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Racism: A Personal Introduction

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BUFFALO, NY, 1960s. I’m seven or eight years old, the fourth of five children in my family, three girls, two boys. We live on a busy street in a wood-structure, single-family house in a white neighborhood. At the end of the block is the Catholic elementary school I attend. I have no black classmates. I don’t know any black people. Next door to us is a two-family. The Millers move in on the second...

THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP, John Irving

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During the period of COVID-19, I’ve been re-reading novels from a list of twenty-five of The Most Important Novels in My Life. Next up: THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP. Published in 1978, when I was in college, the first time I attempted to read Garp I put it down. A few years later I started reading it again, and this time I couldn’t put it down. What changed? Sometimes you’re just...

Today I Flew the Flag, Not Upside Down

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Julia asked if I was putting the flag out today. I realized I should. I flew it for one reason only: It’s Memorial Day and I wanted to honor those who died while serving in the U.S. military. They deserve this honor. Otherwise, I haven’t been flying the flag. The last time I did, in 2016, I flew the flag upside down as a call of distress. I got some pushback over that. I’ve been...

Memorial Day 2020

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May 24, 2020. Memorial Day Weekend. This is the front page of the New York Times today: 100,000 thousand dead so far in the United States from COVID-19. So far. The sub-head to the story states, “They Were Not Simply Names on a List. They Were Us.” There will be more deaths. Probably many thousands more. Compare this number to the number of U.S. deaths in war. Almost twice as many...

My First Novel Was a Disaster

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I’m on page 38 of 327 pages of a novel I’m reading and I want to put it down. I’m uncomfortable reading. Anxiety is building in me. Anguish weighs me down. Even shame. And yet — I also experience a sense of wonder. The novel is called THE PETTING ZOO, and it’s the first novel I wrote, 30 years ago. I came across the manuscript — wasn’t sure I still had it...

COVID-19 Reaches the Cottage

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My calendar has been a lot less full these days. It’s the nature of my lifestyle during COVID-19 and my life in general as a writer: I have unstructured time that I use the best I can. Today I had an alert from my calendar: this is the weekend I’m supposed to open the family cottage. The cottage is an inherited asset shared among my siblings and is a lifelong gathering and living...

Croquet: Sport in the Time of Pandemic

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The tennis nets around town have been taken down. Solitary running and my home gym set up only goes so far. I need competition. I need a sport to play, one conducive to social distancing. Croquet anyone? I have an old backyard croquet set I inherited from my father. It’s very ordinary, but I guess you could still call it an heirloom. The mallet heads are grass-stained and dented, and you...

THE ACCOMPLICES, Georges Simenon

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I recently made a list of the 25 most important novels in my life and have been rereading them to see how well they’ve stood the test of time. I had included this short, harrowing crime novel on my original list. I must have first read it when I was a teenager or in my early twenties, and the impression it made on me was indelible. The novel’s protagonist — Joseph Lambert, a...

I Must Kill My Darlings

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William Faulkner said, “In writing, you must kill all your darlings.” What does this mean? It’s a common piece of advice for writers who must cut sentences, scenes, characters, even entire plots because they no longer work within the story world. They might be beautifully written. You might love them. Still, they must be axed. I’m doing some darling murder these days as I...

It Might Be Time to Fly the Flag Again

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I don’t fly my country’s flag very often. I used to put it out on Memorial Day or July 4th or Labor Day. Harriet once questioned my appreciation for the flag, because to her it seemed more of a Republican symbol — they were the flag-waving party. I insisted that we can’t let Republicans own the flag. It belonged to all of us. It represented our entire country. I still feel...

Home Gym is Getting Busy

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I’ve been working out alone in my garage for years. It’s a spartan space: unheated, floor of concrete, shelves packed with garagey stuff. There are bicycles, tools, garbage cans, recycling bins. Unfinished walls. But I’ve got a set of dumbbells. And I’ve got a pull-up bar and a yoga mat and a Bosu and a jump rope. I’ve got everything I need to get a solid workout...

THE GLASS HOTEL, Emily St. John Mandel

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I loved Emily St. John Mandel’s dystopian love ballad STATION ELEVEN and was looking forward to getting my hands her newest, THE GLASS HOTEL. I was not disappointed. Mandel has a gift for writing intersecting narratives that seamlessly move back and forth through time and between characters. Despite the non-traditional structure of the storytelling, there is nothing discordant or choppy in how...

Am I Suited to Social Distancing?

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I don’t even know what week of stay-at-home we’re in, which shows how time is changing, most days are the same, one can be exchanged for the other. Maybe week 6. But time passes differently now. It lacks momentum and change. Stories about hospital nurses dying, or parents spreading Covid-19 to their kid, who then dies. Stories about people who can’t pay rent, are hungry, are...

Today I Wore a Face Mask

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I wore face mask for the first time today when I went to pick up dinner for my family from a local restaurant. I parked in the lot and slipped on the mask and took a few practice breaths to get accustomed. My mask was the homemade type, fashioned from a bandanna and two rubber bands. The fit was snug. Breathing was a little harder. I checked myself in the rearview mirror and the eyes that stared...

4/20 is a Special Day

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April 20 (4/20) is weed day. The day got its name in the 1970s in California when a group of high school students met after school around 4:20 to get high and 4/20 became a code phrase they could use in front of their parents. Its reputation spread from there. 420 Magazine, founded in 1993, has a mission around creating cannabis awareness. I hadn’t heard of the magazine until its editor...

The Art and Science of Savoring

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One thing new I’ve done while staying home during the COVID-19 pandemic is to take an online course offered free through Yale: The Science of Well-Being. Fantastic experience. Engaging professor. I learned ideas and actions that should improve my well-being, all backed by science. It made me miss college, not that there were online courses then. One thing I learned was the importance of...

LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA — Gabriel Garcia Marquez

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This novel, which I read when first published in 1988, had stuck in my memory and made my list of top 25 of all time. I just reread it as part of my “Reading in the Time of COVID-19” project. It’s a simple story about a lifetime of unrequited love finally becoming requited after 50 years. Florentino Ariza pursues Fermina Daza beginning as a teenager, but she eventually rejects...

Stay at Home: Week 5

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Starting the fifth week of staying at home due to COVID-19. Here are my thoughts: I’ve gotten a lot done around the house. Repaired a rotted window, rebuilt my firewood crib that had partially collapsed, fenced in an area and started planting vegetables, raked out all beds, fashioned a new door for my Little Free Library. Also getting a lot of exercise, although none of it is playing tennis...

Happy Birthday, Bob Klein

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That’s my dad and I riding bikes past the old casino in Delaware Park, Buffalo, New York, 1973. It was late March, the piles of snow melting in the background. I’m 14 years old, a high school freshman. My father is 46, married, the father of five, a rising marketing executive at a pharmaceutical company. Today is his birthday. He would have been 93. The photo is staged because a...

Happy Anniversary

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It was among the art and light and spring air of Paris that we first got our start, and a year ago today Harriet and I returned to that same city to celebrate our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. For our twenty-sixth, we’re housebound. She’s upstairs at her desk working from home. I’m downstairs at mine. Two college-age kids are back living with us, finishing their semesters...

David Klein

Published novelist, creative writer, avid reader, discriminating screen watcher.

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