<![CDATA[ - BLOG]]>Thu, 10 Nov 2016 14:11:55 -0800Weebly<![CDATA[Comfort Books]]>Thu, 10 Nov 2016 21:37:15 GMThttp://tonyromanoauthor.com/blog/comfort-booksIf you’re reading this, you probably love books since I often offer recommendations. I’ll further assume that some of you may need the comfort of a good book about now, amid the uncertainty that has engulfed this great country of ours. There’s no escaping the uncertainty, of course. But for me, that’s not why I read. Sure, I might escape the day’s news, but books for me intensify what it feels like to be alive. I’m not moving away from anything; I’m moving toward the beauty, and yes, the security of sentences. Whether I’m reading fiction or non, I am intimately in touch with another point of view, which becomes, I suppose, an indirect and reliable kind of therapy. And yes, comforting.
 
I haven’t posted reviews in a while, so I’ll catch up here.
In The Fall    A novel by Jeffrey Lent
This is the second book I’ve recommended by Lent, who hypnotizes you with the richness of his descriptions. While making his way home after fighting for the North in the Civil War, Norman meets Leah, a runaway slave who tends to his wounds. She joins him on his journey, and the two fall in love and form an unlikely family, which could be a book on its own, but this covers only the first third. The next third follows the adventures of their bootlegging son. The final part follows the bootlegger’s son’s journey back to his grandmother’s slave life, where he has to come to terms with who he is. This is a wonderful, evocative epic. I will warn you that the sentences can be challenging at times, one fragment piled atop another, which makes for slow reading. But after a while, you grow accustomed to the style, which fits the subject matter perfectly. And by the end, the satisfaction is earned and deep. This is one of the best books I have ever read.

The Heavenly Table  A novel by Donald Ray Pollock
This book deals with some of the same themes as In the Fall, the same hardscrabble settings, the same language and local color of rural folks, the same lack of sentimentality and no-nonsense approach to life, but the prose here is much sparer. Because of that, the effect is often more jarring, and I’m not sure I would recommend this book to everyone. It’s unapologetically crude, but often amusing and by the end, well worth the time.

Valiant Ambition by Nathaniel Philbrick
If you’re planning to read Ron Chernow’s Hamilton, which I am in the middle of, this is a good book to read first. This history centers primarily on Benedict Arnold and George Washington. If you think the country is divided now, the divide is centuries old. About the only thing I knew about Arnold is the traitor label associated with him. But before the treason, which was real and abhorrent, he was a great patriot for the colonies. If he’d been acknowledged for his heroism and dedication and honored with a reasonable position, he most likely would never have crossed sides. Besides delving into Arnold’s and Washington’s motivations, Washington’s being less transparent, Philbrick also supplies insights into the dumb moves made by many British generals. In the end, you realize, as you do after reading most histories, that the story didn’t have to turn out the way it did. In fact, the odds against independence were extraordinary. All in all, Philbrick knows how to tell a good story as well as any novelist. I only wish the book were 300 pages longer.

Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan
More division here. Which shows me that the inclination to divide the world into Us and Them is part of our fabric as human beings. I don’t say this in a cynical way, well, maybe a little, but I think we also have the capacity to recognize this lazy way of viewing the world and to fight the laziness. Aslan is a capable guide through Biblical times, and while he refers to the Bible from time to time, he relies primarily on history gotten from scholars and scientists. The result is a fascinating glimpse into what Jesus the man might have been like. The book is devoid of preaching or skepticism regarding faith. He deals convincingly in likelihoods. By the end, you feel like you know Jesus and John the Baptist and Pontius Pilate and other people who usually remain vague and distant as human beings.

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante
Ferrante is an Italian writer who prefers not to talk about her books or to even show the world what she looks like. I, for one, am only mildly curious. I’m happy to have the books. My Brilliant Friend is Book I of four Neapolitan Novels, and it is a beauty. I was born about 30 kilometers east of Naples, the general setting of the novels, so I was particularly interested in what my life might have been like had we not emigrated here. But I think the book has universal appeal, as evidenced by the attention Ferrante has been getting of late. The book is a deep look into the friendship of two young girls, often competing, sometimes distant, but always intimate and connected. This novel will provide the comfort I mentioned above.

Paul McCartney: The Life by Philip Norman
When you think you know everything about The Beatles, there’s always more. I didn’t know: while in their early twenties, Paul and John would hitchhike and perform an acoustic set at a bar they happened to run across; many of their first songs had YOU or ME in them because they were superstitious after a hit or two, which included those words. You also learn about life after The Beatles. I didn’t know: Paul is handy with tools and adept at home improvements; Paul opened the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts, where he teaches a songwriting class now and then(!) and still shows up at graduation. He is a good guy. Not perfect. Flawed like the rest of us. But driven and generous. This is a good companion to Norman’s other book about John, and also a good follow-up to Bob Spitz’s book about The Beatles.

Andy and Don by Daniel de Vise
I spotted this book at Half Price books and couldn’t resist. If you’re a big fan of The Andy Griffith Show, you will enjoy this. If not, carry on.

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<![CDATA[REUNION]]>Sun, 30 Oct 2016 18:49:41 GMThttp://tonyromanoauthor.com/blog/reunionI’ve always been intrigued by time travel and did just that a few weeks ago. I slipped back to 1971 for our first ever St. Columbkille eighth grade reunion. Saint Who? That’s right. St. Columbkille. Near Grand and Ashland in Chicago. The school shuttered its doors the day after we graduated, which has always filled me with both pride and shame. No one could fill our shoes, I thought, but at the same time, this question: Were we that unruly? Closing the school was more likely a diocese decision that took into account boiler costs and teacher salaries, as pitiful as those must have been. Though I am pretty sure we drove our eighth grade teacher out of education, granting countless future students a huge favor. “Unruly,” by the way, was his favorite insult for us. He never tired of it, calling us “you unruly elements” many times each day.
 
Before I get to the reunion, let me back up. Weeks after I graduated, my family moved out of the neighborhood. I went with them of course. I was fourteen. But the move felt like a sudden split. My mom and dad were not the nurturing parents who sat us down to explain where we were moving or when exactly we’d be going. I always felt that if I hadn’t come home that early afternoon after working all morning with the local milkman, that they would have left without me.
 
So between then and now, I hadn’t seen or heard from a single person from my old grade school or neighborhood. Which is why I’ve thought about them often. I never got to say goodbye. I never got to learn the rest of their stories—what they did, who they became.
 
Though the adjoining church burned down in 1975 after it had been slated to be demolished anyway, the school building still stands, used now to teach children with autism and other developmental issues. A few of us met at the school before dinner, and one of the employees happened to be leaving. At 5:00 p.m. on a Saturday! That’s all you need to know about his dedication. We asked if we could peek inside, and he gave us a full 30-minute tour.
 
I had been content to loiter in front of the school, the past flooding back in vivid snapshots: the countless hours playing softball on our asphalt “field”; sitting on the wide steps, playing poker; and using the steps as a jail at night for ringalevio. But to enter the school, this cauldron of dreamy memories, never sure after a while what was dream and what was real, made my head swim. Three floors. Each floor had four classrooms in the corners. Classroom ceilings 30 feet high. Two stairwells, one running down the front of the school, the other down the back. Even these basic details had become dim.
As we were standing on the second floor landing, someone remembered how Jerry used to climb on the ledge of the chalkboard and reach up to move the clock hand forward so we could leave early. The teacher never caught on, and the entire class would exit down the front stairs, opposite the principal’s office. (I’m changing most of the names here, by the way. After all these years, I’m still protecting secrets. Those nuns taught us well.)
 
On that same landing, Jack casually reported, “Yeah, this is where Sister Agatha pushed me down the stairs.” We all stopped and turned. What? “Yeah, she pulled me out of class…and started poking my chest…and pushed.” These were steep, metal stairs, about 15 of them. He said he lay there, pretending to be hurt so that he could go home. Mom was called to bring him home. When he told her what had happened, she didn’t believe him!
 
No one remembered the push because only Jack had been out in that hallway. But most remembered the clock. I didn’t at first, and never would have without being prompted, but that memory soon became fairly solid. But what if someone had mentioned something that did not happen? I probably would have started to consolidate that false information in my brain as an actual event. For example, I’ve been thinking about doughnuts lately, not unusual for me. But I’ve been thinking about a particular kind, a certain dozen crammed inside a certain waxy white box that I think we had to sell for a school fundraiser. I think they were called Clyde’s. All other doughnuts in my life have had to live up to these sumptuous treats. The thing is, I’m not really sure if we ever sold them. It’s possible that the school simply sold them to us, or that they appeared in another decade of my life. Back to my point: if someone had suggested that, yes, we sold chocolate cake doughnuts every Christmas to raise money for the boiler that was in need of constant repair, those details would have soon, and without question, become a solid memory for me. (If any fellow eight graders are reading this…can you verify?)
 
Is this why I’ve avoided every other reunion invite in my life? To preserve my tenuous grasp of the past? Is what’s stored in this old noggin of mine more important than what really happened? Sometimes, at our reunion, the facts did clash with my stubborn memory. I’d always thought that, except for catechism, I got through eight years of Catholic school without a nun as a teacher. Oh, I admitted that they wielded great influence as they marched around the school and church. I think I avoided eye contact and held my breath. But I was informed that we in fact had several teacher nuns during the first few years. More often though, instead of clashing, the stirred-up past confirmed what I remembered, or spurred on the kind of re-remembering that I described earlier. This entire process, the entire evening, had me leaning in. Why the hell had I avoided reunions? This was fun.
 
One worry I had as I drove to meet these now strangers was that we wouldn’t have much to say to each other. But there were no awkward pauses, no empty stares, as if picking up right where we left off. The instant camaraderie resulted, I think, from this: we had all shared the same battles. No one else could understand how small we felt in those small desks as mr. h belittled us, especially the girls. No one else could understand how important we felt while campaigning for Mr. Hallock during his Chicago aldermanic run.
 
As I listened to the stories and battled with my memories, my paternal instincts kicked in. I wanted to protect those girls from mr. h; I wanted to cover for Jerry who was too often caught doing the unruly things we wished we could do; and most urgent, I wanted to catch Jack from falling down those steep steps. But the other lesson that hit hard, after a while, was that none of us needed saving. We were resilient. Children are resilient. Maybe the hard knocks toughened us. Not that there will ever be any rational justification for pushing a kid down like that. But if it happens, we stand up. And if we’ve learned anything these past 45 years, we speak up as well. Maybe today someone would listen.
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<![CDATA[Review: Richard Russo's Everybody's Fool]]>Sat, 23 Jul 2016 19:44:04 GMThttp://tonyromanoauthor.com/blog/review-richard-russos-everybodys-fool
Reading Richard Russo evokes the illusion that he’s sitting beside you on a barstool and catching you up on neighbors and friends you once knew. The illusion is especially vivid in his new book, Everybody’s Fool, because we’ve been here before in North Bath with Sully and Rub the person, along with Rub the dog, that is, if you’ve read Nobody’s Fool. And if you haven’t, what’s wrong with you? In fact, read Mohawk, then Risk Pool, then Nobody’s Fool, and finally, Everybody’s Fool.
 
In between are solid books well worth diving into, but this is the one I’ve been waiting for because Russo is at his best describing the modest aspirations of ornery characters in small towns. I grew up in Chicago, but it’s made up of neighborhoods that can seem insulated, so these small towns Russo depicts feel homespun yet universal.
 
Full disclosure: I don’t spend much time on barstools. Full disclosure two: I can’t recall ever caring about the thing being disclosed under “full disclosure.” Having disclosed here fully, more than fully, I suspect that sitting on a barstool for hours is mostly ordinary, possibly depressing and dark even. So I’m not referring to a real barstool. I’m referring to a dimly lit throwback tavern with hardboiled eggs in a jar and dollar bills tacked to a wall and spending time with Old Russo, who lumbers in and sits at the same stool every time and makes you smile, that more than anything, because he’s seen a thing or two. He knows we’re all a little ornery, or worse, and to hear how others deal with that human condition ultimately sheds light on our own lives.
 
More than anything, this newest novel will send me back to rereading the other books mentioned above. I love the company.
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<![CDATA[Another Superb Memoir]]>Mon, 11 Jul 2016 01:27:47 GMThttp://tonyromanoauthor.com/blog/another-superb-memoir
Dear Mr. You by Mary-Louise Parker
I don’t recall seeing this book in the store when it came out. If I had, I would not have picked it up. Strange title (self-help?), superimposed on some ambiguous image—of a tree stump? And if I had picked it up and turned to the author photo, I would have found a familiar face. An actress. A really good one. I would then have immediately set it down and moved on. I hate when people use their fame to open otherwise closed doors, as in Tom Hanks recently publishing fiction in The Newyorker, which I refused to read, which was later deemed as average at best by one critic, which prompted me to exclaim, “Ha, see, I was right.” I like to be right. We all like that. Though I could have been more magnanimous, I suppose. I love Tom Hanks. As an actor.
 
Luckily, I received Parker’s book as a Father’s Day gift, so I felt obliged to at least dip into it. And now I can’t put it down. Each chapter is a letter—to Grandpa, to Daddy, to a free spirit she calls Blue—which is an ingenious way to craft a memoir. Who doesn’t love to read a heartfelt, well written letter, even one not addressed to us? The letters are polished like poems—no words are wasted—but you also get a sense that they’re unvarnished, that nothing is withheld. Some of the recipients of these letters will never read them, which is heartbreaking, but which also makes the letters feel even more vital because our reading breathes new life into them and keeps Grandpa and Daddy and the rest of them alive.

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<![CDATA[Don DeLillo Review: Zero K]]>Tue, 28 Jun 2016 18:39:20 GMThttp://tonyromanoauthor.com/blog/don-delillo-review-zero-k
Hearing that a new Don DeLillo book is out brings me back to my boyhood anticipation of Thursdays, the day when new comic books arrived at the corner store on Wood Street. How I miss those little stores, stocked with candy and chips, fresh bread and canned goods, even greeting cards and prescriptions. Those stores had everything, and they were right there, in the middle of the neighborhood, just down the block.
 
After buying a DeLillo book, I let it sit in the house for a few days because I know once I begin I will finish it quickly. Leaving it on a tabletop is part of the savoring.
 
DeLillo is not a writer I recommend to many people. His plots, if they exist, are secondary to his ideas. His characters are complex yet one-dimensional, in the sense that they all speak the same, because their purpose, again, is to convey ideas. The ideas, the themes, are so rich and wide in scope that none of this matters. The one-dimensional business is not a criticism. It’s just DeLillo. He’s able to put into sentences the fleeting thoughts of a day, what it’s like to be a conscious person. The thoughts he captures are often primitive, sometimes childlike, but always weighted with what feels like great significance. You get a sense of a genius mind at work—and looking into your head.  
 
His latest book, Zero K, a term that refers to the coldest temperature possible, is propelled by plot. The narrator’s stepmother, nearing the end of her life, decides she wants her body cryogenically frozen. His father can’t bear to live without her, and though he’s healthy and relatively young, soon follows. Talk about desolation. These passages of the futuristic compound where this happens are among the most stark and haunting I’ve ever read. In his earlier work, DeLillo may have stranded readers there, but here he reaches and offers satisfying glimpses of light. This is one of his best books in years.
 
By the end, I wanted more pages. But like a boy standing outside the corner store, searching for an incoming truck with the day’s deliveries, I’ll have to wait for more.
 
I have no insider information about DeLillo, but I have a prediction about what’s coming next from him. A book about the meaning and manipulation of genes. 

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<![CDATA[Four Excellent Memoirs´╗┐]]>Mon, 20 Jun 2016 20:14:22 GMThttp://tonyromanoauthor.com/blog/four-excellent-memoirsPicture
About six months ago, I decided to become a recluse. But no one noticed. So here I am again. With reviews of four excellent new memoirs. All vastly different from one another.
 
Each title is revealing.
 
Escape Points by Michele Weldon.
In wrestling, you are awarded one measly point for escaping. Sometimes an opponent will even grant you an escape, just so he can take you down for two points. Over and over again. Mostly though, escapes are hard fought, and you end up on your feet, ready to begin anew after a battering to your body and head.
 
In this wonderful and engaging book, Weldon is battered by divorce and cancer and the endless challenges of raising three high-spirited boys as a single mother. All three are accomplished high school wrestlers, a sport whose commitment requires herculean, individual dedication but also the support of a rich network of family, coaches, and community.
 
You may not know a single fact about wrestling, you may not be a parent, you may not be dealing with cancer, but the book will feel familiar to you because we’re all a little battered. By life. Though I doubt that many of us could chronicle our battles with Weldon’s grace and humor. And openness, which requires nuance and courage, which in itself feels triumphant by the end of this insightful memoir.


The Telling by Zoe Zolbrod
The title here refers to the difficulty of reporting sexual abuse. The author, abused by her live-in cousin when she was four, years later confides in a friend, a boyfriend, a therapist or two, but only when the cousin is arrested for molesting a different girl does she finally reveal the truth to her parents. You may feel as if you’ve read this story, but Zolbrod meticulously and precisely unravels the complications involved with telling or not telling. Much of the reporting here is heartbreaking, sometimes touching, especially when she focuses her sharp lens on her own parenting. But Zolbrod also spends considerable time on the big picture, relying on studies and stats that sound familiar but that gain significance through her synthesis and guidance. For example, we’ve all heard experts advise us on how we should talk to children about their bodies, but Zolbrod’s advice hits center on many levels.
 
The chapters read like a stand-alone essays, each one a bright gem. This is an important book, one that all parents should read.

Boy Erased by Garrard Conley
This memoir reads like a book on war. On one side stands the South, on the other the “sin” of homosexuality. Throughout his life, Conley has been fed the propaganda on the righteousness of this war and weakly buys into it—because why would his family and everyone he loves and trusts steer him wrong? But he knows early on that he’s gay and must come to terms with being on the wrong side.
 
Here’s a glimpse of the propaganda Conley encounters. The Baptist and Pentecostal creed says that “Christians had to arm themselves against Satan’s offensive against our country.” These same churches blamed “terrorism against America on homosexuality.” (Which makes me wonder how this warped logic applies to the horrific shooting in Orlando.) At church the author is asked to sign a petition against the pride parade or “‘How else can you call yourself a soldier in the Christian army?’”
 
After Conley is outed to his parents by a rapist classmate, they are devastated and send him to a camp to erase his gay impulses. A camp! The perfect misnomer. At least they didn’t call it a retreat, a term educators have hijacked, as in data retreat. I’ve heard about such camps, I’ve heard about the Bible belt war on sexuality, but to read a firsthand account is infuriatingly maddening. It’s a fury that Conley only hints at. He offers us full snapshots and allows us to presume sides. Though there’s no middle ground here. Fascinating and gripping.
Falling by Elisha Cooper
This is a book full of beauty and grace, bursting with poignant metaphors to help describe what it’s like to be a father of a five-year-old girl diagnosed with an aggressive kidney cancer. The titled Falling feels almost literal, disorienting and consuming. But the deeper truth lies inside the metaphor. In midair, you can’t “fight” cancer—this language of battle, Cooper says, misses the point and misleads. In midair, you trust the experts, the true experts. In midair, you and your spouse create routines that your little girl and her sister can hold on to. Your patience is tested, your anger is displaced on bystanders, some of whom deserve your wrath. But you move on because what other choice do you have. Gravity is real.
 
Cooper is a children’s book author and illustrator, which means he has a keen eye and an ear for the poetry of sentences. Despite the grave diagnosis, spending time with Cooper and his family feels comforting.
 
 
I wasn’t serious about that recluse business, of course, but I do think about that phenomenon from time to time, usually when I teach Salinger. In order for Salinger to have been considered a recluse, he needed to be sought after. Otherwise, he’s just a lonely man living on a hill in New Hampshire.

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<![CDATA[Don't Go See Star Wars. Yet.]]>Fri, 18 Dec 2015 04:49:09 GMThttp://tonyromanoauthor.com/blog/dont-go-see-star-wars-yetEven though I’ve never felt inclined to watch the three most recent Star Wars installments, I plan to see the newest one. Someday. When the crowds thin. Maybe in 2017.

In the meantime, if you’re like me and want to avoid the crowds and long lines, here are two movies worth seeing.

Brooklyn

This first one I’ll call a film, a beautiful, expansive drama that shifts easily from Ireland to Brooklyn. When you hear expansive, you might assume that the film spans generations. But the time here can be measured in months, about a year in all. By the end, you can’t believe how far these characters have come. Which is a testament to the craftsmanship behind the camera and to the fresh faced actors on the screen, Saoirse Ronan and Emory Cohen. The change in Ronan as the Irish born character Eilis is transformative and inspiring. And you’re with her every step of the way, cringing at her missteps but fully understanding them. And while Cohen, as Tony from Brooklyn, changes not at all, he pulls you in with his smirk and unassuming delivery. He is a young Marlon Brando. You will hear both their names again. And maybe one day I’ll be able to spell hers.

 Spectre

Ah, the latest Bond movie. Yes, this is a movie. Heart attack fast and Aston Martin sleek and smart, even when you don’t know what the hell is going on. But I don’t think you’re supposed to follow the story too closely. You know who’s sinister, you know his motives, you know it’s global. On the other side, you know that Bond will prevail, that his escapes will be thrilling, and you know you shouldn’t analyze anything he does too closely. For instance, and I don’t think this will ruin anything, there’s a scene when he needs to catch up to some fleeing bad guys, and suddenly he’s flying a plane. For a second, and only a second, you wonder, how the hell did he get a plane so quickly? But you have to dismiss this and just watch with your reptile brain. I don’t know if I’d say this is a great movie, that it will stay with me for any meaningful length of time, but I don’t want to think about that either. The film is a carnival ride, a dazzling feast for the eyes.

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<![CDATA[Sounds from the Sixties]]>Mon, 14 Dec 2015 03:42:02 GMThttp://tonyromanoauthor.com/blog/sounds-from-the-sixties
I’ve been teaching this sixties & seventies film and literature class, and while the focus is squarely on themes such as rebellion and civil rights and war and the changing of women’s roles, I’ve been most struck by all the sounds that have disappeared from those decades. When Benjamin from The Graduate barrels into a gas station near the end of the movie, an intense sequence, my students, oh so young, can’t understand the satisfaction I feel upon hearing the little dings that signal his arrival. I’m sure they don’t even notice. Back when those dings were commonplace, I’m sure I took them for granted myself. But now, I want to stop the movie and ask, Did you hear that? When Benjamin dials the rotary phone, the sprockety ratcheting the phone makes, especially when the disk reverses direction and returns to zero, sounds glorious to me.

Actually, maybe I didn’t take sounds for granted when I was a kid. I remember plugging my ear to a cold street light pole on hot summer nights and marveling at the buzz of electricity inside, a subterranean sound that both frightened and thrilled me.

Anyway, here are some of the other sounds from the sixties & seventies that I heard these past few months and that I miss.

An obvious one. The clacking of a manual typewriter. Those arms catapulting toward the paper. Even the electric ones with the steel ball had their own distinct slap, clean and succinct. I don’t recall hearing teletypes in my past, but when you hear them in All the President’s Men, they seem both officious and quaint.

Oh, and that lovely chatter from cash registers. Part typewriter, part vending machine, part pinball. Clattering and sighing and ringing. Which reminds me of the subtle shrrinjj sound from the knobs of those old cigarette machines. I never bought a pack of cigarettes in my life, but I never passed one of these machines when I was a kid without pulling on the taut knob, like it was vacuum packed.

Even squad car sirens sounded different back then, more shrill and urgent, though I may be mistaken about this one. Watch Serpico again and decide.

Maybe most glorious is the drop of a needle on a record, the initial pop and hiss while the needle gains traction on the first track. It’s no coincidence that I purchased a turntable a few weeks ago. Now, I’m finally able to play all those LP’s I’ve been saving for decades. Elton John and Rod Stewart and the Stones and The Beatles. And the records really do sound richer than CD’s.

As I finish typing this, I pay attention to the sounds around me now. These laptop keys beneath my fingers emit a soft patter, fluid and clackety. I might miss this. My phone, quiet now, includes an array of sounds I may someday yearn for. Though I doubt this. It seems that the sounds coming from our devices today have been manipulated; some attention has gone into their creation, whereas the sounds of past decades, with exceptions maybe, were more functional and unapologetic, full of character and attitude. “You talkin’ to me?” asked the cash register. “Shut up,” answered the typewriter.

I hope this post sparks some of your own sense memories. What sounds do you miss?  

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<![CDATA[Grammar Police]]>Thu, 01 Oct 2015 04:03:07 GMThttp://tonyromanoauthor.com/blog/grammar-policeQuestion: Should you correct people’s grammar? Since I’m posing the question, you probably assume I have a clear answer. But the question creates a murky mess. First, you have to be pretty confident in your own expertise. And just about everyone struggles with some rule or other. Second, you don’t want to annoy. Third, who the hell do you think you are monitoring others’ mistakes? As long as the message is clear, that’s all that matters. Right?

But maybe the person wants to know. Maybe the person would appreciate a friendly correction. Maybe you’re doing your part to preserve the English language, sturdy as it may be.

I usually say nothing, I admit. Life goes on. Everyone is content. But I can’t stop myself from correcting the mistake. In my head. A fleeting mental murmur. Let it go, let it go. But I can’t. Nothing more than mild OCD, I suppose.

Anyway, here are a few mistakes I’ve heard lately.

1. “Between you and I.”
Corrrection: “Between you and me.”

We’ve been scolded so often for beginning a sentence: “You and me should go…” No, no, it should be You and I. So we apply that to every construction. But you wouldn’t ever say “Between you and we,” right? (which is essentially the same as “You and I.”)

2. “My head literally exploded.”

Did it? Literally? And you’re still here, speaking? Unfortunately, the usage gods, the panels that monitor dictionary changes, have capitulated. It’s now okay, they say, to use “literally” for emphasis. But “literally” is often useful. Sometimes we need to know that some extraordinary event actually happened.

3. I saw this restaurant ad on a highway billboard: “Ever wonder why there’s so many Italians in Chicago?” No, but I do wonder how you can spend big bucks on a sign with such a glaring mistake.

4. Studio Movie Grill features these words in giant block letters: “Eat. Drink. Movies.” For some reason, this one doesn’t bother me so much because it’s effective. To correct it would be burdensome: “Eat. Drink. Watch Movies.”

5. “I feel badly.”

We hear this so often that it sounds correct. What you’re actually saying is that your sense of touch is poor. “I feel bad,” while it sounds incorrect, is right.

6. The last example brings up a tricky one. And I’m already second-guessing myself. Which is correct? “I’m good” or “I’m well”? Nearly everyone understands that an action is done “well,” as in “The guitarist played well.” So we tend to change every use of “good” to “well.” But I would argue that “I’m good” is correct, as in “I am good.” It’s a state of being, and “good” acts not as an adverb but as an adjective or noun.

Exceptions about. Correctness sometimes is a drag. For example, I’m rarely bothered by mistakes in lyrics, probably because they serve a sound purpose. I also love how slang slaps grammar sick.

I happen to be one of those people who wants to be corrected, who wants to discuss the nuances of good and well, so please comment on any disagreements on the above or raise other questions. I promise not to be annoyed. For example, I struggled with punctuation at the end of #1 above. Not exactly a grammatical concern, but related. I’m still tempted to move the period to the very end.

Anyway, have a good day, and do good. Yes?

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<![CDATA[Brief Reviews of Good Books]]>Thu, 20 Aug 2015 03:11:30 GMThttp://tonyromanoauthor.com/blog/brief-reviews-of-good-booksPicture
A Slant of Light
Jeffrey Lent

This remarkable book, set in western New York at the end of the Civil War, reads like Shakespearean tragedy. The descriptions are rich with the precision of poetry, the sentences often twisting in unexpected ways that leave you wondering how the writer is going to resolve this one, and then he does. Perfectly. Even the dialogue is crafted in this way. My typical reaction: people don’t speak this way. But in this case, the dialogue works beautifully. Plot? Plenty. Something dramatic happens on page two, the suddenness of which causes you reread it. The rest of the book shifts back and forth from the source of the drama to its consequences. I’m being intentionally vague as usual to avoid spoiling your reading pleasure. Trust me. This is one of the best books you’ll read this year. I’ve never read any books by Jeffrey Lent. Now I have to read them all.


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Sick in the Head
Judd Apatow

When he was in high school, Apatow worked at the radio station at his school, which gave him license in his mind to call up comics for an interview. Not just any comics, but the biggest names in the business, including Jerry Seinfeld and Steve Allen, the guy who invented the late night talk show format. When he called, he conveniently never mentioned his age or how many listeners tuned in to the radio station. His questions even at that young age show his passion for and immersion in comedy, and he has continued these interviews into present day, collected in this book. The interviews are fascinating, full of wisdom and candor, not only about the life of a comedian, but about life. 


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Our Souls at Night
Kent Haruf

This is Haruf’s last book, published posthumously. And it is a gem. He returns to his usual theme: the ways we form ties and establish community with others, through kindness and grace and honesty, the kind that unfolds haltingly but that sticks. You can finish the book in one sitting, which I did. I so enjoyed spending time with these characters that I began reading it again. Immediately. 


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The Confessions of Frances Godwin
Robert Hellenga

I’ve been reading Hellenga for a while, and this is one of his best books. You will love spending time with Frances, who is a retired Latin teacher, a loving wife, and a protective mother of a daughter who is dating an asshole. And she’s a criminal. And, oh, she speaks to God. Which creates this strange sense that you’ll find out a few secrets of the universe. At the very least, you’ll learn about Latin and music and science and Rome. This book will take you far.


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The High Divide
Lin Enger

This is about Ulysses Pope, who suddenly leaves his wife and two young sons. He abandons them. It’s 1886, Minnesota, a time when everyone needs to pitch in just to survive. The sons pursue him. Their mom doesn’t even know where they’ve gone. In the meantime, she has to pacify creditors at home. So there’s plenty of adventure, and it feels like an old fashioned Western, but ultimately it’s a sweeping story about survival and sacrifice and love. Written with a keen eye for details, the language always precise, this is a great pleasure to read.



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H is for Hawk
Helen Macdonald

This is an unusual memoir that may not appeal to everyone, but it’s written so well that I want to include it here. In the aftermath of her father’s death, Macdonald, as a way of dealing with her grief, buys and trains a hawk to feed from her glove, to fly and return to her, and to complete a multitude of other tasks. The training process is often arcane—and sometimes tedious for Macdonald—but always fascinating in the telling. I do wish she’d have devoted more time to her father’s life. But this is a wise, instructive book on patience and discipline and grief.


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