Friday, December 31, 2010

Books from A to Z

To ring out the old year, I thought i'd participate in the ABC Book Meme.
For this meme, you list a favorite book that starts with each letter of the alphabet. If you don’t have a book for a letter (such as Z or X) then you can substitute a favorite book that simply has that letter in the title (ex. The Lost City of Z or Hot Six by Janet Evanovich). However, you can only do this a maximum of 3 times. (Z, X, and Q. But not Z, X, Q, and V.) Books can be of any genre from fiction to non-fiction to poetry to textbooks.

Here's mine:
A – After the First Death, Robert Cormier. My favorite book when I was 14.
B – The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoyevsky.
C – Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell. The man's a prose magician.
D – Diamond Age, Neil Stephenson
E – Elementals, Bill Willingham. One of the titles that showed me how mature comix could really be.
F – Fight Club, Chuck Palahniuk. But I won't talk about it, so don't ask.
G – Gravity’s Rainbow, Thomas Pynchon. The most impressive thing I've ever read, hands down.
H – Hellboy, Mike Mignolta. Pure, pulpy fun. And the art is do die for.
I – It, Stephen King. Reading this book as a teenager made be part of who I am today. King created an amazing world, parts of which I recognized in my own rural upbringing. And it scared the crap out of me.
J – Stone Junction, Jim Dodge.
K – Kafka on the Shore, Haruki Murakami. I could have chosen any number of Murakami's novels, but this one really stuck with me.
L – Love & Rockets, by Los Bros Hernandez. Jamie and Gilbert have been so good for son long that it's hard to conceive of a world without them. Jamie's art alone is worth the price of admission.
M – Mao II, Don Delillo. Could have gone with Underworld, but I read Mao II first and it had a bigger influence on me. Plus I like to think the main character is Thomas Pynchon.
N – Natasha’s Dance: A Cultural History of Russia by Orlando Figes. I find Russia fascinating, and this book will tell you everything you want to know about that large, cold, mysterious place.
O – Oryx and Crake, Maraget Atwood. Intelligent SciFi done right. An excellent book on every level.
P – Promethia, Alan Moore. The tarot and kaballah in a superhero wrapper. A lot more fun then it sounds. I love how the artist used a different drawing style for almost every issue.
Q – Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius, Jorge Luis Borges
R - 2666, Roberto Bolano
S – Solaris, Stanisław Lem
T – The Complete Stories of Ernest Hemingway, Ernest Hemingway
U – Ubik, Philip K. Dick
V – Vineland, Thomas Pynchon
W – War and Peace, Leo Tolstoi. A classic that really lives up to the hype. Not all of it is good, but it really is riveting for a majority of its 1000 pages.
X – X-Ray, Ray Davies. A rock biography that manages to add true mystery and drama. Surprisingly good!
Y – “Ylla” from Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles. One of the best days of my life was sitting listening to the White Album while reading this book.
Z – Franny and Zooey, J. D. Salinger

Others that I love, but that didn't make the cut include:
Cats Cradle, Margaret Atwood; Stranger Things Happen, Kelly Link; Watchmen, Alan Moore; An Encounter with Medusa, Arthur C. Clarke; The Master of Petersburg, J.M. Coetzee. It was also tough to make room for poetry and short stories.

So what would be your list?

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Goodbye, de Zoet!

Spent the last few days in a dreamlike fugue as i recovered from a bad virus and plowed through the last 250 pages of David Mitchell's The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet. What a ride that book was! I'll have more to say about it later, but for now, the journey was half the fun. I'm sorry it had to end.

A Good Idea

Michael Chabon's Lesson 5 for good writing: "Marry a strong, talented, vocal, articulate and above all persuasive reader."

The Most Professional Way

This is the best quote i've heard in a long time. Broncos wide receiver Brandon Lloyd was asked if he had anything to say to his previous teams, and he replied:
...I want to say, "Fuck you." And I mean that in the most professional way.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Lonely Troubadour

I've always enjoyed the songs of Phil Ochs, and so perked up when I heard of a new documentary about the man. It's called Phil Ochs - There But For Fortune and sounds like a great story. Ochs's one of those minor figures of an era that I find fascinating because their humanity usually tells me more about the time then does a history book. Anyways, I learned by this review that Ochs suffered from bipolar disorder, and, three years before he took his own life, was mugged so brutally that his voice was damaged. Imagine being a singer who loses his voice!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

We are Technology

Some typically fascinating thoughts from a William Gibson interview:
So if someone is born now into this global world, do you think they even have a native culture?
One of the things that’s unknowable is how humanity will use any new technology. ... Emergent technology is the most powerful single driver of change in the world, and it has been forever. Technology trumps politics. Technology trumps religion. It just does. And that’s why we are where we are now. It seems so self-evident to me that I can never go to that Technology: threat or menace? position. Okay, well, if we don’t do this, what are we going to do? This is not only what we do, it’s literally who we are as a species. We’ve become something other than what our ancestors were.
I’m sitting here at age 52 with almost all of my own teeth. That didn’t used to happen. I’m a cyborg. I’m immune to any number of lethal diseases by virtue of technology. I’m sitting on top of this enormous pyramid of technology that starts with flint hand-axes and finds me in a hotel in Austin, Texas, talking to someone thousands of miles away on a telephone and that’s just what we do. At this point, we don’t have the option of not being technological creatures.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Why the Greeks Matter

Because they questioned authority:
The divine word is a mystery; it can mean everything or nothing. Zeus neither speaks nor holds his tongue but makes a sign, as Heraclitus said. Man discovers that he himself is responsible for giving meaning to this sign. The word from above, or from elsewhere, must be deciphered. This is the Greek genius: the separation of heaven and earth.

When Parents Text

My new favorite site.

Nothing to see here...

... Except that I've caught the plague and have been really sick for about a week now. Hoping to be back on my feet sometime shortly. Continued radio silence until then. Cheers!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

You Must Unlearn What You Already Know

Reading an old Economist this morning (7/10/10 issue), I found this:
The 7th Forum of Eurpoean Neuroscience... heard that learning to read requires the brain's visual system to undergo profound changes, including unlearning the ancient ability to recognize an object and its mirror images as identical.
This might explain why so many kids draw their letters backward when their learning how to write. Hunter in particular likes to include backward Es and Rs when writing his name.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Deep Thought

Cleaning vomit off of a white rug at 2:30 in the morning is not the most pleasant way to spend a night.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Skiing Dogs!

This one's a lot of fun. Makes me wish I was a snow dog...

Quote of the Day

“Art is not a mirror held up to reality, but a hammer with which to shape it.” - Bertolt Brecht

Friday, December 17, 2010

Poem of the Day

After pondering Suzanne Vega's "Penitent" the other day, my head started playing The Church's "Radiance", another musical take on a confrontation with God. Although this song is much more focused on the enigma of God's signs, rather than the personal emotions that Vega presented.

Radiance, by Kilbey/Willson-Piper/Koppes/Powles

When a cloudy morning rain touched our little town
Three small sisters and a friend walking in the fields
A strange light in the sky blotting out the sun
Whatever happens next changes all our lives

And the children ran home sobbing and half blind
Said our lady has a message for mankind
Frightened and bewildered, not making any sense
Dazzled by the virgin's radiance

And the icons in the church crying tears of blood
The water in the wells curing all who drank
Pilgrim lunatics arrive in a ragged stream

In the fields around the village sprang up tents
People from the outside world want more evidence
Four tired children questioned day and night
All they can remember is her blinding light

So the circus drifts away and the noise dies down
Life goes on as before all the people came
And the children never say what her message was

And the children ran home sobbing and half blind
Said our lady has a message for mankind
Frightened and bewildered, not making any sense
Dazzled by the virgin in her radiance

People from the outside world want more evidence
People from the outside world want more evidence
People from the outside world want more evidence

Too Much Leisure?

An interesting take on why so many people think that things were easier in the past.

Money quote: "One reason we feel harried and stressed despite an increase in total leisure time is that there are more competing uses for leisure time in an affluent society."

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Video of the Day

This. Extra trippy, and probably the most interesting thing I've seen in some time.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Poem of the Day

For varied reasons, Suzanne Vega's Penitent has been playing over and over in my head these last few days. It's a rather cutting query to God, sung in her characteristically insightful and cutting way (it's even more powerful in song than it is as a poem, in cold black words on a page). I particularly like the lines about the mother and matador, which I think add a powerfully timeless element to (what I see as) the personal elements of the song (she wrote it after her divorce and as an NYCer after 9/11). I enjoy the image of mystics and a matadors staring down God in their own ways, one by daring to ponder mysteries greater than themselves and another by facing down death as an occupation (albeit in a ritualized fashion). Anyways, onto our main event:

Once I stood alone so proud
Held myself above the crowd
Now I am low on the ground

From here I look around to see
What avenues belong to me
I can’t tell what I’ve found now

What would you have me do... I ask you please?
I wait to hear

The mother, and the matador
The mystic, each were here before
Like me, to stare

You down you appear without a face
Disappear, but leave your trace
I feel your unseen frown

Now what would you have me do... I ask you please?

I wait to hear/Your voice
The word/You say
I wait/To see/Your sign
Would I/Obey?

I look for you in heathered moor
The desert, and the ocean floor
How low does one heart go

Looking for your fingerprints
I find them in coincidence
And make my faith to grow

Forgive me all my blindnesses
My weakness and unkindnesses
As yet unbending still

Struggling so hard to see
My fist against eternity
And will you break my will?

Now what would you have me do... I ask you please?
I wait to hear/Your voice
The word/You say
I wait/To see/Your sign
Could I/Obey?

Just As It Really Is

Liked this quote from John Updike when he was 15 (!) writing about the Little Orphan Annie comic strip:
I admire the magnificent plotting of Annie’s adventures. They are just as adventure strips should be—fast moving, slightly macabre (witness Mr. Am), occasionally humorous, and above all, they show a great deal of the viciousness of human nature. I am very fond of the gossip-in-the-street scenes you frequently use. Contrary to comic-strip tradition, the people are not pleasantly benign, but gossiping, sadistic, and stupid, which is just as it really is.

Just as it really is. I don't want to believe it, but alas, I find it to be true more often than not.
Hat tip: Alan Jacobs

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Steve Kilbey's The Slow Crack

SK’s third solo album – The Slow Crack, released in 1989 – doesn’t have a theme running through it's 57 minutes. Part of the reason for this is that the CD, in its current form, is a collection of songs that were originally released in three formats: 1) the original The Slow Crack that ended with “Starling St., 2) the Transaction EP ("Transaction" to “Song of Solomon”) and 3) "The Asphalt Eden" single with extra tracks (the rest of the CD). Regardless, even the original The Slow Crack album was a grab-bag of songs recorded during the 1986-7 time frame and was all over the map. What's this mean? At times the songs work, at times they don’t, and absent any overarching lyrical or musical theme making it into a cohesive album, the CD really can only be judged by the strength of the songs upon it. So here they are:

"Fireman": Dig that 80s sax! At least SK had the taste to leave it in the background. A fun little song that was a minor hit for our hero.

"Woman with Reason": A cover (of an old company caine song) that starts out sounding like an unplugged version (SK says that he wanted to “do a “harvest” like version of the song”) but it doesn’t really go anywhere. Does have great bass.

"Favorite Pack of Lies". This song is simply Earthed’s “The Dawn Poems” expanded with vocals, and it works much better in this format. It doesn’t hurt that the lyrics and singing is excellent – I love his halting delivery on “I am not… the kind of man… given to… extravagance/ Even so… I must confess… a weakness for… your elegance”

"Something that Means Something": Sounds just like a Church song with the chiming
guitars and chugging bass pulse underneath it. Something about this song sounds lightweight, tho I’m not sure what it is – perhaps the drum machine! In short, it’s a nice lilting ditty, but nothing special.

"Ariel Sings": Short, dull, droning instrumental. Skippable.

"A Minute Without You": A stream-of-consciousness tune with a driving, propulsive beat.

"Surrealist Woman Blues": Interesting Jazz-like piano with mood keys in the background. SK does Tom Waits but with his trademark acid imagery and mind-fuck plotting. Easily the best song on the album.

"Starling St.": Aching, lovely and lonely Westerberg-type song. Separated at birth from Liz Phair’s “Canary” with simple piano melodies with strange muted feedback sounds off in the distance. You don’t normally think of SK’s voice as vulnerable, but he really achieves it here.

"Transaction": Holy big drums! Belew-type guitar. Good lyrics ("The Voice in your ear that says anything it can find/enter this transaction blind") and fun guitar in the background. However, this song suffers from the drum machine. I can’t help but think that with a real drummer the song would kick into the higher gear that the song demands - especially in the bridges, and at the end where the drums are trying (and failing!) to reach some kind of crescendo. It really lets down the rest of the song, so this is one of those instances where I like the tune more for its promise then what it really is.

"Consider Yourself Conquered". Dated keyboards set the rhythm behind an interesting melody. But the cheesy chorus of “consider yourself… CONQUERED!” where “conquered” is all echoey and dramatic and thus is too silly to take seriously. Perhaps that's the point...

"Like a Ghost". Now this is a melody! Catchy as hell, this one’ll stick with you. After a descending key intro, SK sings over a simplistic piano piece before launching into the chorus where the counterpoint keeps the driving energy going. The drum machine kicks in an inadequate contribution, but the melody is so strong that the song drives right past it. Probably the second best song on the album.

SK writes "'Song of Solomon' is me once again trying to play the bible as rocknroll/ wondering what the music these cats listened to was like.” I don’t think its particularly successful.

"The Asphalt Eden". Big ol’ 80s drums and abrasive horn fills. SK says that “everything got quantized and it very much works to the songs detriment” There’s a decent melody in here somewhere.

"Never Come Back". A downbeat folksy tune. This one doesn’t do much for me.

"Shell". Angelic keyboards fill out this sensitive song. A nice soft closing to the festivities.

Note: I’m planning on writing up my reaction to all of SK’s solo albums included in the Monsters n Mirages box set. Previous post: Earthed. Next up: 1990’s Remindlessness.

Quote of the Day

They knew, as Lars himself knew, that their destiny lay in the hands of halfwits. It was as simple at that. Halfwits in both East and West, halfwits like Marshal Paponovich and General Nitz... halfwits he realized, and felt his ears sear and flame red, like himself. It was the sheer mortality of the leadership that frightened the ruling circles. The last “superman,” the final Man of Iron, had been Josef Stalin. Since then—puny mortals, job-holders who made deals.

And yet, the alternative was frightfully worse—and they all, including even the pursaps, knew this on some level.
- Philip K. Dick, The Zap Gun

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Don't You Know How to Dress Yourself?

As the parent to two young boys, I find myself thinking about what’s appropriate for them. There’s many levels of this, but recently I’ve been struggling with the proper level of instruction should I be providing. For instance, we’ve started to insist that Hunter start to dress himself. Now, I can sit there and walk him through the process – which right now he needs, even though he’s fully aware how to put on his own clothes – or I can just inform him that he needs to get dress himself and act as an adviser. I’m trying to do the latter, but that means that either that he chooses sweatpants and a striped shirt (regardless of the weather or situation), or he stalls and complains that he doesn’t know what he wants to wear and the whole process takes forever and we’re late for day care drop-off and I’m late for work (and can’t get in my morning exercise among other annoying things). In theory, of course, the best course of action is whatever it takes to teach him independence, as frustrating as it may be in the short term. After all, what does it matter if I’m late to work for a week, or that he wears nothing but sweatpants; the important thing is that he’s learning how to dress himself. That’s the goal.

Do accomplish this, you’ve got to remain patient, not let your extra baggage get in the way, and ensure that you respect the child’s feelings. It’s trickier than you think! This morning in the midst of a clothes-related tantrum, I was sorely tempted to do a bit of yelling (“What’s the problem? You need to get dressed anyways!”) or just dress him myself so that we could get moving… but doing so would negate the lesson. So the tantrum continued for a while and we left the house 20 minutes late. I missed the opportunity to get some exercise and I had to cut the dog’s walk short. But by sticking to my guns, hopefully tomorrow will be easier and the day after that even easier until Hunter not only wants to dress himself but is proud about it. Here’s hoping!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Quote of the Day

The aim of an artist is not to resolve a question irrefutably, but to compel one to love life in all its manifestations, and these are inexhaustible.
- Leo Tolstoi

Monday, December 6, 2010


Just read an excellent article about Cleveland, sports passion, and LeBron James that also had some great thoughts from Dennis Kucinich:
"The word character comes from the Greek word kharassein, which means markings. There are indelible markings we have, so aspects of character will be with us throughout our life, no matter what office we hold, no matter how good we may be in sports. There are some things we carry with us in life."
"That proves something that takes us from baseball into quantum physics," he says. "That is that the creation of segmented time created a false construct of past, present and future. In human experience, what we call the past, present and future exist simultaneously. So when you talk about sports memories, it's very real. It's a false distinction to say that was yesterday."

Deep Thought

I sure wish that Safari on my iPhone would remember where I was on a page, rather than reloading the entire page again when I reopen it.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Tortured for Singing

Did you know that the Tibetans have a traditional song for milking your yak? And yet another to sing while churning said milk into butter? That might sound like the setup for a bad joke, but it’s not. Far from it-especially if you know this: if the Chinese government got wind that you were warbling the yak-milking song (or any traditional Tibetan music) in public, you could be imprisoned. Or maybe tortured. Or killed. Or-how about all three?

Saturday, December 4, 2010

A Robotech Movie: Make It Happen!

Browsing around the internet for a good picture of Rick Hunter, I found this site which pondered which actors would work for a movie adaptation of the Macross Saga portion of the original Robotech series. I love their ideas - although I think Eastwood is too gruff for the role of Gloval (he needs more compassion and a kick ass mustasche - think Sam Elliott instead) - and wholeheartedly endorse the idea of a Robotech movie. Alas, the article was from 2007, which means that How can we make this happen?

Particles Matter

According to Quantum Mechanics, empty space is anything but empty. Rather, it is a roiling, seething cauldron of evanescent particles. For brief periods of time, these particles pop into existence from pure nothingness, leaving behind holes in the nothingness -- or antiparticles, as physicists label them. A short time later, particle and hole recombine, and the nothingness resumes.
If, however, the pair appears on the edge of [a black hole's] event horizon, either particle or hole may wander across the horizon, never to return. Deprived of it's partner, the particle or the hole has no "choice" but to become real.
- The Economist, "Dr. Hawking's bright idea", 10/02/10 issue
I've always been fascinated with the crazy phenomena that occurs around black holes. This description of Stephen Hawking's "Hawkins Radiation" is both pithy and accurate. The absolute chaos of what seems like dead and lifeless space is a dichotomy that's ripe for exploration, and I like to think that The Church's epic jam "Particles Matter" (off of the Operetta EP) is about this. While it might just be the title, the 35 minute jam's noisy and messy and - to me - creates form out of random energy. It's pretentious, sure, but it fits the idea so I'm running with it. Any songs remind you of space phenomena?

Scenes from an Aquarium

Fun images from the huge aquarium in Atlanta.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

First Line of "The Zap Gun"

"'I'm afraid I only have a moment to talk to your viewers. Sorry.' He started on, but the autonomic TV interviewer, camera in its hand, blocked his path. The metal smile of the creature glittered confidently."
- Philip K. Dick, The Ray Gun
After reading Bolaño's "The Part About the Crimes," I needed something a bit lighter to clear my palate before tackling the rest of 2666, so I'm starting on PKD's little ditty about an arms race two 21st Century super-states where each produces a flood of terror weapons, then promptly "plowshares" them into consumer goods. Fun!

First Line of 2666's "The Part About the Crimes"

"The girl's body turned up in a vacant lot in Colonia Las Flores. She was dressed in a white long-sleeved T-shirt and a yellow knee-length skirt, a size too big."
- Roberto Bolaño, 2666, p. 353
Yes, it's not the first line of the book, but the book is just so damned long and Bolaño himself was pondering releasing each section of the book as a seperate novel just before he died. So you get the first line of a 284 page "chapter" that just blew me away. I've got some thoughts I need to put down about it, but "The Part About the Crimes" was brutally entertaining. Some of the best writing i've had the pleasure to read in a long, long time.

Quote of the Day

Only a crisis--actual or perceived--produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around.
- Milton Friedman

So Much Unbearable Talent!

Finally got a chance to watch Steve Kilbey's acceptance speech at the ARIA awards (basically the Austrialian Rock n' Roll hall of fame). Vintage modern Kilbey, off the wall and entertaining and unpredicable and a touch unhinged. The ending was the best touch, so make sure you fast forward to the end of Marty's thanks before stopping.