Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Yay for Austin!

It is so lovely to be back home. For the past two weeks I've been subjected to constant below-freezing temperatures, including a few nights that got down into the negative digits (with the exception of one really warm day in the 50s that made all the snow melt). Today I have short sleeves on and the windows are open. Wonderful.

I've got a million things to do and lots of piles to sort and stuff to put away, so while I'm busy with all of that, please amuse yourselves with a short video of the as-yet-unnamed family band that will soon be topping the charts.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Almost home

We would actually be on the road home right now had we not had a totally shitty tire blowout on the Kansas Turnpike last night. Here are some lessons learned:

1. Dr. M is a good guy to have in the driver's seat if your tire blows out when you are driving 75 on a busy interstate.

2. Kansas state troopers are nice guys and they will help you change your tire.

3. Always, always, always check the air pressure in your spare before a long trip (mine was at zero. Whoops).

4. Triple A is a good investment when you find yourself on the side of the interstate with no air in your spare.

5. Driving for fifty miles on your tiny spare is freaky when you can't go over 50 and everyone else is going 80.

My current hope is that Rick, who the ladies at the front desk of our hotel recommended, has our tire size in stock and is a fast worker. I'm ready to be home right now...

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Oh yeah...

With holiday times and holiday travels, don't expect too much spacebeeriness over the next couple of weeks. Although, who knows, maybe I'll surprise you...

Thursday, December 11, 2008

God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater (1965)

The always wonderful JLowe gave me his copy of God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater or Pearls Before Swine (1965) by Kurt Vonnegut. It had been rescued from the bin behind Half Price Books, and doesn't have its cover, yet is still perfectly up to a re-reading.

I'm not sure when I read this last -- probably in high school, but possibly in college. I loved Vonnegut back then and tore through all his books multiple times. And he is an easy guy to tear through, with his short chapters and pastiche-style narratives. He is also an easy guy to get mixed up with himself. I remember reading all of Vonnegut's books, but little about what I thought of individual novels. So even though I don't remember how I felt about God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater when I first read it, I did really enjoy it this second (third? fourth?) time.

God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater is the story of (as you might imagine) Mr. Rosewater. Actually two different Mr. Rosewaters. One, Eliot Rosewater, comes from a huge amount of money and has the non-responsibility of distributing large chunks of that money as president of the Rosewater Foundation. The other, his distant cousin Fred Rosewater, is a struggling insurance agent in Rhode Island who will inherit the Rosewater fortune if his lawyer can prove that Eliot is insane. And to his family, particularly his father, the Senator, Eliot does seem pretty insane. He left his big house and his fancy life in the city to live back in the town of Rosewater, Indiana. He is obsessed with volunteer firemen. He drinks constantly, sleeps in a dingy one-room apartment, and answers every phone call, any time of day or night, with "This is the Rosewater Foundation. How can we help you?" And then he does whatever he can to help the person on the other end of the phone.

He also has some words of wisdom. For a time he wrote the following in every men's room he visited:

If you would be unloved and forgotten, be reasonable.

And when asked to baptize some twins, even though he is not religious, he comes up with the following plan:

Go over to her shack, I guess. Sprinkle some water on the babies, say, "Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It's hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It's round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you've got about a hundred years here. There's only one rule that I know of, babies --: God damn it, you've got to be kind."

So, yeah, Eliot Rosewater probably is a little crazy. But in the nicest, most sane way possible. Just like Vonnegut, whose books manage to be cynical and naive and funny and heartbreaking all at once.

Now, who can I give this poor coverless book to? You know you want to read it...

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Is life worth living?

Well this 1933 publication (endorsed by the Catholic Church) certainly seems to think so. I'd say it would at least be worth living long enough to read some of the other booklets published by this company, including: "What is Love?," "Dorothy's Divorce," "Companionate Marriage," "Unreasonable Mothers," "Can You Say No?," "Are You in Style?," "What Price Popularity?," Everyman: A Three Act Morality Play on Marriage," and "The Terrors of Being Engaged"

Sunday, December 07, 2008

The Exorcist (1971)

For some unknown reason, I bought this copy of William Peter Blatty's The Exorcist from the library book sale. I think I was just interested to see how closely the movie followed the book. And I do like the movies (well, the first one and the third one, the second one is a little goofy but still occasionally entertaining). And, with the exception of the first couple chapters and a few heavy-handed metaphors, I was not disappointed.

As most of you are probably aware, The Exorcist is the story of Chris MacNeil, a famous actress (who was actually based on Shirley MacLaine, who is a friend of Blatty), and her daughter Regan. Things start out slowly, with Regan complaining of bumps in her room and an demonstrating an increasing fascination with her Ouija board. Regan's problems soon escalate into a barfing, cussing, coma-ridden, linguistically enhanced, religiously-tinged masturbatory freak out, at which point her mother and the rest of the household seek outside help. They first turn to doctors, then psychologists, then a doubt-ridden priest who is also a psychologist (Father Karras), and finally an un-doubting old priest who comes right away when he is called to exorcise the demon Pazuzu out of little Regan. (Pazuzu! It never stops being funny to say. If you watch Exorcist II, you will get to spend a lot of time with Pazuzu.)

Overall the book is fast-paced and well written, although it occasionally gets a little too drawn down into its science vs. religion, doubt vs. belief motifs. And the first chapter almost made me just put the book down and walk away (which I almost never do) -- it is told from the perspective of Chris MacNeil, and has some of the hammiest metaphors and stupid use of sentence fragments and italics I have ever seen. The first paragraph of the book gives you a taste of it: "Like the brief doomed flare of exploding suns that registers dimly on blind men's eyes, the beginning of the horror passed almost unnoticed; in the shriek of what followed, in fact, was forgotten and perhaps not connected to the horror at all. It was difficult to judge." If you can get through that, the rest of the book is a breeze.

Finally, I know I have posted this clip before (which is from Exorcist III, although the carp in question is actually mentioned by the detective in the book of The Exorcist), but I can't get enough of George C. Scott and his carp:

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Special Secret Boyfriend update!

Thanks to our digital TV converter box, I have renewed my love affair with a feisty pair of secret boyfriends, the San Diego private detectives Rick and A. J. Simon. Now that we are receiving digital waves from our antenna, we get the Retro TV Network, and as far as I'm concerned we never need to buy cable for the rest of our lives. In addition to the sexy brothers on Simon and Simon, we also get the Rockford Files, The Incredible Hulk, The A Team, Dragnet, and so much more.

But back to those Simon boys. A.J. is the straitlaced, play by the rules brother who usually gets the girl. Rick is a Vietnam vet who takes chances and plays by his own rules. And often also gets a girl. The girls change from episode to episode. Every episode is really excellent, although the last one I watched has Rick and A.J. investigating a man who disappeared from a nudist colony, which naturally involved quite a bit of nudity on the part of the brothers, often with hilarious and charming results. I believe this is the only instance of two naked SBs together in a single one hour television show, and it might be hard for any of my Secret Boyfriends to top that...

Don't believe me about how awesome Simon and Simon is? Just watch the intro, and you will be hooked for life:

Saturday, November 29, 2008

32 years of excitement

This year I have been driving just as long as I haven't been driving. My plans so far are to drink a lot of coffee, eat a lot of meatloaf, and then drink some beer and possibly take a tequila shot. Yay birthday!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Newsflash!

This just in: Pickled garlic is awesome. That is all.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Prague Orgy (1985) and Zuckerman Bound (1985)

Finished! After reading the three novels and novella that make up Philip Roth's Zuckerman Bound: A Trilogy & Epilogue, I sort of feel like this has turned into the Nathan Zuckerman blog. 800 pages of masculine Jewish angstiness is kind of a lot all at once, and it might have been a better plan to break up these novels with a palette cleansing pulpy something between each onslaught.

The final entry in this batch of Zuckerman books (Roth wrote five more, most recently 2007's Exit Ghost, which he says is the last one) is The Prague Orgy (1985), an epistolary novella that has our hero meeting a gregarious Jewish Czech exile in New York. The Czech is also a writer, and is traveling with a beautiful and sad Czech actress. After a bit of conversation and quite a few drinks, Zuckerman is set on a quest to Prague to try and get the Yiddish manuscripts written by the author's martyred father (killed by the Nazis) away from his beautiful and sad (and a bit crazy) estranged wife, Olga.

Once in Prague, Zuckerman soon finds himself in the cynical and depraved world of a group of Czech intellectuals who are consistently repressed and constantly spied upon by the Communist government and their fellow citizens. Their most satisfying activity appears to be having sex, asking to have sex, and talking about having sex, so Zuckerman fits right in. Zuckerman quickly finds Olga, and she admits to having the manuscripts, but will Zuckerman have sex with her? And why does the doorman in the hotel act so oddly?

The novella provides a partial respite from the inside of Zuckerman's mind, which has been extensively explored in the three previous novels (especially The Anatomy Lesson) and nicely explores some of Roth's common themes including fame, the social responsibility of an author, and sex.

Although it was a bit tiring at times, I did really enjoy this group of novels (again, especially The Anatomy Lesson), and I plan to read some more Zuckerman (and other Roth) soon, although I think I'll give it a little time before I jump in.

[All my Zuckerman reviews can be found here.]

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Spacenecks

Many myths surround the creation of the lovely sounds of The Spacenecks, but the most plausible and entertaining may be this one:

"Josh Spaceneck, Joel Spaceneck, and Jamey Spaceneck were three feral children found in the woods behind a Ben and Jerry's ice cream shop. Taken in and raised by a kindly rock and roll band, the trio seemed to be deaf-mutes. However, when exposed to strobe lighting and fog, the Spaceneck boys picked up their foster parents' instruments and unleashed a tsunami of blistering rock and roll. The government officially denies the existence of The Spacenecks to this very day."

Poor quality video of live Spaceneck hijinks and rocking available here.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Gifty

I might have the best mail carrier in the world. Her name is Peggy. Yesterday Dr. M drove away just as she was getting to our apartment (to come pick me up from work -- thanks Dr. M!), but we had a bunch of little packages and she doesn't like to leave them by our door. To save us a trip to the post office, Peggy made a special trip by our apartment this morning to drop off our packages. She wasn't even delivering the rest of the mail for the apartment building -- she just stopped by here for us. Thanks Peggy!

Most of the packages were presents I'm trying to be smart about ordering early (I am actually almost done with my xmas shopping and I'm pretty proud of that). And in one of the packages were these awesome vintage watch movement hair pins that I bought as a birthday present for myself (a week early, but I don't mind the promptness). They look even cooler in person. Thanks me!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Mellowed

Some fellow archivists and I had dinner/late happy hour at the Mellow Mushroom on Guadalupe last night.

Cons:
LOUD
Long wait for food
Stupid theme
Chainy

Pros:
$1.25 Lone Stars all the time
$3 well drinks all the time

Food was fine (I had a BLT), but I will go back for a cheap drink any day. I'm a sucker for a bargain.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Anatomy Lesson (1983)

In Philip Roth's The Anatomy Lesson (1983), the third book in the Zuckerman Bound trilogy (which will close with The Prague Orgy, a novella), our hero, the successful author Nathan Zuckerman, is in pain and all out of ideas.

His father died at the end of the last book, and his beloved mother died three years ago. His only other family, a brother with whom he was never that close, has completely cut off ties with him, blaming their father's death on the shame caused the family by Zuckerman's last book, Carnovsky. But more than all that, more than anything else, is the horrible pain in his neck and shoulders that has incapacitated him for the past 18 months. No doctor can diagnose it. No alternative therapies help it. The best he can do is take Percodan, drink vodka, and spend most of his time lying flat on his back on a playmat he has installed in the center of his living room. Since he is currently between wives, Zuckerman has accumulated a set of four women (his financial consultant's wife, an heiress attending the nearby college, a rather hilariously depressive Polish immigrant who treats Zuckerman at the hair loss clinic, and a wholesome artist who lives in the country) who come to his apartment and cook him food, run his errands, listen to his complaints, tell their stories, and not infrequently have sex with him in various pain-free positions. They are, however, of little comfort to Zuckerman who can't write and isn't even sure if he still wants to.

The sometimes stifling inaction of the first half of the book explodes into a drug-fueled trip to Chicago in the second half of the book where Zuckerman spends part of his time pretending to be a pornographer and the rest of his time trying to get into medical school. As you might imagine, neither of these pursuits has really come to anything by the end of the novel, although after a nicely constructed climax, Zuckerman does find himself spending time with the hospital interns as they go through their rounds.

Zuckerman is a jerk, insensitive, difficult to please, unyielding, parasitic, and cruel. He is also often very funny, lonely, misunderstood, forgiving, and easily hurt. His art has been primarily motivated by his tension with a hard working Jewish father who never understood his son, and now (after a crushing last word) is dead, and his Jewish neighborhood in New Jersey that all the Jews moved away from. He has plenty of money. He's famous. But he is unable to write, unable to be satisfied, and even if he stops writing and becomes a doctor, it is hard to picture Nathan Zuckerman ever being happy.

Maybe The Prague Orgy has a happy ending?

Uncomfortable equation

((Flu shot + tetanus shot) left arm) + ((blood draw) right arm) = sore.

However, as an added bonus, my tetanus shot has also protected me from diphtheria and whooping cough. Thanks science!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Why mornings are nice:


This doesn't happen all that often, but when it does it kind of makes that early alarm worth it...

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Zuckerman Unbound (1981)

In the second book in the Zuckerman Bound trilogy, Zuckerman Unbound (1981), it is 1969 and Philip Roth's fictional author, Nathan Zuckerman, has found just the kind of success with his new novel, Carnovsky, that hounded Roth himself after the publication of Portnoy's Complaint (1969).

Carnovsky is a coming-of-age story in which the titular hero grows up in New Jersey, comes of age, and has a family, experiences, and relationships that are quite similar to those of Nathan Zuckerman (so also quite similar to those of Roth). Naturally everyone assumes that his stories of Carnovsky and his neuroses, sexual desires, and horrible parents are all reflected in Zuckerman's real life. Zuckerman, on the other hand, would be the first person to deny all that -- and dealing with the accusations from his friends, family, and perfect strangers, not to mention his sudden wealth and fame, have left Zuckerman generally unbound.

Throw in a little Alvin Pepler (a New Jersey veteran with a photographic memory who made it big on a 1950s game show, lost it all, gave evidence against the show's producers, and then quietly went just a little bit crazy -- and who is now one of my favorite literary characters of all time), a little starlet dating, an earnest soon-to-be ex-wife, a sick father, and a mother who just wants Zuckerman to be happy and you have a pretty complicated, funny, occasionally frustrating, and ultimately rewarding novel.

Now on to round three!

Saturday, November 08, 2008

The Ghost Writer (1979)

As you might remember, Dr. M and I have concocted a lifelong reading goal of reading all the books listed in Harold Bloom's The Western Canon. Well, I've finally embarked on my second book from the list (alphabetized by title, starting at the end): Zuckerman Bound: A Trilogy and Epilogue by Philip Roth. This is a collection of Roth's first three novels (and one novella) in his Zuckerman series. Since they were all published separately, I've decided to write about them separately.

First in the trilogy is The Ghost Writer (1979), where we follow Nathan Zuckerman, a young writer with a background that closely matches that of Roth himself. Zuckerman has recently cut himself away from his life with a girlfriend in New York and his friendly relationship with his father in New Jersey to live at a writer's retreat in New England and focus on his work. His idol, E.I. Lonoff, a famous older Jewish author, lives in a secluded house near the retreat and Zuckerman writes to him, shares some of his writing, and gets a coveted invitation to join the author and his wife for dinner.

The novel moves along through a series of tensions: between the young writer who wants to impress and the established author who doesn't want to be fawned over; between Lonoff and his wife; between Zuckerman and his recently estranged father; and between everyone and the mysterious young house guest, Amy Bellette, who may or may not be who she says she is.

This is a very tight and narrowly focused novel (my favorite kind), and Roth's character of Zuckerman is the perfect guide through this story of misunderstandings, miscommunications, ambition, desire, disappointment, and routine.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

The Mastermind of Mars (1928)

Choo lent me The Mastermind of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs (1928) about a million years ago. I put it at the bottom of my pile because it is the sixth book in Burroughs' Barsoom series (hint: Barsoom is what the Martians call Mars), and I had only read the first one. Eventually, though, the cover called out to me too strongly and I decided to just take the plunge. Lucky for me Burroughs completely changes direction in this book, which serves as a pretty much stand-alone entryway into the world of Barsoom.

Our hero, Ulysses Paxton (yes), is dying on a WWI battlefield in France. He has always loved reading Burroughs' books about John Carter and his adventures on Mars, and in his final thoughts he focuses on the stars and thinks about how much he wishes he could have seen this amazing world. Then, through the wonder of astral projection (or something), he wakes up in the compound of a scientist on the red planet. Yay!

The scientist, Ras Thavas, quickly teaches Paxton the Barsoomian language and gives him a new name: Vad Varo. Ras Thavas has perfected a method of transplanting the brain and soul of one person into the body of another, and is charging wealthy Barsoomians tons of money to trade into younger and better looking bodies. He can also bring the dead back to life and transplant limbs and organs. It's a pretty good system really.

Paxton plays along as his lab assistant until he meets Valla Dia, a beautiful and benevolent young woman who has had her body switched against her will with an old and ugly empress. Paxton falls in love with Valla Dia's mind, even though she is stuck inside a crappy body, and vows to reunite her with her proper form. This leads to all kinds of adventures, and Paxton teams up with a revived assassin, a giant ape that has half of a man's mind (one of Ras Thavas' many experiments), and a proud warrior whose body was stolen by an evil courtier to woo away the woman he loved. Confused yet? Top that all off with some pretty funny critiques of religion and the masses and you have a very fun science fiction book that shows Burroughs at the top of his form. An excellent read.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

My new career:

Zombie make-up artist. The neck wound is just so-so, but I'm not Tom Savini for christ's sake. The face whitening/shading, on the other hand, is excellent.

[Further evidence here.]

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Pedernales Falls

Even though the falls didn't have that much water in them, I declare Pedernales Falls State Park to be lovely! I'd like to go back and do some of the hiking trails -- we spent all our time crawling over rocks, sliding through sand, and looking at beautiful blue water.

Further photographic evidence here.

[And if you are interested, the rest of my pictures from the LBJ ranch are here.]

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Farm Life

My parents were in town for a visit over the weekend, and for a little day trip we headed out to the Lyndon B. Johnson State Park and Historic Site between Johnson City and Fredericksburg, before finishing our afternoon at Pedernales Falls State Park. I don't have all my pictures up yet, but I do have some shots of my favorite surprise of the trip: the Sauer-Beckmann Farmstead.

The Farmstead (which is part of the LBJ State Park) is a "living farm" where interpreters in period clothing plant, cook, clean, and live like it is still 1918. This was particularly effective on our visit, since it was a cool Monday morning and there was only one other tourist in the park. All the farm buildings and the farmhouse are open and filled with turn-of-the century equipment and furnishings. There are no velvet ropes or interpretive signs, which made it really seem like we were intruding on these old timey people as they fried up their sausage in the kitchen (we came around lunchtime), hoed the sweet potatoes in the garden, and scrubbed the floor with homemade lye soap (pictured above). The docents pitched their story just right, and didn't come off too practiced or hokey. The best part of it is that most of the time they just left you alone to explore the farm, take pictures, and watch the chickens, sheep, turkeys, and cows that wandered around loose.

Since I was really only mildly interested in the "Texas Whitehouse" and LBJ's ranch (although they were also pretty neat), this was a lovely surprise. Everyone should go! But try to do it when no one else is around so that you can have your run of the living farm...

[Note: Best thing of all -- the LBJ State Park and Historic Site are 100% free, now that they are letting cars drive through on a self-guided tour of the ranch instead of making you pay to take a tour bus. Although you do have to pay $1 for a guided tour of LBJ's office, the only room in the "Texas Whitehouse" that has been opened since Ladybird's death.]

[Growing set of pictures from the weekend, including the living farm, here.]

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Eeek!

Please enjoy the scariest pumpkin ever, carved by my sister, Jill. Try not to have nightmares:

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Blindness (1997)

The lovely Julia lent me a copy of José Saramago's 1997 novel Blindness, and I would go so far as to say it is one of the best novels I've read in a long time.

In a contemporary unnamed city, a man goes blind while sitting in his car waiting for the light to change. A stranger helps him home and his wife takes him to the optometrist. Nothing seems to be wrong with his eyes so the doctor sends him home to await more tests in the morning. But that night, while researching the strange eye problem, the doctor goes blind too. And the stranger who brought the man home. And the other patients in the waiting room at the doctor's office. The government quickly orders a quarantine of all the people struck by the "white blindness" in an abandoned mental institution. The population grows and grows and the social order quickly deteriorates. Yet one woman, the doctor's wife, inexplicably retains her sight.

This book is filled with large and small allegories and written in an experimental style with page-long sentences, unusual punctuation, and little explanation of who is saying what and if thoughts were spoken or only thought. And yet, it also has a clear narrative, strong characters, and draws an overwhelming picture of a horrifying and desolate world that is occasionally pierced by hopefulness and life. And the ending was perfect.

You should read this one...

Monday, October 20, 2008

Soured on Beer and Given to Claims

Yay! Achewood Volume IX: Soured on Beer and Given to Claims has made it to my door! Any true Achewood fan should not be without this fine collection of selected strips that originally ran from September 2006 through May 2007, including one of my favorite story arcs -- Mister Band (which you can read online starting here). Yay for Achewood! But when will they announce the Austin date for the book tour?

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Man Who Ate Everything (1997)

The always lovely choo lent me Jeffrey Steingarten's The Man Who Ate Everything (1997) quite awhile ago and it somehow got buried in my pile even though I love food, I love reading, and I love reading about food.

This is an enjoyable collection of essays originally published in Vogue , HG, and Slate, by Steingarten, a lawyer-turned-food-writer. The author is at his best when he obsessively attacks a food-related question (how do you make the perfect pie crust? can microwaved fish taste good? what is the best-tasting ketchup?) by concocting messy experiments in his kitchen, interviewing experts, and pouring over the scientific literature. I also love it when he gets all crotchety and debunks common food myths (low-fat is good! alcohol is bad! meat is bad! salt is bad!). Some of the essays are a little dated (like a weirdly gushing piece about how awesome Olestra is), and Steingarten's humor is definitely more suited to a single piece of journalism than a whole book. This one is way more fun to read if you space it out over time instead of plowing through one piece after the other, but definitely worth dipping into.

Yay food!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Stop Looking at Me!

Ah, Flickr, I never know what weird connections you will bring about. I already know that if I tag one of my photos with "boob" or "feet" or "pee" it will suddenly become very popular. I had no idea that there is a whole group out there who are totally turned on by women wearing bandanas. That last link isn't really safe for work, although it isn't particularly graphic or anything. If you don't mind people seeing you look at a mixture of pornish-looking pictures of women tied up with bandanas together with obviously personal shots of people just wearing bandanas, then go for it. I've got no problem with someone like Flickr user sexybutt99 (if that is his real name) liking to look at some bondage photos, but seriously dude, me wearing a bandana while I am out hiking is not an invitation for you to favorite my picture and try to add it to your group pool. Ew.

Blocked!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

At the Earth's Core (1914)

Way back before I went on vacation last week, I seem to recall reading Edgar Rice Burroughs' 1914 book At the Earth's Core. This is the first book in Burroughs' Hollow Earth series, the second of which I uncharacteristically read first. Obviously that didn't trip me up much since I give a pretty solid run down of the plot of this book in my review of the second book. The only thing I can really add after actually reading the first book in the series is that adorable tiny little whales live in some of the ponds on Pellucidar, but that doesn't stop our hero from catching them and eating them raw when he is on the run from the freaky lizard rulers of the inner-earth kingdom.

Like much of Burroughs, this is a fun and dated sci-fi/adventure novel, but if you like that kind of thing (and I surely do), then you can't go wrong with the manly hero, freaky creatures, and staunch early 20th century American idealism of this series.

[My copy (which features the cover pictured above) is a 1976 Nelson Doubleday Book Club edition, produced to accompany that year's film of the same name. To make it even sweeter, it features 8 black and white photo stills from the movie, which starred Peter Cushing and Doug McClure (half the namesake of Troy McClure, who I'm sure you remember). And if you can't get your hands on your own copy, then read the whole thing online here.]

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Get Big Bended

Big Bend was beautiful -- I'm so glad I decided to overcome my fear of peeing outside and my general dislike of bugs and sleeping on the ground to go camping for a few days. Of course no pictures ever do any big awesome nature experience justice, but I tried. There were lots of landscapes, plants, pictures of me that I took myself, hiking, camping, spiders (okay not lots of spiders, but definitely one big one), and friends.

I'm still slowly getting back to "real life," but luckily that feeling of deep relaxation has stayed with me for a few days. Yay for vacation!

[Exhaustive photographic evidence here]

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Reaclimating to the indoor life...

It involves sleeping like a rock, being way less productive than anticipated, going through my pictures, drinking a bunch of coffee, doing a ton of laundry, going to the grocery store (hopefully soon or I'll end up eating more trail mix), and catching up on those crazy internets.

I had a wonderful time, my friends are the best in the world, and I am very relaxed even with all these "things" I have to "do."

More later...

Friday, October 03, 2008

Oh yeah!

I almost forgot to mention, I'm going on vacation today for several days of West Texas & Big Bend fun! I anticipate having an awesome time. See you all next week!

[Photo courtesy of Joolie because I haven't been out there yet. But when I get back, expect a photo explosion.]

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

To Dr. M:

Happy Anniversary to my only boyfriend who isn't secret. Click here to feel four years of love (previous five years mostly not pictured)....

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Yiddish Policemen's Union (2007)

A new and as-yet-unnamed bookclub is in the forming stages, and our first reading choice is The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon (2007). The only other of Chabon's books that I've read is Werewolves in Their Youth (which google shows me I even wrote about on Spacebeer back in 2006). I really liked that book, and I'm not sure why I hadn't read any more of him (especially The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay -- can I borrow that from somebody?).

I really liked The Yiddish Policemen's Union as well -- briefly it is the story of an alternate universe where instead of settling in Israel, Europe's displaced Jews are given temporary control over a portion of Alaska (this was a real plan that in our version of reality did not have a lot of support). They build a large city, everyone speaks Yiddish, and a couple generations come and go. Then the US decides to take the territory back and the people are once again without a homeland. Our hero is the police detective Meyer Landsman, and even though his department will cease to exist and all his open cases will be thrown out after Reversion, he just can't stop working on the case of a mysteriously murdered man who was assassinated in the same fleabag hotel that Landsman calls home.

I won't say too much more about it since half the people I know are reading this right now and I want to save some juicy tidbits for bookclub, but I will say that I think the book works well as genre fiction (which we all know I love) and as a more "serious" novel (which I also love). I also think that what I wrote a couple years ago about Werewolves in Their Youth is actually pretty applicable to this book too:

Everyone is getting divorced, splitting away, and growing apart. But then, somehow, they end up clinging to something or someone new, or falling back into the same relationship that went so bad at the beginning. Rather than being depressing, the stories are more dark and weirdly hopeful, even when nothing works out by the end.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Harriet the Spy (1964)

Because Choo is awesome and also buys many books she somehow ended up with two copies of Louise Fitzhugh's Harriet the Spy (1964). This means that now I am the proud owner of the extra copy. Yay!

Like many a young girl, I loved this book when I was a kid. And even though I'm a horrible journal writer, it made me attempt to keep one on many many many occasions, and may still be responsible for my lack of control when it comes to buying new notebooks that I then proceed to never write anything in. I know for sure that it inspired game number two in my list of weird games I made up as a kid.

The book is still pretty awesome, although I don't think I picked up on all of Harriet's flaws when I was a kid. And she (and her family, and her neighbors, and her friends) is pretty flawed -- just like people are in reality (except me). I also didn't pick up on some very odd scenes. For example, in the second scene of the book, Ole Golly -- Harriet's nanny -- whisks Harriet and her friend Sport away for an unannounced visit to Ole Golly's mother's house. Harriet's family is rich (that is why they have a nanny), and Ole Golly's mother is poor. But she is also a little touched in the head. And the whole potential lesson of being grateful for what you have and thinking about others is kind of lost in the weirdness of the situation.

Later in the book Harriet's mother asks her if she "went to the bathroom" as she is leaving for school and Harriet yells back "no" and hurries to class. Then she has a day at school where things happen, including her overhearing some other girls talk about her while she is in a bathroom stall. Then she runs home:

First she went to the bathroom because she hadn't in the morning, and when she was sitting there she wrote in her notebook:

I LOVE MYSELF


Okay, Harriet is taking a shit, right? I love that.

[There is a good article about the book here, which also includes a little plot summary and some lovely quotes.]

Friday, September 19, 2008

Reformatting

I still love Kitchen Nightmares, and Gordon Ramsey will always be a secret boyfriend (although after some searching, it looks like I never officially posted about his secret boyfriend status), but what bonehead changed the old format where Gordon would take his shirt off about halfway through the episode and change into his chef outfit while confiding to the camera about how fucked up the restaurant was and how he hoped they could pull it together before the end of the night? Because I miss that part...

[Also, I am an information professional, but I could not find a picture of Gordon Ramsey with his shirt off. That is why I made the Gordon Ramsey / Daniel Craig (also a secret boyfriend) mash up you see above. Can you tell I don't have Photoshop? That is all Paint, baby!]

[Also, I'm home sick from work today. Is this a good use of my time?]

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Requiem, Mass. (2008)

The lovely Milk and Cake loaned me (with the help of the US Postal Service), her advance reader's copy of John Dufresne's new novel Requiem, Mass (2008), because good readers need to stick together.

This book initially seems like one that we've seen a million times before -- the narrator had a troubled, and yet hilarious, youth growing up in a crazy family that ultimately loved one another even though they were falling apart. Dufresne likes to play the "is it a memoir or is it fiction" game and so the narrator, naturally, is also the author of the book. But is the author the narrator? And does it matter?

A nice balance to the childhood memories in this book is a peek at the narrator's present day life. I actually liked these sections a little better than the crazy family stuff -- in them the narrator seemed more real, and less like an entertainer trying to distance himself from his childhood by making fun of it. Of course, the childhood sections are also very readable and often quite funny -- but without the present day action to temper them, the book would be exhausting and a little too light.

I liked this book overall (except for the ending which I liked, but felt was a little forced). And if you are a fan of the crazy childhood memoir/fiction genre, I don't think you will be disappointed.

[Anyone want to have this copy? I'd like to keep the loaning system going...]

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Eggstatic

My neighbor / work friend keeps some chickens in her backyard, and after a few casual discussions of how wonderful fresh eggs are, she very nicely gave me a dozen. I'm not that great of an omelette-maker, but I threw together a couple of them with these eggs yesterday and they blew my mind. Fluffy, rich-tasting, and one million times better than any omelette I have ever had before. Yay for backyard chickens!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Man Within (1929)

The Man Within (1929) is Graham Greene's first published novel, and it really shows. While this psychological semi-thriller is ultimately redeeming, overall it is pretty heavy handed, plodding, and occasionally rather dull.

The Man Within is the story of Andrews, a young man who was orphaned after his long-suffering mother died while he was in boarding school, and his hated booze smuggling father was shot on his own ship. Andrews is met at school by the enigmatic Carlyon, his father's first mate who is a stereotypical heavy with an unusual romantic side that quickly becomes Andrews' only friend. Andrews joins the smugglers, but later double-crosses them, turns them in to the police, and finds himself on the run from his former friends and the law (which is where the book starts). And that is where he meets the girl -- alone in an isolated cottage with her dead guardian/lover in a coffin on the table.

The characters are mostly one-dimensional (and their other dimensions are laid on thick), and the dialogue is pretty stilted, but Greene still manages to find some poetry and interest in the life of his cowardly and self-critical protagonist. And, as a person who loves some nice structure, the ending is just about perfect and potentially redeems the rest of the book.

That being said, I can't wait to read some more Greene. I realize that this is an early work and isn't representative. I hear he is great....

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Cords: Or how I may be an idiot, but AT&T was pretty okay

Warning: boring story ahead!

So last night just before Dr. M was going to bed, our DSL stopped working. Bleh. I woke up and checked some connections and turned the modem on and off with no response. In the morning I got up a little early, did all that again, and then called the AT&T tech support number. The guy had me do all the things I'd just done again and then put a work order in to the line technicians to check the line. After a couple hours, they called and I talked to a different help desk guy who said the line was fine, but they would like to send someone over to the apartment to check the line inside and do some troubleshooting. Yay! Dr. M and I worked it so that at least one of us was home all afternoon. Thank god it wasn't me when the technician came and figured out that the problem was the little connector I had hooking two phone cords together (since our modem is far away from our phone jack). The little guy had cracked and wasn't holding together all the way. So even though I totally wasted AT&T's time and a bunch of my own energy, the technician guy was nice about it and gave us a free really long phone cord so that we don't have to use the connector deal any more.

And now, even though I had productivity plans for this evening (cleaning the bathroom! writing about this book that I read awhile ago!), I am worn out from reassembling all the computer bits and re-hooking up the wireless router so instead I'm going to have a drink and read a new book. Zip!

Saturday, September 06, 2008

The Great Outdoor Fight (2008)

You read Achewood, right? Well, then you know the wonder of the Great Outdoor Fight story arc (start here, read on, never stop). Did you know that those strips, along with some exciting supplementary material, is now available in a real life actually published hard cover? It is! The Great Outdoor Fight by Chris Onstad (2008) tells the story of Ray, who finds out he is the son of a past winner of the famous Great Outdoor Fight and decides to enter the Acres himself and test his strength against 3000 men. The strips look great in print form, and the supplementary material is fun, detailed, and does not disappoint. It is also a beautifully designed book. I even like the way the cover feels. I am extremely enthusiastic about this.

[Buy it here! It only costs $10.17! Do it!]

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Photo identification

Oh shit, you made the Incredible Hulk mad! Now he's going to punch you!

Or maybe not...

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Zuleika Dobson: or an Oxford Love Story (1911)

It is no secret that Dr. M and I really like lists. It is also common knowledge that I am a ridiculous woman who loves making spreadsheets. So, when we got a copy of Harold Bloom's The Western Canon, complete with an extensive list of books that he thinks deserve to be canonized, we decided to read them. In alphabetical order by title. So: I made a spreadsheet! It's really a pretty nice one, and since we were able to find a copy of the list online, it mostly just involved a lot of cutting and pasting (really a lot, since there are 1521 titles on the list). And to be excessively strange about it, I am starting at the bottom of the list, and Dr. M is starting from the top.

Which brings us to Zuleika Dobson by Max Beerbohm (1911).

Zuleika Dobson is a satirical novel of life and love at Oxford in the Edwardian age. The title character is a compelling and beautiful woman who made her way in the world as a magician after the death of her parents. After a reconciliation with her grandfather, a Warden at Oxford, she comes to the University for a visit and instantly conquers the heart of every undergraduate. Zuleika is used to this kind of reaction and had previously turned down proposals from royalty and offers from wealthy industrialists. You see, Zuleika loves to be loved, but she can never love any of the men who are in love with her. Then she meets the Duke of Dorset, a confirmed bachelor who turns away as she rides by her carriage, snubs her at dinner, and ignores her batting eyelids and blushing cheeks. This, naturally, drives Zuleika wild. But little does she know, the Duke actually does love her. And that is where everything falls apart.

This novel takes a sharp look at love, class, ego, academia, and (of course) Oxford, without ever losing its quick pace and playfulness with the English language. It is also probably the funniest book you will ever read about mass suicide.

Beerbohm was a contemporary and friend of Oscar Wilde and was known as a wit and aesthete in turn of the (last) century London. He was a popular critic (who followed in the footsteps of George Bernard Shaw at the Saturday Review), satirist, and caricaturist. Zuleika Dobson was his only novel, and definitely one worth reading...

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Hiking Big Bend National Park (2005)

I am an information professional, which means I can get excited about doing a little bit of research. And yet, even though I am really looking forward to my upcoming trip to Big Bend, I hadn't done much more than poke around a bit at a few websites. The problem with the Internet is, if you don't really know what you are looking for, you find too much of it. That is probably why, when the lovely Joolie lent me Hiking Big Bend National Park by Laurence Parent (2005), I initially planned to just skim through it and look at the pictures, but got so excited about an actual, physical book, that I ended up reading the whole thing.

Parent gives a brief introduction to the park and some general hiking tips and then plows ahead with the meat of the book: detailed descriptions of 44 hikes in the park, along with three hikes in the nearby Big Bend Ranch State Park. Although parts of the descriptions are a bit dry (particularly if you haven't actually been there), Parent spices them up with interesting historical anecdotes and information about plant and animal life in the area, as well as some beautiful (although black and white) pictures.

Most importantly, now that I have actually read a physical book about the park, I have a way better idea of what I'm looking at when I check out a site like Texas Hiking (which has some nice descriptions of Big Bend trails, including some pictures), or the enticing panoramic pictures on the Virtual Big Bend page.

And now, even though Dr. M is completely tired of hearing about Big Bend, I can't wait to do a little more trip planning...

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Helpful Hint

When smelling lotions in the aisle of the drugstore to figure out the cheapest one you can get that doesn't smell ultra-perfumy, take care to squeeze the bottle just enough to waft out some scent, but not so much that a squirt of lotion flies out and goes up your nose. I'm still not sure if anybody saw me, and it took a couple hours for the smell to work its way out of my nostril...

Friday, August 22, 2008

Sweetsmoke (2008)

I got this copy of Sweetsmoke by David Fuller (2008) from the always wonderful LibraryThing Early Reviewers Program. It will be available for purchase in September (I think -- the cover isn't entirely clear).

Sweetsmoke is the story of Cassius, a slave on a Virginia tobacco plantation in the middle of the Civil War. Cassius is a favorite of the master, Hoke Howard, and was trained as a carpenter which keeps him from the field work and gives him a little more independence than the other slaves. A horrible event in his past caused him to lose his wife and son, and almost lose his life, but he was healed by Emoline Justice, a former slave from the Sweetsmoke plantation who gained her freedom from Hoke. While he is recuperating in her home, she teaches him to read and write and opens up a second world when he is forced to return to the plantation. But then time passes, and Emoline is found murdered in her home. Although he is a slave with little freedom of movement and fewer rights, Cassius decides to solve the mystery of Justice's murder and avenge her death.

Fuller spent eight years researching this novel, and it shows in the knowing details of the landscape, the plantation house, and the quarters. Writing about slavery and the Civil War is a tricky proposition that can easily swerve into the land of overblown cliches, romanticizing, and melodramatic and manipulative action. Fuller doesn't do that, here. Horrible things happen, and many of the scenes are uncomfortable and sickening, as you might expect, but there is something else -- a straightforwardness in his characters and a focus in the story that makes this a really nice read.

Wanna borrow it?

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Moustache bargain!

Free shipping at my friend Nikki's shop, bumbles & lu. Now you can buy me that moustache wallet, just like you always wanted! Lucky you!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Christmas Wish List, ca. 1961

A Christmas wish list from my dad to his older sister and her family, probably written in 1961 or 1962 (when he was 9 or 10). I think it was very nice of him to provide prices for everything (I'm guessing his mother prompted him to do that), and I hope he got his Spoook Hand, tiny camera, or U.S. Army Dragon Turbo Jet Helicopter (only 98 cents!). Just click the letter for a larger version.

[And see page one of the letter here -- I had no idea he called my Aunt Charlotte, Chazz...]

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Heat (2006)

I read Heat: An Amateur's Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany by Bill Buford (2006), thanks to the lovely Choo who has an unlimited number of books that she is always graciously willing to loan.

Buford is a journalist (including 16 years as an editor for Granta, and a stint as the fiction editor for The New Yorker). After inviting Mario Batali to a dinner party, he decides to write a profile on Batali and his restaurant, Babbo, and embarks on a lengthy research-based journey as a slave in the Babbo kitchen -- chopping, carrying, picking, grating, braising, and boiling his way up to a spot in the kitchen during dinner service. Then after a brief period back at his desk job, Buford quits everything and goes back to Babbo.

This section of the book is an equal mix of profiles of the eccentric members of the kitchen staff, revelations of "shocking" kitchen secrets (Mario thinks the pasta dough is kneaded for 45 minutes, but they really only knead it for 10 minutes if he isn't around!), a history of Batali's education as a chef, and detailed descriptions of the work of a professional kitchen. It's this last part that was most interesting to me, and Buford's status as an outsider on the inside makes him a perfect guide. Since I don't have cable and have never seen "Molto Mario" or any of Batali's other shows, the biographical profile of him as a chef and the "behind the scenes" look at his personality was a little less interesting to me (although he is a pretty engaging character, so I got on board with him pretty quickly).

In the second half of the book, Buford follows the steps of the pre-Babbo Batali and goes to Italy to learn how to make pasta and later, to apprentice himself to a volatile and impulsive Tuscan butcher. Oddly enough, the fictional biography of Michelangelo that I read a few weeks ago takes place primarily in this same region of Italy, and I found a lot of overlap between Buford's historical profiling of the region and Irving Stone's meticulous recreation of the 15th century Tuscan countryside.

Luckily for me, Dr. M cooked exclusively pasta dishes this week, so I got a taste of the Italian food that I was reading about every day. This book made me very hungry.

If you have an interest in Italian cooking, the New York restaurant scene, or the life of a professional chef, then you won't go wrong reading this book. At the end Buford hints at a future book exploring French cooking in the same way, and I would love to read it.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Camping Consumer

So, I'm going on a camping trip to Big Bend this October with some friends. Woo hoo! I've never really actually been on a camping trip before unless you consider high school drinking at the lake or a few times at a campground in Iowa with my dad and sisters when I was a kid (usually one of my sisters and I would end up putting the seats down in the car and sleeping in there). Since I've never really been camping, I don't have many supplies, and while I'm hoping I can borrow most of what I need, I'm only just beginning to realize the wonderful possibilities of outdoorsy consumerism.

There is a lot of stuff out there. And it is all fun and cool and brightly colored. And I want it all.

So far my only major purchase are the radical hiking shoes pictured above. I also bought a hat. But there are so many other neat things to covet: like a tent cot (which looks a little claustrophobic, but also like a personal fort); absolutely anything from the outdoorsy section of American Science & Surplus (possibly my favorite browsing catalogue on earth with surprisingly good copy writing and a little hand-drawn illustration for every item), but especially the survival kit, and the Maxi-Cool Multi-Tool (I love things that do more than one thing); some Superfeet insoles that the shoe guy got me thinking about; plus all the many camping items that fold, compress, pack neatly, and perform either a very specific task or a whole multitude of them.

And now I have to stop writing before I go buy this exciting stuff. Do you have any camping things I can borrow?

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Though I Know She Lies (1965)

Though I Know She Lies (1965) is a solid mystery novel by Sara Woods, and is one of the nearly 50 "Antony Maitland" mysteries that she wrote in her 25 year career.

Antony Maitland is an English barrister who often works alongside his Uncle, Sir Nicholas -- who is also a barrister, although a much more orthodox one than his creative and hunch-filled nephew. Antony is called in by his uncle to do a little investigating on his case defending a beautiful woman who has been accused of murdering her sister. The case has just gone to trial, so there isn't much time, and Antony soon finds himself tied in knots around a series of witnesses who are all obviously lying, but about different things and for different reasons. And although Antony and the rest of the defense want to believe that their captivating client is innocent, they all suspect that they may just be duped by her beauty into wanting her to go free.

This is an engaging mystery with fun twists, turns, and red herrings, and a satisfying ending. If you like mystery novels, then I don't see how you could go wrong with Antony Maitland and his crotchety uncle.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Limey

When I posted the other day about tasty iced peppermint tea, I forgot about my other new favorite summertime drink: limeade. I could drink this stuff all day. I make mine with all the limes and/or lemons in my fruit bowl that look like they might go weird soon (I try for at least six or seven of them -- enough to get between 3/4 and 1 cup of juice). Juice them into a pitcher. Add sugar to taste -- I am a sourpuss so I do about 1/3 cup of sugar to 1 cup of juice, but you could easily double that if you like the sweets. Stir the sugar and juice together like crazy until the sugar dissolves. Then fill up your pitcher with water (about a quart or so, I'd say). Stir it up some more. Taste it. Add more sugar if needed. Serve over ice.

And since all my favorite summertime drinks must be able to convert into cocktails at a moment's notice, don't forget that you can put vodka in this too!

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Angelic Recordkeeping

This little pendant was very nicely bought for me by a work friend at an antiques store in New York while she was on vacation. Apparently there are angels for everything...

[And if that doesn't do it for you, check out the Hollandia beer bottle and Dr. Mystery. If you can even tell them apart.]

Sunday, August 03, 2008

The Agony and the Ecstasy (1961)

I've read one other Irving Stone book (The President's Lady -- a goofy historical romance based on Andrew Jackson and his wife), and while I am a total sucker for historical fiction, I didn't get into Stone's writing style at all. Why then did I just read the extremely long The Agony and the Ecstasy: the biographical novel of Michelangelo, and why do I also own (and plan to read) his Lust for Life, a fictional novel of the life of Van Gogh? The answer might be that I am a fast reader who will read anything. I'm also pretty patient and forgiving if I'm interested in the subject. However, even with all these qualifications, The Agony and the Ecstasy was a bit of a chore to get through.

Stone spent several years researching this epic novelization of the 90 year life of Michelangelo. He lived in Florence and Rome, had all of Michelangelo's letters and papers translated into English, worked in archives and libraries, and spent time with stonecutters, sculptors, painters and architects. While this probably gave his book more historical accuracy than a less intensively researched effort, he seemed to be compelled to fit every tidbit of his acquired knowledge into this book. This results in long lists of the architectural wonders of Florence, who sculpted them, when they were built, and what they are north, south, east or west of. We also get long lists of names of artists, politicians and other movers and shakers in 15th century Italy, along with who their fathers were and a list of their greatest accomplishments. As you might imagine, this distracts a bit from the main plot of the novel.

The plot itself eventually slides into a pattern of hills and valleys where Michelangelo is either excitedly working on a giant art project (David! The Sistine Chapel!) or unable to work because he has made a nobleman mad with his brusque nature or the pope who was sponsoring him just died. The descriptions of his artistic intentions and the process of creating his master works were worth reading, and generally well-written (although there were several rather forced metaphors comparing sculpting to sex, and one very very limpid sex scene that compared sex to sculpting). Michelangelo, like almost all the characters in this novel, is somewhat of a one trick pony. Once his personality is established at the beginning of the book, it stays unchanged until the very end. Each character that Michelangelo comes into contact with can immediately be labeled as a bad guy or a good guy, and with the amount of heavy-handed foreshadowing in the book there are few surprises as things move forward. By far the most interesting characters in the book are the Medici family -- a dynasty whose fortunes are closely intertwined with the history of Italy and Michelangelo's career, and a historical subject I'd really like to read more about.

So, not a glowing recommendation, but certainly worthwhile if you are a fast reader with an interest in art history or Italian politics. You can't borrow my copy, though, because I'm selling this big boy to Half Price Books to make room for less of a guilty (not so pleasurable) pleasure on my shelves.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Doubly refreshing

I love to drink hot herbal tea, but in the summertime when one is being rigorous with the thermostat, it heats me up too much. So, I've been experimenting with icing some of my favorite tea flavors. Some kinds just don't have enough oomph to withstand the ice cubes, but one that is holding up nicely is one of my old standbys: peppermint. Just brew one cup of really strong peppermint tea (I let it seep for at least 15 minutes), then pour it over ice. Then add more ice because that first ice will melt pretty fast. Wait for it to get nice and cold and then sip away. Tasty! In fact, iced peppermint tea is currently my favorite non-alcoholic summertime drink.

And shit, I could probably put vodka in it if I wanted to...