Sunday, December 31, 2006

A good time to call it quits

I started this blog in September 2005. It was mostly a reaction to the reality of my daughter's first semester in college. After so many years of having her uppermost in my thoughts and thinking of every experience in terms of how she might benefit from it, I realized that she was going to be away, having her own experiences that didn't have much to do with me, and that whatever wisdom I might be able to impart to her, in the future it would be better to just make it available and let her take it or leave it. The blog was perfect for that. It became something slightly different after a while, and I felt that it was helping me improve my writing skills--at least the practice couldn't hurt.

After a year and a half, I have adjusted pretty well to the college thing. When "the baby" comes home during summer/winter vacations we enjoy each other's company, and when she's away she does an excellent job of taking care of herself.

One of my resolutions for 2007 is to use the internet more as a means of keeping up with my real life friends and relations, and less as a way to cultivate imaginary friends or communicate with strangers.

This year, if I have a book to recommend I will recommend it directly to the people I think would be interested. Or post it to the Achenblog, where no comment is ever really "off-topic." I know you didn't think I was planning to quit the Achenblog!

In the end, I think I have discovered that I don't really crave international readership or public access at all. Being chosen as Time Magazine's Person of the Year only made me feel creepy, not honored. It's a huge part of my self-image to believe that I'm not like other people, that I'm a mutant, a freak, a pretender (with only a sneaking suspicion, well-suppressed, that other people also believe that about themselves). I prefer not to be part of any herd movement, and if everybody has a blog now, it's time for me to sign off.

Note: the movement for world peace, that is a herd that I will always run with, no matter how large it might get. So far it's still a minority position so I haven't had to make any exceptions for it. But I'm ready to be part of the majority, when most people decide that they'd like to stop killing each other.

I won't delete Read-Think-Live but it will be mostly dormant until further notice.

Happy New Year to all!!

Feel free to email me anytime: kbertocci(at)

Monday, December 18, 2006

The "Very Short List" -- Sign up today!

There's too much stuff out there, on the internet and in the culturosphere--what if you miss something really great because you were looking at something else? You know this is causing you anxiety. Well, now you can put your mind at ease. All you have to do is sign up for Kurt Andersen's daily newsletter. Andersen is, how shall we say, ahem, a discriminating observer of the cultural scene. (Here's his c.v. if you're still considering such things in this new level-playing-field information age.) He and his colleagues at The Very Short List are willing to share with you just one gem each day, short and sweet, something that has met their rigorous quality standards.

I only signed up today, so I'm not in a position to testify to the lasting value of this newsletter. But, check this out: the site is giving away a set of Everyman's Library Classics to one lucky subscriber, and as VSL says, "It might as well be you."

This paragraph from The Very Short List (December 15) feels right at home here at Read-Think-Live:

If you fetishize books as much as we do, you probably already own some Everyman’s Library titles — those elegant volumes of literary classics that are all about bookmaking as an art form. Though we’re purveyors of little bits of light that pass fleetingly across computer screens, nothing makes us quite as happy as holding in our hands a great book printed with old-school finesse: on acid-free paper with full-cloth sewn bindings, beautiful endpapers, and ribbon markers.

Well, as a matter of fact if I were sitting at my home computer instead of in my office cubicle, I'd be able to look up and see my EL copy of Brideshead Revisited--and yes, I do love that cloth binding and especially that satin ribbon bookmark.

If the possibility of owning a hundred Everyman's Library Classics is not enough of a reason to sign up, how about this: The Very Short List defines itself with a Venn Diagram:

So what are you waiting for??

Sign up here. If you win the books, you can thank me later.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Christmas Season Meditations

I blame the retail community for making us all feel like freaks. How many times have you heard someone say, "I just don't feel like I have the holiday spirit..." as if they think there's something wrong with them! The end of year "holiday season" exists for a reason. It's because of the pattern of the days getting shorter and shorter and the weather getting colder and colder and--back in the days when people lived in isolated agricultural communities--the food stores diminishing day by day, spring seeming so far away, let alone the fall harvest. Just because KMart has the Christmas decorations on the shelves on November 1, that doesn't mean it's time to feel festive. Here's the actual, natural way you should feel:

Up until Thanksgiving: normal

Thanksgiving - December 1: guilty for eating too much, slightly fearful that the Thanksgiving feast was the starter pistol for an entire month of gluttony and sloth.

December 1 - 5: mild malaise, puzzlement about why (it's because the days are getting shorter)

December 6 - 10: deepening gloom, partly as a reaction to the (inappropriate) holiday decorations that are springing up everywhere

December 11 - 15: hysterical despair, arriving with the realization that you will never live up to your own or anyone else's expectations of what you're supposed to get done over the holidays: in addition to all your normal activities, which were keeping you sufficiently busy the rest of the year, there's shopping, wrapping, mailing and delivering presents; decorating the house; putting up the tree; holiday baking; additional social activities; the school program; the special church services; the company party; travel to visit family, hosting guests, and on and on. It is natural to panic at this point, because in fact you can never live up to the ideal in your mind.

December 16 - 21: Resignation and vacillation between moments of enjoyment (the lights are so pretty, the tree reminds you of happy childhood memories) and realism (the days are still getting shorter; will spring ever come?)

December 22 - January 1: frenetic attempts to revive the will to live--Party! Pray! Eat, drink, be merry!

January 2 - 5: Relief that the season is over, resolve to do better in the new year (the days are getting longer again! Whew!)

January 6 - 15: Return to normal routine

January 31: Exhausted happiness

So today is, what, December 14? Let me check my calendar. Yep, hysterical despair, I'm right on schedule.

Seriously, folks, let's not take this all to heart: do what you can, do what you feel like doing. For the rest, as a former co-worker liked to say, "Don't torture yourself."

I wish you a very
Merry Christmas
Happy Chanukah
Happy New Year
Blessed Kwanzaa
a Winter Solstice to Remember.
And most of all:


Sunday, December 10, 2006

Friendship, Life, Death, Bob Greene

Here's another book I just stumbled on, without a conscious decision, just picked it up and then got caught up in it: And You Know You Should Be Glad, by Bob Greene.

I have been reading and enjoying Bob Greene's work for many years. He developed his folksy style as a columnist for the Chicago Tribune, but I knew him mainly from Esquire--I've been a pretty faithful Esquire reader since I outgrew Rolling Stone back in the early 80's. I remember a time in 1994 when I came across Greene's novel, All Summer Long, in the Key West library. I was so happy to see his name because it reminded me of many pleasant reading experiences. I was not disappointed; the book was light but memorable, a page-turner but not quite in the category of guilty pleasure. I guess it was like a very long magazine article.

Greene was always more Kinkade than Rembrandt, and had plenty of detractors. But I would have been one of his defenders, up to the point where his personal moral failings eclipsed his professional skills--in 1999 he resigned from the Tribune in disgrace amid allegations and revelations of sexual misconduct.

Here's what his Esquire colleague, Bill Zehme, said about Greene's professional demise:

"Here is who we all are, more or less: We are, each one of us, the sum of many conflicting truths. In our most secret souls, we know—although we'd rather not—that certain of our personal truths might well be seen as dark and shameful truths. When a man falls, without exception, it is only these dark truths that emerge and resonate and expand, eclipsing all other truths that should matter as well but no longer do. We feast on the disgrace of the fallen, feel better about ourselves while doing so, and then await the next fallen one to turn up so as to feast once more. It is, alas, the blood sport of human nature."

Here's Howard Kurtz, of the Washington Post, reacting to Zehme's account: "It's hard to feel sorry for Bob Greene, since he behaved abominably and repeatedly used his column to cruise for chicks. But after reading this story, it's hard not to."

I suppose this latest book--a memoir--represents a comeback of sorts, although it isn't advertised as such. It is very much in the style of Greene's earlier work and the subject matter makes it difficult to criticize. It is the story of how one of his oldest friends--a man he had known since kindergarten--spends the last months of his life, after being diagnosed with cancer. The group of friends who were so close they called themselves ABCDJ (for Allen, Bob, Chuck, Dan and Jack) come together to see their buddy, Jack, through the last part of his life and in the process they relive old memories and explore their own feelings about mortality. The critics didn't like it much. (Publisher's Weekly: "Unfortunately, the author's dusty attic of lost Americana is cluttered with clich├ęs, nostalgia and overly sentimental yearnings.")

I am really interested in the concept of popular art versus fine art. I have read a lot of Stephen King's books and without fail, when I finish one I am sorry that I spent my time reading it. They keep me interested but fail to improve my mind, they leave me feeling diminished, the opposite of what good literature does. I do not like the aforementioned Kinkade, the self-styled "Master of Light"--although he sells trillions of prints and figurines and Christmas ornaments. He's tremendously popular but I think he makes bad art. I think The DaVinci Code is bad art. I can't define it but I know it when I see it. But I acknowledge that other people don't agree with me.

Bob Greene, his peccadilloes notwithstanding, gets by my bad art detector. I'm aware that he's very close to the line, though. And I am not recommending this book. If you want to read a true story about watching someone you love die, I recommend Fathers Aren't Supposed to Die, by T.M. Shine. That is a book that will make you laugh out loud, make you cry real tears, and make you think, really think, about a subject you'd rather ignore.