Thursday, November 12, 2009

My Literary Widows and Orphans

I'm finally feeling a little bit closer to conscious. This ridiculous cough has really laid me low for the past few days and it's good to feel a little more like a human being again--as opposed to the mass of quivering, sneezing, phlegmy germs I've been since Friday last.

Since I've spent a good deal of the last few days in my childhood bedroom (in an attempt to quarantine myself from happy, healthy sorts) I've had a lot of time to stare at the bookshelf that faces my bed. In fact, while not sleeping last night I turned on the light for a while and just looked over all the titles to see what I remembered of them, which I'd read, loved, etc.

I seem to have books in many places. A few hundred favorites at my flat in Connecticut, and heaven only knows how many are in boxes, on shelves, and stored in the spare bedroom here in Minnesota. (That sound you hear is my mother commenting that I'm welcome to take ALL of them back to Connecticut any time I'd like.) My mother is right of course, but there's never been an optimal time to schlep them all back East, nor is there likely to be one in the immediate future. (NB, Mom!) Nevertheless, I imagine that there are many treasures among those in unlabeled boxes.

Surely my old set of Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House books are all there, as are my beloved old Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys mysteries and all my well-loved and well-worn Judy Blume favorites. I always loved Starring Sally J. Freedman, As Herself. I don't know if it was the post-war time period, the funny stories that Sally made up in her head or the old movie stars she fantasized about, but the book really struck a chord with me. I'm so glad I grew up with Judy Blume books to read and ponder over. I am admittedly a little envious of all the YA horse-related literature and series that little girls have today...but I think I'd still love all my Black Stallion and other Walter Farley books just the same, as well as the many wonderful adaptations of Black Beauty that I've collected over the years.

So all those boxes are yet to be pored over (yes, Mother, I will get to them...) but that brings me to the widows and orphans that populate the shelves at the end of my bed. I say widows and orphans because they are not, for the most part, books of my youth. (Save one beloved Rupert the Bear volume that I love dearly.) Rather, these are volumes that were left behind on moves or when I'd over-packed my suitcase and that meant the books ended up as casualties of cruel airline luggage regulations. The breadth of topic and genre also attests to to how scattered, complicated, and fickle my interest can be.

A quick scan of the topmost shelf yields, among others, copies of John Irving's Cider House Rules, Mann's Budden Brooks, mysteries by Martha Grimes, Anne Perry, and Agatha Christie, Anne Rice's Taltos, Alan Lightman's Einstein's Dreams and three coffee-table pictorials of Ireland. And the other three shelves? A veritable pick-a-mix of reading: The Deep End of The Ocean, Biography of a Cathedral, Vol. 1 of Graham Greene's life, a bio of Dashiell Hammett, galleys of The Highest Tide and William Boyd's Restless. Inserted at odd angles are paperbacks detailing the great rise (and eventual fall) of my favorite EPL team, Chelsea.  Scattered as well are classics like Spenser's The Fairie Queene and D.H. Lawrence's Women In Love. The lowest of the layers contain the oddest mix...many old texts and college books on the middle ages, various French phrase and translation books, a plethora of Iris Murdoch titles, design books of William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones, a few Paulo Coelho novels, a near library of Granta magazines, and second copies of my favorite Milan Kundera titles.

Among the orphaned old-favorites, a few real treasures that will be heading back to Connecticut with me. First, an antique volume on Paris, called Paris of To-day from 1891, complete with engravings and fantastically over-written prose about one of my "hometowns." I also found a library discard copy of Somerset Maugham's The Razor's Edge which is a book I've read so many times, but probably not for 5 years or's getting the "call-up," so to speak. In addition to Rupert the Bear, a volume of the brilliantly silly Calvin and Hobbes is also making the trip with me.

There are two stand-outs within this little literary gold-mine, though. One is A Sense of Life by the sometimes overlooked Antoine de Saint-Exupery. (He's high up on my list of people I'd love to sit next to and converse with at a dinner party.) I'm not implying he's not well-known and beloved for The Little Prince, but his other work, is, I think, sadly underrated. I read his Wind, Sand and Stars with Flight to Arras and Wisdom of the Stars and I was utterly taken aback by his skilled prose. It might read a little flowery by modern standards, but his descriptions of the sky, stars and desert are achingly beautiful and they make you want to sit out and star-gaze. Coupled with his keen insight into humanity, these books are absolute classics that I can't recommend more highly. Dip into his Wisdom of the Sands or The Tale of the Rose by his widow, Consuelo, and you will not be disappointed. These are literary treasures to be savored again and again.

The other is the movie edition of Gone With the Wind. If you've read some of my previous posts, you'll see Scarlett O'Hara and GWTW references now and then. It's been my favorite movie since I was 6--and hey, no judgment of my parents for letting a child watch a film of that nature. I've got my grandmother's old hardcover--sans dust jacket--and a few other editions of the book and movie (Beta, VHS, DVD...) so it's safe to say I'm a fan. This particular movie tie-in edition was published in 1940 and has glorious full color pictures of the cast and scenes throughout. Fiddle-dee-dee, indeed! (I love the scene below, at the Wilkes' barbecue, when Scarlett is "complimenting" India Wilkes on her "beautiful" dress. You can practically see the sneer on Scarlett's face.

When I do start back East tomorrow morning, I'll be carrying a few of these little gems with me. There will be fewer literary widows and orphans on my shelf...but still more than enough to enjoy on my next visit, and plenty to pluck off the shelf with new interest and curiosity.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Horseman's Dilemma

I've been following all the post-Breeders Cup Horse of The Year discussions with keen interest. Obviously, I don't really have a horse in the race, so to speak, but I'm very curious to see how and or if the racing industry will resolve the HoTY dilemma.

I've seen strong arguments made for two of the options. (1) Choose either Rachel or Zenyatta and (2) Having these two fillies share HoTY honors. Let me say that I think that there's even a discussion is great, but I think it needs to resonate more strongly out into the larger racing community to really have an impact.

If one horse is chosen over the other--and with no races of the match or any other variety imminent--then there will always be question marks...and maybe that's good for the sport in the same way baseball aficionados debate past and present favorites. These sorts of discussions bring out the most arcane bits of knowledge and allow for much fun speculation, but I don't think it serves the greater good of racing.

I'd imagine that most everyone in the industry would agree that having a few stars that really captivate the public is important to all of horse racing. Whether it's Secretariat or Seabiscuit, Rachel or Zenyatta, Mine that Bird or Smarty Jones...some horses just really make an impression on people. The pull of these special animals reaches beyond the few weeks in May and June that encompass the Triple Crown races and keeps us all involved in the entire race season. But these horses are the exceptions, not the rule. The fact that Rachel and Zenyatta were both trending topics on Twitter (when the BC 09 was not) is somewhat of a testimony to the fact that regardless of what these two fillies are running in, people will pay attention.

Look, I get that there are not two Heisman trophies or two World Series champions. But this is different. Best actress Oscars have been shared (Katharine Hepburn and Barbra Streisand) with no "watering down" of the award and I think a shared HoTY award, for two fillies who are likely to go down in history as among the best Thoroughbreds ever--of either sex--is a win-win for the industry as a whole. How can you possibly lose with two such outstanding equine athletes? And this still allows for debate and talk of match races or other meetings between Zenyatta and Rachel...but it also recognizes that in 2009 there were two exceptional horses who were (sometimes literally) head and shoulders above the crowd.

Someone wrote on a blog or column that naming the worthy Zenyatta over the equally worthy Rachel would be a sort of just dessert for the Jacksons--their Curlin beat Zenyatta for HoTY in 2008. I guess, but why would you want to punish owners like the Jacksons and Moss'? I mean what's worse than receiving the "make up award?" You know what I giving Dame Judi Dench the Oscar for Shakespeare in Love as a "make up award" for her being robbed of a well-deserved Oscar for Mrs. Brown. Now I think Judi Dench is pretty much always damned brilliant, and probably deserved and Oscar for both performances, but we all know the SiL Oscar was a sort of backhanded apology for the earlier injustice.

My point? I'd have to believe that the connections of both horses would be just fine sharing HoTY honors for their lovely charges. I think horse racing shoots itself in the foot--especially in the eyes of the more casual fan--if it chooses one or the other rather than both. And let's face it, gaining more fans of any ilk, casual or not, has to be among the top concerns for the horse racing industry. Any sport's leadership would be considered fortunate to have two such popular stars in it's stable...let's give both Rachel and Zenyatta their due and be thankful we've all had so many opportunities to see their magnificent races.

Saturday, November 7, 2009


(From the NY Times / Harry How, Getty Images)

I've said many times this week whilst draping, lighting, and decorating that less is more. And while I generally think that is the case...sometimes a little hyperbole and hoopla is well earned and much deserved. Zenyatta is one of those cases.

While I'm mostly in the Rachel Alexandra camp for HoTY (to be fair, she's the one I've seen in person, so I think that's part of why I'm so taken with her) I have to say I was thrilled when the big lady Z worked her magic in today's Breeders Cup Classic. She was a Woman among boys and showed us all what great heart and will to win she has.

After Quality Road's pre-gate drama, it was hard to say who would prevail in the Classic. I always think it's like a false start in an Olympic sprint or swimming race...super hard to recover after you've used up that adrenaline rush. But recover they did and a splendid race was afoot. Kudos to Mike Smith for showing yeomanlike patience during the opening furlongs. I've sometimes been critical of Mike for not being as patient as I thought he should have been (and let's face it, my criticizing him is utterly laughable, but yet I persist) but this time he really made good on all Zenyatta's great promise. And I have to add at this point how impressed I was with Gio Ponti's performance. For such a fantastic turf horse, he sure seemed happy on the Pro-Ride today. Well done to Gio Ponti and his connections as well.

Oddly, I wasn't skittish before this race as I always seem to be when Rachel runs. Part of it could be the NyQuil and cold meds that are dulling all my senses (and I'm thankful for that, really) but as much as I love Zenyatta, she simply inspires me a little less than Rachel does. And that's okay...I love them both, just Rachel a little more. What a quandry to find oneself in, right? Choosing a favorite between two of the best fillies/mares in the world is a pretty nice dilemma to have and one I'll happily mull over my "vote" for HoTY.

And here's my one small moment of schadenfreude...Mine That Bird bringing up the rear. Now I know that since he  won the Derby he should be the horse to cheer on. I'm sorry, but he just never captured my imagination. Sure, I was probably just unhappy about I Want Revenge's situation and overwhelmed by Rachel's Oaks win...but the little bay gelding never got to me. Nothing against him, but I never thought he was all that and a bag of chips, so I'm not surprised at his poor finish here.

A wonderful weekend of racing and I'm just glad I got to see so many wonderful performances. Huzzah to one and all who competed and made the 2009 Breeders Cup races such fun for the fans. All hail Zenyatta, for she truly won the day.