Monday, July 30, 2012

Ode to a shed

I had to tear my shed down this weekend and it brought a tear to my eye. In the interest of full disclosure, I cried at The Hunger Games, each American Girl movie I got suckered into watching, and The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. Every year since 1966, excepting a few when I was a teenager and too cool. I do not, however, normally maintain inordinately fond attachments to inanimate objects. I don’t name my cars. I didn’t think twice about moving from my last home.

 But this house, and this shed, have been different. We settled it in the Fall, a few months later my father died at 64, in a swirl of unfulfilled potential and a few months after that I built a shed, specifically to fulfill a potential.

 Some people have dream homes. I had the dream of owning a home that required the purchase of a small tractor. I am now, and have been for several years, living the dream. Various projects around the house generated excess lumber and the tractor deserved a home of its own, so I decided to construct one. Believing that plans – like those story synopses in operatic playbills – preclude excitement, I set out my wood, purchased some more and started building a shed.

I soon realized that the best way maximize use of my materials and minimize cuts would be to make a cube. 10 x 10 x 10. This would result in an object of beauty, a pantheon to originality. With a flat roof. I live on an island north a Buffalo, NY. If you are not familiar with the climate of the northeastern Americas, let my just say, most people prefer a roof that encourages snow and rain to slide to the side. I liked the cube, so rather than form a peak, I decided to cant the whole building.

I loved this design. Bold. Unique. I didn’t even mar it with a door. I fashioned a secret panel, with a catch hidden in the bottom. The shed stood like a brown monolith, as if Kubrick had decided to do a woodsy version of 2001 A Space Odyssey. Yes, the roof sagged and I had to install center supports, which barely left room for the tractor. And yes, it leaked like disgruntled middle managers, passed over yet again. Still, a big nut-color cube? Look at it. Moisture, mold, mice, followed by squirrels and squishy floorboards. After eight years of patching, caulking and burning time I didn’t have, came the saw and the sledge. There was nothing else to do. My lesson in classic tragedy. Fixing the flaws would have destroyed the reasons I cherished the shed in the first place.

It’s also my lesson in perseverance. Next time, I’m going to do it right. I’m thinking pyramid.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Long Walk reading

Going to see Brian Castner at Talking Leaves (Main St.) tonight at 7.  This guy is fascinating and this book is superb.

Monday, July 2, 2012


As a species we’ve been ranking books since there were two.  One is always better or worse than the next, but that never told the whole story, so we invented genres.  Cubby-holes into which we can shove titles, twisting, bending or ignoring the fact that a few should be in several places at one time. (An unacceptable state for any bookstore or library.  There’s no quantum Dewey decimal system.)  And that leads to StrayScore – a method for rating novels based not on quality or content, but on how far they depart from reality.

Every novel requires suspension of disbelief.  How much marks a difference that transcends genres.  There are novels based firmly in reality.  The characters act as one might expect, going about their lives on planet earth, depicted with language you can easily comprehend.  Then there are novels in which multi-phase energy clumps blink light poems in a time and place outside of time/space.  The majority of most novels fall in between.  StrayScore takes the traditional parts of a novel (theme, problem, plot, character, setting, style) and asks you to rank how far from normalcy the author has stretched.  The total of the rankings produces a final score for the book.

And for you.  While most open-minded readers are capable of appreciating anything written well, by scoring novels you hold dear, a personal preference emerges.  When it comes to the novels we love, we all have a score.  Like one of those adjustable air mattresses.  Some of us like novels with a little bit of speculation, whether it be a glimpse of a ghost, the entrenchment of a dystopian society or a murder solved and killer stashed away for life without parole.  Once you know how much disbelief you like to suspend, StrayScore can help you find novels you might love, regardless of their place on the shelves. 

StrayScore is about you and novels, and you and novels.  The more people participating, the better it works.  Please visit, sign up, vote on books listed, add books not yet vetted and tell us what you think.