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Thursday, March 31, 2011

My new car!

2011 Ford Fusion Hybrid.  MPH averages 41 city, 36 hwy!!
It's amazing to drive a brand new car - such a smooth ride.  And this is so **quiet**.

The layout of the car is very similar to my Sonata, which is over 9 years old!  It's kind of fascinating to me how little has changed in terms of the basics of an automobile.  There a few new features, mostly safety oriented, like additional airbags (one for my legs) and the rear view camera (which is taking a little getting used to, but is helpful).  Though I'm sure there would be more noticeable differences if I had bought a fancier car.

The big changes is in the media options.  I get free Sirius radio for six months, which is fun (and requires its own set of menu options).  More impressively, the Bluetooth works through the car, so I can talk the phone completely hands free.  I can also listen to media from my phone, including music and audio books.  It's very space-age!  These "Sync" features require their own separate owner's manual and I'm still learning how to use them all.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

More of the same

It was positively surreal to hear Phyllis Schlafly on NPR today (on Tell Me More, in honor of Women's History Month), saying the same things she was saying 30+ years ago, about how feminism has ruined America.  She's 86 years old, and she has a new book out (The Flip-Side of Feminism)!  She's added some new evidence, saying that feminism doesn't care about women's "success" - look at the criticism of people like Sarah Palin.  I have to say that her logic is pretty consistent, even if I totally disagree with the underlying premise.  It mostly just made me sad that, after all these years, we still have to confront the same arguments.

Here's the host, Michel Martin, describing PS's background:

"I wanted to just mention that in a 2006 New York Times article, you were quoted as saying, "I grew up believing that I should support myself." And, in fact, you were quite accomplished, even as a young woman. You put yourself through school at Washington University. You later got a master's in political science from Harvard. You earned a law degree.  Many people with your background have embraced the feminist movement."

Here's some comments from PS:

"I think the main goal of the feminist movement was the status degradation of the full-time homemaker. They really wanted to get all women out of the homes and into the workforce. And again and again, they taught that the only fulfilling lifestyle was to be in the workforce reporting to a boss instead of being in the home reporting to a husband. That is an attitude toward marriage and homemaking that I think is intolerable and false."

A lot of women found themselves bored and frustrated when they were forced to limit themselves to this single role, and the feminist movement arose from that very real frustration - it seems like PS is ignoring this. And I think she's overstating her argument - many feminists, including myself, are trying to find a balance between these roles, not suggesting that the homemaker role be completely abandoned.

" . . . well, I'm not trying to run anybody else's lives. But in general, the feminists don't want to suppress their own desires and ambitions for the welfare of their children. And the feminists look upon society's expectation that mothers look after their own children as part of the oppression of women. I do not believe women are oppressed in this society."

I can't really argue with this, because I think that is exactly that feminists are saying, and I think they're right - I don't cease to be a person when I have children, any more than a man does.  Why must my desires and ambitions be supressed?  Does that make me a better wife and mother - all evidence suggests the opposite!

Here's her parting salvo:

". . . don't be taken in by feminism. Just remember American women are so fortunate. When I got married, all I wanted in the world was a dryer so I didn't have to hang up my diapers. And now women have paper diapers and all sorts of conveniences in the home. And it is the men and the technology that has made the home such a pleasant place for women to be. So I hope they will use that pleasant place to raise their children."

What can I say to that?  Gag!


Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Domestic bliss

Larry is showing off the features of his new tablet, and I'm writing the address on Matt's BD cards - hence my response to his crowing.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Reading remarks

I had a rather odd conversation over the weekend with an older woman who's a "friend" on goodreads.com.  She said that she's been following me on the site and wondered how I was able to read so much.  I only read about 2 books a month, which I certainly don't consider to be very much.  I wondered if she thinks I've read all the books that I add to my queue, since I typically add a couple of books a week, though of course I haven't read them yet.

She also said that she read a lot more when her kids were little, but now that she's retired, she's too busy.  I was a little horrified by that - I feel like I hardly have any time to read, especially compared to how much I read before I had kids.  And I'm really looking forward to that time in the future when my kids require less maintainence, and I'll have more time to read!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Latest movies

Hard Candy (2005) - I liked it a lot, it's visually wonderful, but it's also pretty difficult, and certainly not what I would call "entertaining," though the twists and surprises are clever, and of course it's thought-provoking.   I wanted to see Hayley (Ellen Page) as a feminist hero, but I have to agree with what Jeff (Patrick Wilson) says - the things you do to hurt people haunt you.  I think her rather gruesome determination makes it hard to believe that she'll be o.k. in the long run (and makes it harder to admire her).  But I'm glad I saw it - I'm sure it will stick with me, and I'm more impressed with Ellen Page with each performance I see of hers.  I'm also glad that I watched the extensive Making Of video - makes me really appreciate what went into making this very low budget ($1 million) film.

I Hate Valentine's Day (2009) - from the harrowing to the banal; the much anticipated repairing of Nia Vardalos and John Corbett (My Big Fat Greek Wedding) is a total misfire; the comedy is mostly unfunny and the romantic tension is absurd (their misunderstanding is stretched out far too long - one phone call could have cleared things up immediately).  A cute set up, and a few entertaining moments, but overall, not a memorable film.

The Bounty Hunter (2010) - I didn't expect to love this, but the two leads (Jennifer Aniston and Gerard Butler) are so appealing and charismatic, I figured it couldn't be too bad.  What a disappointment - the plot is all over the place, with gamblers and crooked cops and red herrings, and the "comedy" part of the rom-com is basically MIA.  Worse, the leads have no chemistry at all - if they had, it might have rescued this mess.  As it was, you never believed they were ever madly in love, nor did you care if they managed to reunite.  Such a waste!  How many movies could have been made if they had used this money for other projects???


Saturday, March 26, 2011

R.I.P. Geraldine Ferraro

So sad to hear of her passing today, at the age of 75, from blood cancer.  She was an early feminist hero of mine and I always enjoyed hearing her speak in the decades following her historical nomination.  A class act, and a true pioneer.

Friday, March 25, 2011

R.I.P. Lanford Wilson

So sorry to hear about his passing today at age 73.  He wrote my all-time favorite play, Burn This, which I saw on Broadway twice, once with John Malkovich, who was amazing, and once with Eric Roberts, who really wasn't. Joan Allen was in the cast with JM, but I actually preferred the performance of Lisa Emery, who appeared with ER.  I'm still waiting for the movie, which I heard was in development, but apparently never got past that stage, too bad!  Burn This is one of only 3 plays that I bought the book for.  (Edward Norton won an Obie for a revival in 2002; he was replaced by Peter Sarsgard later in the run - I would have loved to see both of them in the role!)

I saw several of his other plays as well, including Balm in Gilead (in New Brunswick), and The Hot L Baltimore and Redwood Curtain (I can't recall where). I saw The 5th of July in Flagstaff with my dad, and again, later, at Rutgers, with Laura (though I didn't like it as much the 2nd time). Larry and I saw his final play, Rain Dance, when we visited NYC in 2004 for our 10th wedding anniversary.  Somewhat ironically, I don't think I ever saw Talley's Folly, his most celebrated (and probably best known) play.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Photo of Dad

Russ sent this link to Lisa and she forwarded it to us.  The USGS site has 3 archived photos of dad, this one, from 1964, is my favorite (my dad is third from the right) - he looks so young, but he's only a few years younger than I am right now.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Citizenship quiz

Newsweek has a terrific series of articles on this Pew Poll, giving a version of the citizenship exam to 1000 Americans - only 38% passed (got 6/10 correct).  They have an article about the differences in scores between likely voters and non-voters - those engaged politically do much better on the test.  I thought that was very intuitive, but the author suggests that compromise happens in the middle, and this result is worrisome because solutions are less likely to be found if the middle is lacking basic knowledge.

I took the version of the quiz in Newsweek with 25 questions.  I missed 4 (not bad!), but would have done better if it was presented as multiple choice (as the online version, with 96 questions, does).  But the real citizenship exam is done this way, as an oral exam of 10 questions.

There is also an essay about teaching history in a more engaging way (I always think about the great book, Lies My Teacher Told Me, about the miserable way that history is taught in the US - always the most popular non-fiction book category, but also most frequently cited as HS students' least favorite subject, hmmm.) Both the author of the book and this essay lay some of the blame with really terrible textbooks.  The essay also suggests posing really interesting questions, like, why was the US revolution so much less bloody than the French one, or, what would have happened if FDR had not been the president during the depression and WWII?


Tuesday, March 22, 2011


Finally watched this popular Fox show with the kids (in this week's episode, they did a wonderful routine which very cleverly combined Singing in the Rain and Rihanna's Umbrella).  We enjoyed it enough to look into previous seasons.  It's not on Netflix Instant, and there are 100 holds at the library for the 1st season DVDs.  We can get the discs from Netflix, and also watch online.  I actually watched the pilot, which is not nearly as kid-friendly as this season's episode - it focuses quite a bit more on the adult characters, especially the male teacher, and it doesn't have the big production numbers for the songs.  But we'll check out some additional episodes and see what we think.

ADDENDUM 3/27/11

Caleb and I watched a few more episodes (online), including the Christmas episode from this year, the Madonna episode from last year, and the Rocky Horror episode.  Caleb is actually a little young for it, because it deals with teen issues like relationships and even sex, which he really doesn't understand.  And, at least in these episodes, the music predates him by many years and he doesn't recognize it or get the references.  But we're still enjoying it (though I wonder if he just wants to watch because I do, though that has not been the case with other movies or TV shows).

Monday, March 21, 2011

More movies to see this year

I just happened across this list of movies scheduled for release this year. Many of these I've never heard of, but I'm salivating for most of them - great stories, great casts (movies for movie lovers; movies for grown-ups).  We'll see how many actually come to Syracuse.

1. The Tree of Life
2. A Dangerous Method
3. J. Edgar
4. Young Adult
5. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
6. The 13 Women of Nanjing
7. The Ides of March
8. Hugo Cabret
9. Moneyball
10. Shame
11. Meek's Cutoff
12. The Skin I Live In
13. Elite Squad 2
14. The Iceman
15. My Week with Marilyn
16. Red State
17. Midnight in Paris
18. Margaret
19. We Bought a Zoo
20. Haywire
21. The Rum Diary
22. Twixt Now and Sunrise
23. The Descendants
24. Jane Eyre
25. The Conspirator
26. Everything Must Go
27. The Debt
28. War Horse
29. Larry Crowne
30. London Boulevard
31. Albert Nobbs
32. The Impossible
33. Black Gold
34. Bernie
35. We Need to Talk About Kevin
36. Contagion
37. Melancholia
38. Detachment
39. Crazy, Stupid, Love.
40. 5 Days of August
41. August: Osage County
42. Beautiful Boy
43. Dream House
44. Win Win
45. 30 Minutes or Less
46. Americana


Sunday, March 20, 2011

Videos with the kids

Bridge to Terabithia - yikes.  I was expecting a fantasy/adventure, along the lines of The Neverending Story, and had no idea that the female lead dies 2/3 of the way through.  Not at all prepared for that. I enjoyed the movie, and I think the kids did too, but I wouldn't have even suggested it, if I knew the full plot.

Kiki's Delivery Service - we enjoyed Ponyo, so I thought we should check out more by the same filmmaker.  This is a cute story, and we all liked it (even Larry, who was home and watched with us).  But I thought it was odd that such a young girl would go off on her own, and Alana asked at the end,  "When does she go back to her family?"  I think the story would make more sense, at least to an American audience, if she were in her late teens instead.


Friday, March 18, 2011

Our Caravan - Pisgah!

"Pisgah" is a mountain is Israel.  They arrive August 7!!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Celiac disease and schizophrenia

My friend Wendy told me about this.  Wow!  I wonder if this was a factor in Suzanne's condition.

The gluten connection: the association between schizophrenia and celiac disease.

Kalaydjian AE, Eaton W, Cascella N, Fasano A.
Department of Mental Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, MD 21205


OBJECTIVE: Based on initial findings, gluten withdrawal may serve as a safe and economical alternative for the reduction of symptoms in a subset of patients.

METHOD: A review of the literature relevant to the association between schizophrenia and celiac disease (gluten intolerance) was conducted.

RESULTS: A drastic reduction, if not full remission, of schizophrenic symptoms after initiation of gluten withdrawal has been noted in a variety of studies. However, this occurs only in a subset of schizophrenic patients.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

"Small Vices"

This Robert Parker "Spenser" novel ended up being the book club selection this month.  I'm kind of annoyed because, while it's probably a fun read, what can there possibly be to *discuss*???  I didn't join a book club to read pulp fiction like this - I want to be challenged, not anesthetized.

ADDENDUM  3/24/11

I got this at the library as quickly as I could, because I kind of wanted to get it out of the way, so I could get on with the stack of books on my bedside table.  It's a fast read, with very short chapters, which makes it easy to read at night in bed, and on the bus. 

I thought it  had early promise - the crime Spenser is investigating is the wrongful conviction of a young black man, and issues of racism were front and center at first.  I was actually enjoying the book for the first 1/2 or so, but then it got very silly, with lots of macho passages - the great Spenser eludes every threat and out-thinks every advesary.  This is very much what I suspected the book would be like. 

Then he gets shot, and spends many chapters in Santa Barbara recovering.  Zzzzzzzzz. 

In the end, the moral dilemma is stated, but not resolved - 2 very bad criminals go free and the lives of two decent people who made a big mistake are ruined.  Not very satisfying and not even a very good read.  (And what the hell does the title mean???  The "vices" of these characters are very great indeed.  Is he being ironic?)

I especially disliked the side story about Susan and Spenser adopting a child - the issue is resolved quickly, neatly, and without rancor, in (of course) the way that Spenser desired all along.  It was just so bull-shitty. Susan is basically a device - she isn't developed much as a character and mostly her scenes in the book serve to show what a wonderful man Spenser is, either because she says so, or because he brings her food or they have sex or whatever.  Gah!

I found myself thinking about the books I've enjoyed lately, like Fire or Poison Study, where the "star" of the book is not unlike Spenser - wise and capable, and admired by other characters.  But I genuinely think there's a difference - these characters are full of self doubt, and the reader hears their internal conversation.  Spenser has no doubts, no "psychology" really, which makes the book (books) much less entertaining to me.


Monday, March 14, 2011

Trends in Reform Judaism, pt. 2

ATTENTION READERS:  Please do not email these comments, in whole, or especially in part, to any third parties.  Thank you. 

See also entry from December 5, 2010

Tonight the rabbi gave a lecture on "Reform Judaism - Past, Present and Future."  I had to leave early to make it to the book club meeting, so I missed the "future" part (very frustrating), but I was again left scratching my head over the rabbi's vision of current practice. 

Specificially, he stated that (all) Jews under the age of 50 are "hungering for tradition."  This is not my personal experience, and is not the way I would characterize the vast majority of people I'm acquainted with.  In fact, the only person that describes accurately is my sister-in-law, who attended the same rabbinical training that he did. 

I would say that my "hunger" is for meaning, and for connection to a community, but that is not at all the same thing as "tradition."  My impression of my peers with similar-age children, as well as my contemporaries with older children or no children, and even a few younger people in their teens, who participate in synagogue life is that their goals are basically the same as mine - to belong to a community and engage in Jewish practice.  I can't think of a single one who has expressed a desire for greater tradition or observance than is already being provided.  (I'm not saying that there aren't young Jews in America who are "hungering for tradition," I just don't know any who belong to my Reform synagogue.*) 

It's hard not to feel that his perception reinforces his own agenda, rather than reflecting the real desires of the congregants (maybe it's just his assertion that reinforces his agenda, and his actual perception is moot).  Of course, I don't know all the members (under 50 years old), and certainly can't claim to know what is in anyone's heart of hearts.  But I'm quite sure that his sweeping generalization does not accurately capture the diversity of preferences in our Reform community.

*You could, of course, argue that they don't belong to our synagogue because of the dirth of "tradition," but they can have those experiences at Conservative and Orthodox temples - Syracuse has both.  If our temple concentrates on providing "tradition" for those people, where does that leave those of us who are actually Reform Jews who want to engage in Reform Jewish practice?  It leaves us with nothing, at least in this community.

It's probably worth noting that I was the only person attending this lecture who falls into this "under 50" category.  It would be interesting to hear the response to his assertion in a crowd comprised of that demographic.


Sunday, March 13, 2011

Weekend movies

Caught some decent videos over the weekend ~

Zombieland - surprisingly funny and actually kind of touching; minimal amount of zombies too, after the opening sequence, at least until the big finale.  At this point, I'd watch Jesse Eisenberg in anything.  Matt said they're working on a sequel, which could be well, an abomination - it's so hard to recapture that jaunty humor a second time around (case in point - MIB II)

Vampires Suck - some funny bits, and the female lead has Bella/Kristen's mannerisms down pat.  It almost seems redundant to satirize such a campy movie.  A few jokes were a bit raunchier than I expected (embarrassing to watch with my 10 year old); overall, not a waste of 90 minutes of my life.

Adam - interesting romance about a man with Aspergers, with the lovely Rose Bryne, and Hugh Dancy, giving a really terrific performance (I would watch him in anything at this point).  A little disappointing - the first half was definitely stronger than the second half, and it didn't reach it's early potential (when the opening voiceover says "everything I learned about love, I learned from Adam" you expect to be really wowed); the ending was especially unsatisfying.  Not a waste of time, but nothing I would watch again either - not as good as Maze and Dedication, both better movies about the romances of troubled men .  Bonus - Amy Irving, excellent as always, in a small but important role.  Additional bonus - not 1, but 2 songs by Josh Radin, whose haunting song in Catch and Release has stayed with me all this time.


Friday, March 11, 2011


Mostly I feel so discouraged about the aggressive attempt by Scott Walker, the new Wisconsin governor, to take advantage of the financial crisis to eliminate collective bargaining.  As always, I think about "What's the Matter with Kansas" and the very articulate presentation of working class voters being convinced to vote against their own best interests.  This joke sums it up so succinctly:

A public employee, a member of the Tea Party, and a CEO are sitting at a table. In the middle of the table there is a plate with a dozen cookies on it.

The CEO takes 11 cookies, looks at the Tea Partier and says, "Look out for that union guy - he wants a piece of your cookie."

I've heard lots of people in round tables on CNN and MSNBC note how odd it is to suggest that government workers are at the root of the current financial situation, and I always appreciate when they say so.  But the prevailing attitude seems to be that these lazy, greedy, undeserving people are stealing our tax money.  It's such a Big Lie.

Of course, we were outraged when Enron's collapse lead to the evaporation of pensions owed to long-time employees, but now, as tax payers, we seem willing to do the same - reduce pensions promised to workers, often in arrangements made decades ago. 

How did we get to the point that we begrudge teachers and street sweepers pensions and health insurance.  We act like we don't have these same benefits, but many middle class people do.  And if they don't have them, they certainly want them.  But we're furious that anyone has them?  And yet we tolerate bankers who paid themselves huge bonuses after the tax payers had to bail out their banks, which they had run into the ground with poor decisions and poor risk management. 

I happened to catch Jon Stewart when he pointed out the inconsistency in his inimitable way - he showed 2 videos of a Fox News commentator, criticizing public workers (recently) and last year, rationalizing bonuses paid to Wall Street workers because they were based on contractual obligations that predated the crisis.  But unfortunately, though excrutiatingly obvious, this juxtaposition doesn't appear to have captured the general public's attention.

Though polls show that the vast majority of people do not want to eliminate collective bargaining.  And Walker has clearly over-reached his mandate.  And his poll numbers are way down.  But the public has a short memory, and it may not ultimately impact his re-election chances at all.

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Monday, March 07, 2011

Risk tolerance and Pass the Pigs game

We played many rounds of Pass the Pigs tonight, and Larry again displayed a high tolerance for risk, which can also be described as his inability to stop throwing the pigs, even though he loses every round.  Not only does he like to keep going, but he gets upset when other people play more cautiously. When anyone would keep throwing beyond their comfort level, he would encourage them, and at one point said, "don't you feel more alive when you keep going?"  I was struck by this, because truthfully, I don't feel more alive - I feel incredibly anxious, and terribly relieved when my turn is over and I hand the pigs to the next person.  I think this really shows that people react to that adreneline surge very differently - for some people it's stimulating and for others, it's overwhelming.  Probably explains a lot about the personality differences between Larry and I.


Sunday, March 06, 2011

Latest movies

The Adjustment Bureau - I liked this movie a lot, more than the friends I went with.  It was both interesting and romantic; a nice change from the typical mindless fare (I'm talking here of mindless romantic comedy fare, as well as mindless action fare).

The Brave One - with Jodi Foster and Terrance Howard, who are always watchable; much better than I expected; I didn't like the "moral" of the story (that revenge is cathartic) but as a character study of a damaged woman, it was actually quite riveting (I stayed up way too late watching it!)

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps - not a bad movie but not great; they tried to say something substantial about the financial skullduggery on Wall St, but the message was seriously undermined by the ending.  I was also really frustrated by the short shrift they gave to the daugher-father relationship, which had a lot of dramatic potential.

Grown-Ups - a few funny moments, but a really stupid movie with a lot of incredibly offensive jokes; how did they get those great actresses to take those thankless roles???

Summer Catch (2001) - a standard rom-com with Freddie Prinze Jr and Jessica Biel; the movie manages to cram in every sports cliche in the book, which makes the movie feel stale, despite the lively and appealing leads, and strong supporting performances from Fred Ward, Jason Gedrick and Brian Dennehy; not a total waste of time, but ultimately utterly forgettable.


Friday, March 04, 2011

"The Disposible Woman"

Great essay in the NY Times about the pass that white men like Charlie Sheen get for their behavior, especially when the women they abuse are perceived as "slutty" or "gold diggers."  Here's some key paragraphs:

The privilege afforded wealthy white men like Charlie Sheen may not be
a particularly new point, but it’s an important one nonetheless.
Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears are endlessly derided for their
extracurricular meltdowns and lack of professionalism on set; the R&B
star Chris Brown was made a veritable pariah after beating up his
equally, if not more, famous girlfriend, the singer Rihanna. Their
careers have all suffered, and understandably so.

This hasn’t been the case with Mr. Sheen, whose behavior has been
repeatedly and affectionately dismissed as the antics of a “bad boy”
(see: any news article in the past 20 years), a “rock star” (see:
Piers Morgan, again) and a “rebel” (see: Andrea Canning’s “20/20”
interview on Tuesday). He has in essence, achieved a sort of folk-hero
status; on Wednesday, his just-created Twitter account hit a million
followers, setting a Guinness World Record.

But there’s something else at work here: the seeming imperfection of
Mr. Sheen’s numerous accusers. The women are of a type, which is to
say, highly unsympathetic. Some are sex workers — pornographic film
stars and escorts — whose compliance with churlish conduct is assumed
to be part of the deal. (For the record: It is not.)


Tuesday, March 01, 2011

"The Secret History"

Finally finished this book, though I actually read it pretty quickly, considering the length. I messed up the timing - the book club doesn't meet for 2 weeks (I thought it would take longer).

I didn't hate it, I'm even glad I read it, but I'm super disappointed. I really don't understand what Donna Tartt was going for. She could have explored really interesting issues of loyalty and guilt, and so on, but instead, I now know what it's like to be a college student in Vermont, which I could care less about. Way, way too much about the weather, and what they ate, and the drugs they took, and the parties they went to, and even what they wore. If I was 25 years old and recently finished college, I might like this book a lot more. But I'm a middle-aged woman who is far removed from those halcyon days. I got a little annoyed reading about all the stuff they did besides attend class and learn anything - I certainly took my college years a lot more seriously than these folks did, probably because I was paying for it myself!

I was a bit afraid that the book would be over my head - scenes of brilliant students sitting around discussing Big Ideas. But there was hardly any of that. I would have actually enjoyed more of this - I think it would have been more interesting than reading about the snow and the cold and the pork roast they had at the inn in town.

There was hardly any of the famous Julian either. Toward the end, Richard talks about how Julian was a substitute father for him, etc, etc, and Henry says he loved Julian more than anyone else in the world, but you didn't really get that from the book - he was in a few scenes in the beginning and then he disappeared for about 300 pages. I thought she did a poor job of showing how important Julian was to the students, even, maybe especially, Henry, so that what happens at the end resonates a lot less than it should. 

Another complaint about the book was the odd melodramatic elements that she threw in almost randomly, especially the sexual relationship between Charles and Camilla, which I thought was completely unnecessary (and substantially raised the "ick" factor of the book!) I literally said aloud "really?!" when I read that part. I also thought Francis being gay (and his interrupted seduction of Richard) felt like sort of a plot device and not really organic to his character, and not treated very respectfully either - like it was his character's flaw, which I think is really lazy writing.

I also thought the female characters were shockingly one-dimensional, considering the author is a woman.  Camilla is never really given a personality (though we certainly know she's BEAUTIFUL), Marion is almost a plot device, and the lively Judy is a subject of ridicule, despite her generous and tolerant nature (or maybe beause of it).

I read an interview with Donna Tartt where she says she spent 10 years, off and on, writing this book. With that big an investment, it should have been a lot better. I don't even really know what the title means. In 500+ pages, she couldn't manage to make that clear??? I think the lengthy writing time may be part of why the book feels episodic and why so many sections seem like anecdotes shoe-horned into the narrative. I thought many times while I was reading that she needed a better editor. There was a good book in there somewhere, but it was drowned in excessive exposition that did not serve the reading experience well at all.
I would have to say that the only parts I really *enjoyed* reading were Chapter 6 and the Epilogue, because those were the only sections where she moved the plot forward with any real momentum. Except for the bonding that happened between Richard and Henry toward the end of it, she could have (and should have) eliminated Chapter 3 almost completely.

As an aside: people ask me why I like YA fiction, and this book is a strong argument - because it's engaging! In the middle of Book II, I was really yearning for some kick-ass girl to come riding in on a horse and archery these idiots for me. Just sayin'. Not that adult fiction can't be engaging - I've read hundreds of books, many of them terrific, and very few were written for teens. But this just epitomizes what's wrong with "famous books" - this book spent 13 weeks on the NY Times Bestseller List.  I guess a lot of people who buy books feel nostalgic for their college days.  It's certainly not because this book is such a satisfying read.  It's described as a "page-turner," which is definitely not my experience of it.  If I hadn't been reading it for a book club, I would have set it down less than half-way through.  She already tells you the end at the beginning, so it's not even like you have to skip ahead to see how things come out.  In fact, doing that (telling the end at the beginning) puts more pressure on the author to make the journey really interesting, since you're not reading to find out what happens!

Immediately after I finished this book, I read an article about the Turing Test and artificial intelligence. Early on, the author poses "The Question" - what makes us human? As a psychologist, I always thought the answer to that question was, we're the only creatures who feel shame. I found myself thinking about the characters in The Secret History almost the whole time I was reading the article. Did they really feel shame? I don't know. But I know that Donna Tartt didn't spend nearly as much time considering that as I would have expected and certainly as much as I *wanted* in her book.  Despite it's length, there just wasn't enough "there" there!

ADDENDUM 3/30/11

Came across this quote quite by accident, but I think it really helps me understand this damn book:

If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man's life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility. -Henry Wadsworth Longfellow