Said to Some Authors: ‘Burb, Your Enthusiasm’

Today’s post is about suburbia in literature, and to get you in the mood for that you might enjoy watching the band Rush perform “Subdivisions.”

Okay, welcome back! (Lyrics to that song are at the end of this post.)

For scores of years, the vast majority of fictional works were set in cities, rural areas, and isolated villages. But as time marched on, suburbs started to crop up in books — as they did in real life. And many authors made those leafy places quite “literature-worthy” as they depicted wealth, racism, gender roles, good marriages, bad marriages, happiness, dissatisfaction, conformity, “unhipness,” boredom, well-funded schools, cliques, gossip, the car culture, stressful commuting, lovely vistas, etc.

And then there’s the envy felt by suburbanites trying to “keep up with the Joneses” — a phrase first used in reference to the wealthy family in which Edith Wharton (nee Jones) grew up.

Heck, suburbia is where J.K. Rowling placed her first post-Harry Potter novel, The Casual Vacancy, which chronicles political intrigue, personal antagonisms, and family drama in the small English town of Pagford.

John Steinbeck used rural settings (often) and urban settings (occasionally), but his The Winter of Our Discontent has a suburban milieu (Long Island, N.Y.) as it addresses ethics and other matters.

Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake features a Bengali couple — Ashoke and Ashima Ganguli — who leave Calcutta, India, for a Boston suburb when Ashoke becomes an engineering student at MIT. Immigrants who are professionals, or studying to be professionals, often bypass cites and go straight to the suburbs when coming to America.

Other immigrants settle in cities and then see their descendants move to the land of lawns, as is the case in Jeffrey Eugenides’ Middlesex. The second-generation couple Tessie and Milton Stephanides relocate their family from the Motor City to Grosse Pointe, Mich., after the 1967 Detroit riot sparked by police brutality, poverty, and segregated schools and housing.

The urban-suburban contrast is also part of many other novels. For instance, New Jersey wedding musician Dave Raymond becomes engaged to a nice but rather bland N.J. woman in Tom Perrotta’s The Wishbones, but then badly betrays her during that engagement by having an affair with a Manhattan woman who is more artistic and edgy.

Patty Berglund in Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom grew up in a wealthy New York City suburb, but she and her husband Walter become early gentrifiers in St. Paul, Minn. — where the Berglunds have the kind of nosy neighbors that can be found in many a suburb. So Patty is “home” in a way.

Lorraine Hansberry’s play A Raisin in the Sun is set in Chicago, but a major plot strain is the black Younger family’s plan to move to an all-white suburb. A representative from that racist burb tries to buy out the Youngers in order to keep the neighborhood segregated.

Technically, John Updike’s Rabbit, Run is also set in a city, but it’s a small city that’s kind of near Philadelphia, and protagonist Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom has aspects of the stereotypical 1950s suburban male. Star high school athlete who lapses into an ordinary life as he marries young, becomes a father young, becomes dissatisfied with his marriage, etc. — all while acting like a selfish and sexist jerk much of the time.

Another John — Cheever — wrote “The Swimmer” short story starring a man who one day has the odd idea of traversing his upscale suburb by swimming through one backyard pool after another. As Cheever describes Neddy Merrill’s unusual journey, he skillfully weaves in material about the suburb’s class differences, about whether or not wealth can bring happiness, about Neddy’s past, etc. The protagonist’s serial swim should take just a few hours, but much more time seems to go by. Cheever’s partly metaphorical tale is here.

By the way, I live in a suburb. On the positive side, my town of Montclair, N.J., has several business districts, dozens of ethnic restaurants, six train stations, a population about a third African-American, a welcoming atmosphere for gay couples, and many beautiful homes and trees dating back to the 1800s (I’m in a garden apartment complex myself). On the negative side, there are such problems as gentrification, politically connected developers building too densely, and rich “reformers” pushing for education stuff (like endless standardized tests) the vast majority of residents don’t want.

What are your favorite literary works set at least partly in the suburbs?

(The box for submitting comments is below already-posted comments, but your new comment will appear at the top of the comments area — unless you’re replying to someone else.)

Here are the lyrics to “Subdivisions” — written by Rush members Neil Peart (drums), Geddy Lee (vocals/bass/keyboards), and Alex Lifeson (guitar):

Sprawling on the fringes of the city
In geometric order
An insulated border
In between the bright lights
And the far unlit unknown

Growing up it all seems so one-sided
Opinions all provided
The future pre-decided
Detached and subdivided
In the mass production zone

Nowhere is the dreamer
Or the misfit so alone

(Subdivisions)
In the high school halls
In the shopping malls
Conform or be cast out
(Subdivisions)
In the basement bars
In the backs of cars
Be cool or be cast out

Any escape might help to smooth
The unattractive truth
But the suburbs have no charms to soothe
The restless dreams of youth

Drawn like moths we drift into the city
The timeless old attraction
Cruising for the action
Lit up like a firefly
Just to feel the living night

Some will sell their dreams for small desires
Or lose the race to rats
Get caught in ticking traps
And start to dream of somewhere
To relax their restless flight

Somewhere out of a memory
Of lighted streets on quiet nights

(Subdivisions)
In the high school halls
In the shopping malls
Conform or be cast out
(Subdivisions)
In the basement bars
In the backs of cars
Be cool or be cast out

Any escape might help to smooth
The unattractive truth
But the suburbs have no charms to soothe
The restless dreams of youth

For three years of my Huffington Post literature blog, click here.

I’m writing a literature-related book, but still selling Comic (and Column) Confessional — my often-funny memoir that recalls 25 years of covering and meeting cartoonists such as Charles Schulz (“Peanuts”) and Bill Watterson (“Calvin and Hobbes”), columnists such as Ann Landers and “Dear Abby,” and other notables such as Hillary Clinton, Coretta Scott King, Walter Cronkite, and various authors. The book also talks about the malpractice death of my first daughter, my remarriage, and life in Montclair, N.J. — where I write the award-winning weekly “Montclairvoyant” humor column for The Montclair Times. You can email me at dastor@earthlink.net to buy a discounted, inscribed copy of the book, which contains a preface by “Hints” columnist Heloise and back-cover blurbs by people such as “The Far Side” cartoonist Gary Larson.

162 thoughts on “Said to Some Authors: ‘Burb, Your Enthusiasm’

  1. I’m late to the party I know but:

    The suburbs, that cunning blend of country estate pretensions and townhouse practicalities, being the home of so many middle-class writers, has spawned any number of portrayals of the social milieu therein. I’ve read me some Cheever and some O’Hara and some Cain (Mildred Pierce) and some Updike and some others whose names are not at the moment coming trippingly to fingertips, but only Richard Yates, author of the excoriating and pitiless Revolutionary Road gets at the emptiness at the heart of artistic pretense that finds its home among the homes among the lawns out there, peeling the poses away layer by layer, revealing at the end the hole on the middle, the way a boy years ago might have unwrapped and unwound a golf ball, so as to get at the nothing under pressure in its middle, back when some golf balls were filled with compressed air. Desolating stuff, for those of us who are damned by comparison.

    Then there’s Raymond Carver.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thinking about it after I read ‘Revolutionary Road’ I thought that one of the major differences between Cheever and Yates is that Cheever actually seemed to enjoy living there. For Yates, it was a stifling prison. In one sense, Yates predates much of the anti-establishment surburb/conformity hating counterculturalists of later in the sixties that broke away.

      I’ve mentioned ‘Mad Men’ previously. Show creator Matt Weiner has made no secret of his admiration for John Cheever and intentionally had Don Draper and his first wife and kids living in Ossining, NY, where Cheever himself lived, I doubt that Don would ever consider himself a member of the counterculture of that era. Nevertheless, he leaves that life and feels compelled (for a variety of reasons) to head toward California repeatedly throughout the series and it’s where he is at its conclusion, nowhere near a suburb.

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          • Dave, regarding ‘Revolutionary Road’:

            I just checked the Montclair Public Library website’s online catalog and it appears that copies are currently available at the Englwood and Fort Lee Public Libraries. Are those branches of Montclair Public Library?

            Regarding ‘Mad Men”:

            On your online catalog I saw that ‘Mad Men’ Season 1 Discs 1 and 2 are available at West Orange Public Library. Is that a branch as well? I also noticed that most of the rest of the seasons of that series are also available at one of those participating libraries in your system.

            Regarding your library’s Interlibrary Loan service, here is the link:

            http://www.montclairlibrary.org/books-media/interlibrary-loan/

            It appears that you should be able to request books that other libraries own through Jersey Cat, or something like that. Not sure how it would work for you but that’s certainly an option for those books you’d like to read but can’t find locally.

            Thirdly, lots of things are available through Netflix. The low end membership is only $4.99 and you get two DVDs max per month, in case you’re concerned about videos taking up your time away from your reading.

            Just some options to consider.

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            • Thanks so much, bobess48, for your library expertise!

              I tend to be kind of retro with libraries. I have a to-read list that’s enormous, so if certain novels aren’t there during a particular visit I just take out other novels that ARE there and look for the former ones during another visit. Which means I must still be living in the ’50s, like the “Revolutionary Road” protagonists. 🙂

              Englewood and Fort Lee are towns about 10-15 miles northeast of Montclair, while West Orange almost borders Montclair on the south. But, as you note, Montclair does have interlibrary-loan arrangements with various towns.

              I’m not much of a TV (or movie) watcher by choice (because avoiding them leaves me more time to read). But if I ever decide to watch more things, “Mad Men” would be near the top of the list. Great show, from all I’ve heard, plus it would bring back memories of growing up in the ’60s. I also worked a while for an advertising magazine — a job I disliked, but it did teach me something about the ad biz.

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    • Never too late, jhNY! 🙂 And an utterly superb comment. Your golf ball analogy was a tour de force.

      I’ve made a couple of attempts to find “Revolutionary Road” at my local library; eventually that novel will be there when I’m there!

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  2. If a biopic is ever made of Rush, the perfect casting for Geddy Lee would be Sean Penn. Of course, a real singer (such as Geddy himself) would have to be dubbed for the singing parts although Sean might be able to fake play the bass and keyboards.

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      • Based on what I’ve seen of Rush in recent years at least, those two don’t resemble Alex and Neil, although the guitarist and drummer do remind me of some British actors I’ve seen, like some of the character actors that appear in Mike Leigh’s films. British actors are so much better at doing American (or Canadian) accents than Americans actors are at doing British accents, so some British guys might be even more effective.

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  3. FYI on Fleet Foxes, since I can’t add any more to the music subthread: They’re another band from the northwest (Oregon or Washington). They have excellent harmonies, and the lead singer has kind of a Graham Nash-like voice with a high range. Vocal harmony bands are another rare species these days, especially compared to all those great 60’s/70’s vocal groups (Beatles, Byrds, Hollies, Crosby, Stills and Nash-no surprise there as Crosby and Nash were in the original lineups for the Byrds and Hollies, respectively). Melodic, atmospheric–a fresh sound which really says a lot to me these days.

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    • I’ll check out Fleet Foxes on YouTube, bobess48. You certainly painted a very appealing word picture about them!

      A fox was actually spotted near my apartment complex today. The person who told me was conveying…Fox News. (Okay, my bad-joke quota is now filled for the weekend.)

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        • The one that caught me was “Lorelai”, which I heard through the piped in music at a Panera (don’t know if you have those up north) a couple of months ago. That waltz beat and the lyrics, “I was old news to you then, old news to you then.” stuck in my mind. I found it through Google and located the band and the album it came from–‘Helplessness Blues’ from 2011–their last. My friend gave me that and a great Decemberists album ‘The Hazards of Love’ for my birthday a few weeks ago. I just ordered Fleet Foxes’ first, which the song you heard is probably from, along with their EP ‘Sun Giant’. The singer/leader is Robin Pecknold and he is one talented young fellow.

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    • I can’t respond to your other post since the space is gone, so I’ll respond here. That was a great comment. I almost get the impression that you’re a music librarian, music historian, something in that area. I hope you have The Zombies somewhere in your music collection. No collection is complete without at least one copy of the Odyssey and Oracle album.

      On the Fleet Foxes, they are from Seattle. Very popular on the underground and local music scenes before they became mainstream, and they are/were a major part of the indie music movement here.

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      • Regarding The Zombies: Over 10 years ago in a previous life, pre-library, when I worked for a high tech company, my office mate had a boxed set of The Zombies. I borrowed it and made copies of the highlights which included pretty much all of ‘Odyssey and Oracle’. I recall liking it. Unfortunately, after my tape player stopped working I had to get rid of all of my tapes so I haven’t heard most of that in quite a while. I’ll have to check it out on YouTube sometime. I liked some songs by The Zombies and of course, Rod Argent was an excellent keyboard man of the time and later founded his own group, Argent, which had the Yes-reminiscent hit “Hold Your Head Up”. They definitely had a quality that set them apart from many of the British Invasion bands. Meanwhile, I got hooked by what I consider the major bands of that era that lasted throughout (or beyond) the decade of the 60’s–Beatles, Kinks, Who, Hollies, Rolling Stones–each of whom had outstanding songwriters. But I need to reacquaint myself with them. I’m not a music librarian in an official capacity but I did learn quite a bit about my favorites, their histories, influences and their influences on others. Thanks, Ana!

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  4. Dave another excellent topic..first book came to my mind was Grisham`s ” Grey mountain” which i read not so long ago..The protagonist in ” Grey Mountain” is Samantha Koefer, was a graduate of Georgetown and Columbia Law —was a third-year associate at a huge New York law firm, until 2008 when recession hit the Country and she was laid off . Unsuccessful in finding another she took the last and only offer. She was offered an opportunity to work at a legal aid clinic for one year without pay under Mattie Wyatt, lifelong Brady resident and head of the town’s legal aid clinic set in a rural area, was there to teach her how to “help real people with real problems
    Mattie Wyatt, has kept the Mountain Legal Aid Clinic alive for 26 years. Mattie had one single employee in that firm is a woman including another lawyer.
    That was only the beginning of Grisham`s typical twists and turns.

    Also Low Land as you have mentioned , loved the writing of Ms. Lahiri was like reading a prose.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, bebe!

      Great that you brought up John Grisham! I haven’t (yet) read the novel of his you mentioned and described so well. But I remember the houses of the highly paid attorneys in Grisham’s “The Firm” being in suburban neighborhoods — even if those neighborhoods may have been part of a city (Memphis). Some sections of cities are really almost suburbs. 🙂

      Thanks, also, for mentioning Jhumpa Lahiri, who is excellent at describing so many things — including the suburbs in which some of her characters live.

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      • bebe, at the library today I took out a novel — “The Old Man and the Sea” — you were among the people to mention. And I of course borrowed another Lee Child book. 🙂 “Die Trying,” the second one in the Reacher series.

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        • Dave The Old man and the Sea you would love is a gentle and heartwarming story. Oh I have read couple of years ago ” Die Trying” that was the second Reacher book, just looked at the list I have. Yes, I printed out the list in order because I keep forgetting the books of Lee Child.
          Today is a rare sunny day, the weather being so unusual gloomy several days and was cold.

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  5. Hey Dave, I’ve been reading through the comments, and it appears that most of the books mentioned are by men. I’m always concerned when I mention writers such as Liane Moriarity, because I fear that she will be placed in that absurd class of “chick lit.” I know this goes back to the fight between Jonathan Franzen and female authors such as Jennifer Weiner and Jodi Picoult (neither of whom I’ve read except one book by Picoult that I threw out because of its ending. l also misspoke because two of my favorite authors are Jane Austen and Edith Wharton, which doesn’t mean that I don’t like Henry James, Charles Dickens or Leo Tolstoy.

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    • I hear you, Kat Lib. I’m always conscious in my columns and comments to name as many female authors (and authors of color) as I can, and I think about 50% of the novels I read are by women. But, as you know, much of publishing unfortunately remains a male-dominated world — though things are somewhat better now than they were years, decades, and centuries ago.

      So many great novels are/were by women, and “chick lit” does seem to be a dismissive term. There are also many “lighter” books by men that don’t seem to get categorized as sort of trivial.

      Jonathan Franzen definitely got more “Great American Novel” publicity for “Freedom” (which I did find excellent) than various contemporary female authors (Kingsolver, etc.) have gotten for their masterpieces.

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      • Thanks, Dave, I know you are one of the good guys who appreciates books by men or women, or any race or sexual orientation, or genre for that matter. I think when I first mentioned Jonathan Franzen, I said that I threw out his novel “Freedom,” but I actually think it was “The Corrections.” It’s interesting to note that I actually threw out a book by both Franzen and Picoult, but in the latter case, I was just unhappy with what was a very contrived ending, whereas with Franzen’s, I thought he wasn’t a very good or at least very interesting writer.

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        • Thanks, Kat Lib! 🙂

          “Freedom” is the only Jonathan Franzen novel I’ve read and, despite liking “Freedom,” I haven’t had the strong urge to read another book of his. So “The Corrections” (especially after hearing what you thought of it) is not on my list.

          I agree that the ending to Jodi Picoult’s “My Sister’s Keeper” nearly ruined what was a very good (albeit depressing) novel.

          Speaking of women writers, I just started rereading “Anne of Avonlea,” the first sequel to “Anne of Green Gables.” L.M. Montgomery was such a stellar author.

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          • Anne of Green Gables…what more can I say about that charming series and play that I haven’t said already?

            drb will love that book, and I hope he reads more in the future. Everyone should have at least one L.M. Montgomery book in their collections:)

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            • I agree, Ana! Together, my wife and I own about 10 of L.M. Montgomery’s novels.

              I haven’t read “Rilla of Ingleside,” but got it as a present earlier this spring and will read it this summer. I’ve heard it deals a lot with World War I.

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          • ‘The Corrections’ is the only one of Franzen’s that I’ve read. As I recall, I liked it, thought it dealt with family dynamics well and it was certainly readable. Did it deserve all the praise heaped on it and all the hype about ‘the Great American Novel’? Probably not. I just didn’t feel compelled to rush out and read everything else by him. I have heard good things about ‘Freedom’ which, like its predecessor, was subject to heaps of hype and hyperbolic praise (how’s that for alliteration?). I just don’t feel compelled to read something just because of all the attention it’s gotten. And like others have said, where was any of this hype when female authors like Margaret Atwood, Barbara Kingsolver (whom I must read this year) and Marilynne Robinson turned out great novels (I’m speaking of ‘Housekeeping,’ not ‘Gilead’ here)? I prefer to discover something outstanding on my own, such as I did with Michel Faber (‘Crimson Petal and the White’ and ‘The Book of Strange, New Things’ are both amazing novels that I recommend for anyone on this comment thread).

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            • I was quite impressed with “Freedom,” bobess48, though it didn’t live up to the FULL extent of the over-the-top adoration it received. (Loved your “h” alliteration!)

              Yes, women writers don’t get the same hype as Franzen did. Maybe it would help if they wore hipster glasses like he wears. 🙂 But, seriously, maybe it would help if the world wasn’t so sexist.

              I’ll try to eventually read a Michel Faber book. I know what you mean about wanting to read something that’s great yet not so hyped.

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  6. In Dancing in the Dark by Canadian author Joan Barfoot, Mrs. Edna Cormack is the stereotypical 50s era suburban housewife (it is set in the 80s, but lots of social references that remind you of the 50s). She dedicated her life to her husband and their home, but Edna’s life was shattered after two life-changing events: adultery and murder.

    Little background on her: before getting married and moving to the suburbs, Edna lived a miserable life in the city. She grew up with working-class parents in a depressing house that lacked character/love/emotion. Edna compared living in the city with her parents to living in a prison.

    Even the décor of the home added to her sadness…worn furniture, a constant damp moldy smell, heavy curtains that didn’t allow any light to penetrate the room. Edna’s house and environment reflected the despair she felt.

    When Edna met her future husband Harry, she was happy. She sensed an end to her unhappy home life with her parents in the city. Then they got married, moved to the suburbs, and she made up in her mind that being the perfect wife was the only thing that mattered in life. Creating the perfect home literally became an obsession. Her husband’s beliefs became her beliefs. His distaste for creative things like literature and writing soon rubbed off on her as well even though writing was her secret hobby. She didn’t want any discord in her home; whatever Harry wanted, Harry got. Edna also avoided pregnancy so she could maintain her perfect body. In her mind, perfect home + perfect body = happiness and…perfection.

    Rumours began circulating that the “perfect” Harry was having an affair with his secretary. Those rumours were true. Edna was naturally devastated, but I got the sense that she was more upset of her idea and vision of a perfect household being disrupted than of the adultery itself. Edna saw Harry as the enemy, the person who destroyed the utopia she lived in. How did Edna react to the affair? Well…she killed her husband and was placed in a mental hospital. There was a collection of notebooks in her cell where she jotted down thoughts, tried to rationalise her actions, and reflect on what she did wrong to destroy her perfect world.

    I really like this book. What I found interesting was how Edna left a life of disappointment and confinement in the city for a life of disappointment and confinement in the suburbs. She thought she was leaving sadness behind, but her repressed mentality carried over into the suburbs. Edna didn’t have her own identity living with her parents, and she didn’t have her own identity as a married suburban woman either. Perfect example of grass not being greener on the other side.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Superb discussion of “Dancing in the Dark,” Ana! Really a gem of a book review. Thanks! Joan Barfoot’s novel sounds VERY compelling — and, in certain ways, about as suburban as suburban lit can be.

      As is the case in that book, being “the perfect wife” can really backfire when the husband acts badly. So important for a wife (then and now) to have an independent life and independent income if things go south. I realize I’m stating the obvious. 🙂 Of course, Edna did seem to have some “issues” of her own.

      And, yes, a “perfect example of grass not being greener on the other side.”

      Thanks again!

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      • Edna used married suburban life as a form of escapism. Some people have vices to help them cope with life (drugs, alcohol, promiscuity). Others try to escape their troubles through more positive ways (writing, walking/exercising, reading). Edna chose to seek some form of happiness in a man, her “knight in shining armor.”

        Young women hastily getting married to escape their troubled homes certainly isn’t new. But I like the twist that Joan Barfoot put on the Edna character. Edna was so dedicated and invested in the façade of her perfect life, she was willing to kill for it. I wasn’t expecting that angle.

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      • Dancing in the Dark. I’m just now noticing this book shares the same title as a Bruce Springsteen – E Street Band song.

        Please tell me you’ve done a post in the past on song and book titles, or some type of song lyric/literature hybrid…

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            • Yup, all the comments gone under every old post. 😦

              Jill Press! That’s a name from the past! At one time, she was commenting quite a bit.

              Actually, as Led Zeppelin noted, “Good times, BAD times” at HP… 🙂

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              • Jill Press was one of my favourite posters. I looked forward to reading whatever she had to say. It’s too bad she didn’t follow you to your new blog.

                Dave, you’re a Led Zep fan? Nice. Confession time: how often did you play air guitar on Stairway to Heaven back in the day?

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                • Jill did indeed post many intelligent and compelling comments at HP.

                  Led Zeppelin was never my favorite band, but I did like them a lot. “Stairway to Heaven” IS great (worthy of being overplayed on classic rock stations 🙂 ). Heart also did a tremendous version of that song when the three surviving Led Zep members received some kind of presidential honor a few years ago. (The Obamas were in the audience.)

                  Are you a big fan of LZ’s music?

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                  • Your HP blog attracted quality people…smart, educated, well-read, cultured, knowledgeable. Believe it or not, I actually met one of your readers/fans in person. At that time, she lived on Vancouver Island, but had a small house on mainland British Columbia. We connected via email after she saw I lived in Seattle, and met for coffee during one of my visits to Vancouver. Very nice lady. No way would I have made that type of connection on any other part of HP. Your blog was the safe haven from the rest of that site.

                    You know what?? I honestly never got into Zep. I don’t know why. It had nothing to do with their style of music. I just couldn’t get into them the way I did with other musicians of that genre. Hendrix? YES. Cream? YES. Pink Floyd? YES. Queen? HELLZ YES. Led Zeppelin? Meh.

                    Believe me when I say that is NOT a popular opinion to have amongst music circles. Some fans take it as a personal insult if you dare say Led Zep are not rock gods. It’s similar to saying certain books and authors are overrated to members of a book club. Those who don’t share your opinion will stare you down and do that grimacing thing that Lucy from the Peanuts comic used to do when she got mad. LOL.

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                    • No problem, Ana. I was never that wedded to Led Zeppelin’s music (though I like some of it), and everyone has their own taste in rock bands. Also, LZ was accused of, um, “appropriating” some other artists’ songs without credit. Never read up on that enough to know how much truth there was to that.

                      Thanks for the very kind words about my blog at HP, which makes me an HP (Happy Person). 🙂 A “safe haven” can be nice, especially when there was a lot of “drama” going on elsewhere on the site. And GREAT that you met a reader of my blog, and that she (not surprisingly) turned out to be nice!

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                    • Let me illustrate the proper use of the Lucy grimace:

                      Example of unpopular opinions in music:
                      “Led Zep is overrated. Slash and Eric Clapton have better guitar-playing skills than Jimmy Page.”

                      Example of unpopular opinions in literature:
                      “Jane Austen is boring, GWTW is over-hyped, and Catcher in the Rye is grossly overrated.”

                      The reactions of people in music and literature circles who are passionate about those topics and don’t agree with negative opinions about their favourite artists:

                      LOL.

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                    • The “Lucy grimace” — love it, Ana! Great image you posted! As you may know, Lucy was partly based on “Peanuts” cartoonist Charles M. Schulz’s perception of his first wife, which means his eventual divorce was not a surprise… 🙂

                      Also enjoyed reading your list of unpopular opinions. Jane Austen is certainly…low-key, but rarely boring. I do think “The Catcher in the Rye” is overrated, but not grossly so.

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                    • Ana, you are not alone in that assessment. My personal pantheon of rock’n’roll includes Beatles at the very top, with The Kinks, Who, Hollies and then, Rolling Stones at the bottom of that particular British Invasion pecking order, then moving on a few years Cream, Traffic, Moody Blues, then the fantastic Jethro Tull, probably second to Beatles in quality overall, plus Yes, Genesis, David Bowie, Cat Stevens, then various other acts from that era. Led Zep is nowhere near the league of those others although there are certainly some excellent tracks in there. Most of those are British, you might have noticed. I’m generally an Anglophile where rock’n’roll is concerned. During that era of the late 60’s, of course, there were major Americans such as The Byrds, Jefferson Airplane, Simon&Garfunkel, Dylan (whose great songs were often more impressive when covered by a great harmony band like The Byrds), Hendrix, Spirit, The Doors and the list goes on. Those are the most of the heavyweights. I also feel that the new frontiers had pretty much all been explored by the late 70’s and most of the best stuff in the subsequent decades is residing in the shadow of those previous major accomplishments.That’s just my subjective assessment.

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                    • Wow — you covered a lot of musical ground there, Brian, and named MANY great bands from that era.

                      I agree that other people sometimes did Dylan songs better than Dylan did — Jimi Hendrix’s version of “All Along the Watchtower” is one example.

                      As with any art, it’s hard to be totally original and distinctive in music after earlier bands came up with brilliant approaches. But there are some late-1970s-and-later bands I was very impressed with: The Clash, U2, R.E.M., 10,000 Maniacs, and Rush (who I’ve recently gotten more into thanks to Ana), to name a few. I’m not as versed in bands that launched in the 1990s or later — though for a while in the ’90s I listened to Alanis Morissette a lot, and have since liked certain songs by Muse (“Uprising”), Metric (“Sick Muse”), Arcade Fire (“The Suburbs”), and a few other bands.

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                    • U2 did some interesting things early in their career, then became so big and overrated and Bono’s ego trumped almost any contribution he ever made and never helped me overcome his rather whiny voice to the point where I can’t listen to them at all these days. R.E.M. were outstanding on many of their earlier albums (and before they lost their drummer) and their Byrds influence certainly contributed to my appreciation of them, same with Tom Petty. Never heard enough of The Clash to make an intelligent asseesment, same with Rush (I did like their propulsive power trio power on “Tom Sawyer,” probably the song I’ve heard the most. 10,000 Maniacs were a bit monotonous from what little I heard. I suppose the ‘newer’bands that have impressed me the most are The Decemberists and Fleet Foxes. Fleet Foxes may actually already be broken up. They made two full albums and one EP and the last album was in 2011, then I heard that the leader/singer/songwriter was going back to college so they may be no more. The Decemberists are one of the few that actually carry the audacious prog rock concept album ethos going. I suppose it’s no coincidence that the keyboard player really LOVES Jethro Tull so that’s good enough in my book. I also appreciate other artists and styles of music (folk, some ‘new age’ although I hate that label)–Loreena McKennitt, Angele Dubeau & La Pieta, Alan Stivell, etc.

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                    • Thanks for your thoughts, bobess48!

                      U2 did indeed do a higher ratio of good things in their earlier years; now, their better songs are more sporadic, but I still like them. (I’ll be seeing them in concert next month in New York City, but I’m sure seeing them in concert in, say, 1987, would have been better.) I guess most bands (like R.E.M.) do their best work in the first 10 or so years of their careers.

                      Bono does indeed have a lot of, um, self-confidence. 🙂

                      “Propulsive power trio power” — great way to describe Rush! I’m not a big fan of “Tom Sawyer,” though it’s a very interesting, offbeat song. My Rush favorites are “Subdivisions,” “Limelight,” and “The Spirit of Radio.”

                      I’ve listened to a little of The Decemberists (liked them!) but have never listened to Fleet Foxes. Nice that the former band appreciates Jethro Tull!

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                  • Thread’s maxed, but I’d like to pipe up, so:

                    I saw Led Zeppelin in 1969 at the Atlanta Pop festival and in 1970 in Nashville– liked them okay, but not so much as the Brit bands Brian Bess cites by a very long shot. When I first heard them, late 1968, I ordered their lp, and for a few weeks I was the only guy I knew with a copy. In those few weeks, I got tired of it (due in part to over-saturation, self-imposed), just as my pals bought their own copies. Soon, the band seemed to me the soundtrack for meth, as so many of its most fervent fans seemed to have an enthusiasm for the drug, at least in my neck of the woods. But it’s not LZ’s fault, my association. Never bought another lp past their second, but there was no getting away from their music for years.

                    Which brings me to my point: I believe LZ is the most influential rock band since 1968, Bonham being the most imitated drummer in rock history, Plant establishing the vocal territory (pitched high above the din) for metal, Page making the early Beck sound into something commercially overwhelming.

                    Which brings me to my point: I haven’t cared for rock music since the late ’60’s nearly as much as I cared for it prior. I blame the Zeps. Unfairly, since all they did was succeed all over the place. Still….

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                    • Wow, jhNY — you knew of, and saw, Led Zeppelin early on!

                      You’re right — wherever one ranks LZ in their personal preferences, that band was incredibly influential (for better or for worse). On what became the heavy metal genre, on the trend of high-pitched male vocalists (even in more “pop”-type bands like Journey), on drummers, etc. (John Bonham was one of the influences on Rush’s Neil Peart, who I think became an even better drummer than Bonham.)

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              • Well Dave, I remember Jill Press well and her comments, very interesting individual I thought sometimes way to blunt with some of her comments .
                Yes she was posting a lot in your blogs..a very knowledgeable commentator on books.

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                  • I miss Jill Press also– she and I had a few exchanges under your old HP blog which I enjoyed, and from which I often learned. If I knew how to send her a virtual postcard, I’d write ‘I wish you were here.’

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                    • I hear you, jhNY. Her comments were very knowledgeable.

                      When I began this blog last July, I tried to get in touch with as many people as I could who had commented under my HP columns. Sent out emails, Facebook messages, LinkedIn messages, replies under their HP comments… Reached some people, not others. Jill Press was among those I didn’t find.

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      • If you ever want to expand your knowledge of Canadian authors, Joan Barfoot should be included somewhere on that list. She’s great. I’ve read maybe six of her books over the years, and she’s never disappointed me. Out of the ones I’ve read, Dancing in the Dark is probably my favourite.

        Duty calls, so have a good evening, Dave:)

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            • Wow, great find! That title is rarely in libraries or used bookstores (well, here at least). Had to track this book down at a bookstore in Portland because I really wanted to read it.

              The Aggie character is a hoot. I like how the dynamics between mother and daughter are somewhat reversed. Usually, elderly parents are crotchety and their children are a little more lively, but in their house, the mother Aggie is the upbeat one and her daughter June is the angry one.

              I won’t say anymore since you haven’t read it yet, but it is funny, yet touches on the issues of elder care that are all too real for many families.

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              • Great to hear your enthusiasm about that novel, Ana! Your description is more interesting than the one on the book jacket. Can’t wait to read “Duet for Three”!

                My local library has a lot of novels not in the average suburban library — partly because Montclair is so multicultural and “intellectual,” sort of urban, etc. Not the suburb of “Subdivisions.” People want to stay, but can’t always afford to… 😦

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  7. I just completed the novel “White Noise” by Don DeLillo, which fits in nicely with your topic. It takes place in the 1980’s in a fictitious college town in the suburbs of a major city (“Iron City”, which I assume to be Pittsburgh). It is part apocalyptic, (but not really), and part commentary on our popular culture and consumer driven (ultimately empty and phony) society, as the protagonists deal with their “1st world problems” which are every bit as enervating as any other problem. The “White Noise” seems to refer to the constant background data we get from media and consumerism, and is a prevalent backdrop to the action. Many of the key scenes in the novel take place in a modern day supermarket (modern day in the 1980’s sense). It seems to stress the significance of this setting. Imagine the vast majority of earth’s population experiencing a modern day supermarket, or imagine a time traveler from any time in the earths past finding themselves there. So many choices, so many colors, so many decisions that can’t help but be debilitating despite the opulence. A funny yet depressing novel that seems to incorporate everything that can be wrong with modern suburban society. The quoted “Rush” lyrics seem very apropos to “White Noise”.

    On a happier note – I leave next week on my “Altlantic Provence” diving vacation. Ana – a have my copy of “Anne of Green Gables”, which I will read en route. Unfortunately, the play you recommendend will not be performed during my PEI stay, but I’m sure the novel will add a lot of texture to my visit.

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      • Thanks, drb, for the superb description of “White Noise”! Yes, even the average 21st-century suburban supermarket would look stunning and too full of choices for many people living today or in the past. I think Barbara Kingsolver captured that well in part of “The Poisonwood Bible.”

        I’ve read one Don DeLillo novel — the very ambitious “Underworld.” Rather long, with a mix of good moments and great moments.

        As typos go, your driving/diving one couldn’t have been better. 🙂

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        • “good moments and great moments” — an apt description of “White Noise” as well, although not nearly as long as “Underworld”, which I plan to attempt one day.

          Also, thanks for alerting Ana of my comment.

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          • Many of the books I read are based on your readers’ recommendations. On my two week trip, I am also taking “The Red and the Black” which I’ve wanted to read for some time based on high recommendations from you and jhNY! (I’m thinking Anne of Green Gables will be a relatively quick read).

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            • drb, I also read many novels recommended by the knowledgeable book lovers here. Probably at least 75% of the novels and authors I choose these days! 🙂

              “Anne of Green Gables” — maybe my favorite YA novel ever — could easily be read in 2-4 hours. Would love to hear what you think of it.

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                • I guess the closest has been Quebec City. My other Canadian visits have included Montreal (three times), Toronto (twice), Vancouver (once), and Huntsville, Ontario (once, for a family reunion). You have MUCH more Canadian cred than me. 🙂

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                  • I can’t believe I’m publicly confessing this, but…

                    Years ago, I created a “before I turn 40” travel bucket list. On that list is “visit all of the Canadian provinces and territories.” Well, I am proud to say that Manitoba and Saskatchewan are the only two provinces remaining. Haven’t been to the territories though, but since 40 is slowly creeping up on me, I’ll cheat and act like that didn’t count. LOL.

                    The list of things that kids come up with…SMH.

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                    • Bucket lists, travel or otherwise, are great! Nice to have goals like that. You have seen a LOT of Canada, at still a young age.

                      I’ve visited about 40 states. It helped that I covered a lot of conferences in various places when I was a magazine writer.

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                    • 40 states?? That is impressive. I’m jealous. My U.S. travel is not that great, but I think I have a way to finish off my provincial bucket list and visit an unfamiliar part of the U.S. at the same time in 2016.

                      I’ve been wanting to explore the Great Plains for awhile now. There are some sites in the Dakotas I’d love to visit. The Nat Love House/Museum is located in South Dakota (I think it’s in Deadwood), and the Dakota Territorial Museum has exhibits on Love and other black pioneers who helped build South Dakota. There’s also a small literary house, I can’t remember the name right now, that has a collection of Oscar Micheaux’s earlier writings that he did before Within Our Gates was released. I really want to see those too.

                      The Prairie provinces share a border with North Dakota, so going to the Plains will also allow me to scratch Manitoba and Saskatchewan off the list. Maybe an added bonus of a layover in Salt Lake City or Provo (never been to Utah either). I’m slowly putting my agenda together:)

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                    • That’s a terrific (and geographically strategic) U.S./Canadian trip you might take next year, Ana! The Dakotas are two of the approximately 10 states I haven’t gotten to; would love to see those states, and the sites you mentioned sound really interesting.

                      I’ve been to Utah and Salt Lake City, and liked the visit a lot despite not being a fan of the rather conservative Mormon mindset.

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    • That is fantastic! Western and central Canada are indeed beautiful, but there’s something about maritime Canada that’s so…magical, charming, and serene. Anne of Green Gables captures everything there is to love about PEI and the Atlantic provinces as a whole.

      I hope you two have a wonderful trip, and I hope you read more books in the AoGG series:)

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  8. Howdy, Dave!

    — What are your favorite literary works set at least partly in the suburbs? —

    Regardless of where Raymond Carver may claim one of his short stories is set, I consider him as relentless a Bard of the ’Burbs as either John Cheever (in almost all his short stories) or John Updike (in his “Rabbit” series), with both “Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?” and “Where I’m Calling From” replete with pieces reeking of suburbia and the outcomes of multiple ill-fated dipsomaniacal adventures, which makes sense given Carver’s comments in a question-and-answer piece published by “The Paris Review” (http://bit.ly/1GVLYGi): “Cheever remarked that he could always recognize ‘an alcoholic line’ in a writer’s work. I’m not exactly sure what he meant by this but I think I know. When we were teaching in the Iowa Writers’ Workshop in the fall semester of 1973, he and I did nothing but drink. I mean we met our classes, in a manner of speaking. But the entire time we were there — we were living in this hotel they have on campus, the Iowa House — I don’t think either of us ever took the covers off our typewriters. We made trips to a liquor store twice a week in my car.”

    Such clear sentences. Such cloudy minds.

    J.J. (Alias MugRuith1)

    P.S.: I agree with you and other members of the DAOLiterati about the awesomeness of Cheever’s “The Swimmer,” but his “Three Stories” is guaranteed to give me a belly laugh whenever I read it, for obvious reasons . . .

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    • Hi, J.J.!

      I read a collection of Raymond Carver’s short stories many years ago, and was impressed. Very interesting 1983 interview with him. Thanks for the link and excerpt.

      “Such clear sentences. Such cloudy minds” — brilliant line!

      Speaking of impressive, “Rabbit, Run” is quite compelling. Amazing that John Updike wrote it when he was still in his 20s. But protagonist Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom got on my nerves so much I’m not sure I can deal with reading the sequels. (I assume it was Updike’s intent to make Rabbit unlikable as the flailing character deals with a life he feels has trapped him.)

      As serious as “The Swimmer” was in its way, I definitely detected notes of humor in it. From what you say, I gather some of Cheever’s other work contains more than a few notes of hilarity!

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      • — [P]rotagonist Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom got on my nerves so much I’m not sure I can deal with reading the sequels. —

        Hey! Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov wasn’t such a sweetheart, either. But I grok your point. (Is Mars a suburb of Earth or vice versa?)

        — I gather some of Cheever’s other work contains more than a few notes of hilarity! —

        Whatever else John Cheever may have been, he was a funny guy, usually, with spectacular exceptions such as “The Five-Forty-Eight” sprinkled here and there. I cannot prove it, but I have long suspected at least part of “Three Stories” was his tongue-in-cheek response to Philip Roth’s “The Breast.” (As the Montclairvoyant, you probably knew I was going to say that.)

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        • J.J., excellent point about Raskolnikov (a point that can also apply to certain other iconic unlikable characters in lit). The question is, would I have read three “Crime and Punishment” sequels if they existed? Well, actually, I probably would have, because while John Updike may have been an “A” writer, Dostoyevsky was an “A+++++++” one. 🙂 But I’m belaboring the point, and not saying anything you don’t know!

          “Is Mars a suburb of Earth or vice versa?” LOL! Hmm…which planet has better lawns?

          As for your last paragraph, you definitely got me interested in eventually reading more Cheever. I put “Three Stories” on my list. Thanks!

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          • J.J., I wanted to add that I’ve read and will read many novels with unlikable protagonists written by good but not great authors, so I’m trying to analyze what especially put me off about Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom. Maybe it’s because he’s a relatively recent character, and reminds me so much of the selfish and/or sexist men I know or know of. Maybe it’s because various “Rabbit, Run” characters keep trying to help Harry and give him second chances because he has some kind of charisma or something. Not sure — just thinking out loud. 🙂

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            • — I’m trying to analyze what especially put me off about Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom. —

              Repulsion is a very individual thing. For example, I fully recognize Alain Resnais’ “Night and Fog” may be the most important film made about the European side of World War II, but I never, ever want to see it again, and I wish I hadn’t seen it in the first place. Hopefully, the experience of reading “Rabbit, Run” wasn’t quite as sickening for you.

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              • No, not sickening. Glad I read “Rabbit, Run” — because it held my interest, and because I was curious what that iconic book was like.

                You’re right — dislike is a very individual thing. Guess I’ll never have unlikable Rabbit over for a backyard barbecue, which might perhaps also be because I have no backyard, I don’t barbecue, Rabbit is fictional, and he’s “at Rest”… 🙂

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          • Probably the best thing to do about Cheever’s stories is to just pick up a copy of ‘The Stories of John Cheever’, the big one with the red cover that came out just before he got the Nobel Prize (or was it the Pulitzer? I can’t keep those straight). It’s what I read in one giant blnge. It’s largely chronological although the kickoff story is slightly out of sequence, another of his greatest stories–“Goodbye My Brother”. It’s just as powerful as “The Swimmer”. Actually, “The Swimmer” occurs relatively late in the collection and, as I recall, the quality of the stories tapers off a bit after that. His golden era is the 1940’s, ’50’s and 60’s. Of course, the 70’s was when he had his worst bouts with alcohol (as J.J. can probably attest) although he did produce the fascinating novel, ‘Falconer’ in that decade, so he hadn’t totally lost his touch.

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            • Thanks, bobess48, for your enthusiastic mention of that Cheever collection! Sounds like it might include the “Three Stories” J.J. speaks of?

              Fiction writers who indulged too much in alcohol — what a long list, unfortunately. I hope that authorial habit is tapering off somewhat…

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            • Howdy, bobess48!

              — Probably the best thing to do about Cheever’s stories is to just pick up a copy of ‘The Stories of John Cheever’ —

              John Cheever likely would agree with you 100 percent. I believe he indicated on several occasions that this collection represents what he considered his best work.

              — the big one with the red cover that came out just before he got the Nobel Prize (or was it the Pulitzer? I can’t keep those straight). —

              “The Stories of John Cheever” did indeed win the 1979 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (http://bit.ly/1KBRDAq). Regrettably, my peeps in Stockholm aren’t very conversant with the American language, so they think they’re awarding something called the Novel Prize in Literature, which means a master of the short-story form such as Cheever didn’t have much of a chance of bringing home the gold (and silver).

              — It’s largely chronological although the kickoff story is slightly out of sequence, another of his greatest stories–“Goodbye My Brother”. It’s just as powerful as “The Swimmer”. —

              I completely agree. I generally don’t care about the real-world backstory of any literary work, but this baby was born with a good pedigree.

              — Of course, the 70’s was when he had his worst bouts with alcohol (as J.J. can probably attest) although he did produce the fascinating novel, ‘Falconer’ in that decade, so he hadn’t totally lost his touch. —

              I probably have read more than a hundred of Cheever’s short stories, but only one of his novels, the selfsame “Falconer,” and I can’t recall a thing about it! (I suspect I liked it, though: I don’t remember disliking any of his work.)

              Again awaiting the end of “The Day the Pig Fell Into the Well,”

              J.J.

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  9. Dave, most of the stories involving suburbs are in the vein of “Harry Potter.” The main character leaves the suburb for somewhere much more exciting. From fantasy stories to big city moves they are really escape stories.

    One book I remember “Among the Hidden” is the story of a young man who must hide his existence from the world while the suburbs encroach upon his rural life. Its a middle grades book but the idea of losing the freedom of the woods to a series of rich peoples backyards was very interesting.

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    • That’s a stellar observation, GL! Many a fictional protagonist leaves the suburbs (or a rural area) to escape a less-exciting life and try to make it in the big city. One of numerous examples of that is Denise Baudu heading to Paris in Emile Zola’s “Au Bonheur des Dames.”

      “Among the Hidden” sounds really interesting. The suburbs certainly do vacuum up rural land, and many suburbs also get denser within themselves as greedy developers try to monetize every acre of land. 😦

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  10. Thanks,Dave,for the video of Rush’s Subdivisions,I’ve always loved this song starting in my subdivided high school youth. Its even more poetic and meaningful and true with the lyrics,I didn’t know all of them. No wonder Rush has been relevant,huge concert draw,highly respected band into their 4th decade.

    I will add Ice Storm to your discussion. I saw the Ang Lee film based on a novel by Rick Moody. Its set in 1970s suburbia, new Canaan CT., has an amalgam of dysfunction : alcohol, sexual and otherwise, swinging, I’m not talking big band. All to escape the politics,boredom of their lives in the burbs,reckless, selfish couples looking to drop out of society,go against the grain of suburban behavior,living other lives,pseudo policy of conformance. I recommend the film.

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    • Thanks, Michele! “Subdivisions” is SUCH a great song. I wish I had been more fully aware of it when it was first released in 1982; I vaguely remember hearing it on the radio back then, but didn’t listen to it closely until recently. And, yes, one misses some of the lyrics when listening to it — as is often the case with rock bands. 🙂 Finally, it IS amazing how terrific Rush still is after more than 40 years together — and also amazing how much sound it creates as a trio.

      “Ice Storm” is a real fit for this discussion — an example of suburbia’s dark side. I just put the novel on my to-read list. You wrote an excellent summary of it, complete with a very funny aside.

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      • I carried my nephew Billy to see Rush back in the day. I never paid any attention to the lyrics, and I considered Rush a little “after my time”. They’re great lyrics. I wish I had listened. 🙂

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        • Nice that you saw Rush in concert, lulabelle! I never have. They seem to be one of those groups — like Springsteen and his band — who do long, high-energy, give-fans-their-money’s-worth concerts. I followed music somewhat during the time Rush rose to prominence (roughly 1976 to 1982), but was mostly listening to other bands back then (The Clash, etc.).

          As I mentioned to Michele above, one can pay close attention to a song and not get the lyrics until one sees them written down. 🙂

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      • ‘The Ice Storm’ is one of the rare instances in which I think the film version surpasses the novel. I read the novel about eight years ago, which was about eight years after I first saw the movie. Ang Lee’s film very thoroughly reproduces late 1973, specifically Thanksgiving week of that year. I had just started my first year of college that September, still living at home, and that attention to detail was phenomenal. The entire film, the cinematography, the effects (they completely created a very realistic ‘ice storm’ of the title, and the cast were all outstanding. Definitely see this film. Ang Lee is one of the greatest contemporary filmmakers with an extremely diverse range of subjects (from ‘Sense and Sensibility’ to ‘The Ice Strom’ to ‘Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon’ to ‘Lust, Caution’ to ‘Life of Pi’–how much more versatile can you get?).

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  11. Hi Dave, for some reason I first thought of novels by Liane Moriarty, who I’ve talked about extensively here before but I don’t know if I mentioned the first book of hers that I read, “What Alice Forgot.” I ve read it several times and though I know it takes place in or in a suburb of Sydney, I can’t recall. I’ve read that the author wanted to write a book about time travel, but that was giving her a headache, so she chose a plot similar to others in which the main protagonist, Alice, falls during a spin class, hits her head, and then suffers from amnesia. When she wakes up in the gym, one of her first thoughts was “I hate the gym”! She thinks she is 29 years old, madly in love with her husband, pregnant with her first child, whereas, she is really 39, has 3 children, is going through a nasty divorce from her husband, and is estranged from her sister. When she starts learning more about the “new” Alice, she begins to think she’s not very nice. In those 10 years she had become obsessed with being a “supermom” who stayed at home, had great clothes, a beautiful home, had lost weight through a personal trainer and then the gym, and was involved in all sorts of activities at her children’s school. It was funny, but sad (there’s a subplot of her sister’s inability to conceive a child), and interesting to think about how one changes in the course of a decade — is one better or worse than before?

    Another book that came to mind was “Paper Towns” by John Green. I didn’t know that there was such a thing as a “paper town,” but I lifted this from some site: “While the meaning of the term changes throughout the book, the final conception of paper town is a fake town on a map that cartographers once placed on maps as “copyright traps” to locate plagiarists.” The protagonist of the book is searching for the girl-next-door of his dreams who had disappeared from their subdivision in Orlando, FL. Part of his search takes him to abandoned subdivision sites around Orlando, also called “pseudovisions.” I won’t go into all of the plot, but one of the funny things is that one of the protagonist’s best friends, is nicknamed “Radar” after the MASH character, who updates websites on “Omnictionary,” an obvious parody of Wikipedia, and is embarrassed by his parents being the world’s number one collector of black Santas.

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    • Both those novels sound really, REALLY interesting, Kat Lib! Thanks! You wrote great, makes-you-want-to-read-them descriptions of each.

      After you recommended her work a while back, I looked for anything by Liane Moriarity in my local library, but had no luck. Will try again this week!

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  12. Best. Post. EVER. So very creative. Anyone who includes Geddy Lee and the boys in a literature blog automatically wins at life. This topic is so awesome, I honestly don’t know where to start. Good job, Dave.

    Only thing left for you to do is attend at least one Rush concert while they are on tour this summer. Listening to Subdivisions on Youtube is ok; hearing it live is out of this world.

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      • That’s a terrific song, Ana!

        It would be fun to do a post just on music about the suburbs. 🙂 Offhand, I can think of “The Suburbs” (Arcade Fire), “Penny Lane” (The Beatles), “Our House” (Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young), and “Little Boxes” (written by Malvina Reynolds and sung by Pete Seeger, among others).

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        • Great minds think alike. See my comment below *grins*

          I can’t get Subdivisions out of my head. Love that song and all things Rush. It will be a sad day in music when Geddy, Alex, and Neil retire.

          Wait a minute…Dave you play guitar, right?? Find two other people and call yourselves Rush Hour. You guys can replace Rush when they leave the music business. LOL.

          Have a good day, Dave.

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          • “Subdivisions” might be the catchiest Rush song (melodically) I’ve heard so far, while of course having profound lyrics courtesy of Neil Peart.

            Yes, it will be sad when the band retires. All three members are in their early 60s, and some bands keep going well into their 70s. But Peart works so darn hard as a drummer that one wonders how long he can keep doing that. Like many others, I’ve come to the conclusion that he might be the best drummer in rock history.

            Ha — a band called Rush Hour would certainly be appropriate for car-crammed New Jersey. 🙂

            Have a good day, too!

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            • Neil is a concert all by himself. I love it when Geddy and Alex leave the stage and allow him to do his thing. He has such an elaborate drum set and is so serious, so focused while playing. I am in awe of his talent and skill.

              At my very first Rush concert, I was too small to see over the people in front of me, so my father put me on his shoulders. Our last two Rush concerts together were in Tampa and Montreal during their Snakes & Arrows tour. Not too many musicians/bands out here that have lasted as long as Rush, and have a multigenerational fan base.

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              • Great comment, Ana!

                Neil Peart’s drum set is indeed incredibly elaborate. He’s only partly visible behind all that equipment! And he DOES look very serious when playing. What he does is so complex that I guess he has to very much concentrate.

                Oh, so you’ve been going to Rush concerts for a long time!

                Yes, few bands have been together that long with the same exact personnel (I know Rush had a different drummer until 1974). Perhaps U2 is the closest; as you know, they formed in the latter ’70s and put out their first album in 1980.

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    • Thank you, Ana, for the VERY generous praise. 🙂 Much appreciated!!!

      Also, thank you for being the person who got me more interested in Rush — indeed a fabulous band. As we’ve discussed, I’d love to see them during their current concert tour, but I’ll be at a conference in Indiana the very days Rush plays near me in NYC and Newark, NJ. 😦

      As you know, the video I linked to is professionally produced and high-definition, so it gives a little more sense of Rush in concert than the average video shot by a concertgoer. But, yes, it’s still YouTube and not live…

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      • *slaps forehead* I’m sorry, Dave. Totally forgot about your conference. Those Newark and NYC dates are out of the question for me too. That’s fine because we’re already attending three concerts, maybe four if I can talk my husband into going to San Jose.

        Aside from the Rush angle, this topic has so many great points. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a book blog with suburbia in lit as a topic. And you touched on an urban vs. suburban theme, with an interesting side-mention about immigrants and the decisions they make on where to settle when they come to America.

        Then you ended the post with song lyrics that perfectly sum up the feelings of some suburbanites in the urban vs. suburban argument. There are a number of artists/musicians (Arcade Fire, Pet Shop Boys, the Kinks, the Monkees, Billy Joel, Iggy Pop, Bob Seger, Rolling Stones, Sting & The Police) who wrote songs about suburbia that can be dissected and discussed here.

        So I don’t know which direction to go…you’ve got me stumped.

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        • So great that you’ll be seeing three (and possibly four) Rush concerts, Ana!

          And you named quite a few other bands that have done suburban-themed songs. When I read your list, I immediately thought of “A Well Respected Man,” “Pleasant Valley Sunday,” etc.! (As you know, the latter sung by the Monkees but written by the legendary team of Gerry Goffin and Carole King — who lived for a while on Pleasant Valley Way in West Orange, NJ, about three miles from my apartment.)

          Last but not least, thanks again for your very kind words about the post. 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

  13. Ah, you mentioned Cheever’s “The Swimmer”. One of the best short stories I’ve ever read. But for suburban claustrophobia and absurdism, have to go with Thomas Berger’s novel, Neighbors. (Has nothing to do with the Seth Rogen film). A decent film version of Berger’s novel was made with John Belushi and Dan Ackroyd. Funny, twisted weird.

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    • Thanks, Joe! “The Swimmer” is indeed a classic story. One thing I like about it is the way it’s so detailed and “realistic” before veering off into something else.

      I know you’ve mentioned “Neighbors” before, but, from your intriguing description of that novel, I really ought to read it soon. I’ll be going to the library later this week, and I hope it will be there. (“Neighbors”; I know the library will be there. 🙂 )

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    • Excellent observations, Almost Iowa! Alienation and suburbia almost seem synonymous in a good deal of literature. Of course, as you know, there are also many happy, well-adjusted suburbanites not leading lives of “quiet desperation.”

      Authors often need to depict an “other” to get their creative motors running, and writing about alienation and suburbia is certainly one way to do that. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Great column and comments. I never thought of suburbia as a genre, but it could well be.
    I’m thinking of Judith Guest’s “Ordinary People” and Joyce Carol Oates’s “Expensive People”. They both took place in suburbia, with JCO’s based on real women she knew around Bloomfield Hills, MI. She met them in an old and venerable group of women writers, a group where I was president at one time, and it was common knowledge that her fascination with a few of those suburbanites brought on a pretty scathing look at the shallowness of their lives. Ha! (I wasn’t one of them, by the way. Not by a long shot.)

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    • Thanks for the kind words and great comment, constantcommoner! I’m always impressed with the quality of the thoughts people post under my columns.

      I’ve seen the (terrific) “Ordinary People” movie, but haven’t read the Judith Guest novel, and I really need to read Joyce Carol Oates one day. I’ve read numerous contemporary novelists (female and male) but for some reason have never gotten to her books. It sounds like both authors have done intriguing work set in suburbia.

      There is indeed a lot of shallowness in suburbia, but, as you know, also many deep people who just don’t want to live in an urban or rural place. Shallowness is everywhere, but suburbia can have its own special version of that. 🙂

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  15. One of my favorite novels that touches on life in a “restricted” suburbia is “Auntie Mame” by Patrick Dennis. The book paints a less than flattering picture of the shallowness of country club set in the years following the Great Depression. Mame Dennis was a filthy rich free-spirited bohemian woman who was bequeathed her brothers son, Patrick, upon his death. Along with Patrick came a narrow-minded guardian who almost succeeded in indoctrinating Patrick into their ranks until Mame showed them for what they are. Have you ever read it?

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    • I haven’t read it, lulabelle. Didn’t even realize it had been a novel before becoming a well-known play and movie (both of which I haven’t seen, either. 😦 ) The title character sounds like quite an appealing protagonist. Thanks for the excellent description of her and the novel!

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      • It’s not “great” literature, but it’s a fun read, Dave. You need to add it to your list. The movie with Rosalind Russell, who was also in the original Broadway production, is exquisite! The Broadway musical, Mame, with Angela Lansbury was award-winning. If you get an opportunity, watch the movie!

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  16. I’m glad that you tried ‘Rabbit, Run’ and John Cheever, Dave! There’s kind of an American lineage of suburban writers that I suppose begins in the 20th century with Sherwood Anderson’s ‘Winesburg, Ohio’ and many of Sinclair Lewis’s novels. I haven’t read Lewis at all and I only read a couple of the ‘Winesburg’ stories in a college literature class so I must rectify both of those omissions someday. Of course, those are both pre-World War II varieties of suburbs. The post-World War II variety, after we emerged victorious from the war and the economy was booming and thousands of GIs were getting college degrees on the GI bill had a distinctively different aura about it. There were the writers such as John Cheever, most of whose stories and novels are in some way associated with suburbs. He himself lived in Ossining, New York. The recently completed TV series ‘Mad Men’ began in 1960 and at that time ad executive Don Draper commuted to NY from Ossining by train (this location was intentional according to the Cheever-loving show creator Matt Weiner). But back to the lineage. Another John–Updike, a younger friend of Cheever, was very influenced by his mentor with many of his stories but particularly in the Rabbit series. I recommend continuing with the rest of the series after the first, as it revisits the characters each subsequent decade. About three years after the first Rabbit novel, Walker Percy delivered a story largely taking place in the southern equivalent of Updike’s suburb, with ‘The Moviegoer’. Binx Bolling lives in a New Orleans suburb (I believe). I remember him visiting his aunt who lived in the garden district. I believe I have that right. There’s really no excuse since I just re-read the novel right after Christmas. Flash forward to the early 80’s, with Richard Ford’s ‘The Sportswriter’ (a very Percean title there). Ford’s flawed hero is Frank Bascombe, a real estate agent. Bascombe lives in a New Jersey suburb like you, Dave. I wonder if Ford ever lived in Montclair. Anyway, Ford is like the literary love child of Walker Percy and John Updike. Bascombe experiences the existential angst of both Binx Bolling and Rabbit Angstrom (even his name has ‘angst’ in it). Even more Rabbit-like is the fact that Ford decided to continue writing Bascombe books set in subsequent years but also taking place around holidays. ‘The Sportswriter’ takes place around Easter. ‘Independence Day’ takes place before, during and after the 4th of July, and ‘The Lay of the Land’ takes place over Thanksgiving week. I suppose if he ever writes a fourth one he’ll need to set it at Christmas. Anyway, those writers are what I regard as the ‘kings of Suburbia’. Of course, as you pointed out, there are several others I haven’t read yet. Let’s also not forget Humbert Humbert in Nabokov’s ‘Lolita’ who lives as a boarder in the Haze household in a suburb. Much of the novel (and certainly Stanley Kubrick’s film version) centers around Humbert’s relationship with his fellow suburbanites.

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    • Thanks, Brian, for your VERY interesting and comprehensive comment!

      I came rather late to John Updike and John Cheever, didn’t I? 🙂 I thought Cheever’s “The Swimmer” story was amazing, with a stunning conclusion. Updike’s “Rabbit, Run” was quite an achievement, too, but I found myself disliking the angst-ridden Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom so much I’m not sure if I can bear reading the remaining books. I’ll see…

      Sherwood Anderson’s “Winesburg, Ohio” and Sinclair Lewis’ novels are great additions to this topic! And, as you wisely note, suburban lit of pre-World War II and post-World War II certainly have their differences — just as suburbia itself did/does during those two eras.

      Walker Percy’s “The Moviegoer” (which you recommended to me a while back) is indeed a very memorable novel set partly in the suburbs. Heck, going to watch a film is a real suburban experience (though of course an urban and rural one, too).

      Thanks, also, for your thoughts about “The Sportswriter” and “Lolita”!

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      • Rabbit is certainly an unlikeable character. I found the subsequent books fascinating and, as I recall, even though Rabbit never becomes a really ethical or moral guy, he does undergo some changes and he matures a bit through his experiences. I particularly like Updike’s time capsule accuracy in depicting the cultural changes in America in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. And Rabbit’s wife and children are interesting to see evolve as well. So I don’t think he ever becomes a likeable character although I think I could understand his behavior as the series progressed. I suppose it’s a matter of personal taste. Speaking of taste, I don’t think his odiousness permeates and infects any of the later novels in the way that Allie Fox does with ‘The Mosquito Coast’. Humbert in ‘Lolita’ is more reprehensible than Rabbit ever gets so I guess my feeble excuse would be ‘at least he’s not as bad as Allie and Humbert’.

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        • Well said, bobess48!

          Glad to hear Harry Angstrom shows a little emotional growth during that series.

          It was indeed sheer brilliance for John Updike to space the “Rabbit” novels a decade apart. He did seem to want to really capture each era. I noticed in “Rabbit, Run” that he gave a lot of details about the products, prices, TV shows, and other things of the late 1950s; he was indeed trying to leave a time capsule in words.

          And, yes, there are worse characters. Heck, even in “Rabbit, Run,” Angstrom has (very) occasional flashes of likability and conscience. 🙂

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  17. My all-time favorite is Couples by John Updike. Another which influenced me is Goodbye Columbus by Philip Roth, set in part in Short Hills.

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    • Thanks for commenting, Joseph!

      “Rabbit, Run” was actually the first John Updike novel I’ve read, so I have a ways to go with his work. I’ll keep “Couples” in mind. 🙂

      And I definitely want to read “Goodbye Columbus.” Commenter “PatD” here mentioned that book a few weeks ago, but it was checked out of Montclair’s library when I looked. Another of Philip Roth’s early works, “Portnoy’s Complaint,” is one of the funniest novels I’ve ever read!

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  18. Sinclair Lewis’s “Main Street” is the story of a country doctor in a small American town who finds and marries a younger girl from the “big city,” who is an intellectual and cultural step or two above him.S he sees him as the strong, silent type and falls for him. He paints a different picture of his home town than she finds upon their arrival. Small-minded denizens of Gopher Prairie refuse her every good-intentioned attempt to improve the lives they believe to be perfect, thank you very much! Culture? What’s wrong with what we’ve got? Architectural Improvements? We like things the way they are! Her efforts at reformation are met by bigotry, greed, and pettiness. Her husband, the good and popular doctor, tries to force her into compliance in this “perfect” town. She does try to accommodate him but her ambitious nature prevents her from succeeding. “Main Street” is supposed to have been written as a devastating social commentary on Lewis’s own upbringing in provincial and narrow-minded Sauk Center, Minnesota.

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    • Thanks for mentioning Sinclair Lewis, thepatterer! I love “Main Street,” as well as other novels of his such as “Babbitt,” “Dodsworth,” “Arrowsmith,” “Elmer Gantry,” etc. You wrote a fabulous summary of “Main Street,” complete with just the appropriate arch tone. 🙂

      Lewis could expertly depict a certain brand of American narrow-mindedness and small-town narrow-mindedness.

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      • Wow — what an article! Sounds like it isn’t hell working there; it’s more like double hell.

        Thanks for the link, bebe. Yes, it would be fascinating to know who the anonymous writer is. But for her or his sake, anonymity is the way to go in this case!

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        • Did you read some of the comments Dave ? There is one some of us commented on his thread who started the badge introduction around 09-10 said there he was “laid off ” right before AOL merger.

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        • Thanks to bebe and Dave, for this very interesting article on working at HP and AH. Just to know that AH is part of Mika’s (from “Morning Joe”) “Know Your Value” and “Grow Your Value” campaigns is enough to turn me off. It’s truly embarrassing to watch Joe Scarborough demeaning Mika day after day, except when she agrees with him on something I usually don’t. She claimed that she didn’t want to interview anyone “glam” yet the photos of her in-between segments are certainly “glam” as well as most of the clothes she wears.

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          • Yes, Kat Lib, a certain media mogul has all kinds of ties with all kinds of fellow celebrities while treating “the little people” in, um, “interesting” ways. 😦

            I’ve never watched “Morning Joe,” but I’m not surprised at the sexism, the egos, the not practicing what one preaches, etc. When I want to be impressed, I think of people like public-school teachers and some authors rather than talk-show hosts. I know you have the right heroines and heroes, too!

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