Saturday, January 30, 2010

Driving While Distracted

I notice a new study claims laws against texting while driving don't work. I hope no one paid for this study; I could have told them that a long time ago.

When New York State banned talking on a hand-held cell phone while driving, I thought it would really help. Wrong! Everyone ignores the ban. We live just 20 miles from the New York State line and do most everything in the Binghamton area. Never do we drive there without seeing many other drivers talking on their cells, trying to discipline the kids in the back seat, putting on makeup, rocking to the radio or any one of a dozen other distractions. Occasionally we'll even see someone reading, looking at a map, flirting with another driver, or weaving in and out of traffic while trying to find something in the car.

That's exactly what's happening with the ban on texting. Drivers just continue to do as they jolly well please and the only time they regret it is when they have an accident and that charge is added to the rest of the charges.

They are probably encouraged in this behavior by car commercials. You can get GPS, TV, game tables for the kids, and all sorts of other devices in your new car and isn't this wonderful? What happened to just driving and paying attention to what's going on on the road?

I've always loved to drive (got my license first thing on the morning of my 16th birthday in fact) but even I find myself cussing other drivers quite often, and normally my language is much better than that. It isn't that I'm a bad driver(despite being a woman); the problem is that other drivers are so inconsiderate, and it seems like 90% of drivers speed, while the other 10% drive too slow. Anyway, in all my years of driving I've never seen such recklessness and lack of consideration on the road, and that isn't just in the Binghamton area, it's everywhere.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

A Separate Country by Robert Hicks

This book is a follow-up for a character in Hicks' earlier novel, The Widow of the South," which I loved. A minor character in the previous book, Eli, who lost his family in Franklin, TN, during the Civil War battle there has made his way to New Orleans. However, he isn't really the main character in this story either. He's more of a narrator.

The story is about Gen'l. John Bell Hood, CSA, his wife and oldest daughter, and his wife's childhood friends, a dwarf, a priest, and a colored man who appears white. Then there are Eli and his girlfriend, a prostitute. Actually New Orleans is as much a character in the book as any of these people and that's what drew me in and held me. Nineteenth century New Orleans was a fascinating place that it was fun to learn about. Its mystery reminded me of Savannah, GA, as depicted in The Garden of Good and Evil.

The book is told in alternating chapters by Hood, his wife, and Eli Griffin. As in The Widow of the South, this is an effective way to tell the story. Telling it just from the point of view of one of them would be highly unsatisfactory. However, this book is still confusing and just plain strange. It's also too long. Hicks dwells on Hood's guilt about the men who died in the charge he ordered at the battle in Franklin, TN, and how he changes from a crippled military man trying to retain his discipline and bearing in the face of physical disability and the damage to his reputation into a man who loves his wife and family, doesn't care about money or standing in the community, and selflessly gives of himself and his income to help people struck down by yellow fever.

His wife is a Creole born in New Orleans. Her childhood experiences make up one of the best parts of the book. Eli is just learning about the city and its people and he works in an ice factory, so he has a completely different point of view.

I liked the book and yet I didn't like it. I was mesmerized by it, couldn't put it down, and yet finished it unsatisfied. Despite all the internalizing by the main characters, I don't really know why they did what they did. I must admit I'll be thinking about this one for a while but more than that I cannot say.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Robert B. Parker, 1932-2010

In the mid 1980s I had a weekly book review column in the Northwest Herald, a newspaper covering the northwest suburbs of Chicago. I tried to review as many genres as possible, hoping to interest readers of all stripes and also striving to interest nonreaders as well. I reviewed everything except science fiction since I don't like it, don't read it, and therefore don't know anything about it.

Many years earlier I had tried two or three mystery novels of the Sam Spade type since my mother had been reading them for years. I was offended by the depiction of women as either beautiful but stupid bimbos or saintly mothers, both of which ended up as victims. The love-em-and-leave-em heroes and the torture-em-and-kill-em villains were equally offensive to me. Never read any of them again.

Finally, because I had watched "Spenser for Hire" on television and was interested in reviewing another genre, I picked up what was then a new book by Parker called Taming a Sea-Horse. Well of course I loved it - the witty dialogue, the fascinating characters, recognizing Boston settings (a city I love), everything. From then on I was hooked, especially on Parker books, but in general addicted to mysteries. Still am for that matter.

I read everything I could find by Robert B. Parker and accumulated a collection of his books which I still have.

I'll always think of Hawk as Avery Brooks. That character in particular is so mysterious and interesting, but so is Spenser's girlfriend Dr. Susan Silverman. Each character is not simply witty, but also urbane, well-dressed, multifaceted, intelligent, and has a good heart. These are mysteries after all and Spenser and Hawk don't shy away from killing the bad guys, but of course they're always on the right side. I like the fact that Spenser loves one woman and remains true to her, and even sexy Hawk ends up with a beautiful intelligent woman who he treats well.

I liked his two newer series, Jesse Stone and Sunny Randall, too but Spenser is first in my heart.

Every book is dedicated to Parker's wife Joan. My favorite of all the books is called Three Weeks in Spring which was published in 1978. It's a small book written by the two of them. In 1976 when Joan and "Ace" had been married for 20 years, she found a lump in her breast which proved to be malignant. She chose to have a modified radical mastectomy. The book is about how the two of them, their sons David and Daniel who were 16 and 12 then, and their close friends got through this terrible time. Parker was loving and supportive throughout, but their sense of humor certainly helped. Their book made me cry and laugh and I read it a second time (which I never do).

I've read that it was Joan who found him dead of a heart attack at his desk. A fitting end I suppose, but at 77 much too soon. I feel so badly for Joan, David and Daniel and I also feel sorry that he's gone from mystery writing. I hope Joan will be comforted by how much his fans loved his books and how much we will all miss him.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

A Question for Bloggers

I'm fairly new to blogging and something happened recently that I'm a little worried about. Can other bloggers help?

Someone had tried to comment on my last post so I received an email asking if I wanted it published. When I clicked on the message, it turned out to be a porn site with what loooked like Chinese writing. I immediately rejected the comment and deleted the email of course, and thanked my lucky stars I have a good antivirus program. What I saw wasn't terribly bad, but the ick factor was certainly there.

It still bothers me a little though. I've always received legitimate comments and I have always enjoyed receiving them. Has anyone else had this experience? Am I concerned for nothing?

Monday, January 11, 2010

A House Divided

In all the years I've followed politics, which is practically all my life, I've never seen us so divided by party. This division became pronounced in the second President Bush's terms of office, I feel, because of his "You're either with me or agin' me" attitude. I had hoped that President Obama could bring us back together again but a year after he took office we seem to be more divided than ever.

This country has seen political divisions and personal attacks in campaigns ever since the rumors about Jefferson and his slave and most famously the attacks on President Jackson's personal life. In my lifetime though political games were more civilized until just a few years ago. As we're seeing right now with Harry Reid's apology for so-called racist remarks about candidate Obama, that's all it takes for the other party to jump all over someone and try to drive them out of office. Both parties are guilty - I'm not just criticizing Republicans here.

When I learn about a candidate's views in order to decide whether I want to vote for him or not, I don't expect to agree with him about everything. I simply want to vote for a person who agrees with most of my opinions on important issues. I am registered with the party I normally agree with so I can participate in primaries, and in the general election I vote for the candidates I want to, rarely a straight ticket. According to party leadership these days, though, I'm supposed to endorse everything the party stands for. In that case, I would have to become an Independent and forfeit primaries.

I'd like to think that most citizens vote the way I do, but perhaps I'm being naive. Where I live voters are predominantly Republican and I know people who would rather croak than vote for a Democrat, but I don't think this area is representative of the country as a whole. At least I hope not.

My hope that President Obama could bring us all together is dimming. I don't see any sign that the division is easing in Washington and in fact the health care reform process seems to be building a solid wall between the aisles in Congress. I hate all the wheeling and dealing involved in this vital issue and I certainly don't know what the final bill will look like, but I support the effort on behalf of all Americans who cannot afford health insurance. We absolutely must help them.

We're all Americans and like it or not we're in this together. How can we hope to have a solid economy, jobs, education, environmentally sound policies and the other necessities of a nation that leads the world if we don't cooperate, compromise, give each other a say, help each other out, and work together to create opportunity? Instead of finding things to complain about, how about if we emphasize the positive. This is still a great country and I know we all love it. Let's show it.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

So Many Books . . .

I'm doomed. I recently discovered yet another mystery writer and I'm compelled to find her other books to read. Somehow up until I read this book I had her confused with another writer whose book I couldn't finish because it was so out of my realm and overflowing with gore and madness. Wonder who that was? :-)

Anyway, at a summer book sale I bought VANISH by Tess Gerritsen. Then when Tutu from Maine mentioned that Gerritsen lived there, I remembered this book and finally read it. And I loved it! This one is only four years old but there are several others that I must find.

Near the beginning of VANISH a body in the cooler of a morgue is discovered to be a living body. Well, of course anyone would freak out coming to in a morgue, but this woman goes ballistic. In the hospital she takes hostages, one of whom is a pregnant cop about to give birth, and the story never stops from there.

I never really care if I figure out whodunit before the end or not. I like to just buckle my seatbelt and settle in for the ride. Good thing, since I found myself suspecting the good characters and trusting the bad ones quite often in this complex tale. If I had been one of the characters, I would have been six feet under by now.

I can't really tell any more of the story, a) because it's too confusing that way, and b) because I'm sure I would give a surprise away. Trust me, this is a good story and it even has a serious cause behind the plot. Plus the cop and her baby and the changes it brings to her life will resonate with any working mom even if the most dangerous thing she does in a day is change the toner cartridge in the printer.

I highly recommend this one. Heck I even love the cover art.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Ellen Goodman Retires

I've been reading Ellen Goodman's columns for more years than I can remember. I didn't always agree with her of course but I always appreciated her thoughtful approach to topics that other columnists tended to jump to conclusions about. She has shared her life experiences that many women, including yours truly, could relate to and I've more than once caught myself saying something like "You go, Girl."

Years ago I lived in Maine for several years, met my husband there as a matter of fact, so I always looked forward to her reports from the island off the coast where she spent a couple precious weeks each summer. Next summer I will envision her spending more time on her porch there, gardening, walking, and reuniting with neighbors. Without those pesky deadlines she can stay as long as she likes and even do absolutely nothing if that appeals to her.

I do hope eventually she will write a book that isn't a collection of her columns because I will miss her writing, her unique take on topics, and I'm interested to see what she will do with her retirement. I imagine doing nothing will get old very quickly and she will soon be up to her neck in something or other.

So goodbye for now, Ellen Goodman, but don't forget us faithful readers.