Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Lately, it seems it’s a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day, week, month, and more, but as Judith Viorst would agree, sometimes it is just that way. Reading Peter Baker’s essay in the New Yorker (January 23, 2023) reminded me to look for the humor in those days, even if only looking back at them. The humor always escapes me, as it does Alexander, while in the middle of the muddle.

Judith Viorst’s “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” is celebrating its fiftieth year in print, and it might be time to reread it, maybe before you go to bed tonight. The book is short; the plot is spare; Alexander starts his day with no prize in his cereal, no dessert in his lunchbox, falls in the mud, and is forced to eat lima beans at dinner. More horrors ensue, and in the end, the day ends and he goes to sleep, after the Mickey Mouse night light burns out. It was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

Perhaps you’ve had a few of these lately. I have. You know; those days when you wish you had stayed in bed. But rereading Alexander’s trials made me smile. Not that there is hope that future days will be better; Viorst does not promise that. And, like Alexander, there is not much you can do about it.

Baker notes in his article that after writing about Alexander, “Viorst started a six year study of psychoanalysis, a discipline fundamentally concerned with stories we tell ourselves, and the possibility that revising them might make our terrible days a little less so.” Viorst offers no easy way to deal with such days, saying in the end: “Some days are like that…”

In the meantime, muddling through these days, it might be wise to avoid going to bed with gum in your mouth, a sure sign you will wake up with gum in your hair.

Iona Iverson’s Rules for Commuting

Being a commuter on a local train into the city was not one of the highlights of my career, but after reading Claire Pooley’s Iona Iverson’s Rules for Commuting, I wonder if I may have missed something as I read my book or just dozed all those years, usually in a cramped seat, if I was lucky enough to get one.

Pooley’s character Iona reminds me of Calvin Trillin’s Tepper, available and willing to listen and offer advice when needed. Tepper was sitting in his car, saving his parking spot as he followed the elusive parking rules of New York City streets; Iona rode the commuter train into London. Tepper was usually reading the newspaper, while Iona judiciously observed her fellow passengers, offering her commentary when needed, or solicited.

While Tepper was relatively bland, Iona’s personality screamed out to be noticed, from her loud voice to her colorful clothing, to her companion dog sitting beside her. A cast of characters revolve around Iona’s commute, and like Lucy in the Peanuts comic strip, Iona figuratively hangs out her shingle to them all, changing their lives, and, at the end, changing her own.

From schoolgirl Martha, who overcomes an unfortunate decision promising to ruin her life, to Piers, the business man who has it all, to Sanjay, the nurse quietly comforting his patients, to Emmie, the naive beauty who seems to have found true love, the cast of characters each has a problem only Iona can solve. Pooley cleverly connects her characters’ lives, and adds a few who have practical skills for life improvement – Jake, the owner of a gym, and David, the lawyer.

Pooley’s witty observances carry the reader through familiar trials, and always finds a happy ending. I need happy endings these days, don’t you?

Related Review: Tepper Isn’t going Outhttps://thenochargebookbunch.com/tag/tepper-isnt-going-out/

Another book by Claire Pooley: The Authenticity Projecthttps://thenochargebookbunch.com/2020/10/03/the-authenticity-project/

Tepper Revisited

Sometimes sitting alone in my car, I feel luxuriosly safe when all around me is too chaotic to bear. The car is parked, of course, and no one else is around. I listen to the classical radio station, close my eyes, and just drift. Sometimes I read old New Yorker magazines. Calvin Trillin’s Tepper comes to mind (from “Tepper Isn’t Going Out”); maybe it’s time to reread the book. But it’s on a shelf somewhere else, not here in my car.

I reviewed the book over ten years ago but I can still use it’s lesson in patience, especially now. Here’s my review:

A lesson in patience – that’s what the nurse said about her elderly patient. She will do what she wants, when she wants to – so time would be better spent accepting that idea and just being patient. The patient was teaching everyone around her to be patient – a recent lesson from my personal experience.

Patience in characters is hard to find. Often impatience is the character flaw that moves the story, but one of my favorite characters is Murray Tepper, the personification of patience. Tepper is the invention of Calvin Trillin, satirist who writes for The New Yorker. Trillin once noted that “…Marriage is not merely sharing the fettucini, but sharing the burden of finding the fettucini restaurant in the first place.”

In his book, Tepper Isn’t Going Out, Trillin gives Tepper patience and wisdom, mixed with lots of humor. For anyone who has lived or spent time in New York City, the complementary characters in the book, and the descriptions of New York neighborhoods and politics will make you smile.

Tepper sits in his car, patiently reading his morning paper in the evening, seemingly not bothering anyone. But, sitting patiently in a car becomes a red flag – and not only for those seeking a parking spot. Tepper becomes “the psychiatrist is in” Lucy from Peanuts to some, the guru on the mountaintop to a few, and a source of annoyance to others – as he sits patiently in his car. Even if the innuendo and satire passes over your head, the journey you will take in reading this book is hilarious.

Throughout all the hysterics of others, Tepper stays calm and Trillin brings the book to a calm and logical end. Patience is a virtue hard to acquire, and there are many who are willing to teach us a lesson in forbearance – we meet them everyday through bureaucratic jumbles and personal interactions – and Tepper is one of them.

Got Milk?

Hard to believe it’s been almost a year since I was planning to see old friends in California and attend the annual Literary Conference to meet authors and pick up ideas.  My airline ticket is still outstanding and I won’t be using it because the conference will be virtual this year.  I do plan to log on but it will not be the same.

Reading is not the same.  When I can muster the motivation to open a book, it’s more likely a sequel to the  Bridgerton saga or the wonderful fable by Jane Smiley – Perestroika in Paris – recommended by my good friend.  And I read much more slowly, but perhaps the story of the horse, the dog, the raven, the rat, and a couple of ducks in Paris – and the map inside the cover – was one I was reluctant to see end.  How else could I vicariously be in Paris, and will I ever be there in person again?

The newsletter announcing the virtual literary conference had a few recommendations for books, and one title inspired me to look for it in Libby.  Neil Gaiman, author of so many of my favorites – The Good Omen, Coraline, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, and more – delivered another gem in 2013 I missed – Fortunately, the Milk.

The story is simple: Dad goes out to get some milk for his kids, taking a long time,  but eventually returning with a carton. When asked why he took so long, he tells them a fantastical tale involving a spaceship of green globby aliens.   But it was the first paragraph that grabbed me – possibly because buying cartons of milk has become the bane of my existence these days when I fully expect to meet virus laden aliens in the grocery store.  It could be my story.

“There was only orange juice in the fridge.  Nothing else that you could put on cereal, unless you think that ketchup or mayonnaise or pickle juice would be nice on your Toasties, which I do not, and neither did my little sister, although she has eaten some pretty weird things in her day, like mushrooms in chocolate…”

Maybe I’ll read a little Gaiman today and pretend it’s green globby aliens who’ve taken over the world.  Oh wait, they have.

Review of the Year That Shall Not be Named – in Books

With the end of a year like no other, I am again looking back to list the twelve books, one for each month, I especially loved reading.  This year, however, is tinged with the evolution of 2020 from high expectations at January to slow disintegration as the months wore on.

One of my favorite authors, humorist Dave Barry, offered his observations in his Year in Review 2020 – giving a few laugh out loud moments in following his monthly reminder of a year gone awry.  He inspired me to think about how my reading morphed with my own view of the world as history marched through a challenging year.

Here is my list of twelve books read and reviewed (click on the title to read the review) throughout the year.  My favorite has a star.

January:  What better way to start than a book with January in the title and doors magically opening to new worlds- Alix Harrow’s The Ten Thousand Doors of January

February: The world news was getting a little scary, so I kept escaping to fantasy land with A.J. Hackwith’s The Library of the Unwritten

March: The world was really looking grim by now, so I turned to Jose Saramago’s story of how it all could be worse in Blindness

April: Spring didn’t really look like a flowery bower, so I buried myself in Eric Larson’s epic observation of Winston Churchill in The Splendid and the Vile

May: As the pandemic raged on, many of us wondered what life would have been like if 2016 had brought a different president; Curtis Sittenfeld filled the void with Rodham

June: By now, I was looking for a fictional world I did not live in; thankfully, Anne Tyler, one of my favorite authors, came through with a delightful The Redhead by the Side of the Road  *

July:  We all knew the pandemic was real when we heard beloved actor Tom Hanks had it in March, but his recovery led to his role in the movie adaptation of Paulette Jiles’ News of the World in July.  In July, I enjoyed Jiles’ new book Simon the Fiddler 

August:  By now it was clear my European travels were going to be curtailed for a while, but my dreams of Paris were fed vicariously by Liam Callanan’s Paris By the Book

September: Although I couldn’t visit my Los Angeles family, I could revisit favorite landmarks in Abbi Waxman’s The Bookish Life of Nina Hill

October: Graphic novels with short but philosophical views of life are hard to find these days. Calvin and Hobbes is in retirement, but Allie Brosh has her own brand of art and humor, easy to read and fun to explore, in Solutions and Other Problems

November: By now I was watching more TV than reading, and Netflix lured me into a series called “The Undoing.”  When I discovered it was based on a book, I had to reread Jean Hanff Korelitz’s You Should Have Known

December: The year is finally coming to an end, and I have been drinking a lot of coffee to wash down all the cookies, but none taking me back into the past like the Japanese translation of Toshikazu Kawaguchi’s Before the Coffee Gets Cold

* Although I am still careful to drink up all my coffee before it gets cold, Anne Tyler’s Redhead by the Side of the Road was my year’s favorite.

What books do you remember from this year?  Any favorites to recommend?