2014-11-24

Some white guy's thoughts on Ferguson

.

First, feel free to ignore me.


Second, I'm not going to say what the grand jury "should" (or "should not") have decided. They had more information than me and anyway that part of all this is over now.

Third, I'm not going to tell people to be civil. That's way too easy for me to say. I don't live in a city where people my color make up 70% of the population---and 0% of the city council and 0% of the school board.

I will say that once the passion has burned off, I hope we see fewer white folk running unopposed for public office in Ferguson.

Also, I hope that we'll see more of the whole pushing-for-equality thing here in America. And, historically, the only way that works is when we're mobilizing economic power. So consider Hands Up Don't Spend. Yeah. You can do it. Take a breath. It's possible not to spend money this weekend.

Look: America has gotten a lot better over the last couple hundred years. But we're not done yet.

The flag we fly is more a symbol of what we aspire to than, I hope, what we now are. But sometimes we get complacent and then we need to reconsider. And don't forget: the flag is also just a piece of cloth. It doesn't hurt you if someone sets it on fire in the middle of the street.

But hey: If someone is burning a flag? The flag is still a powerful symbol and they are thus engaging in powerful symbolic speech. So don't just get mad. Ask yourself if that symbol you love is failing someone. Ask yourself if it's become a symbol of our lazy satisfaction instead of a symbol of American aspiration.

Anyway. That's what I'm thinking about. You?

Read any good books lately?

.

084) Odd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman, finished November 22

A short and charming folktale about a boy and the Nordic pantheon. I've not much else to say about it.
an evening



===========================================================



083) The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter, finished November 20

I'm of two minds. On the one mind, it's great that we're getting as many Pratchett books as possible before his mind is completely melted away On the other mind, these cowritten books just aren't as good as pure Pratchett goodness. I know nothing about this Baxter guy, but I don't even think Good Omens is all that great and people love that book. Anyway.

The Long Earth, even though I found it generally tiresome and frequently outright boring, is still one of the most interesting looks at parallel worlds I've ever seen. And although I found the implementation troublesome, I still think the vocabulary's pretty great as well.

Ultimately, it's sort of like the Long Earth is supposed to kind of a more serious, realistic Discworld. I'm guessing Pratchett and Baxter planned together then Baxter executed, trying to capture Pratchett's capacity for scattered madness without much success. Pratchett can transcend reason. That's a remarkable skill. But the scattered glimpses through the Long Earth just don't work here.

And frankly I don't care about the next four books in the series.
i thought like a month but according to the receipt in the book it's been over three



===========================================================



082) Amelia Earhart: This Broad Ocean by Sarah Stewart Taylor and Ben Towle, finished November 20

I love how the Center for Cartoon Studies includes publishing books as parts of its mission, but I'm rather happier when it's student work rather than faculty work. That said, this is a nice little look at Earhart starring (I think) a fictional teenage journalist in the small Newfoundland town that Earhart flew out from when she crossed the Atlantic. It's a smart choice, both in terms of keeping the story small and providing an outsider's perspective.

This is a good book but unlike, say, the Center's Helen Keller book, not a great one. Honestly, the intro affected me more emotionally than the comic itself. But still a good book and made me really like ol' Amelia.
under twelve hours including a night's sleep



===========================================================




091) Space Usagi by Stan Sakai, finished November 17

Although I could not enjoy it quite as much as feudal Usagi, this volume too represents some serious storytelling chops from Sakai. And---can't help but to notice such things these days---this one uses its female characters a little better.
three days



===========================================================



090) Clear the Decks! by Daniel V. Gallery, Rear Admiral, U.S. Navy (Ret.), finished November 7

This WWII memoir started flat-out hilarious and never left off the funny though it also dipped into the tragic, the exciting, the surprising, the human, and the moralistic (mostly about the boneheads who would dismantle the US military after the end of each war---a policy I don't quite agree with and his reasoning at time seemed a bit paranoid . . . but then again, he has some good examples which kept me humble). I'm sad these memoirs aren't still in print and I hope to hope that some enterprising company gives them a big push at an upcoming significant WWII anniversary. They're too good to be forgotten.
many months---maybe a low number of years---as it was my in-the-car book






Previously in 2014 . . . . :

2014-11-07

Some tragically lost memories

.

Boy, I sure wish I could remember when I first had Nutella. I know the story of the first time my wife had Nutella---easily a decade before we met---but I don't remember my first time!

I guess you just don't know which food you're trying for the first time will be a memory worth preserving. Which foods will matter more and more? Which will be one and off? Which will be delicious but never revisited?

I remember my first time having falafel---at a San Jose dive my mother-in-law saw on Food Network. I didn't like it. I've had good falafel since then, but it's certainly not anything I seek out. Hummus however has become an absolute staple of my diet.

Yet I have no idea when I first tasted hummus nor what I thought.

Stupid brain.

That reminds me.

I haven't tried brain yet.

Maybe on a burrito---?

2014-11-06

I'm not Sir Paul and neither are you

.

For fifty years now, Paul McCartney has had time to come to grips with the fact that someone, somewhere (probably manyones manywheres) is singing a Beatles song or listening to a Beatles song or picking out a Beatles song on the guitar or talking about a Beatles song. In fact, this is probably true of "Yesterday" all on its own.

But what about us little people?

I think about this now and then, most recently as I was falling asleep with "Stupid Things" playing in my head. When I woke up with "Watching Goonies at My House" (another Sarah Dooley song) I figured I should write about it.

We all know that people talk about us when we're not present---just as we talk about people when they're not present---and we will never know more than a fraction of what's said. So in a way, what people think about art is more likely to be discovered, but at the same time, you never know if when how, and what does come out might be hard to predict. And will only ever be a small percentage of the total.

We all get thought about sometimes. Someone may be remembering a bonmot of yours right now.

At core, I think we're all solipsists.

So really: isn't this fact the weirdest the universe has to offer?

2014-11-05

Pulp Literature

.

I became aware of the rag Pulp Literature shortly after their first Kickstarter campaign and was immediately intrigued by their positioning and decided I would subscribe as soon as my Ploughshares subscription died. (I only allow myself so many litrag subscriptions at a time. As it ended up, I accidentally let One Story lapse [bummer] and so I picked up Pulp Literature when I realized. When Ploughshares finally quits coming, I'll pick One Story back up.) In the meantime though, I've been following their Twitter feed, reading their blog, and generally being impressed by the brand and the women behind it.

Anyway, my first issue came and I am happy with it. It's classy. Lots of white space. The illustrations are great too (though a few reproduced too lightly). Some of my favorites among the writing:

Soldier, Wake by Susanna Kearsley:
Mythic redemption, beautifully writing, pure and simple horror. Also, Scotland.

Blackthorne and Rose: Agents of DIRE by KG McAbee:
Terrific steampunk/zombie/romance/adventure novella with diction that won't let you read it out of a proper English accent. (Author's giving away a lot of her other work for free right now.)

Below the Knee by Susan Pieters:
Delicious little story mining the same vein as "The Lottery"---but more modern in a way as it ends with an emotion rather than an action. Also, the smallness of it feels appropriate for 2014, just a girl and her leg.

The Death of Me by KL Mabbs:
Time-travel stories are tricky and I'm not going to parse this sentence by sentence trying to catch the author in error. In the end, this story kept coming to mind for days and each time I reevaluated it---each time at a slightly higher valuation. It twists and it circles and it asks more than answers.

intimacy requires more by Daniela Elza:
In appearance, seems to be the sort of poetry I have very little patience for. But some of the lines are just incredible.

Granted: my primary response to Pulp Literature's tagline "Good books for the price of a beer" is to be glad I'm a teetotaler. But I'll tell you what else: the fourth issue was well worth each Canadian penny I sent them. Part of their success no doubt comes from their Kickstarter beginnings, getting enough money to pay their contributors right. As a general rule, you get what you pay for. And a publication that pays, gets offerings worth paying for.

So my recommendation is to head over to Kickstarter and subscribe now to the coming year---or pick up last year's offerings. (Some of the deals on offer seem a bit too generous.) Either way, if we can generalize from 25% of their total output so far, you'll be glad you did.

And today's their halfway point---if you subscribe via Kickstarter now, you get a free novella from the twisty time-travel author mentioned above.

2014-11-04

Yeah, yeah. More books.

.

089) Masterful Marks: Cartoonists Who Changed the World edited by Monte Beauchamp, finished November 4

Sounds like a great idea, talented comic artists writing short in-comics biographies of luminaries (an all-male list consisting of Charles Addams, R. Crumb, Walt Disney, Edward Gorey, Hergé, Hugh Hefner, Al Hirschfeld, Jack Kirby, Harvey Kurtzman, Winsor McCay, Dr. Seuss, Charles Schulz, Joe Shuster, ‎Jerry Siegel, Osamu Tezuka, Rodolphe Töpffer, Lynd Ward). But, sadly, most of them fall flat. Just a bunch of exposition. And, frankly, if you know much at all about one of these people, you're unlikely to be surprised. And although I love Edward Gorey as much as the next person, seems odd he beat out, say, George Herriman. And considering how many times Fredric Wertham came up, maybe he should have just had his own story?

I get how these things work. You have an idea. You get people involved. You hope for the best. You can't know ahead of time that it'll be two chickens walking in the rain, one of them reciting an encyclopedia article. You hope for the best, put it together, send it out. If you're interested and are starting from scratch, this is a good enough place to start.
over a week



===========================================================



088) The Bishop's Wife by Mette Ivie Harrison, finished November 2

Pretty terrific book. Expect more than one post on AMV.
under a week



===========================================================



087) Fences by August Wilson, finished October 31

Sure, it's a bit obvious in places, but it's obvious in beautiful and poetic ways.

My students loved this book. I'm just glad to finally get around to reading it.

Terrific look at American culture---midcentury, black, sports, work, family, you name it. Simple---follows Aristostle's unity of place---but layered. Great book for kids to write about. I'll be teaching this one again.
three days



===========================================================



086) Richard III by William Shakespeare, finished October 18

What I know about Richard III before beginning to read it is that he's the evillest guy out there (save Iago), and at the end of the story, he'll be desperate with regret and mortality, willing to trade everything for a horse. As it ends up, I'm not convinced that latter bit is the best interpretation of his kingdom for a horse, but your interpretation works just fine, sweetie. I'm not here to say you're wrong.

I do think Richard is a more complex character than he's often given credit for as well. Sure, he's a scumbag and a megalomaniac and a machiavellian pile of crap, but . . . is he really that much worse than other people in the histories? I mean---all other characters say he is, but of course they would say it. Take the interesting arguments Queen Margaret has with people, telling them how awful Richard is---which they don't disagree with--while simultaneously having them remind her how awful she is. Or take Anne, who begins one scene hating on Richard for killing her family only to end it thinking, well, he does think I'm pretty and that would make me queen. . . .

They all walk his talk.

And take the final speeches on the field of battle. Both were good, but Richard's was better. In part because it was more honest. Not completely honest, but more honest. Richmond's is wholesome and cheery, but by putting Richard's second, he shows the holes in Richmond's argument.

I suspect Shakes was annoyed at how poorly people had uncovered irony in the St Crispin's Day Speech and didn't want his audience to pretend any of these royals were that much better than any others. Richmond's and-now-we-shall-live-happily-ever-after speech is half ironic commentary on what didn't happen next and half political argument for acting as we pretend we should.

Anyway. It's a swift play, hollow in sections, demands a lot of previous knowledge to get the nuance, etc etc, but it starts out craaaaazy and keeps things happening all the way to the end. That's Shakespeare, baby.
over a week



===========================================================



085) Red Dragon by Thomas Harris, finished October 16

I picked this book up with the idea that it would hold my attention and distract me from my upcoming surgery. Good job, book. But then it grasped onto my fevered recovery mind and that was less good job. The novel's tightly constructed though it did a bit too much explaining for my taste and pulled a double-twist at the end I found a bit cheaty. But it was a quick read and the monsters felt real. That's the best thing a monster book can do.
one week





Previously in 2014 . . . . :

2014-10-28

Th' #MormonPoetrySlam

.

It's time for the Mormon Poetry Slam again and since self-promotion is all the internet's really about anyway---and since I've placed a few poems over the last year or so---here's some therickified goodness for your outloud reading pleasure. (Since it's a #MormonPoetrySlam, I've ordered them from "most" Mormon on down. And since it's a #MormonPoetrySlam, I've left out a few that probably won't read well. Also any you have to pay money to get---those are left out too. because I'm so nice to the poor.)

A Hymn for Mother’s Day in Long Meter

After Party

God

Jesus Fishing the Styx

Some seduction this—

My Latest Trip to the Berkeley Botanical Gardens

Solstice

Rifflection: ‘To His Mistress Going to Bed’ by John Donne

Enough Is

Being a High-School Teacher Is a Great Disguise

Sponsored Funeral

Amtrak to SAC

The Fiberglass Giraffe in Davis, California

Accidentally Deleted

Completely Static Account

2014-10-23

Well. That's another scariest-movie-of-all-time over and done with.

.

And, alas, like Night of the Living Dead, The Shining was a disappointment.

Look: heckuva lotta Filmmaking going on here. No question about that. And no doubt it stressed me out. But it was just too much. Which may seem like a funny thing to say, me being a wild Wes Anderson fan, but you don't want a silly scariest-movie-of-all-time, do you? No. Of course you don't. Then it wouldn't be the scariest-movie-of-all-time, would it?

Does that music get you scared? Sure. I guess. It's better than most Halloween sound-effect tapes, for sure.

Does that almost-symmetrical-but-not-quite framing keep you off guard? Yep. Sure does.

How about Danny riding his bike around and around and around?

How about the All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. manuscript?

How about the lady in the tub?

How about the running through the hedge?

The use of mirrors?

Yes, yes, yes. All very well done. The sudden cuts made me jump almost every time (although the last one to the iconic image of frozen Jack just made me snort), but aren't you wasting tension, making me jump just to tell me it's Tuesday?

Sigh.

I can see where the influence of this film has shown up in everyone from my boy Wes to Twin Peaks, but come on. The slow build of terror was so slow it finally fell apart and collapsed. The sudden death of Dick provided no payoff or release. Having Mom see ghosts got in the way of the true source of the terror. The room of skeletons just made me laugh out loud. And that photograph at the end? Oh yeah. Very artsy. Whoopdefreakindo. That does nothing for me, Kubrick. Stop patting yourself on the back.

Some great acting from the leads, though! Even though the direction included lots of needless pauses. Jack Nicholson was born for this role. I'm glad other people like it....

I know I'm grumpy. Sorry. But really. For all it's merits, when you add them all up, the film kind of sucked.

There it is.

2014-10-14

Rejected books: YOU by Caroline Kepnes
#WhosReadingYou? Erm. Not me.

.

[NOTE: I received this book as a Klout perk with the presumed hope of the publisher that I would love it and tweet that love with the hashtag #WhosReadingYou. I wish that had been the case.]

.

YOU is the tale of a man who thinks he is not merely rational and good, but better than you or I---less degenerate than the rest of us, smarter, kinder---the only man with his head screwed on straight in the whole damn world. Which naturally leads to stalking a pretty girl and locking her up and heroically trying to save her from herself for himself.

Which is fine. This sort of thing can be done well. Joyce Carol Oates's Zombie is arguably of this genre and is the most terrifying novel I've ever read and is fabulously written. Largely, the book works because I believed that I was actually experiencing the inside of Quentin's head.

Compare that to a story I wrote for an undergrad writing class. I don't remember the title anymore, but I think of it as the cockroach story. In that one too, the lead is a creepy fellow who's not so bright and has never grown beyond the solipsism of youth and who only kills because it's necessary and sensible and kind, given the circumstances. When my professor returned my portfolio, for all the love she had for my work in general, she was disappointed in the cockroach story as a generic piece of crap. I hadn't known this character was a tired trope, a cliche much in need of execution, but since then, yeah, I've seen it many many many times. It's worn out and almost impossible to do well, even if you only try to maintain it for ten pages.

YOU is 422 pages and, I'm sorry to say, much much closer to my cockroach story in execution than it is to Zombie.

This is not to say that Kepnes can't write. She's clearly talented. She's just written a kind of bad first novel.

Now look: I'm definitely in favor of ambitious failures. And this novel thinks it's ambitious in the same way a teenager who asks "How do I know that what you see as red is what I see as red?" thinks she's deeply philosophical. Kepner's book is called YOU to emphasize that the bulk of the narration is Joe's internal thinking as aimed at Beck---he's talking to her at all times within his head.

First paragraph:
YOU walk into the bookstore and you keep your hand on the door to make sure it doesn't slam. You smile, embarrassed to be a nice girl, and your nails are bare and your V-neck sweater is beige and it's impossible to know if you're wearing a bra but I don't think that you are. You're so clean that you're dirty and you murmur your first word to me—hello—when most people would just pass by, but not you, in your loose pink jeans, a pink spun from Charlotte's Web and where did you come from?
She's clearly meant for him and he begins to court her by following her around and learning everything about him. And not in a cute way like in The Fisher King.

It's pretty easy while reading this novel to see the balancing act Kepnes is attempting. If Joe starts seeming too legitimately cute she has him say something utterly misogynistic or to talk about watching Beck masturbate (which she seems to do all the time), and when he starts seeming too creepy it's time to talk about movies or chivalry again. The real issue comes not that Joe is ambiguous (something he should be) but that he's actually not ambiguous. She doesn't seem able to make him chivalrous and dangerous at the same time, so he's one then the other then one then the other. He's never a good guy, mind, but his character is inconsistent in terms of what sort of bad will he actually be, even though it's obvious pretty quickly that he'll be locking her up ala Room and, thanks to that violent cover, she'll die.

The sloppy execution though made it so that I couldn't get past page sixty. I skimmed a bit here and there through the end and it was pretty much exactly what I expected. Nothing impressed or surprised me.

Which is where the marketing confuses me. Is it possible that no one at Simon & Schuster realized that calling it "a perversely romantic thriller that’s more dangerously clever than any you’ve read before" just isn't true?

Unless. . . .

Here's my theory: This book is aimed at a younger, Millennial audience who maybe hasn't actually seen this before and thus might actually be impressed by it. An young audience the suits hope might be suckered into thinking this is hip stuff because it has Twitter and Smartphones and Cool Stuff Like That. Also, it has sex and young people like sex. I mean---the way this girl grinds her c**t against that pillow! Gracious.

Looking at the Goodreads reviews, I think the suits mostly guessed right. It appears that the novel is coming off as something new to many readers, and so they at least are getting the experience this #WhosReadingYou campaign has promised them. Lucky kids.

Anyway. I know I'm coming off like a bit of a hater here, but I'm bummed that the book wasn't better than it was. Although it was obvious almost immediately that it wasn't going to work for me, I kept forcing myself to read just one more chapter until I couldn't anymore.

I hope that Kepnes keeps writing and keeps being ambitious. And I hope someone's upfront with her the next time her ambition takes her down a tired road. Someone did me that favor once, and I'm still grateful.

Keep reading, Kepnes. Keep writing.

2014-10-13

Dead supermodel on down

.

084) The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith, finished October 11

This was recommended to me by a former student now working at my local library. I think he'd read it as a duty, being a grown-up member of the Harry Potter generation (Galbraith now revealed to be a pen name for Rowling).

Having been reintroduced to detective fiction of late by reading Sue Grafton, I tend to think of her pacing as the standard. The Galbraith novel's mystery is about the same size as those in the Grafton books I've read, but it's much, much longer. The swift conclusion arrives about the same distance from the end---absolutely, not proportionally---which is to say it seems a bit too long to get too. I found the twist a little too obvious in the sense that I didn't think THAT person could be the murderer because all the misdirection made THAT person impossible.

Anyway. I think the most important part of these sorts of novels is whether or not we grow fond of the the hero[es] to come back on another adventure with them. In this case, Cormoron Strike is compelling and ultimately likable. His assistant Robin Ellacott even more so. Their love histories and presents are still to be fully explored. (Although choosing to introduce Robin's fiance as a wonderful person and then spend the rest of the book undermining that was an odd choice.)

Yeah. Anyway, the point is it was enjoyable, too long, not remarkable really in any way, wonderfully British, and---because we already know---tastes a lot like JK Rowling. Just with more swears.
two or three weeks



===========================================================



083) Non-Essential Mnemonics: An Unnecessary Journey into Senseless Knowledge by Kent Woodyard, finished October 8

Apparently these originally appeared on McSweeney's, and in many ways, that's a better place for it. My favorite part of the collection is the final chapter in which every mnemonic is something said at his ten-year high-school reunion. The random things which these are made to signify is the undercurrent of humor but the contrarily directed undercurrent of deciphering a "true" story simultaneously makes the whole gag more successful.

Ultimately, this is the sort of book in which a sequence of mildly humorous antijokes set up the more largely funny antijokes.

In other words, hard to imagine that most people won't hate it.

But it's a pleasant humor book of the sort I thought they stopped publishing in the 90s. So if you like these---or enjoy giving them as gifts---it's a solid choice.

[Review of gratis copy from publisher.]
four days



===========================================================



082) Superman: Earth One by J. Michael Straczynski and Shane Davis, finished September 28


I may someday finish this other loooong comic I'm reading whose name I can't be bothered to look up right now, I may not. I mention it because the introduction talks about how its creator is the creator of Babylon 5 and his genius shines through in comics form as well. Now, I've never seen Babylon 5(and after the good-ideas/holey-execution of that comic, I've no real drive too), but the reason I bring it up is because I just discovered this book is also by that bloke.

I liked a lot about this reimagining of Superman's coming into the public eye, but, at the same time, it did a lot of things that didn't make sense. I'm forgiving those flaws because I liked the parts I liked, but let's face it: no way was this good enough to turn me on to Babylon 5.
two days



===========================================================



081) Usagi Yojimo 20: Glimpses of Death by Stan Sakai, finished September 28

Incredibly, I've never read any Usagi before. Just never happened. I'm always a little leery of martial-arts stories (the oft-repeated trauma of watching Karate Kid is no doubt to blame) and there are sooo many of these books. But I was stuck at the library and looking at the comics in the teen section and they had two, one of which was a standalone. I decided to take that one home, but in the meantime, I read the first few pages of this one. A few turned to forty and I took this home instead. And I loved it. I don't even care that I'm in the middle of some longer tales. Each of these short stories satisfies---and in different ways.

Man, I've wasted a lot of time not reading Usagi.
two days





Previously in 2014 . . . . :

2014-10-03

True or False: Theric's exhuming things that's better left alone
lost songs

.

I can't think of a song more suitable for the Lost Songs series than Randy Travis's "Diggin' Up Bones" which is, after all, about "resurrecting memories."


Travis's is one of the memorable voices of my childhood and this particular song is one of many permanent tracks in my internal jukebox. It has also, for reasons I cannot explain, recently been placed on Constant Rotation alongside current popular songs and new favorites.

This particular song is about a fellow up late one night taking out old photos and love letters and like paraphernalia of a lost love. He puts on his old wedding ring and then gives hers a fling (a nice bit of wordplay), then slips into the chorus:

Yeah tonight I'm sitting alone, diggin' up bones
I'm diggin' up bones, I'm diggin' up bones
Exhuming things that's better left alone
I'm resurrecting memories of a love that's dead and gone
Yeah tonight I'm sittin' alone diggin' up bones

I think I liked this song a bit better than some of the others when I was a kid because there was no hint of infidelity---I liked songs about broken hearts, but infidelity was too much. The closest thing to sex here is "the pretty negligee that I bought you to wear."

In short, though, this songs was an excellent choice for exhumation. I think it captures much of what is typical about Eighties Radio Country---melodic hooks, cheery pop background singers, over-the-top metaphor---and grounds it in some simple guitar work and the hyper-masculine-yet-vulnerable voice of Mr Randy Travis.

I've played this song maybe a dozen times while writing this post and I still feel no regret about my decision. That's impressive.

2014-09-30

2014: Third-quarter movies

.

In theaters:


Guardians of the Galaxy (2014): Chris Pratt, Bradley Cooper, Lee Pace, John C. Reilly---my goodness. Many of my favorite Hollywood men. (Clearly I have a type.) The movie did not disappoint, though I was never quite able to suspend my disbelief re the durability of that cassette tape. I passed up some other great options to be part of the zeitgeist. Yes, I let my expectations get a little too high, but I choose no regrets. Largely because I have faith in this incredible Marvel machine to keep paying dividends.

Ghostbusters (1984): Although the cartoon and the soundtrack are pivotal parts of my childhood, I'm not 100% sure I've seen the movie straight through before. It's not flawless, but I found it very satisfying. I laughed, I jumped, it was worth it.



At home:


Brick (2005): A great noir that manages to also be one of the better high-school movies I've seen---even though it goes in for the high school = drugs thing that I'm sick to death of. The details of set and character, and the clever moments of character work really make the film sing. I picked this up on reputation and the author's other work and the fact that he's tapped to take over Star Wars Episode VIII. Based on what I've seen, I'm intrigued at the choice.

Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971): One of the most rewatched movies of my childhood has just sent my children rolling on the floor in conniptions. And they even sat through "Portobello Road"---so I call this a great success. Personally, I'll always enjoy this more than Mary Poppins. (And, of course, waaaay more than Pete's Dragon.) So even if I would never watch this based on its concept were I hearing of it for the first time today, I recommend it to you all the same.

The Secret World of Arrietty (2010): This was pretty good. Another awesome female character from Miyazaki. Anyone who thinks it can't be done needs to sit down with his oeuvre. Not one of my favorites, but when I said that, Lady Steed was shocked. Of course, I liked The Wind Rises much more than her.

The Green Mile (1999): Loved the book and this is a terrific adaptation. Some of the layers are missing and you'll find some clever additions for make it more cinematic, but this really is one of the great adaptations. It captures the book and is a terrific movie at the same time. Also, it's not as gruesome as the novel which is good---otherwise it wouldn't be watchable. I've been wanting to see this movie since reading, before it came out, that it broke the studio's record for best responses from test audiences. It's taken me a long time to get around to it. Worth the wait.

In a World . . . (2013): The script's a bit choppy at places (especially with chronological clarity) but the important moments hit. The cast is strong and the acting is good. As is the dialogue they're acting. Good stuff.

Somebody Up There Likes Me (2012): A plethora of half-clever ideas do not a good movie make. But, you know, it was watchable.

Up in the Air (2009): This is a movie that threatened to resolve into typical cliche several times, but then veered away. I'm not sure quite where it did end, but it was a satisfying ambiguity. And what a cast, what a cast. The filming was such an important part of the storytelling, I often had times imagining the screenplay. (Imagining screenplays is a large part of my moviewatching experience these days.)

Napoleon Dynamite (2004): I've seen this movie more times than you have (guaranteed) and I've impressed with how this picaresque hodgepodge is ultimately so tightly constructed with such a large emotional payoff. Love it.

American Hustle (2013): It pulled a scene-from-the-middle-then-lengthy-flashback on me, but it was more forgivable than usual because the information revealed still made sequential sense without repeating things. Still my biggest complaint though. The acting was great and the twist both surprised me and would not poorly affect rewatching.

Little Secrets (2001): I first saw this when it was new and was surprised by the quality. I always wanted to someday show it to my kids. And now I have---to the oldest at least. Though not quite as good as my memory (no element of surprise this time), it does have a worthy payout and it makes surprisingly wise comments about secrets (then attempts to spell them out, which is what makes it kid-friendly, I suppose). Also funny to see Sam Cardon and Kurt Bestor heralded as the great artists of their generation. Truly a made-in-Utah film.

Bottle Rocket (1996): This was Lady Steed's first time seeing this movie. And though I wouldn't place it at the top of Wes Anderson's oeuvre, it's funny and pleasing. Totally bombs the Bechdel Test though, if you're keeping track.

Ginger Snaps (2000): One of the great B-movies of the 21st century, they say. One of the great movies about teenage girls, they say. One of the better horror movies of recent history, they say. You know what? I think they were right. It's a not a bad example of body horror either. Color me impressed. Wish I'd watched it a long time ago.

Better Off Dead... (1985): My first time seeing this movie. I'm so sad of this. It's a movie I could have enjoyed over and over. I still can enjoy it more than once, certainly, but I don't rewatch films so much anymore. And I would love for the chaos of this film to infect me. I mean---even more than it probably has. Children, live your lives such that you do not have regrets such as mine!

American Grindhouse (2010) Not much I didn't know, but interesting and free on Crackle and a good movie to put on in moments since, you know, it's just history---not plot.




Elsewhere:


Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (2012): A lot about this movie seemed impossible to pull off. The trailer was great, but I didn't see how to make is succeed as a film. A comedy about the end of humanity? How can a comedy end in a marriage AND a funeral? It didn't seem likely. And perhaps it wasn't perfect. But the humanity of the characters and the pleasure of the details made this movie work. The end shares DNA with many bad romcoms, but it comes from a more honest place and it works.

2014-09-22

Rape, murder, theft, and murder

.

0##) Lolita: The Story of a Cover Girl: Vladimir Nabokov's Novel in Art and Design edited by John Bertram and Yuri Leving, finished September 20

I forget what I was doing. Perhaps it was when I had bumped into the Chip Kidd book for kids. Anyway, I was linkfollowing on Amazon and saw this book. I have a general interest in cover design, but this caught my eye in particular. Perhaps it was a student presentation in June on Lolita. Perhaps it was my own reading of the novel (stopped cold about fourteen months ago when Humbert first laid eyes upon "his" "nymphet". Perhaps it was my own cover struggling with a short novel called Perky Erect Nipples. I don't know. Anyway, I had it sent to my library from another system.

I had expected just a book filled with other designers attempts to design a good Lolita cover (the bulk of which range from hmm to egad). And that does make up about eighty pages in the middle. And most of them are hmm at best. The real value of this book is the essays. Granted, I ended up skimming two of them, but even though I don't have a large and abiding interest in Nabokov, scholarly looks at paratext (new word for me) were delightful as it's a topic I've been thinking about my entire reading life and have rarely had anyone to talk to about. (It's a shame I don't get on better with Dave Eggers.) So that was great. And stories about the times and how people read and misread controversial texts (or manipulate the public re said texts) and the thinking of designers---etc etc etc---ranged from the mostly interesting to the pretty great.

If any of those things interest you, might as well give this a heft.
a couple weeks



===========================================================



079) Doctor Sleep by Stephen King, finished September 18

My experience with The Shining was that the alcoholism was more terrifying than the ghosts. With its sequel, much of the same. Alcoholism is still terrifying. But the True Knot is scarier than the ghosties of the Overlook Hotel. And yet---the book overall packs less of a punch. I think because King pulled some of his. The good guys stop dying about halfway through the book. I kept guessing who would die and how and no one ever did.

Even worse, he kept pulling the camera away to keep me the reader in ignorance, hiding bits of the plan and so forth for suspenseful effect (and affect), which is a bit dishonest if not done right. Frankly, he seemed a bit lazy about hiding the strings in the last quarter of the novel.

All that said, I greatly enjoyed it and hope King lives long enough to write a second sequel starring Abra in her middle age.
a couple weeks



===========================================================



078) "B" Is for Burglar by Sue Grafton, finished September 11

Wowee. The first one was good. This one was better. I need to keep my eyes open for a free copy of C.

This one, a couple chapters from the end, built me up to that compelling point of can't-stop-reading that my jaded self hardly ever manages to reach these days. Loved the mix of truth and lies and identities. Granted, hard to accept this sociopath sudden change, but hey---when you're a PI, you only are part of these lives for a brief time. You see what you see.
about nine days



===========================================================



077) "A" Is for Alibi by Sue Grafton, finished September 2

I've been watching these books come out my whole life. I've had them recommended to me in essays by authors I admire (Stepehn King and Orson Scott Card). I picked this one up free, and you know what? I really liked it. Slow burn---seemed to be going nowhere, but the meantime the clarity of description and the cleanness of character kept the story moving forward. Then it all blew up at the end. Very satisfying.

I think I may keep reading these things. What better way to relive the '80s?
two weeksish





Previously in 2014 . . . . :

2014-09-03

On the nudity of Jennifer Lawrence

.

Nudity is so prevalent on the Internet, I hardly even register when I happen upon some in my, of course, purely innocent travels. Most of that nudity---whether it started out as porn or Game of Thrones or some idiot's selfie---was intended for public consumption. And okay, whatever, roll your eyes and move on.

When Jennifer Lawrence's name was trending Twitter yesterday, I clicked because I think she's one of the most compelling actors working in film and I'm interested in anything she's attached to. Maybe some new flick'd been announced. Instead, it immediately became quite clear that private, nude photos had been leaked. Of course, my prurient interest was engaged, but I didn't do anything more than read the tweeted headlines and dumb comments. Then, all of a sudden, there were four photos embedded in the stream. I closed the window.

Unlike other accidental naked people, these photos have stuck with me. And not in the sense of "people cannot erase pornographic images from their brain" but in the sense of I feel equally awful today that I was part of this invasion of privacy as I did yesterday. Maybe worse.

A couple ancillary thoughts:
1. I suppose my feelings may be stronger because this is someone I like and whose work I admire. And who hasn't done nude work. I might have already forgotten had I bumped into leaked, personal nudes of Kristen Stewart.

2. Although the don't-take-photos-you-don't-want-leaked argument is not empty, I don't like it. And not just because it's victim-blaming. Although I don't own a phone myself, most of you reading this are, by any reasonable measure, human/phone cyborgs. Phone photos aren't much different anymore than looking in the mirror or being in the room with someone. I'm too old for this to be internalized, but I'm bright enough to know it's true.

3. Something alchemic about the combination of details in this case has not only made me sick, but it's altered my behavior. I've been a lot more careful online these last two days. Even your ad with the sportsbra-clad model advertising vitamins is making me ill. I feel like everything is exploitative. Maybe it is.
Look: This is a new, photo-drenched world we live in. Photos of anything and everything have already been taken. Me, I'm too old to take photos of anything I don't want the world to see. But my film-born view of photography is not what a photograph is anymore. I lived before the word selfie---a time when a photo of yourself that was clearly taken by yourself was laughably gauche and fit for mocking.

But that's not the world of today nor the world of tomorrow. Seeing digitally is now as ubiquitous as seeing someone through the air. And so photos need to be as private as our bedroom, if that's what we're taking them for.

Yes, old boyfriends can make a memory stored on a phone public easier than a memory only in the hippocampus, but that's not the point. The point is, seeing and being seen are not what they were.

But peeking in on someone when they're alone with a lover is just what it's always been.

I'm glad I feel awful. It means I'm still a decent human being.

I hope you feel awful too, no matter how not surprised you may be.

2014-08-28

20 best albums of 2014 so far

.

All the music mags have been releasing lists of the best albums so far. And some of my favorite albums have been getting snubbed. Plus, everyone like the Beck album more than it deserves. (Sorry, Beck.)

Since getting Spotify, I've been listening to lots more new music And so I'm going to inflict upon you my own opinion of 2014's best 20 albums so far. My criteria are that the album is on Spotify (sorry Natalie, Hannah-Lou, Trevor), that it is an album (sorry Nerina, Broods), that Spotify lists the album's release as 2014 (which cuts off some great albums on other lists because Spotify says they're 2013), that I've heard the album more than once (which means albums I just discovered looking at these other lists---did you know Norah Jones has a new band with a new album?---aren't eligible), and that I think the album is good. Some of these I think are terrific. But by forcing myself to choose twenty, I'll get to include some that are good but I haven't yet decided whether or not they are terrific. For your information, this is this my current 2014 list. But albums come on and off this list all the time. You may be looking at a different list than what it was when you first read this article last week. It's a living document.





Terrific ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

1

Nicole Atkins

Slow Phaser
Every song on here is perfect and catchy and says something. I can't pick a favorite. Her album is so good, I refuse to listen to "Sin Song" because I know I will lose my soul. Seriously. This album is effin ineffable.

2

Rosanne Cash

The River & The Thread
I should grant this list is biased towards albums I added earlier in the year. Easier to get to know an album when it's not on a list 29 hours and 48 minutes long. But regardless, Rosanne Cash's new album deserved all those extra listens. I really admire this album. She's the best at what she does.

3

Sarah Dooley

Stupid Things
Fun and charm and cleverness and more more more love love love. But I've already written about this album.

4

Jonatha Brooke

My Mother Has 4 Noses
She sounds a bit like Emmylou and writes songs to match.

5

Marissa Nadler

July
Compelling without yelling.




Certainly very good, might be great, highly recommended ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

6

Katie Herzig

Walk through Walls
Herzig's found a new way to use her unique voice and the songs on this album compel with both serious-face and a clean beauty.

7

Bombay Bicycle Club

So Long, See You Tomorrow
I don't like this album as much as I did earlier in the year, but it's young, international vibe is still charming.

8

Hurray for the Riff Raff

Small Town Heroes
Gritty girl-and-guitar country-rock.

9

Margot & The Nuclear So and So's

Slingshot to Heaven
Twee when you want it.

10

The Secret Sisters

Put Your Needle Down
Their clean harmonies sharpened over lyrics worth listening to.

11
Screw eleven!

12

The Colourist

The Colourist
This is the best pop album I've heard in a long time. And yeah, it seems too perfect not to be manufactured, I can't help loving it. If Death Cab for Cutie was happy---it Brandon Flowers shared vocals with a woman. It's basically all that's fun about rock and roll from the last ten years wedded to the sort of vocals I'm naturally drawn to. It's not fair. I surrender. I love you.

13

Hospitality

Trouble
Maybe if I called it the Yeah Yeah Yeahs only they crush you instead of stab you, then would you understand?




Like a lot but haven't decided how much you should take my word for it ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

14

Tori Amos

Unrepentent Geraldines
It's a solid Tori album. Couple songs that will become fan favorites. Not the best first-Tori-album for the neophyte probably, but you wouldn't regret it.

15

Lana Del Rey

Ultraviolence
Essentially, my initial impressions have solidified.

16

First Aid Kit

Stay Gold
It's Swedish chick singing folk. Please, sir. May I have some more?

17

Jenny Lewis

The Voyager
It's Jenny Lewis. Haven't decided what else needs to be said about it yet.

18

Various Artists

I Saved Latin! A Tribute to Wes Anderson
Some of the songs on here are among the best of the year. None embarrass.

19

Angel Olsen

Burn Your Fire for No Witness
Like a lot of the other folkie countrified girls on this list, only lower and darker.




Clearly good but either I haven't listened to them enough to determine quality or I'm just really conflicted ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

19½

Sharon Van Etten

Are We There
I loved her previous album. Haven't given this one enough attention yet, but so far this one seems equally deserving of love.

19¾

Temples

Sun Structure
Sort of late Beatles, sort of Moody Blues, sort of new age, sort of awesome, sort of WTF. I've almost cut it from the list many times, only to have a song shuffle in and make me think I love this album. So that.

19⅘

Lykke Li

I Never Learn
Haven't heard all the songs yet, but a couple of them are simply extraordinary. Start with "Gunshot."

20

Neon Trees

Pop Psychology
I'm not sure this is saying, musically, much they didn't say last time. But they say it so well.

2014-08-22

Aliens, monsters, tigers, convicts

.

076) Nonsense Novels by Stephen Leacock, finished August 20

I've used the parody of courtly-love romance to teach courtly love. I've used the utopian parody to talk about the history of utopian literature. I'm considering how best to employ the Xmas-story parody. And don't forget the parody of Horatio Alger! Or od detective tales!

I can't remember anymore how I came to download this, but I'm glad I did. Some of the stories don't keep their quality or consistency throughout (and some moments have not aged well), but all of them have genuine lol moments. Emphasis on the latter L. "What are you reading, Theric?" people ask. Stephen Leacock, I answer when I stop laughing.

(Since I began reading, one of the stories has been included with the new Lemony Snicket reprints, and a confused person wrote the introduction to a recent reprint of this volume?)
many months maybe over a year or maybe even two years



===========================================================



075) Yukon Ho! by Bill Watterson, finished August 16

This is the only one of the square Calvin & Hobbes books we didn't own when I was a kid; we got this copy for Little Lord Steed's birthday last week. I've read them all before, but doesn't matter. Best strip of its decade. One of the best of all time. The only strip I would definitely place above it is Peanuts. Lofty company, that.

For the record, I read Calvin & Hobbes all the time, but rarely do I sit down and read a full book cover to cover. It's pages here and there of whatever's been left out by my kids. Good taste, them.
two days



===========================================================



074) Monster on the Hill by Rob Harrell, finished August 16

I got talked into reading this again. Same complaints as last time, but I think I actually liked it more.
morning



===========================================================



073) Dangerous by Shannon Hale, finished August 11

I've heard mostly terrible thing about her adult novels and mostly ecstatic things about her YA novels. Since I"m trying to get a jump on the Whitney's and she seems like a sure bet, I picked up her new novel.

I found the first ninety pages utterly tedious. Were it not for the Whitneys, I would have quit around page forty. I kept going because in the 90s I found something to write about (see AMV), but I never did fall in love with the novel. Which makes me sad. I really thought I was going to like it. Maybe I'll still pick up Goose Girl or Princess Academy one of these days, but I'm not feeling the drive I once did.

Anyway. Click on the AMV link.

Here are some things that didn't fit in that review.

So many YA books feature multiple characters who quote great poetry. I HAVE NEVER SEEN THIS IN REAL LIFE. GIVE IT UP, YA AUTHORS! Not that I don't frequently enjoy it, mind, but please. It's absurd. In this case, it's three of five. That's not realistic.

She does this weird thing where she's skip the expository dialogue only to have characters who BOTH heard the expository dialogue sum it up for each other. This makes no sense.

The suicide in the novel was a bit frustrating for me even though I think the ultimate reasoning all made sense, I was awash with skepticism through the whole thing. A shame, really, because it could have been the novel's great shock.

The book had some nice lines: "Are you only capable of talking to me as if an audience were listening?" (40) Shark! . . . Then I remembered who I was. And I ate it. (177)

Why aren't the aliens interested in, say, dogs? Or salamanders?

At times, the comedic aspects of the aliens reminded me of Smekday.
two or three weeks



Previously in 2014 . . . . :