mimi smartypants
Seriously, though: what's with the penguins?

we know something you don’t know


1. New entry in the “Why Wasn’t I Obsessed Long Before Now” files: Shirley Jackson. Everyone has read “The Lottery,” but there is so much other good stuff! Although not as much as there could have been, given that she had to go and die at age 48. I have now read all the short stories, the slice-of-life books about her family, and am soon to start the novels. There is really much more non-supernatural Shirley Jackson stuff than not, despite her Introduction to American Literature reputation. She is prickly, meticulous, and terribly funny. There is often more than a trace of bitterness when she writes about the limitations and prejudices of her small town, and about the strictures of being a “faculty wife,” and yet it is still funny and not at all shrill. There is real love when she writes about her children, real darkness when she does horror or the evil inside people, and real honesty when she writes about herself. I mean, not everything in the “collected works” is stellar, but that’s to be expected when someone is dead and can’t do her own editing.

So add Ms. Jackson (if you’re nasty) to the list of people I wish were alive and blogging. She can go right after George Orwell and his snack-food blog.

2. A very terrible book you should avoid: Next, by James Hynes. Although many esteemed critics and ordinary people loved it so what was my problem, exactly?  Besides the fact that I wanted to kick the main character in the nads? I don’t know.

3. I started No Impact Man skeptically, suspecting it of being gimmicky or preachy or just plain dumb, but it turned out to be not too bad, despite my weariness with eco-stunts and “do something for a year and write about it” books in general. (This one is particularly ironic because it resulted in a book! Printed on paper! Although I read a library copy, so take that, No Impact Man!) Sometimes Beavan seems to miss the point—he frets about using a kleenex but doesn’t do a single collective-action thing about improving the energy usage of his apartment building. He bikes to a workspace to blog every day during the “zero electricity” experiment, which has its merits but isn’t exactly using zero electricity. On the other hand, I liked that he was honest about all the Big Questions the experiment brought up for him.

4. Now I am reading Biting The Dust: The Joys Of Housework, which is scattered but okay. Mostly it just makes me want to run to eBay and buy more antique domestic-advice manuals.


We are waiting at the bus stop and Nora spies a large flat red rock that she MUST OWN. It’s really quite big, probably about two pounds.

Nora: Please? I can just put it in my backpack.

Me: I don’t think you should take such a big rock to school. Let’s leave it here and you can get it this afternoon.

Nora: What if someone else takes it?

Me: That is unlikely.


Me: Then I guess you will collect some other rock eventually. There are a lot of rocks in the world.

This idea is pretty much intolerable to Nora. She wears me down the way she does, not with whining or tears but with logic and reasonableness and seeming much older than seven, and somehow I end up agreeing that I will take the rock with me to work and give it back to her when I get home. Because we wouldn’t want some UNWORTHY PERSON to STEAL such a FANTASTIC ROCK. Someone who wouldn’t take nearly as good care of it as Nora would. No.

When I brought it home from work that evening she immediately took it into the bathroom to, as she explained, wash it “thoroughly.” This is the new, overused word around here, and I much prefer it to “splendid.”


The first graders have a biography project, where they write about a famous person and then dress up like that person to present the report to the class. Choosing a famous person sent my head spinning with wonderful possibilities: Idi Amin, with knife and fork and mannequin foot! Shostakovich, also with knife and fork and mannequin foot, for a different reason! Steve Ballmer, running back forth in front of the class and screaming! Martha Stewart! PRISON-JUMPSUIT Martha Stewart!

Nora chose Jacques Cousteau. Did you know he invented the aqua-lung? And was more or less the first person to photograph the ocean floor? Previously everyone had to dive attached to a boat with a big hose, and no one really cared about sea anemones. Did you also know that he was expelled from school for bad behavior? Naughty Jacques! Anyway, Nora has been practicing her Gallic gestures in a wetsuit, and we are even planning to make her a scuba tank out of an empty one-liter bottle. C’est bon! Mon dieu! Baguette!

—mimi smartypants don’t want no scrub.