Apartment Hunting

There’s a line that I remember reading in one of the Anita Blake books, “Friends help you move. Real friends help you move bodies.” I’ve been moved via self and via mover, but the line keeps running through my head in search of a connection, and today that connection is fictional dwellings.

Five of my favorites?

  1. Nero Wolfe’s brownstone: I could live without the orchid room, I guess, but I like brownstones, and always dreamed of living in one.
  2. V.I. Warshawki’s apartment: It’s not the largest on earth, of course, but there’s room for a piano AND she has a real tub. As in cast-iron and claw feet.
  3. Plumfield. We’re first introduced to it as the stately home of crabby old Aunt March in Little Women, but we get a better tour during it’s second incarnation, as a home and school for stray boys in Little Men. It always seemed like a place I’d love to visit.
  4. The Harper Hall from Anne McCaffrey’s Pern books. I’m not so fond of her work now as I was when I was thirteen and fourteen years old, and unaware of some of her social attitudes, but I’d have loved to study music at Harper Hall. In retrospect, the trilogy set at the Hall was very much a Pern-ish version of a classic boarding school story.
  5. The Murray House. I love the image of an old farmhouse where Mom is admonished for boiling stew in one beaker and conducting an experiment in another. Madeline L’Engle’s own home, Crosswicks, is very much in evidence in the Murray manse. I’d love to stay in either.

So, what are your favorite literary residences, from childhood, or from more recent reading?

Games People Read About

Hearing a couple of golfers mention Cobra golf gear in Starbucks the other day, made me think about the way sports are depicted in fiction. You don’t see a lot of novels where there’s a dead body draped over the front of a Zamboni, or where love affairs take place in the SkyBox of a major arena, but sports and games are often used in fiction. Here are some of my favorites:

  1. Harriet the Spy: Notebook Tag. The game in which you run around trying to knock people’s books out of their arms, until you are the last person left.
  2. The Dick Francis mysteries: Almost everything he ever wrote involved horse racing in some fashion, either because the protagonist was a jockey or trainer, or because a murder took place in the turf world. I used to read these like candy.
  3. The Harry Potter books: Who can resist the lure of Quidditch – I mean the notion of any sport played on airborne brooms is pretty cool.
  4. Sara Paretsky’s work: Hockey is prevalent in at least one of the adventures of V.I. Warshawski, and Paretsky always weaves in mention of the Chicago Cubs.

Your turn: If you’re reading this, tell me about some of your favorite uses of games and sports in fiction.

Common Themes: Mysteries and Cars

It’s a classic scene. The young woman is driving down a twisting road with her long blonde hair streaming behind her, and suddenly, she realizes she’s going too fast. She slams her feet down on the Corvette brakes, but nothing happens – the brake lines have been cut!

For my last “common themes” list of the year, I offer five mysteries with cars involved in them:

1) Swapping Paint: A Stock Car Racing Mystery, by Jim Lavene
2) The Muscle Car Mystery: From the Case Files of Private Investigator James Mitchell, by M. L. Angell
3) The Keys To The Car, by Robert P. Robertson
4) Last Car to Elysian Fields, by James Lee Burke
5) The Clue of the Phantom Car, by Bruce Campbell

Many car-related mysteries are in series, of course, and most seem to be targeted toward young readers, probably to attract boys to books (this is a guess), so I decided to give you a double list, and mention some of my favorite cars in fiction.

My favorite fictional car is probably the title “character” in Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bang, which was written by Ian Fleming, the man who created James Bond. His fondness for cool gadgets is evident even in this classic work of children’s fiction.

Cars in detective fiction include poor V. I. Warshawski’s vehicke, which is forever being left in odd places, and never seems to work terribly well, and then there’s also Harry Dresden’s Blue Beetle. (These two characters belong to Sara Paretsky and Jim Butcher, respectively.)

In one of my favorite books ever, two of the characters, Lily the female chessmaster and Nim, the mysterious mentor, both have ragtop sports cars and like to drive with the top down in winter, which behavior I completely fail to understand.

Although, I completely understand the appeal of ragtops in general.
At least, when it’s warm.

Sailing through the Pages of Fiction

At the dinner-party we attended earlier this evening there was some talk of cruises, and specifically Alaskan ones. We all agreed that a cruise of the Inside Passage would be fabulous.

On the way home, singing Christmas carols with Fuzzy, I thought about the collection of books I have that involve cruise ships. Most, of course, are related to the Titanic:
Something’s Alive on the Titanic, by Robert J. Serling
Ghosts I Have Been, by Richard Peck
Her Name: Titanic, by Charles R. Pellegrino
Futility, or The Wreck of the Titan, by Morgan Robertson
Raise the Titanic, by Clive Cussler

If it seems like I have an unhealthy obsession with that ship…I have no answer. I don’t really. I’m fascinated by all cruise ships because they are self-contained microcosms – floating cities, with all the services one might need – and both connected and disconnected from reality at once.

I don’t think I’d want to work on such a ship, though I do love reading about them (they’re the perfect setting for mysteries), but that Alaskan cruise is calling my name ever louder.

Uncommon Careers

I’ve been thinking a lot that characters in fiction either have very high-profile or very low-profile careers, and they’re generally pretty generic, so that if they need to plausibly have a lot (or very little) of money, the author can arrange that. You see lawyers, for example, but do you ever see a mesothelioma lawyer ? I never have.

This, then, is my list of five careers I’ve love to see explored in fiction (and not by characters only in one or two scenes):

  1. Voice-over actor. Cartoons or commercials. Either works.
  2. Improvisational comedian. I’ve played with the idea, but never really took it anywhere.
  3. Hand model. Because I can just see the “so what do you do?” scene.
  4. Sommelier. We see restaurateurs and wait-staff all the time. We rarely see the guy who picks the wines.
  5. Cab driver. They’re always incidental characters. They shouldn’t be.

What careers would you like to see in fiction.

Christmas Reading

Killing time while waiting for my husband to finish a work emergency so we can go to dinner and the grocery store, my brain is still thinking in terms of making lists.

Right now, having just bought 300 feet of white exterior Christmas lighting that my lawn guy will be hanging next week, it seems natural to think of favorite Christmas books. If you need to send gifts to people, this may help.

  1. The Polar Express, by Chris Van Allsburg: I first read this while visiting my Aunt in Connecticut one snowy Christmas, and the story became a favorite of mine. The artwork is lovely, slightly dark, with muted colors and soft lines, and the story itself – a boy finding magic in his heart – is really simple and lovely.
  2. Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus, by Francis P. Church: Technically it’s an essay, an editorial, but it’s been printed in book form, so it counts. The language is catchy, the point is universal. It’s been a favorite of mine since childhood.
  3. A Child’s Christmas in Wales, by Dylan Thomas: Proof that you don’t have to use verse to capture brilliant imagery and evoke perfect moments – the first snow, a frozen ocean – even if you’re a poet. Great book for a chilly evening near a bright fire. Goes well with hot chocolate laced with peppermint schnapps.
  4. A Visit from Saint Nicholas, by Clement C. Moore: A perennial favorite, and one my mother and I often quote back and forth while cooking Christmas Eve dinner together. It becomes hysterically funny when read in a Swedish accent, by the way.
  5. The Gift of the Magi, by O. Henry: Yes, it’s a short story, but it’s O. Henry, king of the twisted ending. I’ve read, heard, and seen many many versions of this tale, but the original is my favorite.

My book aunt made it her habit to gift me with collections of Christmas stories every year, and I love pulling them out around Thanksgiving, and leaving them scattered around the house, to be picked up and glanced through at odd moments.

Also, astute readers will notice that my list contains no mention of a certain grinch. The reason for this is simple: I am anti-Seuss. Never liked his work. Never will.

Bookish Bathrooms

I confess. I read in the bathroom – a lot. In fact, a frequent admonishment when I was a kid is one I now use with Fuzzy when he’s taking forever (thankfully with three bathrooms this doesn’t usually affect me in anything but an annoyance sort of way.): Put the book DOWN. I know we’re not alone in this – there’s a reason people nickname this room the Reading Room.

This has me thinking about bathroom decor, and literary bathrooms. We know that Laura in Little House on the Prairie used an outhouse, and that when she and her family were in hiding, Anne Frank was limited to sponge baths and a pull-chain WC, but what about more modern, luxurious fictional bathrooms. I’m offering four of my favorites, but feel free to add your own.

  1. V. I. Warshawski’s bathroom. I don’t recall specific descriptions, but I know she has a tub big enough to soak in. In fact, this is one of the things that draws me to her creator, Sara Paretsky’s work: yes, her heroine gets dirty and bruised, but at the end of the day, she gets to listen to opera and soak in a bubble bath. Or at least at the end of the case. I see her tub as a vintage cast iron claw-foot thing, with one of those trays across it to hold soap.
  2. Jean-Claude’s bathroom. Big, white, lots of tile, and a tub large enough for one of my favorite fictional vampires and many friends, or just Anita, who has spent many many hours in his tub. For that matter, she’s spent a lot of time washing off monster goo or just taking relaxing soaks in her own tub, but even if Laurell K. Hamilton didn’t specify it, I’m pretty certain her tubs are of the modern, pre-fab, variety.
  3. The Multidimensional Bathroom aboard the Gay Deceiver in Robert A. Heinlein’s The Number of the Beast. This book isn’t the best literature – I mean, Heinlein is fun, but hardly arty, you know? And he can be more than a little sexist, but in this book he did introduce us to the concept of “world-as-myth” aka “pantheistic solipsism” which Wikipedia.org defines as “the theory that universes are created by the act of imagining them, so that somewhere even fictional worlds are real.” In any case, the Gay Deceiver is a sports car space ship, and after her crew makes a pitstop in Oz, they find that their bathroom has become a pocket of Oz, with a huge tub, lots of space, and separate sections for “boys” and “girls” – because we all know Oz is a place of innocence.
  4. The Prefects’ Bathroom at Hogwarts. J.K. Rowling may like to tease her readers, even after the series has ended, with tidbits about the characters, but the woman also knows how to build a bathroom. A tub deep enough to swim in, a pesky mermaid portrait, and taps with bubbles and scents pouring forth. Sadly she wastes this bathroom on Harry. I mean, I like the kid, but this is a bathroom that really needs a woman – or Draco Malfoy – to appreciate it.

So that’s my list.
Any thoughts?