Sunday, November 29, 2009
So Winter is my time to buckle down and hit the books. This time of year, I excitedly form my list of books I plan on tackling as the days grow short and the wind whips through the barren branches:
1. The Polysyllabic Spree, Nick Hornby - The list master himself. I'm into this one right now - it's a series of Hornby's contributed columns from Believer. Hornby breaks down a year in his life and tells you about the books he's bought and read. But this work is more about his love of books and the act of book buying and book obsessing.
2. The Black Book, Ian Rankin. It's Edinburgh, it's dark, damp and cranky. Not a book for sunny beaches and rum drinks with those little umbrellas in them.
3. Sleepless Days, Jurek Becker. An East German schoolteacher is confronted with his own mortality - am I in heaven or what?
4. The Black Prince, Iris Murdoch. For my birthday, I bought myself a used 1973 first-edition hardcover in great condition. I plan on wearing white cotton gloves as I read this.
5. Chekhov - Selected Stories. It's winter so oh, yes...there will be Chekhov. The greatest writer that ever lived IMHO - a fine doctor too. I have at least three different Chekhov short story anthologies. They're like paper towels - if I see them, I buy them because I can't live without them.
6. Portnoy's Complaint, Philip Roth. I know, I know - I've never read it. I'm only human.
7. Airframe, Michael Crighton. A good friend gave me this to read because I work with airplanes. Too bad the late Crighton aligned himself with the crazies toward the end.
8. The Finest Stories of Padraic O'Conaire, Again...it's the whole damp cold thing.
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Thursday, November 19, 2009
The healthiest (top 5):
1. Vermont - Now I'm actually kind of surprised here. I once spent a week in Vermont in the dead of July. It never got above 50 degrees and the sun came up at 9:30am and promptly set at 4:00pm. How do you stay healthy while freezing in a log cabin drinking syrup eleven months out of the year?
2. Utah - This isn't fair. They have Mormons. Those people don't drink, they don't smoke. Not fair....just not fair.
3. Massachusetts - I'm sorry. I really don't get this one. Between the years 1990 and 2000, I visited Boston about twenty times. And during each visit, every inhabitant I encountered was binge drinking. All of them.
4. Hawaii - I'm surprised Hawaii wasn't #1. My in-laws live on the island of Oahu and I get there about once a year. Every. Day. The. Weather. Is. Beautiful. The air is fresh and the ocean awaits. If I lived there, I'd be a bronzed surfing god...really I would.
5. New Hampshire - You've seen the license plates. "Live Healthy or Die". 'Bout sums it all up, doesn't it.
And now...the bottom five:
46. South Carolina - "YOU LIE!!" No, Addison Wilson III, we don't lie. Maybe fighting health care reform that might enhance preventative medicine isn't such a bad idea, huh?
47. Louisiana - now this isn't fair. They have Bourbon Street. That'll throw off the curve, won't it? And think of everything they had to go through Post-Katrina. Give these folks a break, I say.
48. Alabama - ever been to a Skynard concert? Me neither.
49. Oklahoma - kind of surprised here. I always think of Oklahoma as the diet-Texas. Texas Lite.
50. Mississippi - Fun to spell, lousy to visit. I should like to point out that from a civic legislation standpoint, two of the bottom five are best known for exerting inordinate amounts of energy keeping the confederate flag as their state flag. Just sayin'.
My home state? New York - #25. Middle of the curve.
Sunday, November 15, 2009
- - The town has changed a great deal. It was once composed of almost exclusively working-class Irish and Italian families. Now though, due to its close proximity to New York, it's become somewhat gentrified with young, professional yuppie families, I guess, like my own. The small homey movie theatre where I saw E.T., is now a film arts center and the corner newsstand where my brother and I bought baseball cards and comics has become a fashion optical store. The ancient timber box church we'd once attended has been bulldozed and rebuilt.
- - But amid this makeover, I may find some artifact, a sign that's been left unchanged, a store that's been utterly unchanged through three decades. And in these small pockets I feel a transformative rush and a dizzying sensation of being neither in the present nor in the past.
In the title story of Gao Xing Jian's Buying a Fishing Rod for My Grandfather, the narrator is reminiscing about his youth as he makes his way through the town where he grew up. He has bought his grandfather a new fishing rod, a sort of prolonged replacement for one he broke as a child. But as he walks, this man is disoriented by the lack of familiar landmarks. Amid all that is unfamiliar, he is devastated by the absence of a vast lake he once knew: "...I never imagined that the fish would all die, that the sparkling lake would turn into a foul pond, that the foul pond would be filled in, and that I would not be able to find the way to my old home."
- - If I've learned anything, it's that your old home is gone. Unlike this narrator, I can easily find my old house. It still stands, renovated and expanded. But it's gone. I can stand on its front lawn for hours. But it will never come back and that time, like all time, is gone forever. The danger of nostalgia, and the danger of my living here, is that all around me lurks the narcotic possibility of losing my foothold in reality and becoming lost in something that exists only in ether. If I find myself heading down that path as I drive to work, stop into the dry cleaners, or walk my children to school, I have to keep this refrain: 'open your eyes'.
- - The rest of the stories in this book are sparse, delicately paced and filled with people lost in a world of their emotions. The spector of the Cultural Revolution hangs over all these characters. Everyone deals with their emotional lives with great trepidation, perhaps remembering the time when emotional lives were effectively bulldozed and forbidden, or like the aforementioned lake, filled in and unrecognizable.
Thursday, November 12, 2009
My ire is derived by my love of jazz and my obsession with artifacts. Here appeared to be a veritable treasure trove of recordings capturing not just some music which spontaneously erupted from this oasis of creativity, but a time capsule snaring the sights, sounds and textures of 1950's and 60's New York.
Well, apparently WNYC will be presenting incremental pieces from Smith's tapes. Hallelujah.
Sunday, November 8, 2009
Thursday, November 5, 2009
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
Let's get right into it.
GOOD - Best Friends for Frances - by Russell Hoban. Frances' friend Albert is a gluttonous chauvinist and she puts him right in his place. Go girl! This one takes some time to get through, but it's well worth it.
BAD - Berenstein Bears - Father Bear is an idiot, Brother and Sister Bear are unlikable brats and Mother Bear is an insufferable, preachy shrew. Ah, suburban dyspepsia reaches even into the animal kingdom.
GOOD - Louie by Ezra Jack Keats. Anything by Ezra Jack Keats is beautiful. His combination of collage and painting beautifully capture a child's emotional landscape in the inner city. Louie is a simple, gentle story showing how children can treat each other decently.
BAD - Once Upon a Potty, Alona Frankel. Joshua gets a new potty. Yes, wonderful, Joshua. Joshua uses his new potty. Now, Joshua loves his new potty and he uses it every time. Joshua is 42, overweight and still lives with his mother. When we were potty training my son I had to read this damn book every night for months. Painful. I swear to God if I ever meet Joshua, I'm going to punch him in his fat stupid face.
GOOD - Angelina Ballerina - Katherine Holabird. Beautifully illustrated tale about a girl (mouse) who simply loves to dance. It's nice to see Angelina in her youthful, exuberant days before she grows up, moves to New York City to audition with Alvin Ailey, whereupon she lives for months on coffee, saltines and cigarettes. Later, she'll just become the waifish girlfriend of a Russian mobster-mouse wallowing away in some apartment in Howard Beach. Poor Angelina.
BAD - Anything from the Strawberry Shortcake series. You wanna go on a diet? Read these books. You'll never order desert again in your life. I go into diabetic shock every time my daughter pulls this out of her book stack. Disgusting. Berry, berry disgusting.
GOOD - Captain Underpants - Dav Pilkey. This is the way I would want to write a children's book. Sprawling, nonsensical borderline profane goofiness. Farting. Wedgies. Awesome.
BAD - Skippy Jon Jones - by Judy Schachner . A Siamese cat with big ears thinks he's a chiuaua. A bad Mexican accent follows. These books are dense with deprecating Spanglish. Do NOT gift this book to any Latino family - they will rightfully smash you over the head with it.
GOOD - Who's Got the Apple by Jan Loof. A prize-winning apple makes it's way through a town via a series of mishaps and misunderstandings. By the end, the apple ends up right where it belongs. (If you look closely at the last page, there's a panoramic illustration of the town where you can make out the exasperated school principal heading into a bar. Nice.)
AWFUL - Merry Thanksgiving - A family are having all their relatives over for Thanksgiving. These idiots then decide to wait until the morning of Thanksgiving to go shopping. Mom loses her shopping list. Then that genius she married suggests this: "we'll just wait until the whole family gets here, then we'll get the recipes from them..", thus making him the most unhelpful jackass in all the annuls of fiction. It starts to snow...bad. The house is packed and they end up not cooking a damn thing. But then Santa arrives with all their food - cooked, trimmings and all. Nice job, Santa. I'm sure that bankrupt soup kitchen downtown will figure out something in this blizzard.
Ehhh...GOOD I guess: What Happens on Wednesdays by Emily Jenkins. A little girl tells you about her day in a beautifully paced, gentle voice. But the parents in this book are just SOOOOOOOOO boho-Park Slope Brooklyn chic. You know what, I don't need a children's book to tell me what a predictable, uncool, unlikable suburban schnook I've become.
BAD - Snowball Fight by Jimmy Fallon. Man, I hate it when celebrities write children's books. I mean, God forbid we give a book deal to a real, struggling writer when we can whore ourselves for an extra buck or two? Adam Stower illustrated this book whose text I'd estimate it took Fallon all of seven minutes to write. Seriously, this is an excerpt: "Snowball fight! Snowball, snowball, snowball fight!" Wish I was kidding.
GREAT - The Three Questions by Leo Tolstoy. What's important in life? This book helps us through that question and the watercolors absolutely take my breath away. Pick it up now before Romney/Palin take over in 2012 and send bootjack teabaggers to your house to beat you senseless for owning a book by Tolstoy.
What's your favorite children's book?