Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Report on Carlos Ruiz Zafon's talk about his new book

I spent a blissful weekend immersed in Miami Book Fair International events, not the least of which was an evening listening to Carlos Ruiz Zafon talk about his new book, El Juego del Angel (The Angel's Game in English--I'm not sure if it's been released in English yet so the title may vary when it is).

Ruiz Zafon is the phenom Spanish author of the international bestseller The Shadow of the wind (La Sombra del Viento) which has been translated into 30 languages so far. He's currently the most widely read Spanish author in the world. According to him, he now has reached the circulation levels of Miguel Cervantes!

He gave an interesting talk about how these two novels are part of a planned quartet of novels, all taking place in a magical-realism Barcelona and interrelated but independent. He wants each one to be like a different entrance to the same labyrinth. This idea of fashioning the novels like pieces of a Chinese puzzle box sounds fascinating.

He also reported that he won't be selling the film rights to The Shadow of the Wind anytime soon; he says the best film of a novel is the one made in the mind of the reader (a statement that was approved with applause by the audience). But he does live part-time in L.A. now, so it could be he's planning to write an independent screenplay; he didn't say and no one asked him. (Can anyone be living in LA and NOT be working on a screenplay? I don't think so!)

I read the first five chapters of his new book in Spanish and I'm not sensing the same beauty of language that I did in his first, which I read in English. It's too early to tell if this is due to a different approach/voice or maybe he had a genius translator!

Monday, November 03, 2008

Miami Book Fair International coming to town!

The Miami Book Fair International is coming to town Nov. 9-16th.

I'm excited that two of my favorite writers, novelist Carlos Ruiz Zafon author of Shadow of the Wind and now El Juego del Angel, and former poet Laureate Mark Strand, are both participating. Of course, with my luck they are both going to be there at the same time on the same evening! Choices, choices!

Monday, September 08, 2008

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Archives of Book Buzz blog

Recently, my Book Buzz blog reviewing personal finance and frugality blogs was updated.
However, the old url will take you to the archives, where there are some excellent books on the subject reviewed:

Book Buzz Archive

Review of Easy Money by Liz Pulliam Weston

My review of MSN Money's "Money Talk" columnist Liz Pulliam Weston's book, Easy Money is now posted on my Book Buzz blog.

Weston's book was hard to get a handle on to review, but easy and enjoyable to read.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Private Persuasions of Poetry: "Ideal Audience" by Kay Ryan

Kay Ryan is the newly named Poet Laureate of the U.S.
This poem succinctly sums up how I feel about writing, reading and being read:

Ideal Audience

Not scattered legions,
not a dozen from
a single region
for whom accent
matters, not a seven-
member coven,
not five shirttail
cousins; just
one free citizen--
maybe not alive
now even--who
will know with
exquisite gloom
that only we two
ever found this room.

from the collection The Niagara River, Grove Press, 2005.

I love Ryan's sly, sparse style: her economy of words reminds me of Mark Strand's work; he's one of my favorite poets of all time.

This poem, referring to the imaginary meeting of minds that occurs when reader and writer connect, out of time, out of physical space, sums it up so perfectly that I can add nothing. It epitomizes what Ryan calls the "private persuasions of poetry."

Most of the writers I've loved were long dead when I was born and I've felt that "exquisite gloom" when I discovered them. It's out of reality yet it's the most authentic feeling I've ever had.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Kage Baker Q & A

Kage Baker the author of In the Garden of Iden, and a subsequent series of novels called the Company series, answered questions from readers in Joseph Mallozzi's blog.

Baker is a rare find these days: an author who can combine science fiction, historical accuracy and humor into a complex and fun time-travel adventure/romance. Her heroine, Mendoza, a botanist cyborg rescued as a child from the dungeons of the Spanish Inquisition, is very much in the tradition of Joanna Russ' time traveling adventuress Alyx. Her humor reminds one of Connie Willis' humorous novels and stories and she also does a good job of capturing the poignancy behind the humor, just as Willis does.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Can't Stop the Serenity

I just attended a special screening of the film Serenity for Equality Now, a charity devoted to helping women around the world achieve equality and justice.

Can't Stop the Serenity

Serenity is a science fiction/western based on the short-lived t.v. series Firefly, which has won a cult following since its cancellation.

Its creator, Joss Whedon of Buffy and Angel fame, favors this charity so a group of devoted fans decided to host screenings of the film around the country and donate the proceeds to his favorite charity.

We fans call ourselves Browncoats and there are fan clubs around the world:

Claudia Recinos is the organizer of the South Florida Browncoats.

The screening took place at a venue in Ft. Lauderdale, a wonderful historical theater, Cinema Paradiso.

It is hosting the Ft. Lauderdale International Film Festival:

I can't explain the appeal of the show Firefly even to myself: I've liked other science fiction shows like Star Trek, Farscape, Stargate, etc, but Firefly has somethng unique and special that goes beyond just a show. I think I'm as close to being a fanatic as I can come, though probably my level of fanaticism is mild, compared to some.

As for the movie, it was great seeing it on a big screen again. Cinema Paradiso is delightful; it was the best movie-going experience I've had in a long, long time.

Many thanks to Claudia Recinos for organizing this event!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

New review posted on Book Buzz blog

I just posted a review of Work Less, Live More by Bob Clyatt on my Book Buzz blog, which has
a new look now.

The Book Buzz

This book espouses a transition to semi-retirement before quitting altogether as a way of avoiding job burnout and adding enjoyment to your life. I've been "semi-retired" since 1996, more or less, and I can vouch for its advantages. It's not for everyone but some people can choose it if they budget carefully.

"Work Less, Save More" is my motto!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Rainy Days...

Watching the falling rain

One of my fondest memories of college days, pre-Jim that is, is of rainy days at the Campus Lodge (now demolished). This was 1980-81, pre-cellphones, pre-laptops, pre-personal internet, even. When it rained, it seemed all of us would gravitate toward the door at the end of the building where there was an overhang that provided shelter from the rain and hang out, just watching the rain.

Some people would stop on their way out, waiting for the rain to be over. Some would be coming in from the Eckerd’s across the street or McDonalds, or they might be returning from a class. Sometimes people from other buildings would take temporary refuge with us. Some of us would just wander down the hall, bored, and maybe the rooms got stuffy when it rained, I don’t remember.

All I know is that somehow a crowd of us would congregate and we’d have the best, long, desultory conversations. This is how I met many people who lived in the building.

When the rain stopped, we’d all go into motion again, as if the rain had held us in a trance. Everyone would wander back to their rooms or run late to class or cross the street to get something to eat. And the spell would be broken.

I’m sure no one in that group remembers these moments as fondly as I do—their best memories probably involve parties, football games, or trips to the beach. But I’ve always loved the simplest moments best. And Campus Lodge, stinky, moldy old Campus Lodge is where I became a free adult for the first time. I was lonely, until I met Jim, anyway, but I was free.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

It took me a while, but I finally have started to catalog my books. I'm beginning with the free 200 allows, but I'm afraid I'll have to become a lifetime member, because I have at least 1000+ books at home. What riches!

Friday, April 04, 2008


There I was on a perfect spring day, high up on a hill shaded by magnificent oaks draped with Spanish moss, reading gravestones. This cemetery had a nice mixture of recent and historical graves, mostly plain, just the name and dates, but some of them had poignant messages:

A baby, age 1
"God took him"

Mattie S.
wife of E.M. Griffin,

"Twas hard to give thee up
But Thy will O God be done"

The Wade family didn't involve God:

Charlie Wade
(no date)
"Gone but not forgot"
"At Rest

And nearby, a smaller, more recent grave:

Charlie Mae Wade
9-12-31 to 9-2-66

said simply:


That one really brought tears to my eyes, because that one word says it all, doesn't it?
The laconic Wade family knew what really matters in this world and beyond.

Ghosts of childhood

Everyone has a favorite childhood book that you never forget despite the intervening years and which, once you see the cover again, brings back ineluctable memories. One of mine was Peggy Bacon's The Ghost of Opalina. I read this book in 3rd or 4th grade, at a time when I would read anything with the word "mystery" "ghost" or "witch" in the title.
(Another favorite from that time: The Witch of Blackbird Pond.)

I recently went on a personal quest to find this book at one of the few places it is still available to read: a university library. Turns out the book only had one printing, which was sold exclusively to school libraries, and now it's on sold on the web for anywhere from $80 for a ratty copy to hundreds of dollars for a copy in pristine condition. Many copies have been lost or stolen from libraries, so I was afraid I wouldn't find it at this small Georgia university town library, but there it was! What a thrill it was to see it again!

This particular title was part of a personal collection that had been donated to the library. Most of universities' childrens literature collections are donated, lovingly collected by private visionaries (sometimes school teachers or librarians) who saw the value of children's books when no one else did and went to the trouble of preserving what were considered throwaways.

It was just as funny and entertaining as I remember! Which just goes to show that the truly great stories of childhood should just as enjoyably be read by adults.

I don't believe in age-demarcations for reading--some books may be better encountered at a certain time in your life but most good books are timeless and ageless. My parents never censored my reading and once I began to read I read everything within my reach. This omnivorous reading habit has continued, though I must say there have been some exceptions. I've never liked the Harry Potter novels, for example. But then again, I never was a big fantasy-lover, with a few remarkable standouts like Ghost of Opalina! I fell in love with science fiction at around age 10 and that took the place of old fantasy favorites such as the novels of Madeleine L'Engle (The Young Unicorns, A Wrinkle in Time series), Eleanor Cameron (The Court of Stone Children) and Philippa Pearce (Tom's Midnight Garden.)

UPDATE 2014:
The Ghost of Opalina

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Pushing Fifty, gratefully

I turn 47 this year. As I tick up the right-hand side of the happiness curve (which bottoms out at 44--see previous post, Forties Slump,) the major emotion I feel is gratitude. After 45, you take nothing for granted.

Already peers are dying from breast cancer and heart attacks, predeceasing their elderly parents in some cases, so you become aware that it can happen and if it does, no one will stand by your graveside murmuring how young you were and how you died before your time.

So you feel grateful for every good night's sleep, for every meal that doesn't give you indigestion, for every pain-free movement, for every moment of inspiration. Sometimes you forget you're not twenty any more, but you never forget to be grateful.

But most of all you're grateful that you're no longer that young, unaware, ungrateful version of yourself, and that you can never be that way again, now.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Farewell to Gary Gygax--co-inventor of Dungeons & Dragons

If you've never played D & D, you've missed a fun (and frugal!) activity which went beyond a game and became a social club (and an obsession to some!). I owe Gary Gygax a big favor in that I met my husband through D&D in college. I had played a few games with friends in high school and when I heard through my astronomy lab instructor (Greg Fitzgibbons--I owe you, too!) that the astronomy grad students were starting a dungeon, I joined at their invitation.

My husband was one of the players and I quickly learned of his true-blue character through the game: he played a lawful good ranger because he really couldn't play anything other than lawful good. (I was a chaotic good thief.) With a skilled dungeon master (Clint Priestwood), we had a great game which gave long hours of entertainment every Saturday night for no cost (except for the beers we drank afterwards at a local pub) and which gave us enormous insight into each other's characters and imagination.

We dropped out eventually but I've heard via the web that the dungeon master still directs a game in DC and this game, which began with different players in the 70s, is one of the longest-running D&D games recorded!

They say Gary Gygax was still holding games at his home as late as January of this year!

Go in peace, Gary, and I hope you find some great games in the afterlife, if there is one!

Monday, March 03, 2008

Frugal evening out--total cost: $12

My husband and I just spent our cheapest night out ever--$12! (Excluding a stop for gas--$40--but that's gas for the whole week--we filled the tank.)

We still have some gift cards left over from Christmas, so we first stopped by the bookstore, which is one of our favorite pastimes. We bought five items (three books, a writing journal and a magazine) from the bargain table for $30, used a 20% off one item coupon (which we printed out before we left) and our $25 gift card and paid a total of $4 out of pocket.

This particular bookstore is in a nice outdoor restaurant area with live music, outdoor bar, etc, so we hung out for a while, looked for a place to have dessert, (we had eaten earlier at home) didn't find what we wanted, so we left.
We headed toward McDonalds for two hot fudge sundaes--on their dollar menu now, total cost: $2.

Then we went to drop off a rented video and browsed around the store (another favorite activity) I bought a special two-disc version of a favorite old movie for $3.99 (less than the cost of renting it) and we rented another new movie with a $1.99 coupon. Total cost there: $6.

Then we came home to watch a concert we had taped while we were out, so the rented and purchased movies will provide entertainment for yet another evening.

All in all, a totally enjoyable evening for $12!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Silver Anniversary Edition--Do's and Don'ts for a Lasting Marriage

This year is our 25th wedding anniversary! My husband and I celebrated it at the same place we spent our honeymoon, back when we were students, Epcot at Disney World. It had only been recently opened then, and we excitedly zipped around the World Showcase, kissing in every country and having a great time. This time the pace was much more sedate, but Disney never disappoints as far as delivering a guaranteed good time.

I didn't have much time to contemplate the past 25 years while I was there, however. Face it, this is a milestone not very commonly reached in a relationship nowadays. Our parents clicked off the years without comment (and sometimes without much joy) but now if you still have a good relationship after 25 years it seems almost like a miracle. My husband, always the optimist, promised me this miracle 25 years ago, but to be honest, I wasn't so sure it would happen. Not that I wasn't head over heels for him when I married him (otherwise I wouldn't have) and not that I didn't mean every word of my wedding vows, it's just that I was a realist and a pragmatist and I just didn't think there were any guarantees in love.

So I confront the fact that we are still here together, enjoying each other's company as much as ever, in love as much as ever and still faithfully devoted to each other, with an incredible sense of bewildered gratitude for whatever forces of the universe brought us together and kept us together.

For those of you who want to know the secret to this longevity, we have learned some things along the way but perhaps most of them have to do with marrying the right person to begin with; I don't know if any of this advice will work if you're with the wrong person.

1. Marry for the right reason and the one and ONLY reason is that you can't live without the other person. I mean they must be like the air you breathe to you. Otherwise, if you can live without them (or imagine it), then do so. You'll both be happier that way.

2. If there is the teeniest, tiniest doubt in your mind, don't do it. Marry with 110% certainty in your mind or not at all. Forget what people say about wedding day jitters being natural---there should be NONE.

3. People go on and on about honesty in relationships but then they lie to themselves like mad. Never lie to yourself about what you feel for another person, and it follows that you will find it easier never to lie to your lover.

4. Don't expect the other person to "make" you happy; always remain responsible for your own happiness in life. Obviously being married to someone you love and who loves you back is going to make you happy, but you still are a separate person with your own needs and wants and so are they. You both still have to fulfill your own separate destinies; your job as a couple is to help each other gain that fulfillment and not stand in each other's way.

5. Never compete with your spouse/partner. They aren't the competition; you are a team now and if you don't pull together in the same direction, then you'll pull apart at the first obstacle.
If their triumphs depress you on some level, then that means you are subconsciously competing with them. You don't have to match them or top them, you just have to be happy for them.

6. Never, never expect your partner to change. If you didn't like them the way they were when you married, then you shouldn't have taken that step. People do evolve and change but if you expect it or expect a certain result, you are setting yourself up for a fall. If you don't deeply admire and respect your partner as they are, then leave them alone and let them find someone who does.

7. Be loyal in every way to your partner; that means emotionally, mentally and physically. I believe that if you marry the right person, this is an effortless task, but there may be those of different temperaments who disagree. So if it's an effort, you have to ask yourself why and if it's worth it. It should be. Apart from cheating, the obvious no-no, don't criticize your partner in public, don't put them down, don't treat them with contempt. Save your contempt for your enemies. There have been studies that show that people treat their dogs with more kindness than their spouses. Be kind to everyone, especially your significant other.

8. Don't bring others into your relationship to try to fix it. This includes in-laws and children. If you're running home to Mommy every time you have a fight, then you aren't facing your problems the right way. Same things goes for friends; don't complain to your buddies about what you don't like, say it to your partner's face or not at all. And as for bringing children into the play, don't even think about it. If they already exist, leave them out of it and if you don't have any, don't think they will solve any differences or bridge any distances between you and your spouse. The bottom line: if you and your lover can't work things out together, then go to a therapist, but don't expect miracles.

9. Be explicit about what you want. Face it, if you don't know what you want, how do you expect your partner to know? Tell them, in no uncertain terms, exactly what you want from them and you may be pleasantly surprised. If they don't listen the first time, hit them over the head, write it on the wall in ten foot tall letters, hire a skywriter, but tell them.

10. Don't let resentment build. This is sort of an addendum to number 9. If you don't tell people what you want, and then you're unhappy and let the resentment build up, it will all explode in your face in the end. If you wait, even a week, you may end up fighting about something nonsensical just because you're still angry or hurt about something that happened before and which should have been ancient history by now.

11. BEGIN AS YOU MEAN TO CONTINUE. Wiser words were never spoken, but especially true in marriage. This is the mother of all advice. Don't "overlook" things, habits, traits, that will later drive you crazy. Nip things in the bud or live with them forever. If all is right in the beginning (and I mean REALLY right, not just superficial pretense that all is well) then you'll end up right. And, with a little luck, happily married for a long time which will seem like a moment!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Forties slump--symptoms vs. causes

The Miami Herald (2/12/08) reports that "a new international study which analyzed more than 35 years of data" found that people in their forties are more depressed than those younger and older. The lifetime curve of happiness follows a U-pattern, which bottoms out at age 44. Wonderful!

In the same article, midlife crisis is described as a "genuine condition" identified by the following symptoms: "irritability, loss of sex drive, impotence, fatigue, depression, hair loss, weight gain, and loss of ability to recover quickly from injuries."

Now I ask you, are they mixing symptoms with causes of the 40s slump? If you were losing your sex drive and your hair, fatigued all the time, gaining weight and aching from injuries, wouldn't you be depressed and irritable?

They then go on to offer hope: research is being done on testerone replacement therapy for men; nothing mentioned about women. So we get stuck going through perimenopause AND a midlife crisis at the same time with only primrose evening oil as a remedy. Paint me POed!

Friday, February 08, 2008

Financial Fridays--chasing the financial event horizon

Friday is my day off, so it seems every Friday morning I end up fussing and fretting about finances and trying to finesse my budget. Not a good way to start a weekend, but at least it gets done. Last Friday I did our taxes, this Friday I updated our budget (which I use an Excel spreadsheet for--it's sort of a big portrait of current budget, future expenses, taxes, fico scores, and retirement account earning predictions.)

It seems to me that before I started learning about personal finance, I lived in blissful ignorance and security and now that I know what is going on, globally and personally, I feel more insecure while logically I know that is not true. Every step I take now is to ensure our future financial security and I have the information to back it up--so why don't I feel more confident? I think I know what I know and I know what I don't know, so this should add up to more security, not less. Knowledge is power, right? But although our net worth has increased exponentially since I started learning and reading (and acting upon that information) eight years ago, I'm also aware of all the pitfalls that could await us.

My long-term (1-5 years) financial goals are simple:

1. Pay off house.
2. Have zero debt.
3. Have highly diversified retirement accounts totaling at least $700,000.
4. Buy car with cash.
5. Improve Home--add porches, simplify interior (declutter), add solar energy.
6. Start LTC plan for husband before he reaches 55.

My short term goals for this year are basically continue to do everything we're already doing plus start a ROTH IRA for my husband with an emphasis on International (not global) funds.

Saving more is an eternal goal but we don't seem to be getting better at it--we're basically keeping up with inflation by spending less, but not saving incredible amounts. There seems to be this weird event horizon when it comes to our savings--we eternally seem to be approaching but never reaching a certain amount. The minute we get close to the goal amount, we end up having to dip into it for some unexpected expense.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Gonzalo Barr--what an inspiration!

A few days ago I read about Gonzalo Barr, author of _The Last Flight of Jose Luis Balboa_, a collection of stories, which won the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference Bakeless Prize in 2005. He's such an inspiration to all writers who came late to the game--he started writing seriously in 2000 and just quit his job as a lawyer in December of 2007 to become a full-time write at age 49. I read about him in the Miami Herald and his story really resonated with me. I emailed him and he emailed back almost immediately!

What a nice guy--he says his inspiration came from a nun who gave him a copy of Kurt Vonnegut's _Slaughterhouse Five_ and he was also grateful to a librarian who let him sneak into the library and read all afternoon.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Financial book reviews posted

I just posted two new book reviews on my Dollar stretcher blog:


They were_How to Win a Sports Scholarship_ by Penny Hastings and Todd Caven, and _Get Your Assets in Gear!_ by Jan Dahlin Geiger. Two great books!

I read roughly a dozen personal finance books a month and most of them start sounding all the same, so I only review the ones that stand out from the crowd.

The financial books that got me started were (like for so many people) _Your Money or Your Life_ by Joe Dominguez, Suze Orman's early books and _The Millionaire in You_ by Michael LeBoeuf.

_Your Money or Your Life_ put into words the philosophy I have always had but put into practice when I started working part-time. I wanted my life back. Working full-time I basically was "bleeding out" my life-force into something that was not going to give me my life back after I spent it. I decided to get a higher degree that would allow me to earn twice as much and then go part-time, thus keeping the same salary for half the amount of hours worked! It's true that as a part-timer, I have no benefits, but thankfully I don't need them since I get them through my husband. It's also true that I don't get the same raises and don't get to progress as much professionally, but as a trade for my life energy, I'll take it. Before I was too exhausted to do anything besides come home and collapse. Now I have time in the morning to think, to breathe, to sit in the sun, to read, to write, to be.

It helped to have a husband who loves his own work and has great job security (and who doesn't care what I make.) But mostly it helped not having debt or big obligations (or children) so I didn't feel tied down financially.

As a writer, I never expected to make big bucks anyway. As a librarian, I knew it was out of the question!

Learning how to live frugally allowed me to work part-time while still saving for retirement (we save $1000 a month in a 403b and IRA) and still save some besides. So we are basically living off of my husband's salary and saving mine. If my husband decided to go part-time, we could still survive, just not save as much.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Net Worth IQ

I just discovered Networth IQ,, an online net worth tracker that will graph your results and let you compare yourself to your peers. You have to register to use it but it's free. We did well compared to most people in our salary range, but terrible compared to people in our age bracket. I guess starting a late career in academia not to mention starting to save for retirement REALLY late (but better than never) didn't really help.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

New Year's resolution: pre-paying mortgage--a strategy that might work

After reading all the pros and cons concerning prepaying mortgages, I've decided to go ahead and prepay. It's true that it's a very low interest rate (5.125) and it will be paid off before my husband retires anyway, but we both agree that we'd like to see it gone. It's our only debt besides a tiny HELOC which will be paid off in the next two months.

In deference to the naysayers about mortgage prepayment, however, I think I'm going to take the extra $400 I was intending to use to prepay and put it into a high yield savings account of some type, which will probably earn about the same as the mortgage interest rate.

In the next two years there may be real estate opportunities in my area and we could use it for a down payment for a second home (retirement) if that presents itself. I don't want to get caught flat-footed if something great comes up. If we decide against this course of action, we can always take the lump sum and apply it toward the mortgage.

The problem: do we have the discipline to keep the money for that purpose only and not use it for any other family emergency?

Also, if my husband decides not to work summers (he's faculty on a 9-month salary) will we be able to save the extra money during the summer months?

But so far this is my New Year's financial resolution.