Thoughts on: 2014

W.B. Yeats“Out of the quarrel with others we make rhetoric;
out of the quarrel with ourselves we make poetry.”

–W.B. Yeats

My readers who notice such things will know that I have been (largely) absent from this blog for a couple of weeks.  During this time, I traveled to the Northeastern part of the United States to spend the holidays with family and friends. In so doing,  I found myself far too busy with holiday revelry to compose a coherent blog post. The rigors of air travel, climatological changes (freezing cold), combined with the festive, and sometimes not so festive, interaction with family members, proved too much for me, and I had to put off blogging for another day, and consequently another year. But now it is suddenly 2014, and apart from the poem “White curtains” that I posted on January 3rd (but wrote months ago), I have been very silent here. But that shan’t last long.

Before I went away, I intended to compose a carefully crafted end of the year blog post, to thank everyone who took the time to stop by EEOTPB in 2013, to read and to comment. I also intended to say in that post that I have enjoyed reading your work too. I even had a great quote and a paragraph or two composed in my head about the great quote but it is all gone now, and even the post it note with the great quote is gone.  So learn from this fellow bloggers – when you find a great quote, put it in your writer’s notebook, or where ever you store your ideas for future reference, but never, ever, leave it scrawled on a sticky note attached to your computer monitor at work, lest an overly zealous corporate cleaning crew descend upon your not-so-sacred workspace and sweep it into the trash. Ah well…

Fortunately, I am not so careless with other quotes and I found the one above scrawled in the coffee stained margins of my notebook. No matter what one thinks of Yeats, any man rejected by the same woman four times (as was Yeats) must know something of quarrelling and its resultant impact upon the writing of poetry.  In any case, it seems to resonate with how I feel today.

Again, thanks to all who have read this blog. I hope to see many of you back in the coming year.

Tight lines,

-Ed

Hate the sin

Once I rented a room

in a house in St. Paul

from a lady

named Madge

who used to bang on the radiator

with her shoe

when I came home drunk

late at night, after playing cards

with guys from the Pioneer Press

I’d turn up my radio

tuned to the country station

and play Ferlin Husky

at full volume

at 4:30 AM

bang, bang comes the shoe

“Keep it down Cowboy” she shouts

next day she’d squeeze

fresh grapefruit juice

and put it in front of me

with black coffee

and a fried egg

and toast with orange marmalade jam

and she’d ask if I’d met any nice girls last night

and I’d say no, just

card drunks

daytime reporters

nightime gamblers

a fallen preacher

and an old curmudgeon

named Stew

who hasn’t held a job in twenty years

who hasn’t changed his shirt in three weeks

and is easily angered

and becomes profane when provoked

and was recently arrested in Albert Lea

on charges of one hundred sixteen

parking violations

but who’s on a hot poker run

Madge says you hate the sin

but love the sinner

she wishes me well on my new job

selling vacuum cleaners door to door.

In Pursuit of Completion – Reflections on NaNoWriMo

Ernest Hemingway

You just  have to go on when it is worst and most helpless–there is only one thing to do with a novel and that is to go straight to the end of the damn thing.

–Ernest Hemingway

I was not going to write anything about NaNoWriMo this year. I told myself that a month ago, as the November 1st kickoff date for the event loomed. After all, the blogosphere is filled with commentary about NaNoWriMo, which for those of you who don’t know of it, is an acronym that refers (awkwardly) to National Novel Writing Month, and it takes place in November of each year – all 30 days of it. I was all set to move on to other topics, ignoring NaNoWriMo entirely, until I ran across the above quote from Hemingway. The quote is an excerpt from a letter that Old Hem wrote to Scott Fitzgerald back in 1929, presumably to prod his friend on to literary success (it obviously worked). And, since nothing inspires me to put fingers to keyboard more than a quote from Papa, and this one seems so perfectly tailored as an intro to a NaNoWriMo blog, here goes…

First off, NaNoWriMo is a challenge in which participants attempt to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. To get some idea of the size of a 50,000 word novel, think The Great Gatsby at 47,180 words, or Slaughterhouse-Five which clocks in at some 49,459 words. In both cases, Fitzgerald and Vonnegut (respectively), would have needed to beef up a couple of chapters in order to complete NaNoWriMo successfully. Conversely, Faulkner would have handily picked up his NaNoWriMo award had he uploaded his 56,787 word manuscript, As I Lay Dying, to the NaNoWriMo server prior to the November 30th midnight deadline.

So, considering how large a 50,000 word manuscript really is, it is easy to see why completing such a large amount of work in such a short time period is a daunting task to say the least. It requires dedication, perseverance, and above all, hours of hard damned work. But the world has no shortage of aspiring writers. According to the NaNoWriMo website, the 2012 competition attracted 341,375 participants, and since its humble beginnings in 1999, 250 novels, birthed in NaNoWriMo have been traditionally published. I would venture to say that many, most, or all, of these novels would have found their way to publication without NaNoWriMo, but I can’t say for sure. Most were probably planned well before November, fleshed out during the competition, and then subjected to endless edits post-NaNoWriMo. But that’s just my feeling, so if you have taken a novel all the way to traditional publication and attribute your success entirely to NaNoWriMo (Jeez, one blogger is right, that acronym is damned annoying to type), then please feel free to comment here and flame the hell out of me.

There you have it. If you are ready to get your novel down on paper, or in the electronic can, head on over and sign up – just be aware that in order to complete NaNoWriMo, you’ll have to write a consistent minimum of 1667 words per day – 7 days per week, each day of the entire month. So what could possibly be controversial about a quarter million people or more, spending time writing novels? Seems like an innocent pursuit, right. Well, there are a good many people out there who do not share the love when it comes to NaNoWriMo.

Do a Google search for ‘nanowrimo sucks’, or ‘i hate nanowrimo’ and you will see what I mean. NaNoWriMo has haters. And many of them make very good points, one point being that the competition is totally about word count and finishing the work in the allotted 30 day period with total disregard to quality. Technically, Jack Torrence, Stephen King’s tortured writer in The Shining, could have submitted his ersatz manuscript wherein the words, “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” are repeated endlessly, filling each page from margin to margin.  As long as Jack’s manuscript reaches the 50,000 work mark (and he has an electronic copy available for upload), he can walk away with a certificate of NaNoWriMo completion. This rankles some writers who believe that the world needs far fewer bad novels, and far more good novel readers  – a point that I feel has great merit, but not enough for me to come down hard on NaNoWriMo. I think that the advantages of competing in a challenge that encourages finishing a project to be admirable, and I have no unkind words for NaNoWriMo participants.

And will I be participating in this year’s competition?  No, I will not. This year I’ve other priorities. But I shall be thinking of you all as the clock approaches midnight on Thursday evening, and I shall see you in my minds eye with nervous fingers tapping the keyboard waiting for the race to begin…good luck to all.

One more book by Norman Mailer

I should read one more book,

By Norman Mailer – I think,

As I sit in my office perch on floor 19,

In my New York City cubicle,

Doing New York City things,

And I watch the cursor blink,

On a blank computer screen,

At eleven thirty PM –  I say to myself,

What would Norman do?

The fucker would write…

Finally, hands of the desk clock point up,

To twelve midnight, and there is  hell to pay,

I say it out loud – to the thieving bastards.

Not a sound on the floor.

So I think of riding to work on a fall day,

Years before, in my apple picking years,

On an old International bus,

Fifty miles north of Kalamazoo,

To the old Henderson Orchard,

A girl named Kelly is on my bus,

She’s a fellow apple picker from Duluth,

But she hasn’t a talent for apples,

But she wears bib-overalls on her first day.

She tells me that she cut her hair short,

The day that they sent her to Reform School,

And now, she prefers it that way.

At noon I sit in the shade of the bus,

I am reading a book and eating the peach I brought for lunch,

And she comes by and sits down – asks what’s it about,

She points at my book.

A murder I say.

Oh yeah, she says — did they catch the guy?

I tell her the man was executed, shot.

She laughs at me,

Should have been my old man, she says.

Location, location, location

An author friend of mine, an author that has known some success, and knows more about writing than I do, told me that the setting for his latest novel is Long Island, New York. Having lived in Long Island for three years back in the early 80’s, I was intrigued.

“Really,” I said to him, “Nassau, or Suffolk?” He didn’t know how to answer, but he did tell me the name of a town that I recognized. I went on to tell him that I lived for a time in Huntington Station, New York, which is in Suffolk County. Then I pressed him about his regional knowledge of that area – not because I was trying to embarrass him, or impress him with my esoteric knowledge of Long Island, but because I was curious as to why he chose that location as the setting for a novel – especially since his novel did not have to be set in that location for any particular reason.

My author friend finally confessed that he had never been to Long Island, or even New York for that matter, but he told me with great confidence, that with the tools available on the internet, today’s author can set a novel in practically any location they choose. By using MapQuest to locate streets and by using Google Earth and Street View to zoom in on actual locales, one can effectively write a novel set in any particular area without ever having set foot in Westhampton, Shinnecock Hills, or Amagansett.

I retreated from the conversation unconvinced.  I recall an article that I read many years ago in a magazine. I cannot remember who wrote the article, but it was an interview with a successful published author. It was one of those advice type articles, directed at novice writers trying to write their first published work. There was lots of good advice in the article, but I’ve retained only the following:

“Never, ever set a novel in New York City unless you know the town.”

Notice that the writer was quite emphatic about this particular point. While the writer spoke only of New York City, I suspect that the advice might be expanded to include many other large metropolitan areas, like Los Angeles and Chicago.

The author went on to explain that New Yorkers buy lots of books, and since many New Yorkers have lived in the city all of their lives, they will smell a phony in…well…a New York minute. Don’t alienate the New Yorkers!

I suppose it depends somewhat upon the breadth of the creative piece that a writer is trying to develop. It would probably be possible to set a short story in say, an apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan by doing a bit of internet research, as long as the action doesn’t ‘leave the house’. Move your characters out onto the street, and then you’d better know the lay of the land. If your CIA agent meets her contact at the Feast of San Gennaro, you’d better, at some point in life, have walked Mulberry Street between Houston and Canal (something I have done, but I used the internet to verify that Houston to Canal Street part, thus highlighting my point that the internet is a useful tool for detail, but it does not take the place of the experience).

There are exceptions. Edgar Rice Burroughs, the author of the epic Tarzan series of adventure books wrote prolifically about Africa, without ever having set foot on the continent. It is important to note, however, that Burrough’s work was consumed by an early 20th century audience who, like him, knew little of Africa either. Perhaps the more sophisticated the audience, the more regional knowledge the writer needs to effectively create a believable piece (and unless we are writing pure fantasy, we all want to write a believable piece – that’s the goal, right?).

I am wondering how others feel about this very important topic. You have the plot, you have the characters. Now where do you put them? Is it your hometown, a place you visit regularly, or maybe where you vacation? After reading some Nicholas Sparks (trying to find out what that guy is doing right), I suspect that he knows quite a bit about the Outer Banks of North Carolina, and I doubt he learned all he knows by searching the internet. I mean, has Google Street View ever swept through Rodanthe?

Hemingway once reflected that it was difficult for him to set his work in his present physical location. He felt that his 1937 classic novel, To Have and Have Not, a novel set primarily in Cuba and Florida, would have been much better had he not written most of it while living in Key West. He found that he wrote best about places he had left some years before.

In my own work, I am finding that Papa was onto something. As a native Midwesterner, I find it easier to write to mundane cities out on the Plains (The DUI Guy is set in suburban Chicago), than it is to set my characters in Florida, where I currently live – perhaps I shall have to move to New York in order to write the perfect Florida book.

In any case, I would be interested in your thoughts.

Until next post,

Mahalo,

Ed

Quotes we carry

Social media is awash these days in quotes, and I have to admit that I am a sucker for a good quote, be it from a deceased politician, company CEO, famous author, or Hollywood celeb. We used to have to wait for pearls of wisdom to filter down to us through the print media, but now we have quotes that we are free to use, download, send to Facebook friends, Tweet, or incorporate into blogs, as I have here at EEOTPB upon so many occasions.

Quotes lift us up, they make us laugh, and they make us sound worldly when we’re really not. An appropriate quote, delivered with proper timing can make or break you in corporate America.

One afternoon, half dozing through a staff meeting, I was roused from near slumber by a stammering colleague who seemed reluctant to commit to a plan for a product delivery. Waiting for the proper entrance into the fray, I responded with one of my favorite quotes by General George Patton:

“A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.”

Of course I attributed the quote to the General before delivery. The response was at first a subtle chuckling that rippled through the room, but my manager smiled and told me he liked my attitude. By the way — my colleague was soon asked to leave the company, and although I can’t say I was fast-tracked to a corner office, I wasn’t dismissed either. If there is ever a quote that shows balls-to-the wall commitment to getting the job done it is that one (depending upon the situation, skip the word ‘violently’, you never know how that is going to be taken). So remember it, oh Corporate Drones.

But there are quotes that hit us where we live, aren’t there? Have you ever printed out a quote, trimmed it neatly, and folded it into your wallet, or pocketbook? Has a particular quote elevated itself to “wallet status” – something you want to keep near you, to refer to when you are not quite sure of the shaky ground upon which you walk, or the future into which you enter, ready or not?

Maybe your personal quote is hand written on a  post-it note, folded five times and tucked behind your drivers license just in case you need it someday, or maybe it is in your pocketbook, written in the margin of your DayTimer, or some such, but you know where it is so you can find it always – that’s the kind of quote I am talking about – one that makes you think about life in a way you always knew that it should be thought of, but that he or she said it so well, and so much better than you could have.

The quote that I carry with me is a quote from the classic 1949 novel by Paul Bowles, “The  Sheltering Sky”. Bowles, if you recall, was the only child of a New York City dentist, a father who, according to reports, was a harsh father who left Paul as an infant to die on a window ledge during a winter storm. Perhaps such harsh treatment as an infant infused young Paul with a unique outlook on life. The stark finality, and reality of this quote, has garnered it a place in my ‘electronic’ wallet and I refer to it daily, although I can recite it by heart:

Because we do not know when we will die, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. And yet everything happens only a certain number of times, and a very small number really.”

In this passage Paul Bowles goes on to suggest that in a lifetime we only watch the full moon rise perhaps 20 times…

If you have a quote that you carry with you and it means something special to you, please feel free to share it here.

Mahalo,

–Ed

A death at the Super 8

I have always felt that we need to do more for the men and women who have served our country. Or at least we need to do more than we are doing. Some years ago I wrote a poem about a vet that I knew. He was a Vietnam vet who came back from that war with a purple heart and little else. He was a friend, and his story touched me deeply. I wrote a poem about ‘Roger’ (full disclosure – not his real name).  Because this is Memorial Day weekend here in the United States, or ‘Decoration Day’ as my granddad, a World War I vet used to call it, I want to post this poem in ‘Roger’s’ honor.

A Death at the Super 8

Roger died at the Super 8, out on the edge of town,

Nobody left to bury him, his family long since gone,

His friends had all abandoned him, since he’d started talking strange,

Muttering about conspiracies, and weird lights out on the range,

Someone killed the Kennedys, and it ain’t who you’d think,

He told me in a local bar, after I had bought him his third drink,

Lots of things are going on, and the Feds are in the know,

Murders and black helicopters, drugs and UFOs,

He told me he heard people, whispering in his ear,

About the second coming, and it was happening next year,

He spoke in tongues, slept in the rain, and turned a ghastly pale,

A couple times he scared some folks, and ended up in jail,

The people who were close to him, all started to get scared,

So they started to avoid him, and they forgot they ever cared,

The welfare folks they finally found, a place where he could stay,

So he moved into the Super 8, and made the county pay,

But me and seven other guys, from the local Legion hall,

Turned out to see him buried, on a windy day last fall,

An Episcopalian preacher, who’d known him all his life,

Said Roger was a gentle man who’d always loved his wife.

He said it started years ago, when he couldn’t pay a loan,

A banker came down from Des Moines and took away his home,

His wife she moved to Keokuk, his son lives in Moline,

I heard he has a daughter too, but for years she’s not been seen,

He said he’d fought back demons, but now God would settle up the score,

And take away the agony of a man, who’d gone to war,

That night from fitful sleep I rose, and poured a shot of rye,

And drank a toast to Roger, and strange lights up in the sky.

On the writer’s desk…

Recently, I lamented the sad, but understandable fact, that hard copy reference books, like the Dictionary and Thesaurus are becoming as extinct as ashtrays on the desks of today’s writer. The electronic medium has consumed these books alive, and I have got to confess that I too turn to internet search engines for precise word meanings and spellings. Although in my home office, I still have a four inch thick copy of Webster’s taking up shelf space, my office at the “place-where-I-go-to-make-money-writing” holds no such tome.

On my first day, on my first job, as a Technical Writer (more years ago than I like to admit), I received a very fine dictionary from The Company that hired me. It came packed in a large box of supplies that were handed out to new employees. It was packed  along with an assortment of pens of various colors (primarily red), a tightly bound pack of yellow legal pads, and an Xacto knife (for stripping line drawings into galley copy). There was also an ashtray, a very large ashtray with the seal of the U.S. Department of the Army embossed upon it. The ashtray was, of course, every bit as necessary as the dictionary as the very nature of the work (long hours pouring over electronic schematic diagrams and disseminating the intricacies of circuit flow onto the long legal pads), practically required a Technical Writer to burn through 20 to 40 cigarettes within the course of an 8 to 10 hour day – or so it seemed.

Today, thankfully the ashtrays are gone, the air is breathable, but the reference books are gone as well. So what is on my writer’s desk? On my desk, only four volumes remain. I thought that I might detail them here:

1. “The Elements of Style” by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White. While this book has been around for over forty five years, I have shelved my previous editions in favor of the Penguin Press illustrated version (2005). This book is a necessity for anyone who writes more than their name on a check. I have found this book to be indispensable, my favorite chapter being the “Approach to Style” chapter. Here you’ll find advice on topics like: how to “write in a way that comes naturally”, “revise and rewrite”, “do not overwrite”, and “do not overstate”.

2. “The Scott, Foresman Handbook for Writers, Fifth Edition” by John J. Ruszkiewicz; Christy Friend; Maxine Hairston. Upgrade to a newer version if you want, but this version has served me well, and the good stuff doesn’t change much anyway. With just short of 1000 pages stuffed into a one inch spine, this brick of a book contains damn near everything you need to write like a real frigging professional. You will probably not find a more comprehensive (to the point of being exhaustive), book on the mechanics and rules of writing anywhere. The art of writing a draft, how to revise, edit, and proofread, sentence structure, grammar, how to begin a research project, it’s all here.

3. “Between You and I – a little book of bad english” by John Cochrane. This little volume was given to me by a friend (possibly one who thought I could use it). It has remained on my writer’s desk for several years now, and is the most entertaining, useful book about word usage that I have ever discovered. The book contains an Author’s Preface, followed by a Foreword by British radio journalist, John Humphries. From there the book takes off on an alphabetical listing of some of the most likely misused, misunderstood, and most often massacred words in the English language. Anyone interested in resuscitating what is left of the language should pick up a copy.

4.  “Ernest Hemingway on Writing” edited by Larry W. Phillips. Like “Hemingway on Hunting” and “Hemingway on Fishing”, and who knows what others, this book was probably manufactured to wring a few more dollars from this literary icon’s name. Still, the book offers some of the best and most inspirational writing antidotes to be found anywhere.  Starting with “What writing is and what it does”, this book contains Papa’s sage advice to all writers on such perpetually important topics as what to write about, work habits, proper use of obscenity, thoughts on other writers, and politics. What more do you need to know.

“It wasn’t by accident that the Gettysburg address was so short. The laws of prose writing are as immutable as those of flight, of mathematics, of physics.”

-Ernest Hemingway in a letter to Maxwell Perkins 1945

That’s all for today,

Mahalo,

Ed

Rainy Thursday Afternoon

After my shift ends at the bakery I walk uptown.
It is early afternoon.  I stomp up Front Street in flour stained boots.
Eventually, I kick off the bread-dust.
I ignore the burn on my left hand – it is of my own doing.
In time, I shake off the day and the bread too.

It is half past two, and a storm is racing in from the western slope.
So I have three hours to kill – Leah is still counting parking tickets downtown.
She works at the Department of Revenue, and she is busy extracting coins.
She takes them from yellow envelopes and puts them into grey bags.
She accounts for those who have paid their debt to parking society.

A guy I know named Pearson – a man who hasn’t worked in many years,
But who is truly a good soul, calls to me from the doorway of the Timberline Tap.
He says because it is so early, I should come in and drink with him.
I tell him that I can’t today – Aunt Olympia must remain bound and shackled.
He laughs. I tell him I have errands to run, but that is a lie.

Further up, I stop at a market and I buy green grapes from a man named Carlos.
He knows it is Thursday, and I don’t work on Thursday afternoons.
He asks me about the bakery and if there is any work there for a grocer.
He says I have flour under my nails and he wonders if it ever goes away.
It is a matter of time and money I say, and he smiles like he knows.

Up at the Bellevue Bookstore, the Russian owner – I don’t remember his name,
Barely looks at me when I enter the store. I move past him.
I hurry past the ordered shelves:  I head for the mess in back.
I shun the shelves of paperbacks, and the weighty, and the out of print.
I turn left at the “Native American History” section.

In the back, by the window that faces west, I find the poetry section.
The shelves are barely as wide as I am. I look at the books, afraid of commitment.
I select a narrow one – the slimmest one. I pull up a wooden stool.
Fresh drops of rain from the mountains peck at the windows above my head.
I eat green grapes and read from the slim volume.

The Russian comes by pushing a load of used books in a cart.
He says his favorite writers are Russian, and he tells me about his father,
Who was a great reader, as well as a good communist.
But his father was dead and his mother too and even his own wife.
And the Bellevue Bookstore was all that was left of a capitalistic experiment.

He thinks I look like the Bohemians he knew in Seattle,
In the days he lived there with his wife, before he bought the Belleview.
And he says I should take my own wife and go away while I still can.
He thinks that a man of my years should live nearer the coast.
Too much mountain air thins the blood.

I nod, but I have no desire to move away – but I don’t tell him.
Trotsky, the bookshop tabby curls up at my feet – strange how I recall his name.
Rain pounds at the windows and I settle back against the wall.
I am content with my slender volume of poems, just for Thursday.
I am content with my grapes, content with Leah and the rain.

No more predictions of doom from me…

Unless it is my own death, I am through predicting the death of anything. Recently, I have written here about the forecast demise of poetry and the short story. As a result, I have received some really great commentary from readers who have convinced me that both mediums will probably outlive me. Thanks to all for your comments. I also read an interesting piece about the impending death of classical music, although I can’t seem to find that article right now, but if I do locate it, I will post it later. Since my musical knowledge is practically zilch, however, I don’t feel the least bit qualified to write anything on that subject anyway, so there you go.

Reference books are another matter, because I know something about them, having been a faithful user for many years. I am talking about real hard-core reference books like the dictionary and the thesaurus to name two. At one time I thought I heard the death knell of both, as words are so easily looked up online, but now I think I was being a little hasty. For all I know, the kids of today will have grown tired of electronic gadgetry and will have gone back to writing with quill pens and relying on town criers for news reports – but I doubt it.

A noontime visit to the last remaining bookstore in my area (or at least within lunchtime driving distance), has convinced me that at least one reference book – if not the ultimate reference book, will survive any event short of Armageddon. I am talking about the cookbook. I know, you can get any recipe known to man online, but I have a feeling that cookbooks are still going to survive, if not thrive. Cookbooks appear to be selling well, a fact that has been attributed to families eating at home more often due to the slouching economy, but I don’t think that is the reason at all. Families in financial distress do not often have $34.99 to plunk down for the 2013 edition of The Twenty Minute Mediterranean Gourmet. To the contrary, I would think that families feeling the economic strain would tend to look toward online sources for recipes on the cheap.

Cookbooks tend to have long life spans, often being handed down through families from parent to child. They have tattered pages, with smudges left from long dried smatterings of tomato paste and egg whites. Sometimes the faint scent of garlic wafts off of the pages when they are first opened after being closed for a long while and a careful inspection of the cookbook might reveal a calcified flake or two of ground marjoram in the page crease of the “Cornwallis English Turkey Stuffing” recipe. Most cookbooks have beautiful pictures of the expected resultant dish on the left hand page, and details on how to prepare it on the right –technical writing at its purest form.

There are usually lots of bookmarks in cookbooks. Torn out recipe pages from magazines work well for this, so even if you don’t know exactly where that recipe for “Aunt Madge’s Eggplant Rollatini” is – the one that your mom clipped from the June issue of Better Homes and Gardens back in 1968, you know that it is there somewhere in the cookbook, perhaps flagging the page for “Ben’s Mountain Home Chili”.

Unlike dictionaries and thesauruses that are used in the den, or the office, for stodgy tasks like preparing school papers, compiling work reports, and composing formal correspondence, cookbooks are used in the room that is closest to the human heart, the kitchen. Even if we know that recipe by heart (because we’ve made that dish five hundred times), do we really feel comfortable trusting dinner to chance? Of course not – it’s best to consult with Betty Crocker just to make sure that we don’t over-salt the pickled beets. So you will find yourself digging out the cookbook from wherever it is kept. Likely you will find it atop the fridge, above the spice rack in the pantry or on the back porch shelf flanked by the potted geraniums.

Wherever your cookbooks are stored, they will probably be stacked and not shelved, and everyone knows that books that are stacked have a longer life expectancy than those that are shelved. My Chilton auto repair manuals are a good example, having been stacked on a corner of my workbench for the better part of a decade.

But as I said at the beginning of this, I won’t be forecasting the death of anything from now on. There is too much other stuff to talk about, and it is already May.