Lord Of The Flies, William Golding *I’ve read this twice. I will read it again if I have time.
71. Perfume, Patrick Süskind
72. The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, Robert Tressell
73. Night Watch, Terry Pratchett
74. Matilda, Roald Dahl
75. Bridget Jones’s Diary, Helen Fielding
76. The Secret History, Donna Tartt
77. The Woman In White, Wilkie Collins
78. Ulysses, James Joyce
79. Bleak House, Charles Dickens
80. Double Act, Jacqueline Wilson
83. Holes, Louis Sachar
87. Brave New World, Aldous Huxley
90. On The Road, Jack Kerouac *I’ve read this twice. I will read it again if I have time. I have the unabriged unedited version and will probably take on that if time allows.
91. The Godfather, Mario Puzo

Pending reading:
81. The Twits, Roald Dahl
85. The God Of Small Things, Arundhati Roy
86. Vicky Angel, Jacqueline Wilson
88. Cold Comfort Farm, Stella Gibbons
89. Magician, Raymond E Feist
93. The Colour Of Magic, Terry Pratchett
94. The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho
95. Katherine, Anya Seton
96. Kane And Abel, Jeffrey Archer
97. Love In The Time Of Cholera, Gabriel García Márquez
98. Girls In Love, Jacqueline Wilson
99. The Princess Diaries, Meg Cabot
100. Midnight’s Children, Salman Rushdie

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100 Books by 40: HOLES

Book: Holes
Author: Louis Sachar
Published: 1997

I borrowed this from the library. I could see that I requested sound media. I expected an audiobook on CDs. Instead, I got this doodad.

Picture of a mp3 player with one audiobook on it

It’s like a baby MP3 player only with one book on it. I guess this gets people mobile with a book without supplying their own MP3 player.

The doodad worked fine, except that it randomly shut down a few times losing my place in the book. It was a mild inconvenience. I had no idea such a thing exists, but I am happy that folks without access to an MP3 player have some options.

I often don’t research books before I read them. Because this little doodad had virtually no writing on it, I didn’t benefit from any of the information the book cover typically imparts. After some minutes of listening, it was discomforting that I was unsure if the book was a young adult novel. I noticed that the prose was pretty simple. But the subject matter was a bit heavy. Yet subject matter is a poor barometer of a book’s category.

This mystery drove me to distraction for the entire experience. I learned that the book is a young adult title after finishing it. So, note to self, when I don’t have a book jacket to peruse, I should look up the book to at least assess the category it’s in. Wondering about it diminishes from the experience of the book.

The book itself is unremarkable. The story is of a boy coming of age in a labor camp. Unwittingly, he solves some family mysteries and resolves an outstanding family debt. The plot is a little too precious for me, but I would happily recommend this book to any young adult.

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100 books by 40: GOOD OMENS

Book: Good Omens
Authors: Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
Published: 1990

The writers of Supernatural, the TV show, seemed to borrow many of their idea from this book. The similarities are so close that I looked to see if one of the authors also write for the show. When I came up dry there, I checked to see if the show credits Gaiman or Pratchett. My less-than-exhaustive research came up dry.

What I did find is that rumors of Good Omens becoming a movie have been swirling for some time. These rumors have been persistent enough that the actor that plays Crowley in Supernatural was asked if he has been approached to play Crowley in the Good Omens movie. The actor denied this.

I wonder what’s up with the intellectual property here? Perhaps the authors or the publishing company lack the motivation to file suit. Maybe the publishing company and authors see the fan fiction that has sprouted merging the two story lines and sense that this is good for all involved. Or maybe the similarities relegated to side characters, aren’t significant enough for a claim.

In the book, an angel and demon join forces to postpone the apocalypse. The unique picture of good and evil that this book paints is reason enough for me to recommend reading this book. The book’s take on the banality of evil is communicated effortlessly; a feat that isn’t lost on me due to my past experience with numerous psychological texts that struggle to convey the same.

The shimmering, dry British humor, also reason enough to recommend the book, is a welcome diversion from the weighty premise of the book. That being said. This book is great for divergent interests; moralists and humorists can unite. If a book can be described as a romp, this would be the book. Read it.

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100 Book by 40: SECRET HISTORY

Book: Secret History
Author: Donna Tartt
Published: 1992

I started Ulysses and Bleak House this week. I missed this in high school and college. I’m sure I missed it in high school because the content was too scandalous for my conservative Christian high school. I probably missed it in college due to the fact that my only literature credits came in the form of Ancient Greek Lit. In retrospect this seems like time poorly spent, as I recall virtually nothing from The Iliad or The Odyssey.

Secret History would have been a page-turner regardless of my alternate reading option being a bit difficult. I hesitate to call it a murder mystery, because the book tells you all from the outset. If there’s a mystery it’s about laying out the context for a motive.

But it does this so expertly. I am fascinated with the characters, and buzzed through the five hundred plus pages to understand what drove them. The narrator, a California native trying to make sense of affluent New England cultural norms let me ride on his shoulder. His voice as outsider there, let me naturally assume his observations.

My acceptance of the narrator drove my curiosity. I related to him. I found myself accepting his rationalizations for his actions. And that’s the power of this book. Not only did I feel bad for the obscenely wealthy murderers, but I grew convinced that they took the only path open to them.

This book was super. Read it. Prepare to creep yourself out.


100 Books by 40: EMMA

Going from Jane Austen to Thomas Hardy is disorienting. I finished Emma and started Far from the Maddening Crowd yesterday. Austen and Hardy’s works were only separated from each other by about 40 years, but that period introduced considerable changes to British culture. Plus, Austen’s witty dialog is a stark contrast to Hardy’s brooding characters and lush context descriptions. In Austen’s work the transformation engine is love, whereas Hardy’s is suffering. Dropping one book and immediately picking up the other was a challenge.

Concurrently, I have been reading The Count of Monte Cristo for four months. FOUR MONTHS. The things that I don’t appreciate about this book are legion. It was written in French, and like Crime and Punishment, I’m not appreciating all the translation choices. There is quite a bit of repetition. Like many novels from that time period, it was published serially in a periodical; Dumas might have reiterated significant plot points to remind readers. To top it off, the plot feels like a soap opera. Seriously, this book is Guiding Light set in the nineteenth century.

All that challenging reading explains why I was so pleased to pick up Goodnight, Mister Tom. Young Adult Fiction was exactly what my wearied brain needed. Anyone want to place bets that I will finish Goodnight, Mister Tom before I finish The Count of Monte Cristo? Don’t bother. Gambling implies that there is reasonable possibility of either happening. Lets be honest, there isn’t.

I haven’t said anything about Emma. It was pleasant. I found Emma and her father obnoxious. And given that I am on Jane Austen book number 3 in this list, I am chafing a bit at the bright, sunny endings that her books have. Those criticisms aside, her dialog and wit save the day. But I guess in keeping with most romance books, it didn’t tell me anything about life or relationships that I didn’t already know. It was a pleasant diversion and not much else.

I need to wrap this up and get back to The Count of Monte Cristo. I’m on renew number five with the library, and I just can’t bring myself to do another.

I just got a new camera. This means you will all suffer through my learning journey with it.

The wall under the stairs.

The wall under the stairs.

This sandstone glitters.

This sandstone glitters.

Where does the water go?

Where does the water go?

This is the prototype for the Brooklyn Bridge.

This is the prototype for the Brooklyn Bridge.

Shadow of life.

Shadow of life.

This is where the Bengals play.

This is where the Bengals play.

This area in the foreground is where the banks second wave will be built. Someday this view of the city will be obscured.

This area in the foreground is where the banks second wave will be built. Someday this view of the city will be obscured.

Fixing the side walks.

Fixing the side walks.

This building has some mega ugly 70's façade put on it. This is what was underneath.

This building has some mega ugly 70’s façade put on it. This is what was underneath.

Front view of the building. I hope they restore the original façade. It's way more awesome than the 70's mess that was there before.

Front view of the building. I hope they restore the original façade. It’s way more awesome than the 70’s mess that was there before.

Inside Rhinegiest.

Inside Rhinegiest.




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100 Books by 40: DUNE

The last few weeks have felt overwhelming. While I enjoy the time off around the holidays, I don’t enjoy that I am traveling so much. There are many reasons for this. I hate driving. I’ve reached an age where my back appreciates no beds other than my own. My separation from the gym makes my anxiety pool with zero outlets. Eating off my typical diet leads to a 5 to 10 pound weight gain that will need to be addressed come January. Clothes get tighter. I returned from Chicago six days ago. Yesterday I returned from Northern Ohio. Discomfort. That’s a good word to describe my holidays.

As a solid introvert, I lose control of my alone time while traveling. I like people. I like being around people, but it exhausts me. I need little recharging moments throughout my day. I peppered reading sessions throughout my 4-day trip to Chicago. Every day, I would sneak off for a couple of hours and read Dune. I had other books to read, like Treasure Island and David Copperfield. But I always picked Dune. Since my other two reading selections where snug on my Kindle, those books would have been more sensible reading choices. Dune was borrowed from my library was decidedly more bulky and less convenient for taking busses and the train around Chicago.

I picked Dune because it captivated me from page one. If you’ve been reading my blog, you know that I don’t like science fiction as a general rule. I wasn’t fond of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I’ve struggled to put my finger on why I often don’t like this genre. My least wordy explanation is that lazy writers use the non-realistic setting to enable sloppy plots, although admittedly this wasn’t the problem with Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

There were thing things that I loved about Dune. First, there wasn’t excessive creative license around what the creatures and characters looked like. Herbert seemed to save all his creative energies for developing classes of characters that come with specific sets of skills and abilities, the Bene Gesserit are an excellent example of this. I get the sense that sci-fi writers get carried away with describing the strange visuals of their creatures and then fail at adequate character development.

Second, Herbert revealed details around both these classes of characters and context information at an appropriate pace. The novel starts out with little to no description and jumps right into plot. He would mete out details and bits of back-story as he described action. This is one of the best paced novels I have ever read.

Third the political, ecological, and religious themes  are excellent. First, this is one of the first fictional books that I’ve ever read that considers the ecological implications on plot development. The interplay between religion, power, and politics resonates as being in line with our own history books.

I will be reading the sequels to this book. This is one of the few books that I just couldn’t put down once I started. I highly suggest that you give it a read.