Thursday, July 12, 2018

First Lines of Ursula LeGuin's "The Name for the World is Forest"

"Two pieces of yesterday were in Captain Davidson's mind when he woke, and he lay looking at them in the darkness for a while."

Ursula LeGuin, "The Name for the World is Forest"

Monday, July 9, 2018

First Lines of Anthony Doerr's "All the Light We Cannot See"

"At dusk they pour from the sky. They blow across the ramparts, turn cartwheels over rooftops, flutter into the ravines between houses. Entire streets swirl with them, flashing white against the cobbles. Urgent message to the inhabitants of this town, they say. Depart immediately to open country."

- Anthony Doerr, from his amazing "All the Light We Cannot See", a book I never wanted to end. Book review coming shortly.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Book Review: Arthur Herman's "1917: Lenin, Wilson, and the Birth of the New World Disorder

I enjoyed having my framing of the modern world reset by Arthur Herman’s1917: Lenin, Wilson, and the Birth of the New World Disorder. Herman makes a strong case that the common aspects of Vladimir Lenin and Woodrow Wilson’s leadership style set the stage for the world in which we live today. The book shows us two men who rejected traditional leadership focused on realpolitik and national interest in favor of a new world order built on principled visions they demanded everyone follow. Wilson spearheaded “the emergence of the United States as a global hegemonic power” that he believed was the best source “and end to violence in international and human affairs.” Lenin “triggered the emergence of a world revolutionary movement that would be come to be known as communism” p. 11 They both were driven by “…a sense of the utter rightness of their vision and ideas… [that] made opposition virtually an immoral act of betrayal.” p. 65 This attitude not only led to an inability to compromise, but also a dehumanizing of opposition or criticism. The blind spots in their attitude and lack of intellectual diversity led to their greatest failures: for Wilson, the US rejection of the League of Nations; in Lenin’s, the disintegration of the Bolshevik revolution into a terror state led by Stalin.

This convincing story is told in a very entertaining style that weaves a complete narrative that isn’t dominated by backstory but yet provides the information you need to understand the implications of the plot. He jumps back and forth between Wilson so you can see the similarities of their leadership styles but also the differences in their approaches – and their end goals. Still, they “shared [a] dogmatic belief in the rightness of his own mission, which brooked no opposition or even criticism.” p. 14 and this weakness undid them both but also set the stage for many a visionary to impose his principled will on people. While in the end, Herman sympathizes with Wilson simply because Wilson’s goal was to maximize peace while Lenin’s was violent, permanent revolution to change global power dynamics (a goal shared by many terrorist organizations today). Herman makes a compelling case that our current dilemmas stem from these two complex and fascinating men.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Book Review: Margaret Atwood's "The Heart Goes Last"

Margaret Atwood has great ideas, including the premise of The Heart Goes Last: people desperately struggle to survive in a depressed society so much that they’ll voluntarily join Positron – a society where they are free to live in luxury. But there’s a catch. You live in comfort for six months of the year, but for the other six months you labor in prison. You share a house with other people you never see but you know are there (their belongings are stored in lockers in the garage). Of course, things get complicated rather quickly - it’s a tale of the dystopia behind a utopia. This being Atwood, we also get these powerful internal monologs that so deftly reveal the dramatic mental narratives and mythologies that we all build up in our heads.

The best part of the book was how she painted the slow evolution of the stories and self-deceptions of Stan and Charmaine, a Positron couple. Atwood shows how they are their own worst enemy. Given a ticket into what they think is a perfect world, Stan and Charmaine immediately start to subvert it, allowing the boredom and lust of their inner narratives to drive them to betray not only their socially confined borders – but also each other. The first half of the book Atwood masterfully shows us the deep power of social norms and how sexual fetishes – fuel for excitingly illicit transgressions – can be used for both freedom and entrapment. (Ying and Yang!) A scarily vivid picture emerges of a totalitarian world where the couple, isolated from each other, become pawns in shadowy conspiracies that are stranger than they ever could have imagined.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t last. About halfway through, the plot devolves into absurdity, with (even more) convoluted conspiracies, brainwashing, and inexplicable coincidences. Once Stan [spoiler alert!] escaped Positron disguised as Elvis, I decided the book had become a parody and blissfully enjoyed it as such. That’s Atwood’s prerogative, although I found myself wanting a more serious engagement with bionic sex fetishes, Pavolian sexual conditioning, and economic desperation used as a profit machine. She started THGL as a short story, and perhaps it should have stayed as such, for while the start of the novel is riveting, and I enjoyed it overall, the entire experience wasn’t as satisfying as it could have been.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Miles Drawing

Check out a few pictures I drew for Miles in the last year or so:

Miles' Xmas Present 2018

Miles at 5 years old

Metablogging: I recently realized that I don't have a place where I can show people my drawings. So i'm created a new tag for when I occasionally get inspired to post something i've done: TGMArt.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

“To the Reader: The Language of the Cloud” by Chase Twichell

To the Reader: The Language of the Cloud” by Chase Twichell

Come with me to a private room.
I have a secret to show you.
Sometimes I like to stand outside it

with a stranger because I haven’t
come at it from that vantage in so long—

see? There I am beside him, still joined,
still kissing. Isn’t it dreamlike,
the way the bed drifts in its dishevelment?

Bereft of their clothes, two humans
lie entangled in its cloud.

Their bodies are saying the after-grace,
still dreaming in the language of the cloud.
Look at them, neither two nor one.

I want them to tell me what they know
before the amnesia takes them.

From Horses Where the Answers Should Have Been (2010)

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Book Review: Bob Mehr's Trouble Boys

The Replacements are an odd band. I feel that they're both over and under rated. They created some powerfully melodic rock n' roll that, underpinned by Paul Westerberg’s clever word play, provided a template for many to express sensitivity disguised by loud distortion and bluster. On the other hand, they were sloppy and in desperate need of editing – some of their music and lyrics sound tossed together at the last minute.

Trouble Boys explores this dynamic and much more. Bob Mehr spins a comprehensive (and well documented) look at the band, painting a vivid picture of early 80s Minneapolis, and the often heartbreaking background of the ‘mats – especially Bob Stinton, who had a truly horrific childhood. It’s almost enough to excuse how often the band sabotaged their career by falling (drunk) on the wrong side of the fine line between good ol’ rock n’ roll rebellion and plain old assholery. I knew they behaved badly, but I wasn’t expecting them to be as horrible and offensive as they come off here.

All this lead me to read Trouble Boys as an addiction book. The drinking and drugging stories – and there are a LOT of them – can be amusing, but the more they pile up, the more difficult it is to observe so much self-destruction. They were fucked up drunk addicts and I left the book pondering what their lives would have been like if the band could have coped – even just a little bit! – with their talent and success.

But their myth is all about that they couldn’t: that they felt too much, drowned it in booze, and paid a heavy price. Poor Bob died, Tommy grew up to be a professional musician (and member of Guns n' Roses!), Chris (a strangely vacant presence in the book) faded away into visual art, and Paul never found that illusive balance of improvisation and polish that could endear him to the masses. While Bob’s story is interesting, Paul’s story is riveting, from watching him struggle to come up with his moments of musical genius to the story of him clean and sober (the tale of him coaching little league with a SpongeBob hat is priceless).  I also appreciated Mehr’s insights into the music, which let me hear their albums – especially Tim and their requiem All Shook Down – in a newly revelatory light.