Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Recently, a UK magazine asked me to name three things I couldn’t live without, and then relate them to my book. It was a challenge.
I remembered that after my Italian publisher launched The Book of Unholy Mischief with a gorgeous feast in a Venetian palazzo, I convinced myself—briefly—that I would never again be able to live without adulation, a hovering sommelier, and my blue velvet Renaissance gown. But in fact, I groaned with relief when I finally loosened the laces of that bodice, tossed off the heavy tiara, and sank into bed. I’ll take jeans, thanks anyway.
Sometimes I think it might be fun to be one of those women who can’t live without designer clothes, $500 haircuts, and a villa in the south of France but, honestly, I don’t want to bother keeping up with fashion trends or maintaining a second home. The constant dieting, managing the servants…pah!
I truly would not like to live without my comfy writing chair and my new MacBook Air, (sooo skinny) but I could if I had to. I’d also put up a pretty good fight to protect my favorite cotton nightie and a fresh cup of strong coffee in the morning—the coffee is very, very important—but in the end it’s all just stuff. So let’s get real.
Like everyone else, I literally can’t live without food, but not just food to survive. I can’t live without good food. I come from a big Italian family in which good food is the centerpiece of life. To gather without good food is unthinkable. To celebrate or mourn without good food would be a travesty. Bad food is an insult to body and soul. I curse bad food!
No surprise then that The Book of Unholy Mischief is full of delicious, lingering food metaphors. Readers talk about my food descriptions as if they were soft porn, edible panties or some such, because food, like sex, appeals to all the senses—if it’s done right. I’d rather be celibate than have bad sex—all that bother for nothing—and I’d rather skip a meal than eat bad food.
I also can’t live without water, and not just water to quench the thirst but all the water in the world. My skin feels better in slightly humid climates, the sight of large bodies of water calms me, and getting caught in the rain makes me laugh. The tide going in and out reminds me that life has its ups and downs and nothing stays the same, so it’s no good getting too worked up about any of it.
I set my book in Venice because her watery mystery and decaying opulence suits the story, but it was a bonus to be able to write about the sluggish green canals, the salt air, greedy swooping gulls, and lush, well-watered gardens spilling over old, stone walls.
After body and soul are properly sustained by good food and plenty of water, I must have knowledge. Knowledge enriches life and grows exponentially; it has taken us from squatting in caves to sending e-mail. To live without learning is for broccoli and rocks. We learn from those who have gone before and, with any luck, we build on it. One of the characters in my book says, “Civilization is built on the bones of the dead,” which is why I dedicated the book to teachers.
Knowledge means books and I go through them like a drunk with a six-pack. A beloved uncle wrote in my high school yearbook, “Never stop learning.” He was an uneducated man himself, but very wise. He was also the one who fostered my love of reading and writing. Today, I not only read and write books, but my novel, The Book of Unholy Mischief, is about a book.
I hope to die with a dark chocolate truffle in one hand, a bottle of cold water in the other, and my head in a good book. Now that’s living
Sunday, August 23, 2009
I LOVE books. Adore them. Go through them like a drunk with a six-pack. And that’s why I now can’t live without my Kindle.
First I objected to ordering books online. Give up the ambiance of a bookstore? Lose up the comforting sight of shelves jam-packed with literary adventures? Pah! Get thee to a nuthouse.
But then one day it was raining and I was still in my jammies and I wanted to buy a book. I heard the siren song of Amazon and never looked back. It’s not only convenient it’s cheaper. And here’s the thing: They have not banned me from the bookstore. It’s not an either/or. And, like it or not, it’s here to stay.
Then came the Kindle, and I balked for the same reasons Britt did. I’m a writer. I stare at a computer screen all day. And the Kindle has such a tiny screen. What about the nice heft of a real book in my hands? What about the Pavlovian response I have to the smell of ink on paper? No Kindle for me, thank you very much.
But then one day I had to go to India for a month-long research trip for my new novel, and I was faced with needing to carry enough books to last me. Full of shame and apprehension, I bought a Kindle and loaded up about 20 books for India.
Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the screen does not glare like a computer screen. It’s some kind of freaky new technology that makes it as easy on the eyes as paper. And you can change the font size! One night I was reading a really good book in bed and falling asleep, but I didn’t want to put it down. I kept making the font bigger until I was only getting like six words on a page. I finally put it down and went to sleep, and I didn’t’ give myself a concussion by dropping a big old hardcover on my head when I passed out.
And the books are cheap. My novel, The Book of Unholy Mischief, is $26 in the bookstore and $17 on Amazon. On Kindle it’s $9.99. So if you buy enough books, the thing eventually pays for itself.
This is not an ad for Kindle and I don’t work for Amazon. I am an author and my first purchase on Kindle was my own novel, The Book of Unholy Mischief. You can read more about it on my website, www.ellenewmark.com, and that was another thing I objected to at first. Put up a website?
But then one day I got this book deal from Simon & Schuster…
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
On 9/11, my daughter and her family were here in San Diego for the wedding of an old friend. They had their gift nicely wrapped with a frothy bow, her red silk shawl was freshly pressed, and her husband’s tux hung ready in the closet. But when when those planes slammed into those towers, wedding guests on route from England and other places were turned back in midair. With everyone mired in shock and grief, the wedding was called off.
It was a time to gather for solace, so the bride and groom drove down from Pasadena, and two more thwarted guests came in from Redlands. We sat solemnly in my family room and watched the relentless TV reports. We wept at the horrific scenes, played and replayed, and we found ourselves moved by the overwhelming displays of international sympathy.
That day, people walked the length of London's Oxford Street to the US embassy to sign the condolence book, and a man, slowly rode his bike up the street, waving a huge American flag while people cheered him on. At the Embassy, the statue of FDR was festooned with flowers and personal tributes. One note read, “Today, we are all Americans." Propped against the base of the statue was a photograph someone had taken of himself at the top of the World Trade Center and scattered around it were scribbled references to the British/American alliance in WWII. In the wake of a vicious act of hatred, the world loved America.
The day’s emotional dichotomy reminded me of a story I’d once read about an anti-American demonstration in the Middle East. Amid sign waving and shouting, one protester stopped long enough to chat up a journalist, and when he realized that the reporter was American, his eyes lit up. He so wanted to visit. He dreamed of taking his children to Disneyland! Then, with the conversation over and no apparent sense of irony, he resumed chanting anti-American slogans. America seemed to exist for him as two opposing concepts—on the one hand, a big bad scapegoat for all the ills of the world, and on the other, a shining promise of the good life.
This double-edged sentiment, this human capacity to contain contradictory passions, was similar to the feeling in my family room on 9/11. While we tried to comprehend the scale of that day’s atrocities, the young couple sat close to each other on the sofa, and the bride murmured softly into the groom’s ear. He took her hand and said, “We still want to get married.”
I looked at them, young and earnest and forward-looking, proof that life and death coexist, and that we must, we must, honor that balance and carry on. While the murderers huddled in caves, we would go on living in the sun as a form of vengeance. Blind-sided by terrible loss, it might have been inappropriate to throw a splashy bash in a chic hotel, but it seemed entirely right and fitting to affirm the resilience of the human spirit, and so we had a wedding.
The bride held the sunflowers I’d had in a vase on the kitchen table, and my daughter selected a passage from Kahlil Gibran on friendship. There were eight of us, plus my one year old grandson. We stood around the stone Buddha under a palm tree in the garden while the couple recited their vows, and the backdrop of tragedy gave the moment weight and urgency. Even the baby, wide-eyed and sucking his thumb, seemed subdued by our bittersweet mood. Death brings life into sharp relief.
Afterward, back in the house, we all glanced at the TV but no one turned it on again, not yet. Instead, I served celebratory champagne and comforting chocolate cake. I always keep cake and champagne on hand because you just never know when you might need one or the other.
Monday, January 01, 2007
I've lost about ten pounds since I started dieting last August. This is the point at which I traditionally throw up my hands and say, "Only ten pounds in four months? Are you freaking kidding me? Clearly I can't do this.
But this time is different. Checking in with sparkpeople everyday, seeing others hanging in for the long haul AND MAKING IT, well it has recently occurred to me that the only reason I was never able to do it in the past was because I quit trying. If I can lose ten pounds by tracking my food and following the spark guidelines, then I can lose ten more. All I have to do is not quit. I believe I can do that.
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