My Favorite Things

Sandefur has the idea that the Positive Liberty writers should lighten things up a bit and write an essay on our favorite things. Not a bad idea, I'm up for that. And let me start by wholeheartedly endorsing his choice of Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady by Florence King as a favorite book. Florence King is an often overlooked American treasure, one of our most brilliant writers and most unique personalities, and if you have not read any of her books I suggest you run, not walk, to the library or bookstore to get them.

While Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady is her best work (it is also her autobiography), also very much worth reading are Reflections in a Jaundiced Eye and With Charity Toward None. The latter is about misanthrophy, which is fitting since she is herself a misanthrope. It contains thoughts like these (and I am going from memory here because the book is buried in a box somewhere):

Misanthropes make excellent citizens. We rarely break laws because prison is a communal experience. We never molest children because in order to molest them you have to be in the same room with them and I don't know how the perverts can stand it.

Her wit is searing, her prose is perfect and her vision is thrillingly unique. I strongly urge you all to read all the Florence King you can find. But I should also offer my own favorite book to recommend. Not my sole favorite book, of course, but a favorite that I think it's likely my readers haven't read and would enjoy. In the past I have written enthusiastically about A Mencken Chrestomathy, HL Mencken's handpicked collection of his best writing. This is probably my single favorite book of all time and if you haven't read it, you should. But since I've already picked that one, I'll choose another for this post.

1) A favorite book. Since we're being light, I'm not going to recommend a serious book of scholarly work. In fact, I'm going to stick with the theme of slightly misanthropic and scathingly witty female writers and recommend two books by Fran Lebowitz, Social Studies and Metropolitan Life. You may have seen Lebowitz on the David Letterman show, where she has appeared dozens of times over the years. Her books are fully of biting and witty observations about humanity, particularly the New York variety of humanity, admittedly not our best example. She begins Social Studies with this observation:

People (a group that in my opinion has always attracted an undue amount of attention) have often been likened to snowflakes. This analogy is meant to suggest that each is unique - no two alike. This is quite patently not the case. People, even at the current rate of inflation - in fact, people especially at the current rate of inflation - are quite simply a dime a dozen. And, I hasten to add, their only similarity to snowflakes resides in their invariably and lamentable tendency to turn, after a few warm days, to slush.

She devotes one chapter of that book to the subject of parenting, a subject with which she has no personal experience but to which she has given all the thought it is due and, perhaps, requires. She comes up with a list of suggestions for parents that should be required reading in lamaze classes:

Your responsibility as a parent is not as great as you might imagine. You need not supply the world with the next conqueror of disease or major motion-picture star. If your child simply grows up to be someone who does not use the word "collectible" as a noun, you can consider yourself an unqualified success.

Children do not really need money. After all, they don't have to pay rent or send mailgrams. Therefore their allowance should be just large enough to cover chewing gum and an occasional pack of cigarettes. A child with his own savings account and/or tax shelter is not going to be a child who scares easy...

Do not elicit your child's political opinions. He doesn't know any more than you do.

Do not allow your children to mix drinks. It is unseemly and they use too much vermouth.

Don't bother discussing sex with small children. They rarely have anything to add.

Ask your child what he wants for dinner only if he's buying.

She likewise has advice for the children, particularly those who have reached their teenage years and another full chapter in Social Studies is devoted to that advice. Among the gems:

Try to derive some comfort from the knowledge that if your guidance counselor were working up to his potential, he wouldn't still be in high school...

It is at this point in your life that you will be giving the greatest amount of attention to matters of sex. This is not only acceptable, but should, in fact, be encourated, for this is the last time that sex will be genuinely exciting. The more farsighted among you may wish to cultivate supplementary interests in order that you might have something to do when you get older. I personally recommend the smoking of cigarettes - a habit with staying power.

Remember that as a teenager you are at the last stage in your life when you will be happy to hear that the phone is for you.

Stand firm in your refusal to remain conscious during algebra. In real life, I assure you, there is no such thing as algebra.

2) A Favorite Album. Sandefur picked a Miles Davis/John Coltrane collaboration, and I'm tempted here for irony's sake to pick My Favorite Things, Coltrane's collection of multiple variations of the song from the Sound of Music. From 1960 until his death in 1967, Coltrane recorded over a dozen versions of this song ranging from standard to avant garde. But instead, I'm going to go with a band I love that richly deserves wider recognition - Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers. This is one of the great independent bands in the world (having turned down multiple major recording contracts to retain full control of their music) and one of the best live shows you will ever see.

They had a minor brush with fame under their original name of The Refreshments with the song Banditos, a song about robbing a bank in Mexico. You might recall the catchy first line:

So just how far down do you wanna go
well we can talk it out over a cuppa joe
and you can look deep into my eyes
like I was a supermodel....uh huh

Or by the equally catchy chorus:

Everybody knows that the world is full of stupid people
So meet me at the mission at midnight, we'll divy up there
Everybody knows that the world is full of stupid people
Well I got the pistol so I'll keep the pesos...yeah, that seems fair

You may also know them as the band that performs the theme song from the show King of the Hill. Roger Clyne is one of the great American troubadours, a brilliant songwriter with a talent for telling a story that reflects his Southwestern roots perfectly. He stands firmly in the tradition occupied by Springsteen, and like the E Street Band, their live shows are the stuff of legend. Few performers come off more genuine than Clyne, and the songs are perfect for live performance - tequila-fueled, desert-borne, sweeping anthems about life, love, loneliness and redemption with a side of salsa. Great stuff, deserving of far wider recognition.

3) A Favorite Blog. This one is more serious than lighthearted, but I strongly recommend Bartholemew's Notes on Religion. Bartholemew covers a wide range of religious questions, from far eastern cults to events in Israel to the American religious right, with far more depth than most. A must read blog.

4) Favorite coffee-dunking cookie. Well, I'm drawing a blank here. I don't drink coffee and rarely eat cookies. But if you're looking for a good donut, I'm still partial to plain old fashioned donuts to dunk in milk.

5) Favorite bookstore. This one is so obscure, I'm not even sure it has a name. In the town I grew up in, Portage, Michigan, there is a tiny little used bookstore on the east side of town owned by an eccentric white haired man who virtually never speaks except to tell you what the total is. He sits at his desk and reads all day, always with Celtic music in the background, and never even looks up at you when you walk in. You can browse for hours and the books are packed in like sardines, jamming every bookcase and stacked up on the ground in every nook and cranny available. The sign outside, if I recall, just says "Used Books". I've probably bought 500 books from this place in my life and never exchanged even a hello with the old guy who runs the place.

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I agree that Florence King is a wonderful author.

I'm going to bring up a rather obscure author from a previous generation. Helen Hoover Santmyer, the author of And Ladies Of The Club. I am still trying to slog through it--it is very long. I believe it was originally published by the Ohio State University Press. It is a wonderful satire--or maybe a chronicle--but it is difficult to get through.

I don't drink coffee...

Hey a fellow non-drinker of coffee. One more thing we have in common.

How about tea? Can't stand the stuff myself.

By Troy Britain (not verified) on 30 Dec 2005 #permalink

Troy wrote:

Hey a fellow non-drinker of coffee. One more thing we have in common.

How about tea? Can't stand the stuff myself.

I do like tea, especially iced tea (straight, no sugar - I can't imagine why southerners think you should put sugar into iced tea). I like hot tea, but make it rarely. Rob Pennock and his wife have the most astonishing collection of hot teas I've ever seen. They literally have a hutch full of different types of teas, but have to dig in the basement to find even an instant coffee. Serious tea drinkers.

Best novel I ever read: "Shogun" by James Clavell

Favorite unknown novelist: Richard Ben Sapir, author of "The Body," "Quest," and "The Distant Gladiator." (or something like that). No one created characters as compelling as Sapir.

Favorite non-fiction author: Earl Doherty, author of "The Jesus Puzzle," -- he helped me to see the New Testament clearly for the first time.

Favorite writer of any kind: Nietzsche

Favorite album: "Sticky Fingers" by the Rolling Stones

Favorite bookstore: The "Bookman's" chain of gargantuan used bookstores in Tucson, AZ

Favorite blog: Dispatches from the Culture War

By Perry Willis (not verified) on 30 Dec 2005 #permalink

I don't do coffee, either, although, as a kid, I loved sniffing aroung the grinder at the local (Cincinnati) A&P. This was in late 1950s.

I love iced tea, but I disagree with Ed. I spice it up as follows. A half gallon of iced tea (3 bags of Twinings orange pekoe, steeped for an hour in a tea kettle, then dilluted) 1 teaspoon of fructose sugar (no more). And a quarter lemon, squeezed and then deposited into the pitcher so that the oils from the surface of the lemon would permiate the mixture. Yum, yum. I actually drink more than a (half-gallon) pitcher of that a day.

The fructose sugar has a slight raspberry taste.

Ed, I picked up Chrestomathy on reading a previous post where you mentioned it, and I never bothered to thank you. It's been infinitely rewarding.

I'm also with you on the iced tea (though I do quite enjoy coffee). I've never understood why people where I live feel the need to kill the taste by adding heaps of sugar. The looks I tend to get when insisting that my tea be unsweetened are second only to the looks I get when ordering my salad without dressing. Ah, Missouri.

Your favorite bookstore reminds me of mine, which sadly closed a few years back. It's of the same bent as yours; the tiny, hole-in-the-wall shop with hardly room to move, but all the fine old books anyone could ever want, for a pittance. I always marveled at the fact that people would pay so much for new books when they could get beautiful old editions for cheaper. The paper may be a touch more fragile, but at least the damn things have character. Come to think of it, there was a similar shop in Columbia, MO (where I attended university), where I bought my first copy of Dune. It wasn't even a full storefront; the landlord had subdivided into two half-stores, so that the place was about forty feet deep, and maybe eight across. One had to sort of slide sideways down the aisles. Fantastic place.

...where I bought my first copy of Dune...

Blast from the past. I read Dune when it was originally serialized in Analog Science Fiction in 1965. Five issues. It was up to then, and may still be, the only serialization that got not only one, but two, covers.

BTW, the early 1980s movie is horrible, but the SciFi channel mini-series is pretty good.


Aaron M at December 31, 2005 12:37 AM

I've never understood why people where I live feel the need to kill the taste by adding heaps of sugar.

One thought: maybe they like the caffein, but they don't like the taste of the coffee. One thing that I have read (but cannot swear to) is that, per unit volume, coffee has much more caffein than hot tea, and much more than iced tea, which is usually diluted.. I can't figure out why anyone would want to pollute tea with milk.

The looks I tend to get when insisting that my tea be unsweetened are second only to the looks I get when ordering my salad without dressing. Ah, Missouri.

Simple solution: ask that the dressing be put in a little bowl. Then ignore it, or use it as you wish. It's been a long time since I was in Missouri, but most restaraunts that I've been to here in the USofA will comply. Usually, the dressing is added at the last minute by the wait staff because the dressing typically causes the greens to shrivel into mush if left to sit. Ask for a side bowl of dressing, and use it as you deem necessary.

My big objection to salads in American restaurants is that what passes for tomatoes are usually indistinguishable from paper. I won't even go into the IceGlacier Lettuce.

If any of you east of the Rockies get out to the west coast and have lots of time, there are a number of great bookstores to spend whole afternoons, or days, working your way through. Powells in Portland deserves its reputation (make sure you bring your own water bottle--the dehumidifiers take their toll on you after a couple of hours otherwise), as does Cody's in Berzerkland and Logos in Santa Cruz. Thirty and forty years ago there were some real classic ones in LA such as Papa Bachs and Bodhi Tree et al, but they have been absorbed and devoured and the quality parts of their inventory now reside in very expensive (read overpriced) rare and used book sellers.

There was once a great one in Ojai which eventually sold out, and a couple of the owners relocated to Grass Valley (an hour northeast of Sacramento in the Gold Country) and set up Ames in that tradition of incredible used books easily available (one sign of a great bookstore for me is to ask a clerk where this or that book might be and they can walk you to it among vast shelves and piles without having to look it up on some computer). There is a cool version of this in Eugene in what was once someone's house near the U of O campus; the owner can walk around in piles and pull out just the one requested.

Aunties here in Spokane is aspiring to be Powells, while Missoula has three that while subject focussed are so fun in which to spend time.

I would love to see some of the Favorite Libraries of people. I love libraries; all those years in academia living in them has created quite the addiction.

--raj-- Sean Young was so much the better looking Chani than was Barbora Kodetová though!!

I love the Avalon nook store but I have to say Powell's books is running a very close second. They take up a whole city block. There are seven main rooms, each being the size of a good bookstore and a coffee/tea shop that serves great coffee's, tea's and tisanes and happens to be filled with - books. . .Portland and the surrounding area has an unbelievable concentration of used book stores. I felt like I had gotten an amputation when I had to unload a couple thousand books from my collection at Way Station books in downtown Lansing before I moved but coming out here to heaven for used book lovers has eased the transition a lot and I'm well on my way to reviving my collection. My son felt the same when I limited him to one and a half boxes of books but then he discovered it isn't hard to convince me we should explore a new bookstore or spend a few hours in Powell's - his collection is filling right bloody well out as well.

Coffee is great only when you are within a few days (5 at most) of roasting. You should boil the RO filtered or distilled water let it sit for about five minutes, grind your beans, put them in the filter basket (if using a french press let the water sit a couple minutes longer before pouring and let it steep for 3 minutes) and pour the water through - with an even pour over all the beans. If you smoke (I do) you should enjoy at least a third of your first cup before you enjoy your first cigarette - preferably a high quality hand roll. If you pollute your first coffee of the day with sugar or cream you should burn like the heathen barbarian you are. Sweetened condensed milk is appropriate if you are drinking Thai coffee, sugar is occasionaly ok in Turkish coffee but if the cardomon is freshly hulled and ground with the coffee it is really unecessary. Oddly enough I could get green coffee beans back in Michigan but have yet to find a source here in Portland OR. . .Thankfully a number of shops around here roast daily so I can get fresh coffee - just bloody well wish I could get on of them to sell me green beans - oh well.

spyder at December 31, 2005 02:33 PM

Sean Young was so much the better looking Chani than was Barbora Kodetová though!!

Maybe. I'm gay, though, and I pay attention to the male leads. I don't recall his name, but the Brit who played the male lead in the SciFi mini-series was cute as hell ;-).

On a more expansive note, the SciFi channel's miniseries was much closer to the book than the 1980s movie.