Monthly Archives: October 2012

Listen to a Mystery

When I was growing up in the 70’s, I’d listen to CBS Radio Mystery Theater before going to sleep. I loved how radio stimulated my imagination, how enthralling the stories were. I just discovered that they’re all online, available at It’s a fun, nostalgic journey.

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Posted by on October 24, 2012 in fiction


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From The Writer’s Almanac

It’s Arthur Miller’s birthday.

It’s the birthday of Arthur Miller (books by this author), born in New York City (1915). His father was the wealthy owner of a coat factory, and the family had a large Manhattan apartment, a chauffeur, and a summer home at the beach. But the family lost everything in the stock market crash of 1929.

The family had to move to a poor section of Brooklyn called Gravesend, where few of the streets had been paved, and much of the neighborhood was full of vacant lots. They had been living on the sixth floor of a building on Central Park North, but they now moved into a six-room clapboard house, where Miller had to share a bedroom with his grandfather.

The neighborhood was also home to Arthur Miller’s uncle on his mother’s side, Manny Newman, who would captivate Miller’s imagination for years. Uncle Manny was a salesman, and he was a big talker, full of schemes and hope for the future, even though he struggled to make ends meet.

Miller got involved in drama as a college student when he decided to enter a playwriting contest and managed to win the first prize with the first play he’d ever written. His first big success was his play All My Sons (1947), and just before the Broadway premiere, Miller went to an advance performance of the play in Boston. He was standing outside the theater when he looked up and saw that one of the people leaving the auditorium was his uncle Manny, whom he hadn’t seen in years. He realized right away that Manny must have been on a business trip to Boston and had come to the play on a whim. Miller said, “I could see his grim hotel room behind him, the long trip up from New York in his little car, the hopeless hope of the day’s business.” They only spoke briefly, and all Manny had to say was that his son Buddy was doing well. A year later, Miller learned that his uncle Manny had committed suicide.

He decided that he had to write a play, based loosely on his uncle’s life. He tracked down Manny’s two sons, Buddy and Abby, and interviewed them about their father. Soon after those interviews, Miller set out to write his play in a tiny cabin in Connecticut.

The result was Death of a Salesman (1949). It’s the story of a salesman named Willy Loman and the last 24 hours of his life with his wife, Linda, and his sons, Biff and Happy. He comes home from a business trip, carrying a case of samples, and tells his wife that he decided to cut the trip short because he’s not feeling well. He spends the next day trying to figure out how to pay off his debts. In the end, he decides to kill himself in a car accident, in the hopes getting his family the insurance money.

The final scene of the play takes place at Willy Loman’s funeral, and one of the characters says, “For a salesman, there is no rock bottom to the life. He don’t put a bolt to a nut, he don’t tell you the law or give you medicine. He’s a man way out there in the blue, riding on a smile and a shoeshine. And when they start not smiling back — that’s an earthquake. … A salesman is got to dream, boy. It comes with the territory.”

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Posted by on October 17, 2012 in American Lit, classic


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The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Aw shucks, I just didn’t like reading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn for my book club. Getting through this classic became more and more of a chore as I progressed. I had to read this as a high school freshmen and don’t remember hating or loving it. It was okay.

This time I had a more negative experience. The episodes seemed hokey rather than funny. I just couldn’t buy into the Royal Nonesuch and other episodes that seemed over the top.

I got tired of Huck’s innocence behind his rough, uncivilized ways. Oh, yeah, the noble savage always knows more than the citified. Hey, it’s never that simple.

I remember a friend commenting in my freshmen year, “Why didn’t they just cross over to Illinois since that was a free state?” We never got a satisfactory answer on that as I recall.

When reading, I kept imagining Twain using Huck to convince me of this thinking. It seemed like a cheap trick.

I much preferred Great Expectations.

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Posted by on October 14, 2012 in American Lit, classic


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This week I’d like to introduce Susan Judd and an amazing article on a form I never knew until I read on her blog. I know you will enjoy. Welcome Sue!

Hello fellow poets, Sue Judd here in my first stint at manning the bar…I’m honoured to have been asked to host this evening’s Form for All. I consider myself adaptable, and equal to most challenges that come my way, but we shall see how I fare during the course of this evening…

Tonight I’m going to be talking about the Englyn, a form of poetry that I was introduced to by fellow poet Sally J Blackmore in one of her Summer Poetry workshops this year. It is an interesting form, and one that I was initially drawn to because of it’s brevity (I have been known to write the odd Haiku). I always find it interesting coming across new…

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Posted by on October 12, 2012 in Uncategorized


Dreams of Joy

In Lisa See’s Dreams of Joy, the sequel to her historical fiction novel, Shanghai Girls, an idealistic Chinese American college student runs off to China in the late 1950s after learning that her aunt is really her mother and vice versa. Likewise the man she thought was her father isn’t. She’s grown up in a web of lies. On top of that, her stepfather recently committed suicide as his immigration status was fraudulent and the FBI started asking him questions.

So Joy steals her mother’s savings and heads to find her biological dad in Shanghai. Soon her stepmother Pearl follows her rightly fearing that Joy doesn’t know what she’s getting into.

While the plot sounds like a soap opera, the story is absorbing and well told. The characters are well defined and the plot unfolds credibly. Joy starts off in Shanghai and soon finds her father, an artist who’s volunteered to teach peasants at the Green Dragon Commune to get out of some political trouble.

The novel shifts from Joy’s to Pearl’s narration so readers can see experiences from two different vantage points – the young newcomer and the Overseas Chinese returnee.

I found the narrative a detailed, convincing glimpse into the era of the Great Leap Forward with its deprivations, idealization of the proletariat, petty power struggles and denunciations. See provides a section at the end of the book explaining aspects of the story and their history. Her acknowledgements not only thank the experts, who helped her, but allow the reader to see the extent of her research.

In many ways the book reminded me of Wild Swans, a non-fiction work mainly about the Cultural Revolution. Both show how women of different generations cope during hellish circumstances.

I enjoyed Dreams of Joy, but felt the ending was a little too pat and happy. I think in reality someone readers had come to root for would have suffered greatly. Also, since May, Pearl’s sister was important to Joy, Pearl and Z.G., Joy’s father, it was strange that she figured so little at the end.

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Posted by on October 7, 2012 in historical fiction