Thursday, May 29, 2008

Movie Wars (2000)

I recently plucked Jonathan Rosenbaum's Movie Wars: How Hollywood and the Media Limit What Movies We Can See (2000) off of the Dr. M shelf for a random non-fiction read. Rosenbaum was reportedly not happy with the subtitle, which the publishers added, and while it does reduce his argument a bit, I don't think it misrepresents the ultimate thrust of the book.

In this book, Rosenbaum examines the often-heard explanation that the reason Hollywood movies are so dumb is because that is what the people want to see. Through a series of previously published essays (with new content in the introduction and conclusion), he suggests that the real reason Hollywood movies are so dumb is because it is easier for the film industry to make and sell them and easier for reviewers to write about them. Plus it makes them feel better for not seeking out foreign, arty, or difficult films themselves -- if we all know that the mass audience will never watch this movie, then why should we write about it?

Occasionally Rosenbaum gets a little repetitive (particularly in his dislike of certain film critics and Harvey Weinstein), his constant pointing to France is a little tiring, and I don't always agree with his views on certain films or directors. Still, this book is fun in its polemicism, and worth reading just to be able to shake your fist along with Rosenbaum at those creepy advertising dudes and dumb film writers who don't even like films.

[And if you are interested in more discussion of this book, check out this lengthy and interesting review of the book that was published in Senses of Cinema.]

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Taste Sensation!

My newest invention: whole wheat english muffin (toasted) + whipped cream cheese + delicious blackberries = yum!

[And Austinites: blackberries are only a $1.29 at the HEB right now and they are super super tasty. Go buy some! But not all of them, because I want to go buy some more.]

Sunday, May 25, 2008


[Part 2 is here. They don't lie when they call this the best match in the WWF. All of Wrestlemania 3 is really great, and this match is the greatest of all.]

Saturday, May 24, 2008

America America by Ethan Canin (2008)

Thanks once again to LibraryThing's Early Reviewer's program, I received an advance reader's copy of America America, the upcoming novel by Ethan Canin (June 2008).

America America is the story of Corey Sifter, a middle-aged newspaper publisher in a New England town who is reflecting on his youth and his ties to the powerful Metarey family in his hometown of Saline. Saline is a mining and logging town that was built by Liam Metarey's robber-baron father and now run under the son's more liberal but still powerful gaze. Corey is 16 and begins working as a handy-man at the Metarey estate -- when the family (including the daughters) take a liking to him, Liam Metarey becomes his benefactor and sends him first to a private boarding school and later to a good college. While away at boarding school, Corey comes back to the estate every weekend in order to help with the increasingly optimistic campaign of Senator Henry Bonwiller -- Liam Metarey's candidate for the Democratic nomination in the 1972 Presidential Election. Bonwiller is a strong liberal candidate, "the best friend the working man ever had," but also an old-school politician who is familiar with the game of public handshaking and back room deal-making.

The reader is led back and forth through time around hints of a Chappaquiddick-type incident involving the Senator and his mistress, and the part in the cover up played by Liam Metarey and Corey himself. Careful not to reveal too much too soon, Canin carefully balances the naivety of the young Corey with the journalistic integrity of the grown-up Corey.

The novel explores the pre-Watergate era of American politics with a nostalgic eye. Intertwined with the political machinations of the Senator and his supporters is the story of Corey's relationship with his own family and the tension inherent in his alliance with the Metarey family and his move into academia and the upper-middle class.

As the book draws to a close it gets a little ponderous and draws some of its themes a little too broadly, but overall this is really an enjoyable read. The structure of the book is nicely done with moves back and forth in time increasing as the key to the story comes into focus. I'm not a huge fan of nostalgia as a primary viewpoint, but Canin mixes his narrator's nostalgia and guilelessness with a healthy dose of realism and sensitivity that makes it more interesting and less predictable. Definitely worth a read.

[And if you are interested, go over here and read an excerpt of the novel.]

Thursday, May 22, 2008


I believe my brain is still on my mini-vacation, and it has taken my motivation with it, even though I've been back to work for days. Hopefully this long weekend will straighten me out.

Monday, May 19, 2008

The Ungame

Dr. M and I played a rocking three-hour marathon game of Monopoly last night to celebrate our mini-vacation (staying up late! On a Sunday night! Woo!). I was declared the winner when we were too tired to re-mortgage all of Josh's property to see if he had enough money to stay at my fabulous hotel on New York Avenue.

There are a lot of games that I like to play that have a tendency to go on way longer than I want to play them (I think I've only legitimately finished a game of Trivial Pursuit once or twice in my life). But what about a game that is designed to never end? That game, my friends, is the totally lame Ungame.

We would play this at my grandparent's house -- even as a kid I realized that this game was pretty stupid. You roll dice and go around in circles, picking cards from a pile that ask you to tell something about how you feel, what your dreams are, or something you lied about or feel sorry about. To your family. In your grandparent's basement. While your mom sits on the davenport at the back of the room and pretends to read the newspaper while rolling her eyes at every card. And the game has no ending -- or rather, it is designed to end when you feel you have expressed enough and are ready to stop playing. Honestly, my mom had to have some serious patience to get through the Ungame.

And apparently this goofy and dated seventies game of self-discovery is still around -- with expansion packs (great for parties!) -- and probably still making grandparents happy and kids bored. Naturally I'm going to order us the couples edition. Could be just what we need to spice up our Sunday night board game throw-downs.

Friday, May 16, 2008

The Wizard of Venus (1941) and Pirate Blood (1932)

This 1970 volume posthumously publishes two of Edgar Rice Burroughs's novellas that were found after his death, The Wizard of Venus and Pirate Blood. It is obvious that neither one was ever shined up for publication -- although the Wizard of Venus, as a continuing volume in the Carson Napier novels, is more of a done deal than the rather bare bones pirate story.

The Wizard of Venus was written in 1941, fell prey to the changing nature of the pulp fiction market after the war, and was never published. It is a rather slight, but fun, story of Carson Napier, an American who has been conquering and living on Venus through a series of four books. He and his friend (a Venusian, I think, although I've never read any of the other Venus books, so I'm not totally sure), test out an airplane-type-contraption that Napier has invented. Sadly they get thrown off course and caught up in those crazy Venusian clouds. When they finally land, they find themselves in the middle of a war between several neighboring nobles, one of whom has convinced everyone that he is a wizard with the power to turn people into zaldars (which are kind of like pigs). [This is, by the way, apparently what he is trying to do to Napier on the cover of the book.] Because of this power, no one will eat a zaldar any more (because it might be family), and the wizard and his followers get all the good food.

One noble family has held out against the evil wizard, although their beautiful daughter has been captured and zaldarized. They confiscate Napier's ship and weapons and won't give them back unless he gets the wizard to turn their daughter back into a person. It isn't hard to figure out where this "Emperor's New Clothes" kind of story will go, but it is fun and the descriptions of the zaldar's are neat (even though the people seem to just be from the Middle Ages and not really from Venus).

Pirate Blood was written in 1932 and is an adventure story that loosely explores the nature vs. nurture question through the person of Johnny LaFitte, an ancestor of the famous pirate Jean LaFitte, who tries to ignore his bloodline and be a cop instead. It doesn't really work out for him. After a rather cool section where a bad guy takes off for the Philippines in a homemade dirigible with LaFitte on board, our hero finds himself second-in-command of a group of roughneck pirates and strangely attracted to the captive woman of his boss. There is a lot of excellent action and adventure in this one, although the second half is very choppy and Burroughs obviously meant to fill it out more before publication.

These are both very fun reads if you are into Burroughs, although if you are just checking him out for the first time I would delve into the Tarzan or John Carter of Mars series first.

[Yay to Choo for lending this to me!]

Monday, May 12, 2008

Everything is Miscellaneous (2007)

Everything is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder by David Weinberger (2007) was on my Christmas list last year, perhaps because I am a giant library science nerd. It set the library-blogosphere on fire when it was first released, and responses seemed to be either vehemently supportive or completely dismissive. When it also came highly recommended by both the Boing Boing and LibraryThing folks, I knew I had to give it a shot. And although it occasionally riled up my librarian sensibilities (only in the most nitpicky of ways), I ultimately really enjoyed this book.

Weinberger proposes that the possibilities for ordering information in the digital and networked world can completely change the way we approach knowledge and learning. To make his point, he nicely summarizes organizational schemes of the past including the alphabet, good old Mevil Dewey, Linnaeus, Ranganathan (woo!), the card catalog, Encyclopaedia Britannica, and many more. His overviews are fun to read, well-researched, and deep enough to make his point without getting sidetracked. He then contrasts these traditional methods of organization with the Web 2.0 variety, leaning heavily on Flickr and Wikipedia as examples of tagging and social creation of content. In the end, he points us in the direction of a world filled with user-generated content and context where the interconnections are as important as the information itself, and where creativity and knowledge are found in the spaces between my ideas and your ideas.

This is all pretty heady stuff, but Weinberger is a very readable philosopher who gives his readers plenty of concrete examples to latch onto. Occasionally I found myself getting a little huffy (why, oh why, does he constantly use the card catalog as his illustration of how libraries organize things and never mention the OPAC? Why no mention of brick and mortor libraries that are incorporating Web 2.0 into their cataloging and public access? Why are libraries implicitly lumped in with "the man" who is keeping information out of the hands of the masses? How would he handle providing access to collections that are both physical and digital?). But once I calmed down a little, most of my qualms ended up being addressed elsewhere in the book, or could easily be dismissed by the fact that Weinberger isn't writing a book about libraries or archives, there is just a lot of overlap in what we are trying to accomplish.

This is a great book to read if you are a librarian, a library-wanna-be, an archivist, a techie, a scholar, a Flickr user, a philosopher, or just some jerk who likes to find things on the Internet.

[As you might expect, Weinberger has an accompanying blog to the book here, which also includes a couple of sample chapters in case you'd like to take it for a test drive.]

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Dracula (1897)

For the past 187 days (actually longer than that, as I suspended delivery for a bit over Christmas when I wasn't checking my email as much) a short section of Bram Stoker's Dracula (1897) has appeared in my inbox, courtesy of DailyLit. This is the third or fourth book I've read this way, and I am surprised with how much I like it. Since I'm a pretty fast reader, this forces me to slow down and spend more time with a book than I usually do. And since I love vampires, I had no problem at all spending 187 days with Dracula.

Dracula is so entrenched in our culture that I couldn't believe I'd never read the Bram Stoker novel. Hadn't I seen the story about a million times? Stoker's novel gives you everything you would expect the seminal vampire story to provide -- creepy castle, beautiful and pure ladies, valiant men, the smart vampire hunter, the cunning Count, plus lots of coffins, earth, wolves, and blood. The story is told primarily through the diaries of a group of people brought together by friendship, circumstance, and the vampire's curse. The archivist in me loved the emphasis on documenting conversations and thoughts in order to review them as a group and solve the mystery of the vampire. Documents!

Even though I was familiar with the story, it still took some twists I hadn't encountered in other interpretations. And speaking of other interpretations, when I was about halfway through this book we rented Guy Maddin's film, Dracula: Pages from a Virgin's Diary -- which is sort of a ballet, sort of a silent movie, and all kinds of awesomely Guy Maddin. You should watch it. [And the picture above is a still from that movie.]

My next DailyLit adventure: War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells. I shall report back in approximately 73 days.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Hell's Eyebrows

Hell's Kitchen is totally worth watching this season just to watch this guy pull his eyebrows down and look kind of concerned, sad, mad, and upset. He is like a cartoon mad guy! It is really his natural expression, so if you watch for five minutes, you'll see it. I don't know why I can't find a picture of him on the internet pulling his signature face, though. Have my skills as an informational professional failed me?

[My prediction: He is not long for this show.]

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Dewey Death (1958)

I ordered myself a copy of Dewey Death by Charity Blackstock (1958) after I saw it advertised in the back of Death at the Medical Board (sadly, I couldn't find the 1958 or 1963 edition, so I settled for this 1985 printing instead). Much like Death at the Medical Board, this mystery is terribly British and terribly post-war, but that doesn't distract at all from the fun.

Our story takes place at the Inter-Libraries Despatch Association (ILDA), a centralized interlibrary loan service that takes requests from students and professors at regional universities and procures the articles and books they need from an international list of libraries. The reader is usually with Miss Barbara Smith, a young University graduate who is working in the Location department, typing up requests and compiling responses. One of her co-locators, Mrs. Warren, is everything you would hope your colleagues not to be: gossipy, loud, both offensive and easily offended, and possessing of a grating laugh that she spurts out at all times, whether it is appropriate or not. In fact, no one in the library seems to care much for Mrs. Warren. She snoops about when Mark Allan (the microfilm and photostat man) and Mrs. Bridgewater (who does the accounts) have a workplace romance. She butts in when Barbara tries to get some work on her romance novel done during work hours. She insults people in the cafeteria and teases the young typists until they cry. No one would be sad at all were she to leave the library all together, but everyone is rather surprised when she shows up dead, stuffed into a bag of books scheduled for deposit in the basement stacks.

In classic mystery style, everyone has a motive and no one really has an alibi -- one of the library workers has to have been the killer, but as the detectives unravel a complicated tangle of insults, slights, drug smuggling, eccentric personalities, suspicious conversations and worthy war records the trail to the real killer becomes more and more murky.

And then another librarian is murdered.

The real mystery in this mystery is not that hard to figure out, and it quickly becomes more of a psychological study of the characters -- particularly Barabara Smith, the naive romance writer, and Mark Allan, the dashing ex-soldier who handles microfilm on the 4th floor. That isn't a bad thing, though -- for a book I bought based on its title, it really is a well-written and complex mystery novel. Plus the chapter headings all come from Dewey's original classification system ("Chapter one: Male and Female Employees, 647.22 & 647.23," "Chapter two: Influence of Sex, 615.55."). What librarian could resist that?

And now for some library-appropriate quotes:

Do you catalogue your kisses, Mr. Allan? Or do you perhaps just make photostats of them for future reference?

"Surely," said Mark gravely, coming into the room, "the work of the department must go on. Death may come and death may go, but libraries, one presumes, go on for ever."

"Did I never tell you I was a schoolmaster? Quite a good one, too, though I am not a very patient man... I taught physics. I didn't mind the boys, but I didn't like my colleagues, so I became a librarian instead, and don't care much for my colleagues either. Still, one has more privacy."

Thursday, May 01, 2008


I answered a telemarketing call yesterday (because they had been calling twice a day for two weeks and I wanted them to stop), and it ended up being a marketing survey. I had some time to kill, so I played along with their questions (I have a lot of sympathy for survey-takers since my sister and half my friends all used to work at a survey phone-bank when we were in high school). The survey asked a lot of questions about big chain restaurants that I never go to, and finally narrowed in on Chili's. The best question from the whole survey (which honestly made me giggle when she asked it):

On a scale of one to ten, with one being not bothered at all and ten being very upset, how would you feel if you could never eat at Chili's again?

Noooooooooooooo! Anything but that!