Monday, August 29, 2016

We Need *THIS* Goran Dragic in 2016-17

My Reaction When Otherwise Reasonable People Defend Donald Trump's Insane Ranting

Elves Need Love too.

SantaLand DiariesSantaLand Diaries by David Sedaris
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I enjoy David Sedaris's humor. This story has a very original perspective on the holiday season. The protagonist is a Macy's elf, Crumpet/Blisters, and - through him - we get a behind-the-scenes look at the business of manufactured levity.

There is a bitter tone to much of the story, and it's a useful vehicle for us to dress in the skin of the elf, to make it all more believable. It's very credible, especially the anecdotes about how the outrageous parents and their needful children live without regard to the people around them. The elves and santas, of course, forge bonds to get through alive.

A lot of the humor stretches the imagination. Transposing Santa and Satan for example... "Satan will be right with you." "Everyone loves Satan." That just couldn't happen, right? But there is enough purchase of credibility that, well, maybe it could have. Oh, I forget this is all a story, but no, it's non-fiction. This is a memoir. No, I just can't believe it. The kid peeing in the fake ice, sure... even the "Your pictures will be ready August 10."

And, yes, you can hear an excerpt on "This American Life." It's well worth it. I think they do it sometimes on "Morning Edition" too.

What else? There are other short stories too? Mine just has the one. The story about the Christmas whore sounds great!

Anyway, this is good stuff. I don't know why I read it in August, but it seems appropriate. Next time I see a photo elf, I'm going to give him/her a thumbs up.




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Grave Peril - Harry Dresden #3 - by Jim Butcher. A great ride!

Grave Peril (The Dresden Files, #3)Grave Peril by Jim Butcher
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Such an enjoyable story, but to be honest, I found Harry to be pretty annoying until the last third of the book. His arrogance and chivalry bordered on absurd. He needed to be pressed up against the edge to find his solution this time though, and the climax was a sheer delight. I also sometimes find Michael to be an annoying character, and that doesn't bode well for the rest of the series, does it? He seems to be taking on a larger role as the white knight, whereas I like darker aspects of Dresden.

Here's my only problem with the story: I thought for a while that I was gaining a good understanding of magic, death, vampires, Faerie, and the power of God in the story, but there an air of ambiguity seems to pervade this story, as if whatever's necessary is fine. That's not OK. I like when there is some sense to the nonsense, if you get my drift. Don't just invent new things, because there is no other way out.

At the same time, I am well aware that I'm giving a weight of importance to urban pulp fantasy that is just for fun. Maybe, then, the problem this time is with the reader.

And even I must admit that Harry's dramatic solution is ingenious, and it made sense, so that made me happy. It was a long time coming though. I am expecting we'll see some of the ramifications in the next volume. I'm looking forward to it.

So, this inched up from a low 3-star to a high 4-star in the last 100 pages, so if you slog a little, my advice is to keep investing, because you'll be rewarded.


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Saturday, August 27, 2016

Real Situation

Margaret Atwood on Science Friday

Lunch Time

Over the Fall

J.R.R. Tolkien Reads from The Hobbit

Part 1: Part 2:
Promo for American Gods, Starz video.

Map of the Surface Winds of the World.

A map of the world's wind, temperature, waves... A useful tool for worldbuilding.

Legion II (Skin Deep)

Skin Deep (Legion, #2)Skin Deep by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I love Brandon Sanderson's imagination. Mistborn and the world of The Rithmatist are two of my favorite places to dream about being. My expectations for Legion were, therefore, unrealistic, but that's the danger when your audience becomes acquainted with dining gourmet. A lesser meal just isn't the same.

Why was I displeased? I think it comes down to the tone. It's just too whimsical. There never feels like anything worth losing is at stake.

Also, one thing I loved about the Rithmatist is that the magic system was so well defined that you could even think about the ramifications of a line here or there. What would this do? Etc.

Not so with Legion. Stephen Leeds can solve any problem by just having a new personality join him, and I don't see the cost. If it's his madness at stake, why don't I feel more his pain?

There is no question that Legion will be popular. There is already a deal for its TV rights. It may even get better (a 3rd book is planned), so I reserve the right to change my opinion.

This is where I'm at now though. It's technically good writing (it's also well researched - I can say that because I have a background in systems and I've discussed aspects about encoding data in cells where recombinant DNA would automatically do the backup), but I want a little more dire aspects in the tone.

I liked it, but wasn't wild about it. I wanted to be wild about it.

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Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Revisiting An Old But Still Relevant Gem

The Catcher in the RyeThe Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another book where I make a new discovery each time I read it. As a youth, I adopted some of the character's contempt for fitting in, and then in the 90s, when I went on a literary beatnik immersion, I understood the humanizing aspects, how Holden just wants to protect his sister and the other children, how his angst springs from genuine concern rather than a willful nature alone. I think that I identified with these traits because I was in a nurturing phase myself with my young children.

This time, in 2016, I admired the writing, especially the voice: all the quite this and quite that, interspersed with goddam this and goodam that. When he scrubs obscenities from the wall of the elementary school and museum, the irony is breathtaking.

I love this book. I love its crudity and the visceral impact of the words. It's not beautiful prose, not at all. Like the protagonist the prose itself has contempt for society's approval. Beneath it all, though, is a heartfelt message about what modern society is doing to all of us. That hasn't really changed. It's just that now the Internet is our subway walls.

I'm going to finish by quoting some of the protagonist's inner thoughts towards the end.

I think, even, if I ever die, and they stick me in a cemetery, and I have a tombstone and all, it’ll say “Holden Caulfield” on it, and then what year I was born and what year I died, and then right under that it’ll say “Fuck you.” I’m positive, in fact.



Truth right there. Read it and cherish it.

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Sunday, August 21, 2016

A good collection of short stories - check it out!

The Heaven of Animals: StoriesThe Heaven of Animals: Stories by David James Poissant
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Very enjoyable. In these pages you will meet many troubled people, each struggling with the enormity of life's challenges. They will make you laugh, cry, but most of all, they will open themselves to let you use their lenses, so that the world you perceive grows in every direction a little more. There are parallels between some tales (for example, the elementary school and neighborhood in "Refund" & "Disappearing Boy" are the same) and Dan & Jack populate the first and last stories, but what is most striking is the wide range of trials that must be overcome. These people are facing enormous obstacles and are only human, but being human is both a weakness and a strength.

One curiosity about how these affected me: I cannot point to many of the stories and say it is hopeful or encouraging (the lovely amputee girl's humor is dwarfed by the scepter of death, the couples striving to stay couples are brave but face huge odds, and the man who pulls himself from the freezing water still seems crippled inside), but the fact that they never relinquish their fights (ok, the girl that goes bison riding is probably not fighting anymore) is at least positive. Right?

As for the writing, I am impressed. I like the dialog especially. Another strength is how familiar images (like the spray of gravel or two robes hanging together in a hotel room) buy the reader's credulity for more unlikely sights that are going to be sold. With respect to the characters, I found most of them fairly frightening in how their feelings are so raw and the relationships so flimsy, but - again - it's credible. We do not live in easy times.

Scariest image: being surrounded by people praying and touching you in a misguided attempt to faith heal. I'm going to have nightmares about that.


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