Rothman At-Large

R.I.P. Sadie - The Sheltie Who Belonged in an Austen Novel

May 30, 2016

Sadie never made it into a Jane Austen novel, not even a modern e-book sequel, and that’s too bad; for she would have fit right in. My sister’s pure-bred Sheltie was the consummate lady, just as the photo of her with me would suggest. Notice the more dignified of the two of us?


Most of all, Sadie showed her innate refinement at mealtimes. Never did Sadi threaten to leap up for the forbidden. Instead she would quietly put her snout in Dorothy’s lap when she wanted to share food. About her worst offense was to bark on hearing Dorothy empty the dishwasher or tear aluminium foil from a roll, and always, always she was gracious with visiting dogs or her uncle. I was unabashed in my fondness of Sadie and twice posted threats on Facebook to puppy-nap her. My wife and I would have loved owning a dog. But Carly is allergic to them—her unsuspecting Golden Retriever sent her to the emergency room: my wife almost died. So Sadie was our surrogate pet.


Sadie was a member of the canine gentry to the end. The last few days at my sister’s house, she was too weak to climb the stairs at all, much less with her usual grace, and Dorothy let her sleep downstairs. On Saturday Dorothy took Sadie to the vet, who, like my sister and brother-in-law, recognized the need for the inevitable. Sadie died at 14, close to 100 in dog years. I’m confident that a decorum-minded creature like her would have agreed with the decision.


But back to Jane Austen. Just for the fun of it, I searched Pride and Prejudice for mention of a dog of any kind. Nothing popped up. Why? Perhaps the Bennetts were too wrapped up in each other and in social climbing to bother caring for one. Oh, well, a pug shows up in Mansfield Park, thereby inspiring an academic’s spirited condemnation of the owner, Lady Bertram: “Pathetically bred out of any doggy usefulness as hunter or protector, the pug also inadvertently points up the loss of wildness and purposeful living that man’s meddlesome dominance and forced breeding have caused not only the animal kingdom but societies of imperialized humans as well.” Ouch. What to say? Dorothy is not ready for another dog now, but if one enters her life again, it just might be a shelter dog, and maybe even a mutt. That’s fine with me. Forget breeding and pedigree: let judgments of character be dog by dog—not such a bad idea to apply to humans, too.

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Want Kent State II? Then Pander to The Donald

May 4, 2016

Ohio National Guardsmen killed Bill Schroeder, an ex-Eagle Scout, 46 years ago this week at Kent State University. As a reporter for The Lorain Journal, his hometown daily, I covered the death of this ROTC cadet


Do you realize what America was like back then? 


People actually phoned up our factory-town newspaper and praised the guardsmen for killing young Schroeder? 


The then-governor of Ohio, Jim Rhodes, might as well have pulled a trigger. It wasn't just his mishandling of the Ohio National Guard.  "They’re worse than the Brownshirts, and the Communist element, and also the Night Riders, and the vigilantes," Rhodes said of the Kent State anti-war protesters. "They’re the worst type of people that we harbor in America."


Rhodes himself is dead now, but Donald Trump is very much alive, and, in fact, yesterday, he won the Republican primary in Indiana, causing Ted Cruz to drop out, and I can't help but wonder about Kent State had The Donald been governor on May 4, 1970. 


The death toll, for all we know, might have been 14 or even 40, not four. Before the killings, protesters had burned down the ROTC building. Bill Schroeder hadn't a thing to do with this despicable act. Still, what of even the student who did? Of course arson deserves harsh punishment. But should property in this case---or at least the sentiments associated with its protection---have come before life? 


I haven't the slightest doubt that President Trump, the billionaire developer, would be a lot more trigger-happy in these situations than would President Clinton or President Sanders. What more need we know about Trump and his famous "toxic temperament"? Not to mention his offer to pay the legal bills of a thuggish supporter who sucker-punched a foe. If you love the image of wrestling fans smashing chairs over each other's heads in a bloody free-for-all---I'm not the first to conjure this up---then Donald Trump is your man.


You can imagine, then, how I feel when I read of journalists and politicians pandering to Trump or even thinking about it. I can understand opportunistic politicians like New York Jersey Gov. Chris Christie doing so. But journalists?  How could you? I quote BuzzFeed's Kyle Blaine:


"Staffers at the five major television networks are grappling with what role their organizations may have played in amplifying Donald Trump’s successful campaign of insults, generalizations about minority groups, and at times flat-out lies.


"Conversations with more than a dozen reporters, producers, and executives across the major networks reveal internal tensions about the wall-to-wall coverage Trump has received and the degree to which the Republican frontrunner has--or hasn’t--been challenged on their air."


For now, it looks as if the Democrats will win in November, but who'd have thought Trump would get this far? We may yet see another Kent State--in fact, a slew of them. Elections don't just have consequences. They can have lethal ones.


The word is that Trump is pretty chummy with regulars at Morning Joe. I won't prejudge here, but perhaps Joe and Mika, whose interviewing skills I admire even if I don't necessarily feel the same about all their guests, can ask The Donald for his take on Kent State. Trump may well go mainstream and try to ward off the critics with a bland answer. But just for the record, I'd love to know how he says he would have acted in Jim Rhodes's place.

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Valentine’s Day Question: Should Writers Marry Other Writers?

February 14, 2016

Should writers marry other writers, as Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley and her poet husband did? We know about "literary power couples." Me, I’m different. I don’t want to be a “power” (with a few worthy exceptions, such as seeing if I can’t make Amazon’s Kindle designers care more about the elderly, K-12 kids and others with vision impairments). I just want to get on with my work.

I don’t need my wife to bolster my writerly identity. No, I value Carly for her general intelligence and her ability to be compatible with me, in mood and in many other ways (she, too, loves gadgets and reads digital books almost exclusively, for health-related reasons). We’ve been married close to a quarter of a century, but sometimes in the presence of strangers, we’ll hold hands and gaze into each other’s eyes and say: “Forgive us, we’ve only been married two days.” In my novel I knocked myself out to get my characters yelling at each other. Same in a spec screenplay I’m working on. In real life, Carly and I prefer to discuss and analyze. We save our wrath for a stuffed dog, an ever-handy target in place of each other. Similarly, Joanna Cabot, one of the writers working for my TeleRead e-book news site, has written how happy she is with her Beloved, who isn’t really into reading novels, much less writing them.

We’ve got company in our belief that writers needn’t marry other writers. Consider George Gissing’s New Grub Street, the ultimate novel about the writerly life. Edwin Reardon, the art-for-art’s-sake novelist, dies in poverty. His problem, as explained by Jasper Milvain (the self-promotional literary critic who would fare so well as an entrepreneur today)? Reardon married a not-so-frugal literary lady. Jasper says Reardon would have been better off with “a decent little dressmaker” so he could focus more on his art and worry less about the material. In a similar vein, I’m reminded of Joanna’s essay about female novelists living off rich husbands.

I can anticipate the response. This is the era of equality. Men don’t have to worry as much as before about supporting women. I acknowledge that. In fact, I’m just saying what was right for Joanna and me, not saying that everyone should do the same. I haven’t researched how happy Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein, was with her poet husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley. But they stuck together through more than a few obstacles until her young husband drowned. Not every writerly match is as ill-fated as the one between Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, whom feminists blame for his wife’s suicide (I won’t pass judgment here). If nothing else, a literary spouse may excel as a reader of first drafts and as a picker of the right parties to go to.

So what’s your take on this issue? Should writers marry other writers? Are you an author? Have you yourself married another? Or set out not to marry a writer and maybe not even date one? Or been married and divorced from a writer? Along the way, keep in mind that not all writers have the same temperament, and that the kind of writing might count. Typically—exceptions abound—nonfiction writers might lack the passions of playwrights and poets. But who says the rules and stereotypes need always apply? Now, let’s hear from you, and meanwhile, happy V Day!

This essay appeared in a slightly different form on the TeleRead e-book news site. 

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