Sunday, November 17, 2019

Running - Weekly Log for November 9, 2019 through November 16, 2019

Last Week's Mileage Goal: 32 miles
Actual Miles Last Week: 27 miles
Run/Walk Miles: 4.5 miles
Cumulative Mileage: 114 miles.
This Week's Mileage Goal: 26 miles
Current Weigh-In: 203.8

I fell short of my mileage goal this week, although there were some extenuating circumstances. Basically, the redhead was under the weather for a few days this week, and on one of those days I needed to take care of more than my usual amount of responsibilities, leaving not enough time to work in a daily run. Basically, I missed my Saturday run, and as a result, only ran twenty-seven miles this week. That's just how things work out some times.

This week, I am setting a slightly lower mileage goal. I haven't been building any rest days into my schedule, mostly because I haven't really needed them in the past. If I needed to "rest", I just did a slower or shorter run for a day or two. The problem is that now, there isn't really a lot of "slower" or "shorter" than my normal run that would still be a worthwhile run. I am going to plan on taking off one day a week for the next few months at least, which is why my mileage goa for this week is only twenty-six miles. We'll see how this goes.

Previous Weekly Running Log: November 3, 2019 through November 8, 2019

Running     Home

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Book Blogger Hop November 15th - November 21st: In Archie #329, Archie Gets Issued a Computer So He Can Do His Schooling from Home


Jen at Crazy for Books restarted her weekly Book Blogger Hop to help book bloggers connect with one another, but then couldn't continue, so she handed the hosting responsibilities off to Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. The only requirements to participate in the Hop are to write and link a post answering the weekly question and then visit other blogs that are also participating to see if you like their blog and would like to follow them.

This week Billy asks: Do you think that overall work morale would be improved by having a "book lunch", sponsored by the company, at least once a month, or perhaps once a week? (Participation would be voluntary).

No. In my experience, organized group activities like this never actually improve work morale. They come off as forced and artificial, and mostly do nothing of substance other than annoy people.


Book Blogger Hop     Home

Monday, November 11, 2019

Musical Monday - Town Called Malice/Precious by the Jam


#1 on the Billboard Hot 100: Never.
#1 on the Cash Box Top 100: February 13, 1982 through February 27, 1982.
#1 on the U.K. Chart: Never.

The early 1980s were start of the Thatcher years in the United Kingdom. They were also the years in which a lot of British working class bands released bitter, angry songs about the state of the world their country and how they were getting screwed over by their society. This is one of them. In fact, most of the songs by the Jam seem to fall into that category. It is no accident that punk caught on in the U.K. earlier than it caught on in the U.S., and the Jam were a big part of that musical movement.

This is a style of music that probably didn't last long enough. Before too long, the style of punk represented by Town Called Malice was replaced in popular music by New Wave music, represented by groups like the Human League. In effect, punk was a short-lived movement that was already dying as a prominent cultural force even when it was hitting its stride in what should have been its heyday. By 1983 or 1984, punk would be mostly a memory as far as popular music goes - it continued to have, and will always continue to have adherents, but by 1982 the days of punk bands being considered relevant in popular consciousness were rapidly coming to an end.

Previous Musical Monday: Computer Love/The Model by Kraftwerk
Subsequent Musical Monday: The Lion Sleeps Tonight by Tight Fit

Previous #1 on the U.K. Chart: Computer Love/The Model by Kraftwerk
Subsequent #1 on the U.K. Chart: The Lion Sleeps Tonight by Tight Fit

List of #1 Singles from the Billboard Hot 100 for 1980-1989
List of #1 Singles from the Cash Box Top 100 for 1980-1989
List of #1 Singles on the U.K. Chart for 1980-1989

The Jam     1980s Project     Musical Monday     Home

Running - Weekly Log for November 3, 2019 through November 8, 2019

Last Week's Mileage Goal: 27.5 miles
Actual Miles Last Week: 27.5 miles
Run/Walk Miles: 4.5 miles
Cumulative Mileage: 87 miles.
This Week's Mileage Goal: 32 miles
Current Weigh-In: 200.8

This was my most ambitious running week yet, and I completed the goal I set out. I am still painfully slow - at times I am not sure what I am doing could fairly be called "running" rather than "walking kinda quickly with a run-like motion". On the other hand, I recall that, during my high school days, in order to even qualify to participate in early cross-country training in the fall, you had to have run 200 miles over the previous summer. I'm not even to half that mark, and my starting point was a lot worse than I ever was then, so until I get two to three hundred miles on the road completed, I have to keep reminding myself that speed isn't important now, just the miles.

This upcoming week is even more ambitious, and will probably the highest mileage week I will have for a few months. This is the last week that I will bump up my weekday miles, going from three-and-a-half miles per day to four miles per day. Due to a quirk of scheduling, I have four "weekend" days this week, so I'll be doing five mile runs on each of those days. I call them "weekday runs" and "weekend runs", but what I really mean are "runs on days when I work" and "runs on days when I don't work". On days when I work, I don't really have a good time to run that is earlier than 9:00 PM, so I'm keeping those runs shorter, and on days I don't work I can take a longer time with my run. In a few weeks, I'll probably bump up my "weekend run" length, but that's in the future. Right now, I'm just going to try to complete a 32 mile week.

Previous Weekly Running Log: October 27, 2019 through November 2, 2019
Subsequent Weekly Running Log: November 9, 2019 through November 16, 2019

Running     Home

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Book Blogger Hop November 8th - November 14th: The BMW 328 Was Voted a Top 25 Finalist for "Car of the Century" in 1999


Jen at Crazy for Books restarted her weekly Book Blogger Hop to help book bloggers connect with one another, but then couldn't continue, so she handed the hosting responsibilities off to Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. The only requirements to participate in the Hop are to write and link a post answering the weekly question and then visit other blogs that are also participating to see if you like their blog and would like to follow them.

This week Billy asks: Can you stop reading before the end of a chapter?

I don't like to, but I often have to. As I have said before, much of my reading is done while I am on mass transit to or from work. Consequently, when I reach my stop, I have to put my book aside to get off the train and either get to my office, or walk home for the evening. As a result, I often have to stop reading in the middle of a chapter, the middle of a page, or even the middle of a sentence. It isn't an ideal situation, but one that simply has to be dealt with. The choice is either to deal with that petty annoyance, or simply not do much reading at all.

Previous Book Blogger Hop: xkcd 327 Is Titled "Exploits of a Mom"

Book Blogger Hop     Home

Monday, November 4, 2019

Musical Monday - Computer Love/The Model by Kraftwerk


#1 on the Billboard Hot 100: Never.
#1 on the Cash Box Top 100: The week of February 6, 1982.
#1 on the U.K. Chart: Never.

Michael Myers had a recurring bit on Saturday Night Live where he would play the part of Dieter, the host of a fictional German talk show called "Sprockets". At the end of the segment, Myers would announce "Now is the time on Sprockets when we dance", and then some electronica music would begin playing and everyone would begin doing a stylized robot dance.

Kraftwerk, other bands like Kraftwerk, and fans of this style of music were the targets that this sequence was poking fun at. In fact, the actual song used in the bit was another tune by Kraftwerk called Electric Café. Myers' bit is a kind of good-natured japery, but it is japery directed not just at a specific era of music and, but a certain extent at a specific band, which may or may not be something that is generally known.

Previous Musical Monday: Centerfold by the J. Geils Band
Subsequent Musical Monday: Town Called Malice/Precious by the Jam

Previous #1 on the U.K. Chart: Oh Julie by Shakin' Stevens
Subsequent #1 on the U.K. Chart: Town Called Malice/Precious by the Jam

List of #1 Singles from the Billboard Hot 100 for 1980-1989
List of #1 Singles from the Cash Box Top 100 for 1980-1989
List of #1 Singles on the U.K. Chart for 1980-1989

Kraftwerk     1980s Project     Musical Monday     Home

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Running - Weekly Log for October 27, 2019 through November 2, 2019

Last Week's Mileage Goal: 21 miles
Actual Miles Last Week: 20 miles
Run/Walk Miles: 6 miles
Cumulative Mileage: 59.5 miles.
This Week's Mileage Goal: 27.5 miles
Current Weigh-In: 202.0

I ran five miles yesterday, which is the longest run I have done in about a decade. I followed that up with another five miles today. Mostly I ran the five miles yesterday because I missed running on Thursday due to bad weather - I don't mind running in the rain (after all, I did run in the rain on Wednesday), but I don't really have the clothing to go running in a downpour. As I reaccumulate running gear, I eventually will, but that day has not yet arrived.

I also ran the five mile runs just to see if I could do it. I've been slowly building up my distance over the last couple of months, and figured that it was about time to do some longer runs on the weekends. Right now, a "longer run" is five miles. The long-term goal is to make five to six mile runs a daily thing and eight to ten mile runs the weekend "long runs". That's a ways off in the future - probably not until some time in early-ish 2020.

The redhead has been keeping up with her "Couch to 5K" podcasts, and I have been going with her for those, hence the six miles of run/walk listed above. We've also signed up for the "Big Turkey Burn Turkey Trot" in Williamsburg on November 20, so there's that.

Previous Weekly Running Log: October 20, 2019 through October 26, 2019
Subsequent Weekly Running Log: November 3, 2019 through November 8, 2019

Running     Home

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Book Blogger Hop November 1st - November 7th: xkcd 327 Is Titled "Exploits of a Mom"


Jen at Crazy for Books restarted her weekly Book Blogger Hop to help book bloggers connect with one another, but then couldn't continue, so she handed the hosting responsibilities off to Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. The only requirements to participate in the Hop are to write and link a post answering the weekly question and then visit other blogs that are also participating to see if you like their blog and would like to follow them.

This week Billy asks: Do you read classics? If so, what is your favorite?

I have read several classics, which is one of the benefits of being educated at a private high school. I suppose my favorite would probably be As I Lay Dying or Light in August, both of which are by William Faulkner. I've read a lot of Faulkner's work, and I always enjoy reading his books, despite them being as dark and gloomy as they are.


Book Blogger Hop     Home

Monday, October 28, 2019

Musical Monday - Centerfold by the J. Geils Band


#1 on the Billboard Hot 100: February 6, 1982 through March 13, 1982.
#1 on the Cash Box Top 100: January 30, 1982 through March 6, 1982.
#1 on the U.K. Chart: Never.

When you get right down to it, Centerfold is a pretty sleazy song. It tells the story of a boy's high school crush who he discovers has posed in a magazine that is not named, but through context simply has to be Playboy. He is crushed by this discovery, but all is not lost, he decides that it would be great if she would drive the two of them to a motel so they could have sex, an offer that seems both self-serving and kind of creepy. Seriously, how slimier could this line be? "Hey babe, I saw you naked in Playboy, why don't we go to a cheap motel and you can give me a private show?"

That said, the video for this song is remarkably tame. Sure, there are women dancing in sweaters, bras, and other lingerie, but the focus is only kind of vaguely sexual. The dances themselves are not really all that suggestive, the focus of the camera isn't solely on the women as sexual objects, and so on. One can compare the framing of the women in this video to the framing of the women in Def Leppard's Photograph or Van Halen's Hot for Teacher to get a feel for the difference in tone that I am referring to. Maybe it was just that 1982 was a more innocent time for videos than 1983 and beyond. Maybe the band decided that a less sexually explicit tone was needed for the video to contrast with the very sexual nature of the song. I don't know the reason for it, but the difference is notable.

Finally, I will note that during the 1980s there was a persistent rumor that one of the women who appear in this video was Martha Quinn, who would become famous as one of the original VeeJays on MTV. This rumor was false, and the woman who was identified as being her only kinda sorta looks like Quinn if you squint and look at her from the exact right angle, and even then not really. The urban legend of "Quinn in the Centerfold video" was still firmly entrenched in the mind of college students throughout the decade.

Previous Musical Monday: Oh Julie by Shakin' Stevens
Subsequent Musical Monday: Computer Love/The Model by Kraftwerk

Previous #1 on the Billboard Hot 100: I Can't Go for That (No Can Do) by Hall and Oates
Subsequent #1 on the Billboard Hot 100: I Love Rock 'n Roll by Joan Jett

Previous #1 on the Cash Box Top 100: I Can't Go for That (No Can Do) by Hall and Oates
Subsequent #1 on the Cash Box Top 100: Open Arms by Journey

List of #1 Singles from the Billboard Hot 100 for 1980-1989
List of #1 Singles from the Cash Box Top 100 for 1980-1989
List of #1 Singles on the U.K. Chart for 1980-1989

J. Geils Band     1980s Project     Musical Monday     Home

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Running - Weekly Log for October 20, 2019 through October 26, 2019

Last Week's Mileage Goal: 11⅔ miles
Actual Miles Last Week: 15 miles
Run/Walk Miles: 1.5 miles
Cumulative Mileage: 39.5 miles.
This Week's Mileage Goal: 21 miles
Current Weigh-In: 203.2

I discovered (well, actually, the Redhead discovered) that I had calculated my running route wrong. I had figured that the loop I was running was a third of a mile long, having measured the distance with my car's odometer. The redhead, using Google Maps, determined that it was actually a half mile long. So I have been running further than I had thought I was.

Because of this miscalculation, I have reached my three miles per day goal much quicker than I thought I would. Today in fact. Also, because of this miscalculation, I am going to up my informal daily mileage goal to four miles per day, which I should hit exactly two weeks from today.

The Redhead has started doing the "Couch to 5K" podcast workouts, and I have started going with her when she does those. I'm not counting that as daily mileage, since it is a lot of walking and a little bit of running, but I am going to track those miles separately.

This means I know I am in good enough shape to complete a 5K race. So I think I might do that some time in the next few months.

Previous Weekly Running Log: October 13, 2019 through October 19, 2019
Subsequent Weekly Running Log: October 27, 2019 through November 2, 2019

Running     Home

Monday, October 21, 2019

Musical Monday - Oh Julie by Shakin' Stevens


#1 on the Billboard Hot 100: Never.
#1 on the Cash Box Top 100: Never.
#1 on the U.K. Chart: The week of January 30, 1982.

Elvis died in 1977. Looking at Shakin' Stevens' performances, I can only surmise that he almost immediately decided to try to fill the gap left by that loss. I'm not saying that he did it all that well, but it is clear that discount Elvis is what he was going for.

The interesting thing here is that this represents such a backward-looking take on music. This isn't just hearkening back to the days when Elvis was alive, this hearkens back to Elvis as he was in the 1950s, before he went off to Hollywood to star in a couple dozen terrible movies and become a parody of his former self playing in Vegas. This is an imitation of Elvis as he was when he was recording Blue Suede Shoes, Hound Dog, and Jailhouse Rock.

The only real issue with being knock-off Elvis in the 1980s is that it is a fairly tame and toothless thing to aspire to. In the 1950s, when Elvis was turning out his big hits and making waves with his suggestive dancing, everything he was doing was risque often over the edge of what was considered acceptable. By 1982, the world had moved on, and this sort of act was staid and boring.

The other interesting element about Oh Julie is that the song is original to Shakin' Stevens, unlike his previous two top hits, both of which were remakes. I had originally thought that this was a remake of the Crescendos song Oh Julie, but that is decidedly not the case. Not only was Shakin' Stevens the first to record this song, he also wrote it, which I believe makes this unique among Shakin' Stevens' number one hits.

Previous Musical Monday: I Can't Go for That (No Can Do) by Hall and Oates
Subsequent Musical Monday: Centerfold by the J. Geils Band

Previous #1 on the U.K. Chart: The Land of Make Believe by Bucks Fizz
Subsequent #1 on the U.K. Chart: Computer Love/The Model by Kraftwerk

List of #1 Singles from the Billboard Hot 100 for 1980-1989
List of #1 Singles from the Cash Box Top 100 for 1980-1989
List of #1 Singles on the U.K. Chart for 1980-1989

Shakin' Stevens     1980s Project     Musical Monday     Home

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Running - Weekly Log for October 13, 2019 through October 19, 2019

Last Week's Mileage Goal: 9⅓ miles
Actual Miles Last Week: 14 miles
Cumulative Mileage: 24.5 miles.
This Week's Mileage Goal: 11⅔ miles
Current Weigh-In: 204.6

I upped my daily mileage today on schedule to one and two-thirds miles. The run was fairly smooth, although in the middle of the fourth loop I felt a little off - I think my body was anticipating finishing soon since that would have been what I did on previous days. I probably could have gone further pretty much any day this week, but I'm taking this slow right now because of just how out of shape I was when I started this journey, so I'm sticking to the schedule I laid out at the beginning.

My back was bothering me a bit earlier this week, but I chalked that up to just being terribly out of shape. That's the paradox of fitness: If you are really unfit, you need to exercise more to rectify that, but your body is not very good at it, and you run the risk of hurting yourself. The real trick is to be able to distinguish between "this hurts, but it is just because I'm out of shape" and "this hurts and it is because I have injured myself". I think I have run enough in my life to be able to make that distinction, but I have never been this out of shape before, so I might not.

The key to running, in my experience, is consistency and goals. My short term goal is to complete this week's mileage goal. My medium range goal is to slowly increase my daily mileage until I am running three miles a day. Now that I am at a mile and two-thirds a day, I am a little more than halfway to that goal. I figure if I keep upping my miles on the schedule I've laid out, I'll be at three miles a day in about five weeks. We'll see how that goes.

I'll be back with another update next week.

Previous Weekly Running Log: October 6, 2019 through October 12, 2019
Subsequent Weekly Running Log: October 20, 2019 through October 26, 2019

Running     Home

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Book Blogger Hop October 18th - October 24th: Constantine I Founded Constantinople in 326 A.D. (Its Name Wasn't Changed to Istanbul Until 1923)


Jen at Crazy for Books restarted her weekly Book Blogger Hop to help book bloggers connect with one another, but then couldn't continue, so she handed the hosting responsibilities off to Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. The only requirements to participate in the Hop are to write and link a post answering the weekly question and then visit other blogs that are also participating to see if you like their blog and would like to follow them.

This week Billy asks: You're spending the night in a haunted house. What book would you bring with you?

Ghosts from Our Past: Both Literally and Figuratively: The Study of the Paranormal by Abby Yates and Erin Gilbert. I figure that if I am going to be in a haunted house, I should bring a book with me that was written by two fictional people used to dealing with ghosts.

Subsequent Book Blogger Hop: xkcd 327 Is Titled "Exploits of a Mom"

Book Blogger Hop     Home

Thursday, October 17, 2019

2019 WSFA Small Press Award Nominees

Location: CapClave in Rockville, Maryland.

Comments: I'm a little behind getting this up this year, since the finalists were announced back in August, but I've been running behind on lots of things this year, so that's just how it is.

Asm usual, the array of nominees for the WSFA Small Press Award were an exceptional bunch of stories. Even the worst of the bunch is an interesting and engaging story, while the top tier contains stories that fit in perfectly among the best works of short fiction of the year. This is, I believe, one of the hidden secrets of modern science fiction publishing: While these stories were all published by outfits that meet the definition of "small publisher" laid out by the rules, they represent some of the best work that the science fiction genre has to offer.

WSFA Small Press Award

Winner:
The Thing in the Walls Wants Your Small Change by Virginia M. Mohlere

Other Nominees:
Baggage by Leslie Burton-Lopez
The Djinni and the Accountant by Hal J. Friesen
Familiar in Her Angles by E.A. Brenner
The Hydraulic Emperor by Arkady Martine
The Spider and the Stars by DK Mok
The Tale of the Three Beautiful Raptor Sisters and the Prince Who Was Made of Meat by Brooke Bolander
The Thing in the Walls Wants Your Small Change by Virginia M. Mohlere
A Witch's Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies by Alix E. Harrow

Go to previous year's nominees: 2018
Go to subsequent year's nominees: 2020

Book Award Reviews     Home

Monday, October 14, 2019

Musical Monday - I Can't Go for That (No Can Do) by Hall and Oates


#1 on the Billboard Hot 100: The week of January 30, 1982.
#1 on the Cash Box Top 100: January 16, 1982 through January 23, 1982
#1 on the U.K. Chart: Never.

This is Hall and Oates third time on this list, which highlights just how dominant this duo was on the pop music scene of the early 1980s. Prior to Michael Jackson releasing Thriller, they were set to be the defining signature band of the decade. Even in the shadow of Jackson, they were a powerful influence on music of the era, bringing a smooth, urban, at times almost jazz-like sound to the fore in pop music.

This song is simply yet another entry in their catalog: A smooth song built around a fairly catchy hook, Hall's superb vocals, some beautiful backing vocals, and a saxophone solo. There's nothing to jar the ride through the song as it flows by like a well-aged whiskey. On the other hand, there's nothing that really sticks in one's mind about this song after it is done. It is polished almost to the point of slipperiness, sliding past the listener's ears without leaving anything really memorable to hang on to. This more or less summarizes much of the early 1980s: Pretty, but not otherwise noteworthy.

On a final note, note Darryl Hall and John Oates both wearing sport jackets with t-shirts despite the fact that Miami Vice wouldn't come out until two years after this video. Just remember this when you see people crediting Don Johnson with being an innovative style icon of the 1980s.

Previous Musical Monday: The Land of Make Believe by Bucks Fizz
Subsequent Musical Monday: Oh Julie by Shakin' Stevens

Previous #1 on the Billboard Hot 100: Physical by Olivia Newton-John
Subsequent #1 on the Billboard Hot 100: Centerfold by the J. Geils Band

Previous #1 on the Cash Box Top 100: Physical by Olivia Newton-John
Subsequent #1 on the Cash Box Top 100: Centerfold by the J. Geils Band

List of #1 Singles from the Billboard Hot 100 for 1980-1989
List of #1 Singles from the Cash Box Top 100 for 1980-1989
List of #1 Singles on the U.K. Chart for 1980-1989

Hall and Oates     1980s Project     Musical Monday     Home

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Running - Weekly Log for October 6, 2019 through October 12, 2019

Last Week's Mileage Goal: 7 miles
Actual Miles Last Week: 10.5 miles
Cumulative Mileage: 10.5 miles.
This Week's Mileage Goal: 9⅓ miles

This isn't really "on topic" for this blog, but on the other hand this is my blog, so I pretty much get to decide what is or is not on topic. So this is going to be a regular recurring feature on this blog from this point forward.

I ran more than a mile for the first time in about eight years today. Granted, it was only about one and on-third miles, but that's four times further than I could run a month ago.

Although I have been a runner for most of my life, I haven't really run consistently, or at all, since about 2011. A whole collection of issues and annoyances have nagged at me for the better part of the last decade, and I kind of fell off the running wagon. Over the course of that decade, I declined into probably in the worst physical shape of my life.

I decided to do something about it. Or rather, my circumstances have improved enough that I can take the steps to do something about it. This is the first step. Over the last month I have built up from being able to run about a third of a mile to the one and a third miles I ran today.

I don't really have any real long-term goals (at least not ones I am willing to make public yet) other than to slowly increase my daily - and this weekly, distance. For the next week, I am planning on running one and a third miles each day.

I'll check in in a week to provide an update on how I did.

Subsequent Weekly Running Log: October 13, 2019 through October 19, 2019

Running     Home

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Book Blogger Hop: October 11th - October 17th: 325 Is the Only Known 3-Hyperperfect Number


Jen at Crazy for Books restarted her weekly Book Blogger Hop to help book bloggers connect with one another, but then couldn't continue, so she handed the hosting responsibilities off to Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. The only requirements to participate in the Hop are to write and link a post answering the weekly question and then visit other blogs that are also participating to see if you like their blog and would like to follow them.

This week Billy asks: Name one book that gets you in the mood for Halloween.

I don't really have one. I just don't get hyped up for Halloween. I'm happy for people who do get all excited about Halloween, and who decorate their houses and do a bunch of other stuff in anticipation of the holiday, but I just don't care about it enough to bother to do any of that. I'll dress up and take my daughter trick or treating or go to a Halloween party, but the run-up to the day itself is mostly something that I don't get excited about.


Book Blogger Hop     Home

Monday, October 7, 2019

Musical Monday - The Land of Make Believe by Bucks Fizz


#1 on the Billboard Hot 100: Never.
#1 on the Cash Box Top 100: Never
#1 on the U.K. Chart: January 16, 1982 to January 23, 1982.

Yhis is what it looks like when a Eurovision contest winner is trying to keep their career alive for longer than the one song that won them their initial fame: They turn into discount British ABBA complete with ridiculous costumes, silly choreography, and a kind of disco-ish song. The odd thing is that Bucks Fizz did this pale imitation routine when ABBA was in their twilight and about to become passé. One would think that hitching your imitation game to a sinking ship wouldn't be the best idea, and in this case, you'd be right. This song was Bucks Fizz's second biggest hit, and their next release was their third biggest hit, and then they more or less became a U.K. only band that had middling subsequent success even there. Like ABBA, Bucks Fizz had almost no impact on music in the United States during their run of popularity.

To a certain extent, this song and video kind of exemplifies the chaos of the early 1980s when no one was really sure what the cultural touchstones would be. Everyone was trying to move away from being identified as "disco", but audiences still liked disco-ish music so long as you didn't actually call it disco. Everyone knew that wearing bell-bottoms and leisure suits was out of fashion, but no one really knew what to wear to replace them so you ended up with a lot of silver clothing and animal prints. Some bands like the Human league and Hall and Oates were starting to set the tone of the new decade, but things were far from settled in early 1982, and consequently you got insane messes like this.

Previous Musical Monday: Don't You Want Me by the Human League
Subsequent Musical Monday: I Can't Go for That (No Can Do) by Hall and Oates

Previous #1 on the U.K. Chart: Don't You Want Me by the Human League
Subsequent #1 on the U.K. Chart: Oh Julie by Shakin' Stevens

List of #1 Singles from the Billboard Hot 100 for 1980-1989
List of #1 Singles from the Cash Box Top 100 for 1980-1989
List of #1 Singles on the U.K. Chart for 1980-1989

Bucks Fizz     1980s Project     Musical Monday     Home

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Book Blogger Hop October 4th - October 10th: The Civil Wars of the Tetrarchy Ended in 324 A.D.


Jen at Crazy for Books restarted her weekly Book Blogger Hop to help book bloggers connect with one another, but then couldn't continue, so she handed the hosting responsibilities off to Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. The only requirements to participate in the Hop are to write and link a post answering the weekly question and then visit other blogs that are also participating to see if you like their blog and would like to follow them.

This week Billy asks: You've dropped your favorite book while being chased by a herd of zombies. Would you go back to retrieve it?

No, of course not. A book can be replaced. The only thing you should go back for in that situation is something that cannot be replaced, and my favorite book isn't one of those things.

Previous Book Blogger Hop: Alexander the Great Died in 323 B.C.
Subsequent Book Blogger Hop: 325 Is the Only Known 3-Hyperperfect Number

Book Blogger Hop     Home

Monday, September 30, 2019

Musical Monday - Don't You Want Me by the Human League


#1 on the Billboard Hot 100: July 3, 1982 through July 17, 1982.
#1 on the Cash Box Top 100: June 26, 1982 through July 17, 1982.
#1 on the U.K. Chart: December 12, 1981 through January 9, 1982.

This song probably should also be known as "how to have a number one hit in seven countries while only being able to sing in a monotone".

On a more serious note, with Don't You Want Me, the Human League helped set the direction of music and music videos in the 1980s. While there had been several "1980s"-ish" songs prior to this one, this may be the first song to top the charts in either the U.S. or the U.K. that was wholly and fully a product of the decade. This song simply couldn't have come to the cultural forefront in any earlier period, and it represented the leading edge of numerous artists who shared the same kind of sound that this represented.

More so than the song itself, the music video helped set the tone for the 1980s. MTV had debuted in August of 1981, and video was becoming increasingly important in pop music. While most music videos being produced were basically some variation of the band playing in front of a camera, the video for Don't You Want Me alluded to a larger story, taking on the trappings of a film noir murder mystery, presenting a version of the song that gave only a passing nod to the fact that the people appearing in it were musicians and not actors. This, coupled with the androgynous, stylized look that would dominate certain strains of popular music for the next couple of years, more or less dictated what MTV would look like in its formative stages.

All of this probably obscures the fact that the song lyrics are really quite creepy. Staged as an exchange between two ex-lovers, the male half of the song comes off as controlling and abusive, even not so subtly negging the female character by pointing out the relatively humble job she held before he met her. The only thing I can think when I listen to the song is to mentally shout "RUN!" to the female character in the song, because she needs to get as far away from her ex-boyfriend as possible.

Previous Musical Monday: Begin the Beguine (Volver a Empezar) by Julio Iglesias
Subsequent Musical Monday: The Land of Make Believe by Bucks Fizz

Previous #1 on the Billboard Hot 100: Ebony and Ivory by Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder
Subsequent #1 on the Billboard Hot 100: Eye of the Tiger by Survivor

Previous #1 on the Cash Box Top 100: Ebony and Ivory by Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder
Subsequent #1 on the Cash Box Top 100: Hurt So Good by John Mellencamp

Previous #1 on the U.K. Chart: Begin the Beguine (Volver a Empezar) by Julio Iglesias
Subsequent #1 on the U.K. Chart: The Land of Make Believe by Bucks Fizz

List of #1 Singles from the Billboard Hot 100 for 1980-1989
List of #1 Singles from the Cash Box Top 100 for 1980-1989
List of #1 Singles on the U.K. Chart for 1980-1989

The Human League     1980s Project     Musical Monday     Home

Book Blogger Hop September 27th - October 3rd: Alexander the Great Died in 323 B.C.


Jen at Crazy for Books restarted her weekly Book Blogger Hop to help book bloggers connect with one another, but then couldn't continue, so she handed the hosting responsibilities off to Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. The only requirements to participate in the Hop are to write and link a post answering the weekly question and then visit other blogs that are also participating to see if you like their blog and would like to follow them.

This week Billy asks: Have you ever wished that there were official government bookish holidays, and that, by law, employers had to give their workers a paid day off? If so, what kind of bookish holiday would you like to have?

I'm not sure where I stand on this.

On the one hand, I am all in favor of more paid holidays. I think people in general work too much for too little, and if work was cut back some the world would be a better place. So the idea of having more holidays is one that I completely endorse.

On the other hand, is this proposal for a holiday that has bookish themes but that anyone can do what they want on the holiday, or is it a holiday where everyone is supposed to do bookish things and only bookish things? I mean, I'd love to have another holiday on the calendar like President's Day or Labor Day where you can just not go to work and do what you want to do and no one will second-guess what you decided to do with your day. But I'm not sure I'd want another holiday like Thanksgiving where you pretty much have to do what is expected or else everyone will look askance at you for violating the social convention of the day.

A day off to read books, visit libraries, and participate in library book sales and so on would be great. A day off of mandatory reading and socially required events would not.


Book Blogger Hop     Home

Monday, September 23, 2019

Musical Monday - Begin the Beguine (Volver a Empezar) by Julio Iglesias


#1 on the Billboard Hot 100: Never.
#1 on the Cash Box Top 100: Never.
#1 on the U.K. Chart: The week of December 5, 1981.

This song sounds like it should have been the theme for a Spanish language version of the Love Boat. Or maybe it should have been featured in the Poseidon Adventure as the song sung by the lounge act before the ship flips over. Or perhaps just the featured song at a glittery disco bar in Ibiza.

Begin the Beguine isn't a bad song, but I don't really think it is a particularly good one either. It just isn't that memorable - it sounds like a thousand mediocre television theme songs made for the kind of projects Aaron Spelling helmed in the late 1970s and early 1980s. I have no specific memory of this song: It seems like it was too uncool even for my Mom, and probably too contemporary for my Grandparents. Or maybe they listened to it all the time and it simply faded into the background noise of middle-of-the-road television theme songs.

Previous Musical Monday: Physical by Olivia Newton-John
Subsequent Musical Monday: Don't You Want Me by the Human League

Previous #1 on the U.K. Chart: Under Pressure by Queen and David Bowie
Subsequent #1 on the U.K. Chart: Don't You Want Me by the Human League

List of #1 Singles from the Billboard Hot 100 for 1980-1989
List of #1 Singles from the Cash Box Top 100 for 1980-1989
List of #1 Singles on the U.K. Chart for 1980-1989

Julio Iglesias     1980s Project     Musical Monday     Home

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Book Blogger Hop September 20th - September 26th: The Skull and Bones Society at Yale Is Also Known as Order 322


Jen at Crazy for Books restarted her weekly Book Blogger Hop to help book bloggers connect with one another, but then couldn't continue, so she handed the hosting responsibilities off to Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. The only requirements to participate in the Hop are to write and link a post answering the weekly question and then visit other blogs that are also participating to see if you like their blog and would like to follow them.

This week Billy asks: How long does it usually take you to finish a book?

There isn't really a single answer to this question other than "it varies wildly depending on the book".

That said, there are some broad generalizations that could be made. Novels take the least amount of time. Collections of short fiction take the longest. Nonfiction books are somewhere in the middle. In recent years, it has taken me anywhere from a single day to plow through a novel to almost a year to get through a compilation of a single author's short fiction. In general, it probably takes me about three or four days to finish most books, assuming that I don't have some emergency pulling at my time that keeps me from reading.

Subsequent Book Blogger Hop: Alexander the Great Died in 323 B.C.

Book Blogger Hop     Home

Monday, September 16, 2019

Musical Monday - Physical by Olivia Newton-John


#1 on the Billboard Hot 100: November 21, 1981 through January 23, 1982.
#1 on the Cash Box Top 100: November 21, 1981 through January 9, 1982.
#1 on the U.K. Chart: Never.

Here it is. The top hit of the 1980s. Already. In 1981. The decade in music was all downhill from here.

Okay, not really, but Physical really was the top hit of the entire decade, staying at number one on the charts for longer than any other song in the 1980s. The song was the biggest hit of Newton-John's career as well, selling two million copies almost as soon as it was released in the United States. The song also served to change the singer's image from the clean-cut girl next door image with a sexier, sultrier, and more adult one.

The song wasn't really considered to be a natural match for Newton-John. The songwriters apparently originally intended to offer the song to Rod Stewart, and actually did offer it to Tina Turner, but instead it found its way to Olivia. The video was pretty much transformative for Newton-John, although this seems to have been a mixed blessing. She released her Greatest Hits, Volume 2 album in 1983, and had a few relatively strong hits, but after that her career basically crashed and burned. Having four or five substantial hits over the course of two three years doesn't sound like such a bad run, but squeaky clean Olivia had been a top selling artist since 1974, a span of seven years, while sexy bad girl Olivia only had a run of a little more than two.

My dominant memory of this song related to aerobics classes. This hit the airwaves about the same time my mother was really getting into aerobics, and when she transitioned to aerobics instructor when we moved to Zaire, this song was a regular feature of her classes. I remember this song being played over and over again as my mother worked out the aerobics routine she would teach to it, the repetition droning on and on during lazy afternoons in central Africa as I did my best to ignore it and play games on the Atari or paint miniatures.

Previous Musical Monday: Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic by the Police
Subsequent Musical Monday: Begin the Beguine (Volver a Empezar) by Julio Iglesias

Previous #1 on the Billboard Hot 100: Private Eyes by Hall and Oates
Subsequent #1 on the Billboard Hot 100: I Can't Go for That (No Can Do) by Hall and Oates

Previous #1 on the Cash Box Top 100: Private Eyes by Hall and Oates
Subsequent #1 on the Cash Box Top 100: I Can't Go for That (No Can Do) by Hall and Oates

List of #1 Singles from the Billboard Hot 100 for 1980-1989
List of #1 Singles from the Cash Box Top 100 for 1980-1989
List of #1 Singles on the U.K. Chart for 1980-1989

Olivia Newton-John     1980s Project     Musical Monday     Home

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Review - The Clingerman Files by Mildred Clingerman


Stories Included
First Lesson
Stickney and the Critic
Stair Trick
Minister Without Portfolio
Bird's Can't Count
The Word
The Day of the Green Velvet Cloak
Winning Recipe
Letters from Laura
The Last Prophet
Mr. Sakrison's Halt
The Wild Wood
The Little Witch of Elm Street
A Day for Waving
The Gay Deceiver
Red Heart and Blue Roses
Little Girl
Tutti Frutti Delight
The Stray
The Man Who Stole Tomorrow
Grandma's Refuge
Sorrow for the Need
You Remember Charles?
Size 5½ B
Apologia
The Tea Party
The Vine
Tribal Customs
A Widow for Mr. Stevens
The Man Eater
The List
The Telling Day
Threading a Closed Loop
Top Hand
A Time to Be Bold
The Birthday Party
A Stranger and a Pilgrim
On the Nicer Side
The Father of Daughters
Watermelon Weather
A Note from Eleanor
Disclosure: I received this book as a Review Copy. Some people think this may bias a reviewer so I am making sure to put this information up front. I don't think it biases my reviews, but I'll let others be the judge of that.

Full review: The Clingerman Files is a comprehensive collection of all of Mildred Clingerman's short fiction, encompassing her wide range of stories that range from the mundane doings of teenagers and old ladies to the exotic adventures of time travelers and alien space explorers. While Clingerman is mostly remembered as a science fiction author, with her stories frequently appearing in the pages of  The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, this collection contains a broader array of stories, including several that have no speculative fiction element at all that were originally published in outlets such as Good Housekeeping and Colliers. No matter whether the stories are fantastical or not, most of them feature ordinary people, often women, finding themselves at a critical juncture in their lives. To a certain extent, this collection could be regarded as an homage to the extraordinary nature of ordinary people.

Like many of Clingerman's stories, First Lesson is almost not a fantasy story. Or rather, it is a fantasy story that is so subtle that it could be real. A young woman has a dream in which her paratrooper husband dies in a training accident and enlists the assistance of a voodoo practitioner to weave a spell of protection around her spouse. Despite the fact that the protagonist believes in the magic in the story, there isn't any overt indication that belief is justified. As a result, this story exists in that hazy border between reality and fantasy. Clingerman's skill at giving the story a sense of place is on full display here, and the story feels comfortable and unsettling at the same time. Stickney and the Critic shares many of the same storytelling aspects with First Lesson, with the only difference being that the subtle fantasy element is an unseen malevolent entity residing in an out of the way well on an isolated farm. Once again, Clingerman makes the reader feel the setting - one can almost feel the hot and dusty winds that sweep across the farmstead. Once again, the story could be fantasy or it could simply be mundane coincidence, and that ambiguity makes it seem almost dreamlike, although it eventually veers into nightmare territory.

Stair Trick seems like it is going to be another story that seems like it is going to cloak its fantasy in ambiguity as a bartender does a recurring trick of going "downstairs" behind the bar to get items in a bar that doesn't have a basement. For most of the story it seems like this is just a clever way to entertain the patrons with some combination of mime and trickery, but then the story takes a turn and everything you thought about what was happening is wrong. This sort of story works in large part because it is contained in a collection that features some of Clingerman's more ambiguous stories, so the small twist that pops up feels much larger than it otherwise would. The Little Witch of Elm Street shares some thematic characteristics as well, as the story seems to be a perfectly ordinary story of a fussy woman, henpecked husband, and a horrifically terrible neighbor child named Nina, but it takes a turn towards the end that seems like it could just be coincidence. Like so much of Clingerman's work, the deliciousness of the story rests in the ambiguity of whether the pivotal event is simply coincidence or evidence of something supernatural, with the Little Witch carrying the added bonus of a quirky and interesting character in the form of Nina's sister Garnet.

Another story that rests comfortably in the twilight between fantasy and reality is A Day for Waving, which could probably best be described as a comforting ghost story. Seven or eight year old Eden lives with her domineering grandmother, vacant mother, and somewhat macabre-minded uncle (who happens to be almost exactly the same age as Eden). After a brief bit of background to give the reader an idea of the nature of the various characters and a glimpse into the fertile imagination of the narrator, the action moves on to an afternoon visit to the family grave plots, where Eden finds herself having a conversation with someone whose arrival is both unexpected and entirely predictable. The interesting part of the story is not in the resolution - essentially amounting to a ghost showing up to give its blessing to an impending event - but in the fact that one can never be sure if the narrative is actually happening or if it is just the vivid imagination of a young girl given free rein. The story is at turns frightening and comfortably cozy but at all turns remains decidedly ambiguous.

The volume contains a few alien first contact stories, starting with Minister Without Portfolio, which features mostly benevolent aliens and a grandmother whose color-blindness turns out to be an advantage rather than a disability. The twist in the story is easy to predict, but the presentation is so pleasant that one doesn’t mind. Birds Can’t Count is an alien encounter story with a slightly less approachable, even downright inscrutable, alien. The protagonist in the story is portrayed as perceptive, persistent, and adventurous, but by the end it is apparent that she might not be particularly bright, or at least not able to make certain connections that are hinted at in the story. The story is creepy, but in a comfortably quaint sort of way.

Clingerman's fiction sometimes veers too deep into the "cozy" direction and becomes a bit twee. One example of this tendency is The Word, a story about some diminutive aliens who have to go foraging for food on a planet filled with huge inhabitants. The brave explorers set out to essentially panhandle food with the use of a secret code word they have discovered is used by the natives. I'm not sure if I would call the resolution of the story a "twist" since it is pretty blatantly telegraphed throughout the text, and it is both cute and silly but probably a little bit too much so. The Wild Wood, which is ostensibly a Christmas story, is a much better creepy tale involving a mother who has established family Christmas traditions that she now regrets - specifically an annual trip to Mr. Cravolini's to purchase a tree. The story starts off feeling like it is a mundane story that involves incredibly creepy sexual harassment, and slowly morphs into something much creepier, until by the end the full body horror is revealed. The Gay Deceiver is another quite disturbing story in the collection, which starts out happy and cheerful, featuring a magically wonderful performer at a parade and his somewhat drab and colorless traveling partner. In the opening pages of the story, everything is beautiful and gleeful, but as the story goes on, the darker underlying secret of the whistling Harlequin at its center becomes more and more apparent until in the final few lines the terrible truth is revealed. In this story, Clingerman demonstrates her disturbing ability to take a well-known folk-tale and import it into the modern mundane world to expose its horrific reality.

A recurring figure in Clingerman's writing is the normally timid woman who finally gets fed up with her life. In some cases, as in The Day of the Green Velvet Cloak, such a character asserts her independence from the humdrum, constrained life she has been living by throwing all caution aside to embark upon a time traveling romance. In others, such as Winning Recipe, the protagonist merely figures out a way to confound and incapacitate a hated piece of machinery. These stories appear deceptively cozy, but are actually so incredibly sharply pointed that the reader should be careful not to cut themselves when reading them. The Day of the Green Velvet Cloak does have a beautiful used bookstore featured within its pages, which is an added bonus.

The protagonist of Letters from Laura is decidedly not a timid woman, but rather a young lady who has signed up to enjoy some time travel to ancient Crete. Told as a series of letters from Laura to her mother, her best friend Prue, and finally to the travel agent Laura had booked her excursion with, the story reveals Laura's expectations for her journey, and the reality that doesn't quite match them. It is silly and fun, but at the same time biting and incisive. While Laura is a no nonsense kind of woman albeit a bit misinformed to begin with, Reggie, the central character of The Last Prophet, can best be described as a well-informed milquetoast who has a message, but isn't able to get anyone interested in hearing it. The story kind of meanders and is about as uninteresting as Reggie himself until it turns out that everything was basically just a set-up for a kind of shaggy god twist at the end.

While many of Clingerman's stories are pointed, very few are quite as sharply honed as Mr. Sakrison's Halt. The protagonist of the story is a young woman who would travel to visit her grandparents in the rural South, and the last leg of her journey would always be on the Katy Local where she would meet up with a little old lady named Miss Mattie who rode the train constantly looking for the halt where her fiancee had gotten off the train many years before. Her quest is hampered by the fact that she doesn't quite remember where her long-lost love had gotten off the train, and it turns out that there is a very specific reason why she hasn't been able to find it despite riding the Katy Local for decades. The message of the story is delivered about as subtly as a club to the back of the head, but it is a message worth delivering.

One of the oft-repeated mantras is that "strong female characters" is a desirable goal for fiction writers hoping to eschew sexist portrayals in their writing. I have seen several authors claim "I can't be sexist because I included a strong female character in my story". I think this is a flawed viewpoint insofar as a "strong" female character is as much a stereotype as any other trope attached to female characters. What makes a story really good are interesting female characters, more to the point, female characters that have the freedom to be flawed human beings, and Red Heart and Blue Roses is an example of a story that has exactly that. The story is related by one woman to another while they share a hospital room: Katie, a bundle of nerves and anxiety, relates her tale of woe to the narrator who exists in a languid almost dream-like state most of the time. As the story unfolds, Katie recounts how she has become plagued by an odd young man that her son had brought as a guest for the holidays, and how the visitor had wormed his way into her family. From there, Katie's story gets progressively more disturbing, but a twist at the end brings it back into that realm of stories that exist in that hazy area between reality and unreality.

Although Clingerman was primarily a speculative fiction author, this collection includes a handful of stories that appear to be devoid of any speculative fiction elements. Little Girl tells the story of a pair of young girls taking the train as they journey from spending the summer in Iowa with their father and his new wife back to where their mother lives in Arizona. The story is told from the perspective of eight-year old  Cissie, the older of the two sisters as she tries to navigate a train station late at night with her sister in tow all the while dealing with incredulous and annoying adults. There isn't much to this story, although there is a nice little character note for Cissie in that she reads books that at least one adult thinks are too adult for her. Another story lacking any speculative fiction element is Tutti Frutti Delight, which is basically a tale about a pair of high school girls with plans to take the world by storm and a crush on one of their teachers. The infatuation leads to about the end result that one would expect, although this doesn't really seem to slow down the protagonist's plans for the future other than to modestly redirect them.  Another story focused on the love life of a teenager, You Remember Charles? focuses on Anne Holland and her infatuation with Charles, the most popular and desirable boy in her school. The story is a study in toxic masculinity and privilege, as it would be understating things to say that Charles turns out to be a miscreant, but gets away with his actions due to who his father is and, by extension, who he is. Anne, for her part, first enables Charles, and then pulls back, and then wistfully wonders whatever happened to him, winding up with about as happy an ending as she could have given the society she lived in.

The third story lacking in speculative fiction elements is The Stray, featuring a housewife living in rural Arizona as a protagonist, which seems to be at least somewhat autobiographical. She takes in a young woman that she finds wandering a nearby empty lot used as a hangout by a group of hippies. The story kind of meanders, with the main character simultaneously showing great care for her stray and expressing disdain for all of the members of the hippie community she had been living with. The very little bit of plot eventually resolves in a fairly serendipitous manner, but the story seems mostly to be aimed at providing a view into the lives of two women and how they deal with the world. This focus on the lives of ordinary women is something of a recurring theme in this set of non-speculative fiction stories, highlighting these characters and how they relate to the world around them. Not all of the ordinary stories focus on women however. Sorrow for the Need, for example is told from a woman's viewpoint, but that's almost entirely incidental to the story, which is basically about a married couple choosing the mundane lives they have settled into over an old friend with subversive political ideas. The story reads like a reaction to the McCarthy era Red Scare, and how it destroyed relationship. The entire story is laced through with regret, but regret tempered by how a kind of easy comfortable existence can sap away one's youthful idealism.

The Man Who Stole Tomorrow is a small story about a man who learns the value of time, and how to get more of it. There isn't really much more to the story, but it does contain a moderately clever little twist at its heart. This story, like several others penned by Clingerman, sits on the very edge of speculative fiction, as there is no explicit science fictional or fantastical element, but events in the story can be read as if they are, or they could be read as mere coincidences taking place in an entirely mundane world. Another story that rests on this ambiguous line is Grandma's Refuge, which deals with fond childhood memories of grandma and a shared hideaway to seek shelter from the desert heat and the occasional storm. Once again, there is no explicit fantasy element to the story, but a child's memories sometimes attribute powers to the adults in their lives and the story simply doesn't clarify whether these are real or are just the product of youthful imagination. Size 5½ B also follows this pattern, as a woman goes to buy shoes while beset by literary concepts and thinking dark thoughts about her oblivious and seemingly uncaring husband. Once again, it is unclear whether she actually is being assaulted by clichés, tediums, and ad men, while avoiding being classified in the majority or becoming a statistic, or if the story is just an elaborate fantasy playing out in the protagonist's head, but either way it has a dark turn and a rather unsettling conclusion.

Another story with a dark turn is Apologia, although saying it has a dark turn rather underplays just how creepy this brief little tale is. In just under two pages of text, Clingerman manages to set up a slightly unsettling back story and then pushes forward to an entirely unsettling denouement. With a story this short, there isn't much room for much beyond that, but like the very best of these sorts of little stories, it leaves the reader filled with questions. Far less fantastical, but almost as unsettling The Tea Party seemingly depicts nothing more than a pair of young girls having a tea party with their dolls, but everything about the scenario seems to be just slightly off kilter, There is nothing directly horrific about the story, but the author manages to fill the text with a kind of barely suppressed foreboding without even letting the reader know why it is there. While The Man Eater is not unsettling, it does seem to be headed in that direction for much of its length. Featuring a young Native American boy named Guillermo and his love for the pretty (and decidedly not Native American) but careless girl Debbie,  the story seems destined for a terrible turn as Debbie takes advantage of her young suitor's affections to goad him into committing petty crimes. Just when the reader expects the story to take a dark turn, it instead turns into a lesson about what love means and how a fair world would treat people with differing status in different ways. The List, on the other hand, is incredibly unsettling, although it cannot fairly be said to be horrific except in the sense of anticipation. In the story, Mr. and Mrs. Adams have a polite conversation after putting their children to bed following what seems to have been a fairly ordinary family dinner. Their day's tasks however, seem to have included taking supplies to their hidden refuge where they intend to weather the possible collapse of society, and their conversation turns to how to make sure their children will reach the hidden cave in the event that neither of their parents are able to accompany them. The casual nature of this conversation about their plans for after the end of civilization is simply terrifying, and gives the story an almost surreal air.

In the realm of the mundane, The Vine is a story about a woman whose mental reservations about her impending pregnancy manifest in a myriad of ways, the most obvious of which is her decision to plant a set of vines along a new fence that her husband built mostly to keep an obnoxious neighbor at bay. The story revolves around the question of whether one should own cats or dogs, how some people simply don't observe boundaries very well, and resentments directed towards one's parents. There's nothing particularly out of the ordinary about the events in the story, but what makes it so extraordinary is how everything is contextualized from the viewpoint of a woman who doesn't seem to be particularly enthralled with the "usual" pursuits of womanhood. Her indifference to having children and her dislike of gardening frame her as being out of the accepted range for married women of her day, and yet she is clearly the most interesting and sympathetic character in the story. Similarly mundane, Tribal Customs is a study in prejudice and expectations. Darcy is a young woman who is about to marry her boyfriend Joe with the story revolving around her first visit to meet his parents. Joe is part Native American, and the trouble begins when his family and family home don't match up to her expectations. All of the conflict in this story is rooted in the somewhat racist assumptions made by Darcy, and the resolution of the story revolves around her more or less accepting that. This story is a remarkably insightful study in how seemingly benign prejudice is still pernicious.

Many of Clingerman's stories focus on enjoying the little pleasures of life. In this vein, A Widow for Mr. Stevens presents the reader with two men, both sharing a hospital room. The protagonist Arthur has spent his life devoted to business and never gave much consideration to enjoying himself. His unseen roommate Jack, hidden behind a curtain that separates the room in two, has something Arthur does not: A window. Through the story Jack regales Arthur with stories of what he can see through the window in the park below. Because this is a Clingerman story, not everything is entirely as it seems, and in the end when Arthur moves from his side of the room to Jack's vacated bed, it turns out that Jack's view wasn't quite what he let on, and Arthur finally understands what he had been missing his entire life. The fact that people seem to fall into a rut of listlessly living their lives trying just to make ends meet is a recurring theme in Clingerman's work, and The Telling Day confronts this issue head on as Carl and Linda talk about how dissatisfied they have become with their lives of shepherding their kids to and from school while doing nothing of consequence but working and simply existing - and wondering if that is all there is to life. It isn't, and the story turns when they start remembering what it is they used to love about their lives and decide to try to rekindle that fire. Once again, it turns out that the resolution of the story is the realization that loving the little things in the world is what gives life meaning.

In Clingerman's fiction, loving little things doesn't just soothe your own soul and give your life meaning, it can also serve as the glue that binds people to the world they live in. In Threading a Closed Loop, Lenore and Doug have recently moved to Arizona for their child Jaime's health, and they simply aren't fitting in. Doug's business is faring poorly, and Lenore doesn't know anyone in town. Lenore finds her way to a local junk sale and flea market and finds a book about making string figures, and also finds Meg Rawlinson, and their shared love of little kindnesses turns Lenore's fortunes around, and Doug's love of string figures gives a shy man a way to socialize in a new community. Clingerman's fiction seems to be at its best when she is describing everyday women at a critical moment in their lives. In A Time to Be Bold, Cynthia Bishop is a woman who has sacrificed her chance at marriage and pretty much her entire social life to dedicate herself to the care f her younger brother. The story revolves around Cynthia's PTA activities and consequent interactions with the high school teachers at her brother's school. Or rather, the story focuses on her interactions with Mr. Davis and Ms. Betts - the object of her affections and her rival for said affections respectively. Eventually Cynthia makes the fateful decision to pursue Mr. Davis to San Francisco in order to head off a ploy by Ms. Betts, and then the story comes to a relatively satisfying close although the tale ends as soon as the critical turning point has resolved, essentially stopping the story more or less in media res, which is unusual but in this case, effective.

One of the few supernaturally themed stories in the later portion of the book, Top Hand has the feel of an Old West tall tale like the stories about Pecos Bill or Paul Bunyan. The story features a preternaturally skilled cowboy named "the Kid" and his foil "Red", both of whom are described as having drifted into the area and gotten work at the same ranch as the narrator. The story wends through the narrator marveling at the Kid's skill as a ranch hand until everyone finds themselves at a small town dance where a disagreement over a woman leads Red to a deadly encounter and causes the Kid to drift onward. It is only after the pair have left that the ranch hands figure out who they were, and it is this revelation that gives the entire story a supernatural flair and elevates the entire story above the ordinary. Another story with a supernatural tinge, A Stranger and a Pilgrim recounts an encounter between a patient old woman waiting for a visitor from a far away place and the long-expected traveler. The meeting doesn't go quite the way the protagonist expects, and the story has some fairly heavy religious imagery thrown in, which was somewhat unexpected. I am not certain if Watermelon Weather contains speculative elements or if it is just so infused with the dreamlike nature of its protagonist's daily life that it seems to contain speculative fiction elements. This doesn't detract from the story, which features a woman who has what can only be called extremely lucid and odd dreams involving spaceships, violet grass and pink watermelons. Her family seems to accept these mental excursions with equanimity, and the story toddles along until everything wraps up with a very sweet little love story.

Another strength of Clingerman's fiction is her portrayal of wise but unexpectedly colorful older women, a strength that is clearly in evidence in The Birthday Party. in which Marguerite attends her grandmother's birthday party. At first Marguerite regards the party, forgotten until a reminder from her mother the morning of the event, as little more than an annoyance, barely outranking the dental appointment that she has earlier in the day (and which is rather humorously described in the story), but when her various aunts assemble for the celebration and begin to open up about their younger days, she gets a revelation that she never saw coming. The story glories in the bullheaded determination of youth and the lust for adventure, revealing layers within the collection of older women that one would never have expected given the staid and domestic setting the story is rooted within. On the other hand, not all older women in Clingerman's fiction are wise and colorful. In On the Nicer Side, Liz Temple is the amazingly conventional mother of an unwed pregnant daughter who spends much of the story worrying about what the neighbors might think if they found out about her child's condition and trying to push her daughter into giving up the impending newborn up for adoption. The story starts off with tragedy, which makes Mrs. Temple's actions seem fairly callous, and ends with more tragedy, which allows Mrs. Temple to redeem herself via the somewhat unanticipated kindness she displays. At the other end of the spectrum, The Father of Daughters focuses on Robin, a teenage girl whose only real problem is that she does not yet have the right date for the prom, a situation that exasperates her father. There isn't anything deep or meaningful to the story other than the fact that it focuses on a teenage girl and takes her concerns seriously.

The last story in the book, and serving as something of a fitting coda to the collection as a whole, is A Note from Eleanor, a melancholy tale of the relationship between two women, one young and lacking in any kind of social position, and one older and firmly ensconced in the upper echelons of the town she lives in. Their unlikely friendship is unusual and sweet, and benefits both of them, but like all friendships, life gets in the way and the two drift apart and return to one another a couple of times. That is, they drift apart and return to one another until they don't. It is a somewhat fitting end for the volume, as it contemplates how people might choose to meet their end, and how those who are close to them might miss their last chance to see their loved ones due to the everyday distractions of life. This is, ultimately, the fundamental truth that underlies most of Clingerman's fiction: Life happens when you aren't paying attention to it, and the best you can do is muddle through it.

Although the details of the stories in this collection are eclectic, the constant is the importance of the everyday, and the fact that ordinary people are fitting subjects for a story. More importantly, the dominant theme that runs through the entire volume is that women have stories that are worth telling. As I noted before, in some circles there is a refrain of wanting stories about "strong women", and there are some of those in these pages, but what is more notable is that there are women described in these stories that are allowed to be fully realized characters with flaws, foibles, and petty faults. The characters that appear in these stories could best be described as both everyday and interesting at the same time, as Clingerman manages to capture the exotic concealed within the familiar, and highlight the fact that even the most mundane-seeming individual contains hidden depths.

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