Authors Lose

Amazon wanted to charge less for ebooks. Hachette Book Group said no. When the megalith and the publisher couldn’t agree, Amazon stopped advance orders on J.K. Rowling’s forthcoming novel, among other outrages. It delayed shipping for three to four weeks on books by the likes of Malcolm Gladwell, James Patterson and his stable, Richard Kiyosaki (Rich Dad franchise), and Robin Roberts, among the multitudes, many of whom made their money way before Amazon began its assault on the world.

stickerAmazon’s suggestion that shoppers buy used versions of Hachette books means that not only will the publisher lose a sale, so will the author who is already being undercut by Amazon’s prices. We are where musicians were when Napster was flying high, except that we can’t put our words on the Internet for free and tour to make money.

There may be hope.

Stephen Colbert, who publishes with Hachette, had the best take and in fact was the person who brought the issue to mass attention. His “delivery” to Amazon should be the shot that resurrects independent bookstores. Colbert has enlisted Sherman Alexie into his campaign, and I bless them for urging everyone to root for the author. And yes, I just ordered California, the book they were touting off Colbert’s website, from Powell’s.

The supreme irony is that Huffington Post, which pays most of its writers little or nothing is urging a boycott of the company where many of us earn the bulk of our meager income, and at the same time saying that it won’t be possible.

Can everyone say “monopoly,” “price fixing,” and “restraint of trade”? Oh, wait, I guess they don’t exist in the brave new world of e-commerce.

Better Than Sushi Friday

Sushi California Japanese Restaurant

30 Fenn Road #B

Newington, CT 06111

(860) 667-0004

This review ran on October 29, 2011. I’ve returned many times for lunch and several times enjoyed dinner with other sushi-loving friends, including tonight. And it makes up for no real sushi Friday review last week.

My friends Peggi, Bill, and Michael David, right, after we stuffed ourselves at Sushi California.

Here’s what I wrote after the first few visits:

I ate here the day I reviewed Iron Chef (in Wallingford), and because of the proximity of both places to a Stop & Shop, I began to change the address on the Iron Chef review to the one for Sushi California. The similarities end there.

What I like: This S&S parking lot is much less congested and hectic. The drivers in Newington are far more polite, and there’s even more parking. The restaurant hosts a young college crowd because of its proximity of Central Connecticut State University. The eclectic music in no way intrudes on the dining or I should say lunching experience. Amy Winehouse was singing “I Won’t Go to Rehab” on my first visit, long before her death. Subsequent visits have featured B.B. King, Lady Gaga, and so forth. The service is impeccable. Sharon, the American waitress, remembered me after my second visit. When the place was packed, Chef Oh himself delivered plates of sushi to tables. The miso has a rich, full broth that was still piping hot despite being served in a cold bowl. The bento box includes shumai and gyoza, which I can special order vegetarian. Also California roll and seaweed salad, which is so much better than the traditional iceberg with ginger dressing. Sushi California’s ginger dressing is, however, far superior to any other. It’s house made with hints of pineapple and mango. Sashimi includes three pieces each of salmon and tuna with additional selections changing from escolar to snapper to yellowtail. The quality of Sushi California’s tuna made me realize that it had deteriorated at almost all other places. Wish I could explain the difference. At $12 the price might seem steep, but the quantity and quality fully justify it. On a visit in mid June, Chef Oh offered sushi bar patrons a sample of squid salad and what I can only describe as squid pancake. Amazingly good, also very very filling. Unreal! Sharon has also persuaded me to branch out. The naruto roll is sashimi quality salmon, tuna, and yellowtail wrapped in a translucent-thin cucumber. Oh, my!

What I don’t like: There really isn’t anything except that it’s a bit too far away to go more often. For the sake of my waistline, I should probably put distance in the “what I like” column, too.

Grade: A

Update: Sharon no longer works there, and the service is a bit lacking when Chef Oh isn’t around. Tonight the miso was barely lukewarm, but the fish remains stellar – fresh and creatively presented. I stuffed myself on chirashi, which included escolar, shrimp, yellowtail, snapper, tuna, and salmon along with two kinds of pickles, atop a huge mound of carrot, atop of an even more enormous mound of sushi rice, which I couldn’t finish. Grade remains an A.

Frimbo Lives

Attending a function tonight at which one of the award recipients works with the Valley Railroad (the Steam Train & Riverboat) brought to mind my first encounter with the little train that plies the tracks between Essex to Deep River, now extended north to Chester with the option to take a boat ride on the Connecticut River.

My encounter was the first ride on the train in one hundred years. Essex was part of my beat so I would have had the assignment anyway. But I was doubly expected because the president of the company and my parents were friends. In his other life Oliver Jensen was a founder of the esteemed American Heritage magazine, so I had elevated expectations to meet.


As the 1908 steam engine spewed clouds of various substances, I sat down by an open window and was soon marveling at the huge chunks of bituminous coal floating in.

A tall slouchy man sat down next to me, pulled out a notebook, and said something like, “Hi, I’m Tony. I just got here. Do you know anything  about where we are and where we’re going?” I told him a bit about Essex and Deep River. I asked where he was from. He said New York. We chatted a bit more and wandered about separately talking to people.

As we were disembarking and I was picking bits of coal out of my hair, I asked him who he wrote for. He said, The New Yorker. I think I gulped and said, “Oh.”

Some time later, my mother called, also gulping, and said, “You’re in the New Yorker.”

It seems that Tony was Anthony Hiss,  one of the writers who wrote under the name E.M. Frimbo. The senior partner in the endeavor was Rogers E.M. Whittaker. The two later published All Aboard with E.M. Frimbo: World’s Greatest Railroad Buff, which included “Wonderful Day.” The piece was framed with a note from Frimbo saying that he would be riding the Trans-Siberian Railroad but that “we” could go to Essex in his place.

“We” (misspelling my name) described me as a “lovely young reporter.” Apparently I told “them” that Essex was a rich people’s town and Deep River a factory town, both true. Deep River was at the time etched in my consciousness because I’d nearly been slugged by one of the participants in the Deep River Muster as I was trying to take photos with a 4X5 box camera. The paper replaced it with an SLR soon after.

Frimbo’s surrogate had a Wonderful Day, and I was immortalized in the pages of the New Yorker with Whittaker, Hiss, and Frimbo.

A Rose for Isis


I had promised that I would plant a rose in memory of my dear little Isis. Larry said it should be a cactus because of her claws and teeth. I disagreed and decided I wanted an elegant and substantial white variety.

We did go looking last year, but it was too cold and too early. Then the season was over, and I had missed the chance.

This year was looking to be delayed, too. Over the past couple of weeks, I watched the four rose bushes. One had buds closed up tight. The second had a couple of buds and some little curlicues that might become flowers. The Peace rose, which Kathy McRae gave me in memory of my dad because it was his favorite, had one bud. The climber that I brought from my parents’ yard was still very much asleep.

Then I looked out this morning. The Mardi Gras, which I found out after I planted it, is a Knock Out and will bloom pretty much from now until September with a brief hiatus during the hottest weather. The first year, I thought it was a mutant until I did a little scouting and discovered some growing along a neighbor’s fence line. It was an omen that one of the volunteers at the hospital today provided me with the name.

The heirloom had a couple of full blossoms and many buds. I love its delicate pink blooms and exotic perfume, but I only pick one or two because it’s got more and worse horrible tiny thorns than Isis ever thought about and because the petals fall off after a day or two in the house.

The Peace rose has one blossom about to open with one or two more buds.

And the climber, which our wonderfully knowledgeable O.S. neighbor said was a hybrid that had gone back to rootstock, is still in the tight bud stage. It looks as though it will produce a good crop of smallish deep red/purple climbers up the side of the deck.

With those incentives, I marched over to my favorite local garden center and discovered I arrived just in time. The guy said he only had two white roses left (no Knock Out) because they had come out gangbusters over the weekend and people snapped them up.

Isis’s rose is beyond gorgeous and will serve as an elegant counterpoint to its pink (heirloom), yellow/orange (Peace and Mardi Gras), and red (climber) compatriots.

More photos to follow.

What I’m Reading Now

Actually this is a case of what I finished because it’s due back at the library, like yesterday, but that’s OK because I’ll be buying Janet Barrett’s They Called Her Reckless: A True Story of War, Love and One Extraordinary Horse when she comes to talk to the veterans’ writing workshop on June 12.

In the meantime, I highly recommend the story of this resilient and brilliant little filly who became the pride of Fifth Regiment, First Division of the U.S. Marine Corps as she carried ammunition and strung wire in the daunting hills of Korea  during the war. (Yes, it was a war, even though it was designated a police action).reckless

Born Flame of the Morning, and rechristened Reckless after the recoilless rifles for which she toted the ammo, she retired with the rank of staff sergeant, having earned two purple hearts, along with an entire paragraph worth of other commendations. Based on the accounts in the book, she clearly had as much, if not more, of an impact on morale as she did on the actual work of the regiment.

Barrett combines the best of journalism with a keen eye for telling detail with a knowledge and love of horses and a passion for this particular subject. She has also succeeded in describing battles and maneuvers in ways that non-military folk will find riveting.

Of course the end of the war brought an end to the excitement, once Reckless had traveled by air, ship, and trailer to her home in California. As a result, the narrative becomes less thrilling, but the stories of her appearances and interactions continue to entertain and enlighten.

It is a testament to Barrett’s writing that I forgot to look at the pictures until I was writing this entry. Like the narrative, they are moving, funny, and inspiring. (I do hope that nobody got into trouble feeding beer to the little horse – or allowing her to chow down on cigarettes and cupcakes that she managed to steal.) These days the ASPCA and PETA would not be amused. They might accept her use as a pack animal but cake and whiskey would surely draw protests.

A side note: Bluehost swallowed my “coincidences” entries, but here is another. As I was learning that Reckless was a Jeju pony, I was reading in Tea a Magazine that Jeju Island is also the source of the country’s excellent but tiny supply of tea. Will now have to see if I can locate some just to complete the circle.

One final note: I’m sure I will never say this of a Marine again: Reckless was pretty. It’ll take some doing to find the proper star for the movie.


Not Sushi Friday

zhangI had intended to have my usual sashimi box for lunch and should have been alerted by the menu. Zhang’s is located in the Old Saybrook train station plaza (it’s too small to be a mall). Online it resembled Sushi House in Wallingford, which also goes by the name Hong Kong Sushi and Chinese Restaurant. That place serves shockingly fresh and generous portions of sashimi. Hoping for the same I ventured to Zhang’s after getting stuck in some of the most amazing shoreline traffic jams I’ve ever encountered in the middle of a weekday before July 4 that had nothing to do with an accident or construction.

It was refreshing to see a commuter train at the station when I pulled into the most confusing parking lot that doesn’t require taking a ticket to a kiosk miles away from the car. “Metro North customers only.” “Amtrak customers park on the grass.” I made that one up because of all the cars lined up on the lawn by the cemetery. “Park in the green spaces for the restaurants.” I dutifully parked and wondered afterward if Zhang’s was included. As I stumbled past a coffee place, I realized there was a whole other side to the lot that was practically empty.

Once inside I was confronted by heavy Chinese décor and only  one patron that I could see. As I was beginning on my soup (with a metal spoon, almost unheard of) two more patrons departed, looking as surprised to see me as I was to see them appearing from the depths of the place.

Also upon entry, the “shadar” went off – that’s my warning system for “don’t eat the raw fish in this place.” There was an odd smell that I associate with wet carpet dried with some “frigi-fresh” something that doesn’t get rid of the mold.

My stomach dictated that I stay and too late discovered there was no sashimi box despite the ad. So I ordered the two vegetarian rolls and soup. The miso was actually quite good — a breath of umami with a modest amount of tofu and a generous serving of seaweed and just a bite of scallion.

The avocado roll had the right balance of creamy and chewy seaweed. Even though it’s not traditional for vegetables, I did the wasabi and soy thing. The maki had a generous portion of oshinko, which rarely appears on my sashimi lunches. The ginger was not the hot pink processed version.

Aside for the parking lot, the location offers serial, “What was that?” experiences. A muffled sound made me think the air conditioning had kicked in, but it was only about 67 outside, and there was no adjustment in humidity or temp. Then the air pressure changed in the way that it does on a jet climbing to 38,000 feet. After the third “whoosh, click” I figured out that it was the Acela or just plain old Amtrak keeping to the schedule. Lots of trains pass on the way from New York to Boston. Not many stop. And the through trains don’t blow a lonesome whistle.

With hunger satisfied, I came home to look at my review of the Zhang’s in Madison. It was a D+. This one gets no grade, and I won’t return.

Serial Crises at the VA

The congresspeople acting surprised at the serial crises at the Veterans Administration are a bunch of Captain Renaults. You remember, in Casablanca  he threatens to close Rick’s place because of gambling saying,  (“I’m shocked, shocked,” as the help is handling his share of the winnings. )

From the bits of history I’ve picked up, the problems have been frontva and center since 2000. Promises were made; no money was forthcoming; more commitments were made; no money was forthcoming.

Wars ratcheted up but the money for protective gear wasn’t there. Combat military men and women were surviving injuries that killed their predecessors. But there was no extra money for research on TBI and prosthetics. In the meantime, budgets were cut.

The Renaults in Congress have obviously not visited a veterans’ hospital since, well maybe forever. Otherwise they would see the reception areas with lines – this after the initial appointments that take more than a year. They haven’t seen the peeling paint, loose floor tiles, (not a good thing for people with canes and walkers, and so forth), parking that feels like one has to walk to another state. (That part ebbs and flows depending on whether a guard is available).

Oh, and the cafeterias – their food options seem designed to give the diners coronary artery disease. I’m not saying eliminate the pastries and the bacon, egg, and cheese sandwiches – but offer more fruit and maybe a few more veggie options.

It might be good to encourage the staff to choose healthy  too. I find it really discouraging to walk into any healthcare facility and see that much of the staff looks unhealthy. Not a good message.

But … there may be good news. I heard today that a congressperson had contacted a veteran who is not even a constituent and inquired about the benefits and benefits for a family member.

Am I allowed to hope? Or will there be another “I’m shocked” moment in a year when there’s no more money, many more disabled veterans, and everyone is a year older?

Still She Rises

So many words have been written about the poet, memoirist, script writer, activist, singer, actress Maya Angelou that I hesitate to add my lesser contribution. The tributes are intimidating and lyrical, except for the one in WaPo about M.A. as a gun owner.

Here goes, anyway.

I cannot remember the first time I read her work. It was almost mayacertainly I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, and almost certainly shortly after its publication in 1970. All I know is that Ms. Angelou has been in my life and on my shelves for all my adult life. Her output was astonishing considering all of her activities that didn’t involve writing. (See list above).

It is inconceivable that there will be no new take on rock, river, and tree; no more lilting, earthy voice; no more strong advocacy for the oppressed. But I know she will continue to be an inspiration for Oprah and for the rest of us still in need of the rock-solid image of a strong woman who will not back down.

Most of all I know I can turn to her words as I need them. And at the moment I’m savoring “Phenomenal Woman.”

I close with the words she wrote in her tribute to Nelson Mandela: “We will not forget you, we will not dishonor you, we will remember and be glad that you lived among us, that you taught us, and that you loved us all.”

RIP, Maya Angelou. You will live on in your daughters.

What I’m Reading Now

Another in an occasional series. Once again, I have no idea where I learned about this mystery series created by I.J. Parker. And once again, I finished The Dragon Scroll before I started this entry.

dragonThe detective is a young aristocrat (she describes him as “impecunious descendant” of his family), who lives in Japan during the Heian era. The book opens in A.C.E. 1014 and takes Sugawara Akitada from Kyoto, then the capital, into the countryside. His mission is to learn what happened to three shipments of tax payments, along with the escorts, that left one of the eastern provinces but never made it to emperor’s coffers.

Parker sets up the story with an attack on a young noblewoman. Nothing more comes of this brief incident until after the mystery of the tax payments is resolved and then it comes an afterthoughr with minimal connection to the investigation into the missing money, goods, and people.

The main tale winds on an awfully long and convoluted trip from Point A to Point X. In that regard it’s much like the story of the Tale of Genji, and so fits form to content.

The characters, too, have a stock quality. Akitada seems a befuddled young man. Then there is the wise older servant, the impetuous and not wholly honest younger sidekck. There are the various suspects – the governor, the military man, the monk, etc. I couldn’t engage with any of them. And with one exception, the women are cyphers. Skilled in martial arts, Ayako is a fascinating creature, and I hope she makes a return appearance in later novels.

Despite these drawbacks I will give at least one more Sugawara Akitada mystery a try because of the wealth of information about Japan that Parker supplies without becoming didactic. For example, our hero’s education includes Chinese language and culture. He models his behavior on the Confucian precepts of ethics and dislikes the Buddhist faith practiced by the aristocracy.

Parker also gives the first two chapters a date: Leaf-Turning Month (September) and Gods-Absent Month (November). I wish she had continued that practice in later chapters.

Her greatest strength is the poetic descriptions of the settings:

The back gate of the empty mansion swung loose in the wind, and [Akitada] stopped in for a look at the garden. The studio slept under a mantel of white. At the small pond, [the] fish rose from the black depths at his approach, still expecting their owner’s hand dispensing food. But only snow fell and melted on the black water. One by one the silver and gold shapes turned and sank again to the bottom. When Akitada left, he looked back. His steps marred the pristine white paths, perhaps never to be swept again. He latched the gate behind himself.

My Office

Thanks, New Yorker
Thanks, New Yorker

The state of the office has been a recurring theme on this blog, though Bluehost has deleted previous entries. I’m once again embarking on the cleaning adventure. Here’s a brief recap of a few adventures:

  • February 1, 2013: On working at home: “Keeping the workspace organized. I never achieved this admirable goal in any of the offices where I’ve worked. Why should I be successful just because the office is in my house? … On those rare occasions when I do tidy up, I waste more time in the following days looking for the stuff I’ve put away.”
  • June 22 2012: “This update is so depressing I almost don’t want to include it. I began excavating my office on May 12 (“Clean Up” and “Cleaning Up (Again)“) and have not yet finished. Some of the piles I started are still in the living room. The floor in the study has new stacks of books and papers. Is there a cure for the depression that sets in when one feels confronted by an impossible task? And I don’t consider ‘To Dream the Impossible Dream’ a solution.”
  • March 31, 2012: “I spent an unfortunate afternoon trying to clean my office. I keep telling myself it’s always darkest before the dawn.”
  • January 27, 2012: “I spent the better part of the morning in a frustrating search for sources for an essay, then later wore myself out excavating the floor and desk in my office.”
  • August 2, 2011: “The blog will be up and down, on and off this week as I’m cleaning the office.”
  • March 11, 2011: “Did a major office cleaning, finding memorabilia back to 2008 and enough cat fur to make a blanket.”
  • March 1, 2011: ‘In Computer Hell:”” While the computer was on strike,“ I cleaned my office. It felt like I was suffocating in an avalanche of paper — or maybe it was the dust, cat fur, etc. It was amusing to unearth stuff from 2007 — I honestly thought I’d cleaned it more recently than four years ago. Poor little Isis doesn’t know what to make of the bare floor. There’s no more paper for her to play ‘tunnel and disperse.’ “

That’s enough for now.