Category Archives: Books

The weekend’s words

I think reading Jonathan Lethem is making me more word-conscious than ever. I’m collecting new ones, obsessively looking up etymologies of old ones, and, like the Tourettic narrator of Motherless Brooklyn,  savoring the sonickiness of tasty treats.

Blustery. Speaking of sonicky. We had a blustery day on Saturday. The word brings to mind not only good ol’ Pooh bear, but the condition itself. That quick push of air with the first syllable quickly giving way to the sibilant center and rolling finish.

Soporific. Round and sleepy, that word. Impossible to say it quickly. Butler says he only this year discovered the soporific effects of turkey at Thanksgiving. But the word always makes me think about Miss Potters’ little bunnies, vulnerable after their lettuce to mean old Mr. McGregor.

Bomb. From children’s books to my children’s behavior … from Jeff J comes a new word for what Tom does to a room.  The details in this story — a note “doodled” on toilet paper, the teacher who “blew it all out of proportion” — might obscure the moral lesson I hope my kids learn: Passing a bomb can be a punishable offense.  Ode to the joy of flatulating in the library >

Appoggiatura. Just in time for Whitney’s weekend replays and Adele’s sweep of the Grammys, The Wall Street Journal  explains the technical reasons some songs make us cry. And teaches me a new word I have no idea how to pronounce. A little lesson in music theory for the boys at The Church of the Morose One. And a great example of how multimedia can make for a better story.

Women of a certain age A friend hit 50 this weekend, which caused me to wonder just exactly what is “a certain age.” As always, Safire says it best. 

Copralalic. Oh, what a beautiful word for pottymouth! Even better? Copralalia! It’s like singing shit instead of slinging it. This one is, in fact, courtesy of Lethem’s Lionell Essrog, who is only too aware of his affliction, long before something like EAT ME MR. DICKYWEED!” makes it out of his mouth.


Turd. My children have discovered the word makes me giggle. And snort. Making it the newest weapon in their arsenal to disarm me when they’re in trouble. Note the sonic similarity to Tourettic.

It’s also the biggest search term for this bubble blog.



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Better book titles

I've had a few of these in recent fact just today I said "I think I'll move to Australia."

Not sure even this could've saved the bitch. I just wanted her to throw herself under that train about 100 pages sooner.

Many, many more here >

And this… this one is real. If I hadn’t been so brain damaged I would’ve written this when Tom was a baby…and toddler…and preschooler…


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One-word summer book reviews

Since I seem to be incapable of posting anything other than silly photos here in the Bubble, I thought I’d experiment with a new format for telling you about the pile of contemporary popular fiction I’ve I’ve plowed through this summer. Here are my lazy, one-word assessments …

Life of Pi: “Disturbing”

The Help: “Meh”

Anthill: “Enthralling”
(Well, the ant part in the middle, anyway. The people parts before and after? “Plodding”)

Not quite finished …

The Lacuna: “Frieda”

The Secret Life of Bees (audiobook): “Hamlet?”

Much more I’d like to share, but we live in a fast-paced world, you know, so one word should be sufficient.

Got any concise evaluations of your own recent reading you want to share? I’m going to be about ready to start re-reading Faulkner or Woolf after all these pageturners.


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Enough already!

Can anyone tell me if the violence lets up in All Souls’ Rising? I’m halfway through and have reached that point I do in blood-soaked movies where I’ve just had enough. Like three quarters of the way through Kill Bill.

The earthquake in Haiti reminded me  how ignorant I am about the history of that country, and I remembered MW and Betsy reading this at the beach and loving it. I have been really enjoying it all along, thinking what a great class you could make out of Go Down Moses, All Souls’ Rising, The Known World, A Mercy … all American novels that examine the complexities of race from the perspective of how skin tone and that construct “blood” came to mean what they do to us. All this was compelling enough to keep me turning pages while I winced through the brutal rapes, blood drinking, decapitations, flayings and babies on spikes. But last night, after an double eyeball gouging and a skinning and gutting alive of a father by his son, I began to think the violence in this particular novel might be just a bit gratuitous.

Anyone know if the rest of the novel redeems itself? I may switch back to the Clinton Tapes or start the new John Irving and leave this one half-read.


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Of Glasses, phonies and bananafish

“What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it.”

The funny thing is (as Holden might also say), it was J.D. Salinger’s characters — not the author — I wanted to spend time with. Maybe because Salinger’s famous reclusiveness made him famously creepy. We clung to every shred of rumor about that New Hampshire compound. Shook our heads at every lawsuit to prevent publication of anything by or about him.

It just so happens that I was thinking yesterday about what would happen when J.D. Salinger dies. Will someone publish all those novels and stories he’s been writing, holed up in his house for decades and decades?
I have been suggesting, the past few weeks, that Warren read “Catcher in the Rye.” He’s just so damned adolescent right now that I think he might really appreciate it.
The funny thing about Salinger is that every time I decide to reread those scant few volumes, I just know I will have outgrown it, that it was an adolescent obsession. But it holds up over time — especially the stories.

It’s been almost a decade.
Maybe I’ll treat myself to another read.

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Excuse me!

Today’s word from Jaffner, or actually from Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, which I suppose I never read. The Martian word for “drink,” or to merge two different entities to create one higher reality. To understand or communicate completely, intuitively, empathetically.

“Grok means to understand so thoroughly that the observer becomes a part of the observed—to merge, blend, intermarry, lose identity in group experience. It means almost everything that we mean by religion, philosophy, and science—and it means as little to us (because of our Earthly assumptions) as color means to a blind man.”

But is it transitive or intransitive? Sounds like it doesn’t need the preposition.

Apparently Heinlein invented an entire Martian language, whose words as “guttural” and “jarring,” “like a bullfrog fighting a cat.”

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Turd in the kitchen

JyofCookingI received the best thank-you note ever the other day. I had sent a copy of The Joy of Cooking to a bride, following my rule of thumb that all young ladies require a copy in their kitchens. What household should be without this kitchen encyclopedia? Everything from cuts of meat to baking pan capacities (my favorite) to basic sauces to table settings. At one point I had three editions but gave one up for shelf space.

What I didn’t realize is that this particular bride is not (yet) known for success in this department. Thus her letter noted the appropriateness of the gift for a “turd in the kitchen.”

There’s an image for you: a turd in the kitchen.

So here’s a scatalogical meditation on the word “turd.” You can’t say it without giggling, can you? It just conjures up such visuals.

turdNow that we have a dog, I have more occasion to consider the term. But it had disappeared from my lexicon until a few years ago, when Jennifer introduced my kids to it at the beach. Of course it was Jaffner who corrupted me at a young age with turd-forerunners “doo doo” and “poo poo,” repeating them until I quit telling her she was bad and started giggling with her. Let it be noted that Jaffner continues to be a bad influence on me to this day, shocking me with definitions of unmentionables from the Urban Dictionary.

I know you all join me in wishing the newlywed good clean old-fashioned success in her kitchen as she grows older. But I hope she never forgets that it was she who coined the (soon-to-be-famous) phrase “turd in the kitchen.” Somebody make an Urban Dictionary entry for her, OK?


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