CATEGORY: WordsDay

The mysteries of Michael Chabon’s first novel…

Chabon’s The Mysteries of Pittsburgh has been lavished with praise – the mystery is…Why…?

The Mysteries of Pittsburgh by Michael Chabon (image courtesy Goodreads)

As anyone familiar with the literary scene (at least any literary scene not composed solely of adults who read nothing but YA literature or some other highly siloed genre/subgenre) knows, Michael Chabon has been a darling of the litfic scene for about 25 years now. He’s won a Pulitzer Prize and several other awards and been touted as a literary great.  His first novel, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, was called “astonishing” by the New York Times; “remarkable” by the Los Angeles Times; “extraordinary” by the Village Voice.

My own experience with Chabon’s work before reading The Mysteries of Pittsburgh was watching the film version of Wonder Boys. I found it a quirky, charming, somewhat slick little film and thought about getting the book. I supposed the book would be that, too: quirky, charming, a tad slick. Still, I thought to give it a go. Something else shiny beckoned, evidently, because I never got around to it. So when I ran across this book at my favorite used book store a while back, I picked it up expecting to read the early work of a talented and celebrated writer. Given that this was his first book, I expected some flaws. I expected some rough edges… Continue reading

Obama-Nope

From the bully pulpit — not much, let alone outrage

Obama’s Ferguson ‘speech’ says little, offers less, provides no national direction

I just finished watching President Obama’s remarks last night after the grand jury decision in the Michael Brown shooting.

Shortly after the shooting, a friend and I were discussing the president’s response at that time. We asked, “Where is his anger? Where is his outrage?” It’s fair to ask those questions again.

It’s fair to observe that much of what the president said last night has for a long time been evident to anyone who knows about the “Bloody Sunday” civil rights march in Selma, Ala., in 1965, where police attacked the marchers with billy clubs and tear gas. It’s been evident to anyone who knows about the racist ugliness surrounding the integration of public schools in Little Rock, Ark., in 1957. It’s been evident to anyone who knows about the murder of Emmett Till, 14, who was dragged from his bedroom by three men, beaten, shot, and dumped into a river for flirting with a white woman in a grocery store in 1955. And the long history of racism and violence includes thousands of additional incidents, some known, many others not.

Sadly but predictably, President Obama relied last night on the two pillars of political speeches: stating the obvious, and saying nothing of substance. For example, the president said of the grand jury’s decision, “There are Americans who agree with [the decision] and there are Americans who are deeply disappointed, even angry. That’s an understandable reaction.” As if none of us could figure this out on our own.
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Earp grave

Tuesday morning with the Earps

Fanciful middle-aged musings in a garden of the dead

It was just another Tuesday…

Wyatt Earp is dead and gone but I have sometimes talked to him in the years since I became a Heart Disease Missionary. When I come to the cold shores of Colma, I come to stave off cancer by snacking on his western bones.

  …and I was out running an errand. And running that errand put me in a location in South San Francisco from where it would be easy to run other errands. You know how that goes. One twenty-minute task turned into five, and without prior planning I ended up in a Carl’s Jr. eating a chorizo breakfast burrito, wondering what it would do to my cholesterol levels and feeling bad about fast-food slumming.

I figured after I’d eaten I wasn’t yet ready to deal with the shuffling toddler-mom shopping carts or oblivious merchandise stock-monkeys at Target or Best Buy. Then I realized Josephine and Wyatt Earp were within my automobile errand sphere, so I decided to go see them.

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The Elvis “Coverup”: Nothing to See Here, Move Along…

If the excerpt from the new Elvis biography is an indication of the entire work, readers will learn exactly –  nothing new…

Elvis doing that Jailhouse Rock (image courtesy Wikimedia)

I had a professor who once described sound academic writing as learning to “articulate the obvious.” This in itself isn’t bad advice, and I occasionally pass it along to writing students who seem convinced that scholarly writing of any worth must follow “the three C’s” of turgid writing: it should be convoluted, confusing, and contradictory.

Joel Williamson’s new biography of the King, Elvis Presley: A Southern Life, avoids turgidity and, if the excerpt recently published by Salon is any indication, it follows my old professor’s dictum to a degree that readers knowledgeable about the music legend (or about the history of rock and its significant figures) may find downright frustrating. Continue reading

CATEGORY: RacePolitics

State of Emergency! Ferguson battens hatches

And who can blame Governor Nixon for that?

Like most folks who keep up at least a little with the news, I’ve heard a thing or three about Ferguson. Of late, I’ve actually stopped keeping up with news in general to the extent I used to. Partly that’s burnout. Partly it’s that I’ve found a few other things to keep me fiddling while Rome burns. But I still scan the headlines at least a few times a week. Maybe it’s like a junkie getting a half-assed fix. Maybe it’s just a good idea to keep some fresh idea of what’s going on in the world. Anyone blow up Russia yet? Has the ebola outbreak spread to my neck of the woods? What about Kim Kardashian’s ass? You know, the usual important stuff. Continue reading

One day I got trapped in a television…

…in a hotel room in San Juan Bautista, California.

My wife and I had been having a lovely time until then.

I am fortunate she returned from the hotel pool in time

to switch off the set.

If she hadn’t, I might have ended up on Fox News.

(Picture taken in San Juan Bautista, California on June 22nd, 2013)

Popular Culture

Murdering culture, one hipster delusion at a time…

Hipsters being savaged by a former hipster seems – oh, I don’t know, about right…?

Author Will Self (image courtesy Wikimedia)

No one who is a thinking person doubts that our culture is in trouble. Whatever forces have taken us down a road where knowledge of reality television shows is considered social capital are, I think we can all agree, malevolent.

In a recent essay in The New Statesman (and republished in The New Republic), British novelist and intellectual Will Self savages his generation’s acquiescence in failing to overcome being what he calls “the pierced and tattooed, shorts-wearing, skunk-smoking, OxyContin-popping, neurotic dickheads who’ve presided over the commoditization of the counterculture; we’re the ones who took the avant-garde and turned it into a successful rearguard action…of capitalism’s blitzkrieg.” His critique (written in a classic snarky style) continues with an indictment of what he sees as a completely delusional group of “artists” – : Continue reading

LaRouche

Lyndon LaRouche à go-go: batshit fringe by the Bay

The batshit crazy fringe flexes its free speech muscles a little too close to this photographer’s home…

Brisbane, California isn’t a particularly radical town, but it is pretty politically liberal (with a decent-sized side dish of libertarianism). As such, it was surprising to see supporters of controversial American political oddity Lyndon LaRouche doing some vocal and insistent recruiting on a public sidewalk in front of Brisbane’s post office.

(The LaRouche propaganda tableau in front of Brisbane’s post office, which is right at the biggest intersection in town, which means everyone driving in and out of Brisbane while the LaRouche people were there was forced to see President Obama’s defaced picture.)

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Health

Hysterectomy – who needs one anyway?

Warning, ladies – you probably don’t!

Wait, gentlemen, please don’t run away! Yes, I am about to start throwing around words like uterus, ovaries, vagina, clitoris, nipples, orgasm, and hysterectomy. Here under the shameful for-profit health care system we have, an astonishing one-third of American women are hysterectomized, leading to physical side-effects, emotional side-effects, loss of sex drive and sexual response, and total loss of overall vitality. Surely you have a wife, girlfriend, daughter, sister, mother, or aunt vulnerable to this outrage, so please do read on. I have read of so many men being devastated by the changes in women they love following hysterectomy – it is your issue too.

 

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CATEGORY: ArtsLiterature

Meet Transrealism – the New Literary Buzz…?

Claims of a new 21st century literary movement called “Transrealism” are, so far, just that – claims….

Why one should not swim in Black Lagoons (image courtesy Xombie News Network)

There have been a number of cross-genre fiction experiments being spun out these days. The most famous (and commercially successful) of these experiments is likely steam punk, a blending of elements of historical and science fiction, though the commercial success crown might belong to cyberpunk, the blending of “high tech and low life” that crosses elements of hard boiled detective fiction with dystopian visions.  Other experiments have crossed science fiction with horror, sometimes with impressive results, sometimes with unintentionally humorous ones.

A recent piece from The Guardian book blog suggests that now authors have crossed into new territory – they’re crossing realism, traditional territory of literary fiction, with some narrative thread that hearkens to science fiction, fantasy, or horror. The writer at The Guardian is sure this is the first new literary movement of the 21st century. Continue reading

Let’s Stick Together: It’s all about the base

moral monday

The moral movement is out in force. ALEC is whining about “church activists” countering their money machine with common sense and the free exchange of ideas. Moral Mondays in North Carolina begin with prayers by a Baptist Minister, a Jewish Rabbi, a Muslim Imam, and whoever else happens to be there. It’s a no-brainer for the social justice front that the Tea Party must be stopped. Their anarcho-capitalist methods have already bled Kansas dry and we might be next. Cuts to health care, food security, and education cannot be ignored by the vast majority who rely upon them. Continue reading

plus-size

Retailers to plus-size women: fuck you – a disgusting insight from Big Data

Plus-size fashion? Sure, as long as you don’t care about color.

plus-sizeI had kind of a WTF? moment at work today, that turned into a moment that made me think, and finally into a full-blown depressing moment.

We’re working on a project for a retailer that sells a wide range of clothing to women. We were examining the strategic keyword analysis workbook looking for patterns and insights in the search data for an upcoming presentation, when we tripped across this disheartening realization.

In every category – Dresses, Blouses, Skirts, Prom, Formal, Homecoming, etc. – there’s a huge volume of search for color: [blue prom dress], [red skirt], [green top], etc. Every category except one, that is: Plus Size. When you look at the search data for plus size queries, there’s almost no volume for color. The only term that shows any life at all is [white]. Continue reading

ArtSunday: LIterature

Angry bards and Amazon reviewers…

In which one author tells another, to paraphrase one well known critic, nothing can please many nor please long but representations by the general public…

One hopes book reviewers read the books they review (image courtesy Wikimedia)

In a recent New Republic essay, author Jennifer Weiner takes author Margo Howard to task. Weiner’s reason for castigating Howard? Howard seems to have reacted negatively to some of the reviews she received on Amazon.

Okay, stop laughing at the Weiner’s intentional or unintentional disingenuousness and bear with me as we discuss this. Continue reading

CATEGORY: Funny

Breaking Bad toy fiasco

Irwin Mainway would be proud. Even he would have a hard time topping this headline: “Toys R Us pulls meth-toting ‘Breaking Bad’ action figures from shelves after Florida mom’s protest.”

The dolls, based on the recently concluded AMC series, featured characters based on White, a meth-cooking high school science teacher, and his sidekick, Jesse Pinkman. Along with the action figures, the toys came with fake bags of meth, sacks of cash and gas masks.

For those of you not old enough to remember, Irwin Mainway was a sleazy toy salesman who was perennially grilled about his dangerous toys (such as “Bag of Glass”) by Jane Curtin on the “Consumer Probe” skit. The toys were over-the-top ridiculous. Continue reading

ALECvUU

ALEC: Church activists are hurting us. Make them stop

ALECvUUThe conservative political Goliath known as ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) may have met its David in the guise of Unitarian-Universalists and other progressives. ALEC has been wounded not with a sling and stone, but knowledge and organized financial pressure on its corporate backers.

On October 17, ALEC sent a fundraising  email to its members and supporters that starts off:

“Professional activists ranging from Common Cause to the Unitarian Universalist Church just won’t stop. As part of their misleading smear campaign, these activist groups demand members stop working with ALEC.”

It sounds, almost, unfair. “Professional activists” picking on poor ALEC.

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The most beautiful college campuses in America: 10 thoughts on a new list

There’s a new list out ranking the 20 most beautiful college campuses in America. These things are always subjective, and they can start more arguments than they settle, but I have to admit that this is a not-bad list.

I haven’t been to all the honored campuses, but I am familiar with several of them. Heck, I hold degrees from two of them.

Here’s the list, then I’ll have a few comments.

1. University of Virginia Continue reading

WordsDay: Literature

The final, hopefully completely updated 2014 reading list…

“It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will be when you can’t help it.” – Oscar Wilde

This is a stack of books. There are lots of these at my house. (image courtesy freedigitalphotos.net)

(For previous posts in this series look here, here, and here.)

After several threats to do so, I finally take a bit of time to update the 2014 reading list. Several elements have played into the list expanding well beyond its original limits: new friendships with publishers who asked me to review books, interesting finds at used book stores, decisions to read books so I’d know a little better what I was talking about when I castigated their authors.

So here we go. This, I hope, will catch up the 2014 reading list. Anything else that swims into view will go on the 2015 reading list. (I offer links for books that I have already written essays about.) Continue reading

Homelessness

The Healing Blues: musicians unite against homelessness

An old friend, Jon Epstein, is involved with Greensboro College’s Healing Blues Project, which aims to to raise $30,000 for the Interactive Resource Center, a tax-exempt, nonprofit day center in downtown Greensboro for people experiencing homelessness. I’m not even going to bother explaining why this is a worthy cause, and honestly, I’m not sure what I could say that makes the point any better than track 14 on the CD, “I Die a Little,” which reunites Jon and his Haymarket Riot collaborator Pat Lichty on a track co-written by Jon’s wife, Kim Thoré, and voxed by Charlotte Whitted.

As you can see on the project’s IndieGoGo page, they have a ways to go to meet their goal. I encourage you to give it a listen and contribute if you can.

Book-Review

The Song or the Singer? Trying to Understand the Success of Nicholas Sparks

In the case of a writer like Nicholas Sparks, perhaps it’s that he gives readers a familiar story arc time after time that explains his success…

A Walk to Remember by Nicholas Sparks (image courtesy Goodreads)

After reading a couple of superb pieces of literary fiction by J.F. Powers and Shelby Foote, I detoured from the 2014 reading list to take a look at the work of a writer whose success I’ve wondered about for some time.

Yep. That’s right. Literary fiction snob and crusty old professor Jim read him some Nicholas Sparks.

It happened accidentally. Lea and I were doing some book rearranging a few days ago and, as we shifted books from one bookcase to another, we came across a copy of Nicholas Sparks’s third novel, A Walk to Remember, a book Lea received from an aunt several years ago that had languished on our shelves. She moved to toss it into our donation box for the local library, but I stopped her. My words were something to the effect of “I’ve abused this guy’s work without having read it. I am going to read this novel and write about it.”

And so we proceed. Continue reading