Another trip to Goodwill and another armful of books. This time it was a Neal Stephenson, a Nancy Kress, a John Banville, a David Sedaris and a Chester Himes. I am a little worried about the Banville. I understand he is all about the untrustworthy narrator where you have to try to uncover subtext and what not. Oh bother, thinking while reading.
Himes is a good one. Like Cornell Woolrich, he is under-appreciated today. He wrote a series of hard-boiled crime novels set in Harlem in the 50s and 60s. Thanks to shared skin color and a focus on black characters, he is usally compared to Walter Mosley. I don't think it is a good comparison. Mosley uses Easy Rawlin's life to show the changes in the black community in LA over the second half of the 20th century. Himes certainly aims to portray life in Harlem, but it is more focused and more visceral.
Friday, September 30, 2005
Another trip to Goodwill and another armful of books. This time it was a Neal Stephenson, a Nancy Kress, a John Banville, a David Sedaris and a Chester Himes. I am a little worried about the Banville. I understand he is all about the untrustworthy narrator where you have to try to uncover subtext and what not. Oh bother, thinking while reading.
Posted by Tripp at 7:19 PM
Saw and bought Dogfish Punkin' Ale at Whole Foods today. I am happy to report that it is good. With most of these pumpkin beers you get a big smack of clove and cinnamon followed by crap beer flavor. Here the fall flavors are mild, but slowly build as you drink the beer. Since it is Dogfish you know the beer is good. So if, like me, you find yourself unable to resist stunt beers, then try this one.
Stunt beers generally are crap. I am thinking of the many chile beers, coffee beers and other liquid misfortunes that have come our way. I came within a hair's breadth of buying Rogue's Chipotle Ale, until I realized I poured out the last chile beer I had purchased. Still it is Rogue... Even though I know I probably won't like these stunt beers, I still buy them. Just like I buy the seasonal candy. It's bad when you realize you have a problem, but you still do it.
Look out for the Crystal Light Slurpees. The Strawberry Banana one is just plain nasty. You may as well go for the high test Slurpee instead. Drinking one of the Crystal Light ones is like drinking Robo to get drunk, not the same and not worth it.
Posted by Tripp at 4:32 PM
Thursday, September 29, 2005
This is a must see. Apparently there was a contest to see who could re-edit a known film to look totally different. The winner made the Shining look like warm hearted tale of a father-son relationship. It's Quicktime so it will be slow but of a higher quality.
Posted by Tripp at 7:39 PM
I recently learned of the huge variety of Kit Kat's available in other markets. In Japan you can get Green Tea Kit Kat, Lemon Cheesecake Kit Kat and Kit Kat Passionfruit, among a zillion others. Down in South Africa, they have pineapple (yuck that can keep that shit.) Germans can look forward to the occasional blood orange, cinnamon or hazelnut and our friends in Britain have Christmas pudding. What do we get in the States, white fucking chocolate and coffee. And dark chocolate if we ask nicely. What is the cause of this travesty? Why is the American consumer denied these confectionary pleasures (although maybe we shouldn't care since this guy says many of them are crap)? Maybe because the Japanese and other nationalities like wierd crap Americans don't, but that is too rational an answer. Instead I blame Hershey which holds the American license to Kit Kat. In the rest of the world Nestle makes Kit Kat.
I am feeling aggreived against Hershey because of their rude response to my query regarding special holiday Kit Kats. I emailed and asked if they would have any. Here is their response.
Posted by Tripp at 10:31 AM
Wednesday, September 28, 2005
I just finished The Danger Tree, and I have mixed feelings. I think many would like most of it , but the World War One dimension may not be for everyone. The book is a memoir of a man trying to learn about his mother's side of the family which came from Newfoundland. Early in the book, he described his Ontario relatives as champions of silence, but when speaking using a linear approach to story telling. Newfoundlanders tell stories in a roundabout way, adding new elements along the way and often not finishing the story. The author approached his subject in the same manner. You start off reading about a grandfather's meeting with the future QE2 and suddenly you are reading about clubbing seals or the building of roads in a nasty climate. He pulls it off though as the stories are connected by his grandfather's generation.
His character sketches are moving, particularly that of of one great uncle who died at a young age in France and of his great aunt who served as a nurse and was one of the few he knew personally. Some of the personal losses reminded me of those in Atonement, but these are real, which only makes them more affecting.He laments that when he had the chance to ask these people personally about their past he was more concerned with getting tan or playing games. Once he really wanted to know, they were gone.
My main concern with recommending the book is the heavy emphasis on the First World War. While there isn't too much in the way of combat, there is frequent discussion of how the stress of the war and the next one essentially broke Newfoundland as a nation and led to its confederation with Canada ( which happened in 1949.) This is important to the family history as three of his grandfather's brothers died in the war. In addition, the death of an independent Newfoundland and the joining with Canada are important issues in the book. Still, not everyone likes reading books with exploding bodies and mass death, so it may dissuade some from reading it.
Posted by Tripp at 7:57 PM
One of my fave 90s books was Snow Crash. So I have fond feelings for Neal Stephenson. The other day at Goodwill I saw the first two books of his Baroque Cycle. I nearly bought them, but their mammoth size and reputation for being confusing stopped me. Has anyone read them? To what can they be compared, if anything? I am always leery of commmitting to nearly 2500 pages of reading.
Posted by Tripp at 2:01 PM
Horror movies, like horror novels, generally suck. I am happy to report that it is still possible to be scared, or at least unsettled, by a good horror movie. Since scary movie month is almost upon us, I thought I would recommend a few movies to add to your Netflix queue.
Black Christmas: This is a pre-Halloween young females in peril film, but it is quite good. It is set at a Canadian college in winter, so the tone is dark and moody. Margot Kidder stars as a horny lush(so you know she's doomed) , and you also get Keir Dullea from 2001. While the story may seem cliche, the prank phone calls from the baddie are SCARY. When he sings "Bye Baby Bunting" over the phone, I want someone to hold me and make it go away.
Session 9: This is from the director of the Machinist, a recent thriller. The plot concerns a toxic waste clean-up crew working in an abandoned insane asylum. It has lots of slow build tension and revelation. If you like movies that generate creepiness from a general sense of wrongness, like Blair Witch, then you will probably dig this.
Sleepaway Camp: This looks like another 80s slasher flick, which it is on one level. There is a camp with lots of horny teenagers who become dead teenagers. What saves it is a particular sub-plot and a no kidding, crazy-ass surprise ending. I hate to say more, but this is not another Friday the 13th. Don't read about it, as the goodness will be revealed, just go rent it.
Posted by Tripp at 8:17 AM
Tuesday, September 27, 2005
I may sound like a self-hating nerd, but I have to say that a $75 copy of the Watchmen is a little ridiculous. Yes, you get some extra crap and a slip-cover, but $75? If you haven't heard of the Watchmen by this point, you probably aren't a nerd and chances are you won't like it. Everyone else should check out the extensive Wikipedia entry on the comic. The article validates the Wiki concept as there is an interesting back and forth on the validity of the content. One interesting note is that all the Watchmen were based on earlier comic book characters.
One of Alan Moore's other graphic novels is V for Vendetta, which is about to get the cinema treatment. Click here for the trailer. The book's main question is whether terrorism is a valid response to an authoritarian regime. I fear the movie will start a "Bush rulez vs. Bush suxor" internet flame war that will be legendary, even in hell. Natalie Portman goes all THX-1138 by shaving her head.
BTW, if you are fortunate enough to live in PDX, head over to the Multnomah County Library and check out the extensive graphic novel collection.
Posted by Tripp at 3:26 PM
Monday, September 26, 2005
While seeking a source for Dogfish Brewing 120 minute IPA, I came across Pubcrawler, which not surprisingly is a pub review site. I did a 503 search and found a lot of McMenamin's, but plenty else besides. The finest bar in 757 gets some good reviews too.
Posted by Tripp at 1:10 PM
Jung Chang has a new book coming out on Mao Zedong, and since she hates her some Mao, you can expect a beat down. Not sure we need this as Mao's suckitude has been well established in places like this, this, and this.
On the other hand, Chang is an excellent writer. Those who have not read Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China really should take a look. By describing the lives of her grandmother, mother and herself, she provides a excellent summary of the 20th century in China. You get the horrible conditions of the early part of the century, the war, the initial liberation of women (still one of the Chinese Communist Party's greatest achievements) followed by famine, civil war, political torture of the intellectual class and the eventual collapse of the true socialist state. This is history everyone should know as China will be increasingly important in all of our lives. If you find more traditional history dry, give this a spin. The 20th century is China is nothing if not interesting.
Posted by Tripp at 12:09 PM
My friend Matt finally convinced me to go to RSS web reading. Like DVD, the iPod and gmail, I didn't really believe it would be that much better, but it was. Thing is, it is way better if you switch to Firefox and then download Sage. Setting up feeds is pretty straightforward, but if you need help, let me know. I SWEAR you will prefer it to IE and regular browsing. Esp. if you look at lots of blogs and newsie sites. Just like DVD makes movies more fun, the iPod makes music listening so much better (every CD you own in the car! Plus some from the library, your friend's CDs...) and gmail makes email easier to deal with, this will make you spend less time online but spend more time on the sites you like.
Posted by Tripp at 10:17 AM
Sunday, September 25, 2005
Just finishing up Richard Stark's (AKA Donald Westlake) Flashfire. It's enjoyable enough, it would certainly be great for a commute or exer-bike book, as you can knock it off in about 2 hours. What is notable about it is that it is a crime procedural, which you don't see too often. There are plenty of police procedurals, which show how cops use routines to catch criminals. This book shows how a criminal goes about his business. For example, Parker, the main character, wants to raise cash to prepare a job. So we get about 50 pages of theft, launder, acquire tools, repeat. There is an odd amorality to the entire book as well. Parker's motivation is rarely if ever touched upon. When you finish it, all the crime and killing slides off like it was nothing.
Contrast this to reading Patricia Highsmith or Jim Thompson. After reading one of those you want to go pick flowers for your Mom to show that there is good in the world. These authors focus on the inner lives and motivations of their characters and this draws the reader deeper into the story. Stark is entirely focused on plot and explaining how criminals do their work which makes it essentially clinical. If I had my choice I would rather read a Highsmith or a Thompson, but sometimes I just need to zone out on the plane and Stark is good for that.
The really quite good movie, Point Blank, is based upon one of these books. The less good movie, Payback, is a remake of Point Blank. Watch it instead.
Posted by Tripp at 10:26 AM
Saturday, September 24, 2005
Finished Little Children and I will agree that CG's complaint is probably valid. If you are not married with kids this is probably less entertaining. If you are then, great. You will get little jokes like the hidden scariness of Thomas of the Tank Engine, the way children's music seeps into your head slowly taking over and the petty rivalries with other parents.Despite the humor, the heart of the novel is rather dark, the titular children are the adult characters who cannot make good choices. Some chase after Internet pornstars, some have affairs with people they meet at the playground and some devote their existence to their child getting into Harvard. None of the characters can be described as happy, at least not in the long term, except maybe the Internet perv. Still the humor of it all keeps it from descending into Happiness land (although this story also has a child molester).
The book is good but isn't going to change your life. But really, do you want to read a lot of books that change your life? What a pain in the ass for your family and friends if your life was changing all the time.
Posted by Tripp at 10:35 AM
Friday, September 23, 2005
So the C of E is having problems getting the kids into church. In order to bring people back, they have put out a 57 page Bible. This follows a way more interesting experiment where books of the Bible were published individually with an intro from a famous writer. For example, The Gospel of St. Mark was published with an intro by Nick Cave (!!!!) which you can read here.
I guess it is good to know that Europeans are as ADD as Americans, but shrinking the actual Bible to 57 pages like you would the latest biz book is odd. Business books, like academic books and most non-fiction, can be reduced to an argument. It is therefore easy to reduce the book to a short bulleted form of that argument. Literary or story-based works are meant to be experienced in the full or much of the value is lost. The meaning can be communicated but the best part of a good literary or story based work is experiencing the way the author communicates the meaning. I'm sure someone could condense Gravity's Rainbow in 57 pages, but would you want to read it?
Posted by Tripp at 12:03 PM
Thursday, September 22, 2005
Everybody knows that milk chocolate is dark chocolate's bitch. What is lesser known in the debate over single source vs. blended dark chocolate. You see, some chocolatiers take the beans from a variety of sources to make their chocolate, while others take it from a single country, region or estate. Valrhona, one of the greatest of the single source makers, even puts out a candy bar that comes from single season on a single estate.
Sellers of chocolate are hoping that consumers will soon debate the merits of Guyanan cocoa vs. Ghanan. Trader Joe's stocks a few single source chocolates and I couldn't really tell the difference. Valrhona is astounding, but that could just be their process. One of the other chocolate Mack Daddies, says hold on, single source is for suckers. Robert Steinberg, co-founder of Scharffen Berger argues that it is all about the blend. Then again, he says milk chocolate is cool, and that's fuckin' crazy talk. On the topic of SB, a friend told me about the factory tour, which she said was an orgy of chocolate consumption. So if you are in Berkeley any time soon, skip Cody's and head down to the factory.
Posted by Tripp at 3:13 PM
I started Tom Perrotta's Little Children last night. So far so good, like Election, it is loaded with amusing social observation. This book falls into a subset of the "American dream is a lie" category. The smaller set is the "suburbs=hell" category. My favorite book, to date, from that school is Revolutionary Road, which can be funny but is far more bleak than Perrotta's take. In both books, so far at least, the main characters grapple with their dissatisfaction with their lives, jobs and relationships. You can guess where that leads them. Both of these books make you question your life decisions. Are you making them for yourself and your loved ones or are societal norms driving your behavior? And how do you balance that? Or do you?
Since everyone reading this is in the 30-40 yr. old existential-questioning zone, I think both books have appeal. Book clubbers would like them both, as they are short and full of point of view. You could some away from each with a strong opinion, methinks. If you have lots of somber types they might like RR better.
Posted by Tripp at 12:27 PM
Wednesday, September 21, 2005
Curious as to what $8k will buy you in books? Well have a look. I'd heard about the package where you could get (nearly) every book in the Penguin Classics Library. That's one thousand books clocking in at 750 pounds. It comes in 25 boxes on a wooden pallet. The obvious question is why buy it? I tend to buy more books than I can read, but not that many more. One of the only Amazon reviewers who actually bought the thing is a librarian and takes pleasure in cataloging and recataloging the books. Sort of like the character in High Fidelity.
I think this may be an extreme example of what Anne Fadiman calls a courtly book lover. The courtly book lover loves their books, but they love them as objects. They may not even read a particularly valuable one as it may damage it. Instead they will buy a cheap "reading copy," which they later toss aside. Carnal book lovers, among which Fadiman counts herself, love the words rather than the solid object and hold on to favorites even as they fall apart. They are also given to writing in the margins, having a dialogue of sorts with the author.
Her model is a little severe, I guess I am a little carnal and a little courtly. I want to enjoy the book, not just look at it, but I get a little annoyed when I see exclamation points, question marks and commentary in the margins myself.
Posted by Tripp at 6:06 PM
Now this makes no sense what so ever, so I hope it is some form of joke. Apparently Ice-T is going to produce a David Hassellhoff hip-hop record. Given the conspiracy theory book I have been reading, I am most worried about the implications, could this be a sign of some kind? (via Balloon Juice)
Posted by Tripp at 5:23 PM
Tuesday, September 20, 2005
So I finally find a form of exercise I am willing to do consistently, cycling. Here in DC it is easy to go for miles with little interference. PDX is said to be bike friendly as well. So all is peachy, eh? Exercise is a wonderful thing, no? Not if it does this to you. (via Fark)
Posted by Tripp at 7:37 PM
Time for another creepy kid's book. I really like Eric Rohmann's illustrations. His My Friend Rabbit is gorgeous and has a nice message, which is your friends are jackasses that will get you in trouble but its all good since they mean well. Given my love of that book and also his Time Flies, I figured I would give Pumpkinhead a try. No, no this story does not concern Ed Harley's quest for vengeance but rather a boy with a pumpkin for his head. So you're thinking this is a nice story about accepting people who are different than us. Actually it is about a boy whose head is taken away by a bat and dropped in the sea. It floats around awhile and then a fisherman finds it. Thankfully, Mom finds her son's head at the fishmonger and is able to reattach to the (amazingly) still functioning body.
This story creeped the fuck out of me. His head is taken and gets lost and his mom finds it in the market! You read this to kids?! I know it is not literal, but metaphor isn't really huge in the preschool set and Rohmann's illustrations are very effective, which added to my dread. If you like gorgeous kid's art and creepy stories this one is for you.
Posted by Tripp at 12:43 PM
The husband of an ex-coworker of mine just put out this book. I've not read it, but the subject is interesting. It concerns the Barbary pirates and the challenges they posed to US policy in the early 19th century. You get a little Jefferson and a look at how the US handled security policy when it was a decidedly weak country. Looks like an engaging narrative approach as opposed to the dry international relations approach.
Posted by Tripp at 11:28 AM
Ian McEwan has a strange essay in the Guardian today. Apparently he and his son handed out free books in a park, as they have too many for their shelves. The ladies eagerly accepted while the guys begged off. From this, and a few other bits of data, he states that without women their would be no novels. This seems a bit much. There certainly are valid gender differences, but only women like novels? This is like my female friend who declared that women like Diet Coke, while men like Coke Zero. Of course, I have no data to contradict McEwan, the guys I know all read novels, but then I probably select for that in my male relationships. If this is true though, book loving men should push for female pay raises so that overall spending on books increases making for more books for all.
Posted by Tripp at 6:21 AM
Monday, September 19, 2005
Think music is at a high point? Then check this noise. It'll give you indigestion for days. Is it me or is she striking a Marilyn Chambers look on that album cover?
Sorry to inflict that crap on you. Revive your faith in music's progress with this. It's a slow download, sorry.
Posted by Tripp at 7:32 PM
Does anyone know a cookbook with good tofu recipes? I have Jeanne Lemlin's vegetarian cookbooks, which are great, but the tofu quotient is a little low. I checked a number of websites, and allrecipes has many but that site is REALLY spotty. Cooking Light has some too, but they are mostly stir fry variations. Any good ideas?
The reason I ask is because I can't get enough of tofu despite my carnivorous ways. And the kids like it. Anytime I can make something for me and for them, it is a good thing. They will happily eat up the uncooked white blocks, which I find rather dreadful.
Posted by Tripp at 2:42 PM
Sunday, September 18, 2005
Fantasy novels are usually a poor investment for the reader. There is the reading opportunity cost to consider. You can rarely get a complete story in one or even two volumes. It is no big deal for a fantasy author to crank out ten volumes over as many years before you get to the end of the story. Then there is the suck factor. Most of these books are just slight variations on the Lord of the Rings. Seemingly unimportant person is actually hugely important and must endure great travail although he will be aided by trusty friends and wise allies. When someone takes a mythology different from Tolkein, like when Greg Keyes uses Native American and other elements, the nerd community is aquiver with delight. Finally there is the embarassment problem. When you walk around with books that have covers like this or this, you might as well have a shirt that reads "No, no, I'd rather not get laid, thanks."
Unfortunately, the book(s) I am going to recommend come with some of the worst covers of all. Try walking around town with this in your hand without blushing. So you're going to have to read it at home or tear the cover off the book. Anyway, Carol Berg writes succintly, only three books in her series! Her world is original with the heros serving as a kind of exorcist/psychologist class in a vaguely Asian world. My only complaint is that she feels the need to subject her main character to long passages of unpleasant torture. It got a little old at the end. Still, this is really good stuff and if you can stand the ridicule of your spouse/partner/housemates then you should really read these.
Posted by Tripp at 6:45 PM
Ebay is auctioning off mentions in upcoming novels. It is meant to benefit a non-profit that promotes First Amendment rights. So if you have lots of money and a great desire to see your name on a tombstone in the upcoming Neil Gaiman novel or perhaps name an alien species in the upcoming David Brin book then by all means make a bid. I was slightly bummed to see that I missed my chance to name a character in a Jonathan Lethem penned comic book, but then again I don't throw around two grand on such things that often.
How much cooler would it be to place your own or someone you know's name in a song? Judging by the market price for a minor mention, slipping your name into a verse of your fave bands love song would probably set you back a couple hundred grand. You could just take a lot of lessons and buy some studio time with that cash. So maybe it's a bad idea.
Posted by Tripp at 6:36 PM
Friday, September 16, 2005
I am still reading Flicker, and it rocks. It has been awhile since I have been this excited about a book. Maybe since Kavalier and Clay? It's not quite that good, but I find myself putting it down so it will last longer. If you like movies and the culture of movies, you will really like the book. The book concerns a film student who becomes dedicated to an obscure director. I hesitate to say anymore about the story as his study of forgotten director Max Castle is so much fun to follow. The pacing is slow and almost languorous at times, but somehow works. It could be that the story becomes slowly more sordid and creepy as the novel progresses. It is the slow racheting of unease that makes the book so fun. Some no doubt will feel he goes too slowly, but this is far better than the novels which reveal their dark secret half way through and then have a 100 page chase scene.
As I mentioned I am only reading this thanks to the Simon Le Bon Book Club. Check out the other books he likes. I just picked up the Little Friend thanks to his review.
Posted by Tripp at 2:04 PM
Thursday, September 15, 2005
I'm not sure if I would like these but I am oddly intrigued. These candies are caramel corn covered in pumpkin flavored chocolate. Potentially delicious and potentially disgusting, the best kind of candy. Or maybe not. Check that blog too, all dessert all the time.
I can't reference Halloween without recalling this cartoon.
Posted by Tripp at 12:13 PM
Now the same friends who make you listen to Sigur Ros can foist bizarre Icelandic food on you. Whole Foods will be promoting food from people who think it is a great idea to eat shark that has buried underground for months. Or if stanky-ass shark flesh isn't your bag, you could choose to eat some tasty smoked puffin.
In truth the Icelanders will be concentrating on food that people in the US might actually eat. The strangest offering is "trackable cod." The consumer with too much time on his or her hands can find out on which boat a piece of cod was caught. Can you imagine the new avenues of food snobbery this opens? "Oh I see this piece came from the SS Fyrd. I only buy cod from the SS Grafl, it's just so much more fresh."
Posted by Tripp at 7:07 AM
Wednesday, September 14, 2005
I was looking at X-entertainment (despite the name, not a porn site) for something interesting. They review pop culture artifacts in an often funny way. At Halloween they put up something everday. The Halloween list is pretty good, but I recommend this taste test of the holiday (green bean casserole, turkey and gravy, etc) sodas that Jones Soda put out last year. I wager they will do it again this year. I must admit that I feel oddly compelled to try these despite my confidence that I will spit them out. I love trying new drinks even more than strange candy. I even drank that nasty Orbitz stuff from the mid-90s.
Posted by Tripp at 2:09 PM
Maria Doria Russell is interviewed on Bookslut. Her first two books concern the first contact with an alien species, and said contact is lead by a Jesuit. Things go badly of course. I'm not gonna lie, I haven't read these for awhile so I can't say much else. Her new book, looks good if possibly immensely sad. It concerns a group of Jewish refugees finding help from Italian soliders and villagers in 1943 Italy.
Her current project looks interesting as well, in the interview, she describes it thusly:
Posted by Tripp at 8:24 AM
Tuesday, September 13, 2005
I spent most of last week interviewing law students for summer positions with my firm. For the uninitiated, this process is something like picking your nose. You know what you are going to get but persist nonetheless. Some interviews are uglier than others. I could go on but you get the picture.
One small (and somewhat cruel) pleasure lies in the questioning. Many of these kids (and the exceptions are usually the ones who are NOT kids) remind me of Rubashov toward the end of Darkness at Noon when they enter the interview room. Start them off with something easy, say a question about their resume, and they unclench a bit. But open with a monster like "What is the biggest mistake you've made" or "Tell me about your mother" (I unloaded that one toward the end of a long, long day last year, with predictably grim results) and the dry heaves start.
Which is why I was astonished that the interesting (to me), somewhat innocuous question that lead off many of my interviews last week provoked such unmistakable angst. It appears that "What is the best book you've read recently? Or over the last several years?" is the conversational equivalent of unzipping and laying it on the table. Those who could answer often chose a Dan Brown novel (and were immediately cut) or Harry Potter (I'm not a fan but do understand the appeal so no points were deducted). To digress for a moment, and hopefully provoke some outraged and grammatically suspect comment, isn't a subscription to US Weekly cheaper than a hardcover copy of "The Da Vinci Code"? And don't they basically amount to the same thing? Just asking.
Anyway, the ostensible point of the question was to see who these people were outside of law school. The more important point, though, was to make them pimp for me and troll for some good recommendations. During the drive back to the office, my fellow interviewers and I discussed our own answers to the questions we'd posed. I thought I would throw one out to whatever audience Tripp has earned and - this time sincerely - hope for some reciprocation.
One of the best books that I've read recently (and I'm stretching that term because I really want to recommend this one) is David Quammen's "The Boilerplate Rhino." Quammen is a nature essayist with the heart of a poet and the writing chops of, well, someone a hell of a lot better than I. "Boilerplate" is the final collection of columns that he wrote for Outside magazine under the title "Natural Acts." To describe him as a science writer is a slight. Early in this volume he writes of a childhood fixation "I don't bother to wonder why I remember such tiny details after almost twenty years. Memory is memory and, like love, knows no logic." A passage from his latest work "Monster of God" is worth quoting at length. Quammen has just spent several days with a Romanian shepherd (really), doing some rather loose field research on Romanian brown bears (picture mean grizzlies) but really just hanging out in the Transylvanian Alps. The Muskrat Conundrum is Quammen's shorthand for his theory (pretty well supported) that the burdens imposed by alpha predators such as Romanian brown bears are borne disporportionately by the poor, while the benefits accrue principally to those of us wealthy enough to subscribe to National Geographic and view a vegetarian diet as an informed choice. The money shot:
Would it be better, I ask, if there were no bears at all? Well, better for him, yes, it would be. But the bear, it's podoaba padurii, the treasure of the forest. "If you lose this, you lose the treasure," he says. "A forest without bears - it's empty."
Not all shepherds see it that way, I tell him. He agrees, noting that most people who claim to like bears are gentlefolk. They live far away, he says, with no bear troubles of their own. Easy for them. Shepherds, plain men at work in the mountains, don't enjoy such distance. Their attitude tends to be la naiba cu ursii, to hell with the bears.
Here it is again, then: the Muskrat Conundrum. Ion Dinca doesn't call it by that label, of course, nor does he draw any parallels between the predator problems of Romanian shepherds and those of vulnerable, marginalized, rural people elsewhere. He doesn't even explain why, despite living the life of an unsheltered muskrat himself, he holds a more appreciative view of the creature that plays the role of the mink. He's simply a man of transparent and generous spirit. As we sit talking, the neck bells on his leader sheep toll soothingly, cloonka cloonka cloonka, in the rhythm of their waddle across the slope. Life is good, life is hard, life is enriched by complications and - he seems to feel - so it should be. A forest without bears is empty.
I'm going to stop now to read some Quammen. And forget about law students for a while.
Posted by Steve at 7:22 PM
I bought the Death From Above 1979 CD. It's good so far and if you liked Blood on our hands, you will probably like the CD. The opposite is likely true as well. Nearly bought Slipknot and Death Cab, but the former's case was cracked and I am still leery after the Pitchfork review for Death Cab. Will probably get it, since PF can be a bit snobby.
Posted by Tripp at 2:34 PM
I am about half-way through Not A Good Day to Die, which concerns the planning and execution Operation Anaconda (Afghanistan, March 02) . It is quite good at exploring what caused the Operation to nearly collapse in disaster. The author illustrates the problems in coordinating special operations and "Big Army" units, the problems in reconciling political directives with military operational concerns, the challenges in planning, or in this case poor planning, the challenges in gathering and integrating intelligence and the particular problems of operating in a country like Afghanistan. The author writes for Army Times and is critical of the service and CENTCOM, although he is quite fair. He assumes a certain knowledge of the Army, but you can always blow past the confusing parts. Also if you want rah-rah USA books, you won't like it.
A lot of the reviews on Amazon complain that there is too much emphasis on the background and not enough on the fighting. In fact, the combat is highly detailed but you do need the context to understand why the battle became so closely fought. If you want a look at how the Afghan war was (is?) being fought, this is as good a place as any.
If you have lots of time and interest, you might to look at the debate on whether the nature of war has changed. Read Stephen Biddle's take on why the Afghan experience does not change the way wars will be fought in the future. He wrote a shorter version for Foreign Affairs, but you will Lexis or something similar for that. Max Boot disagrees and says war has changed. I'm with Biddle on this one.
Posted by Tripp at 12:21 PM
Back in the gay and merry 90s when all was well with the world, people wrote a lot of books about people doing dangerous things that often lead to their deaths. I suppose at that time we needed more excitement in our lives. Publishers churned out books like Endurance, Into Thin Air, The Perfect Storm and A Voyage For Madmen.
Fergus Fleming continues to write in this dwindling genre with books about underprepared Frenchmen crossing the Sahara, underprepared and soon dead British explorers, and the race to get to the North Pole. I just found a copy of his Killing Dragons which concerns the initial attempts to conquer the Alps. His approach to the subjects is highly irreverent and leaves you wondering how these people thought they could accomplish their goals. That doesn't mean he can't tell a good story. In Barrow's Boys, he relates the tale of the HMS Terror and Erebus, which were specially built to find the Northwest Passage to the Pacific Ocean. Loaded with tons of supplies and a full crew, they were sent west and disappeared somewhere north of Canada. The books are packed with strange little stories such as these and Fleming's ability to balance the (black) humor and the excitement makes for great reading.
Posted by Tripp at 11:52 AM
Monday, September 12, 2005
Fans of Max Barry's Jennifer Government, as well as those hoping to create a utopia or dystopia might want to check out this (free) online game. The game is somehow modeled on the future that Barry postulates. His world is meant as a satire on globalization and the over-commercialization of everything. If that sounds nifty, then check the link. I found the book a little over the top and one-note, but that's just me.
Posted by Tripp at 7:39 AM
Sunday, September 11, 2005
Thanks to Goodwill pricing and cool Black Lizard cover art, I picked up the nicely evil Rendezvous in Black, written by the unjustly forgotten Cornell Woolrich. It is mostly straitforward 50s pulp, but the plot is particularly nasty. It is a basic revenge tale in which a man seeks vengeance against those that accidently killed his girlfriend, but he doesn't kill those responsible. Instead on the anniversary of his best girl's death, he hunts down someone close to the perps.
Of particular interest to me is the fact that the killer's name is Johnny Marr and one of the victims is named Morrissey. Everyone's fave 80s Brit guitarist changed his name to Marr, and I think it is so Moz that he is in the victim role.
Posted by Tripp at 6:25 PM
Saturday, September 10, 2005
A lot of people like Shel Silverstein books, but the latest, Runny Babbit, is pretty incomprehensible. We thought that just the title was reversed, when in fact, letters are switched in nearly every sentence of the book. We tried reading this to the 4 year old who went back to playing with his toys. The Amazon reviewers LOVE it, which I find bizarre. It would be fun to give to really wasted people, kinda like the reverse order watches you can get. Not sure that is worth your $12.23. You could just give them a tequilla snort and get more laughs.
Posted by Tripp at 8:25 PM
Friday, September 09, 2005
My buddy Matt runs a website called PDXBands. Can you guess what it is about? OK, I'll help. It is a place to showcase lesser known bands with a strong emphasis on 503. Matt put up a Podcast of some music that he likes, it is very prominent on the homepage. Bands include Crack City Rockers (clever!) and a band that actually drops the c-bomb. Not at all common in the States but as common as "hello" over in the UK. Neill you in particular will like it as it will allow you to say things like "yeah, I've been listening to Elephant Factory a lot these days."
Posted by Tripp at 1:44 PM
Robert Sabuda, of really nice pop-up book fame, has a book out a book on dinosaurs. It looks awesome. This may be even more of a required buy than That's Disgusting. I can't link directly to the Dino movie, but if you scroll to the middle of the product page, you can click on a short film showing the T. Rex pop-up. Pretty impressive. The only downside is that you have kids like mine, you will have to hide the book so they don't destroy it in the first five minutes it gets to your house. Anyway watch the movie.
Posted by Tripp at 9:36 AM
Thursday, September 08, 2005
Watch this. If you do, I promise to listen to Lamb of God, despite my fear of the ridiculous singing and my history of not liking Slayer. Tell your pal who didn't like the GWAR comparison that they toured with GWAR and other silly-devil-name bands this past summer.
I put Starlite Walker on the iPod, I had forgotten how good that one is.
Posted by Tripp at 8:19 PM
It is official. Simon Le Bon has some of the best taste in books around. By that I mean, we like similar books. He turned me on to Flicker, which I doubt I would have picked up otherwise. I started it today and I can tell it will be good. It involves movies and giant conspiracies. Sweet. He also likes James Ellroy, Phillip Pullman and other greats. It is worth checking his site to see what he is reading, although he hasn't updated too frequently as of late. This month he promotes Altered Carbon, which is one of the best sci-fi books in years.
By the way, Flicker is going to be made into a movie by Darren Aronofsky. I loved Requiem for a Dream, but I wonder if he can compress a 500 page novel into two hours. Hmm, it seems the person who did the Fight Club screenplay is doing this screenplay, that bodes well.
Posted by Tripp at 1:46 PM
Wednesday, September 07, 2005
Instead of random jottings about books and food, some people actually have useful blogs. One of these is the strangely named Criterion Contraption. This guy is trying to watch all of the Criterion collection movies and then writing a longish review of each. He is a film guy so there is lots of (interesting) technical detail. He clearly spends a lot of time with each movie. I felt better when he too was confused by the very strange Japanese movie Branded to Kill. If you don't know Criterion, they take films of particular cultural or artistic value, add extras and release them in nice editions. If you have recently won the lottery you can get all in print titles here (or you will be able to later this year).
Posted by Tripp at 1:32 PM
If you like mysteries at all, you should be checking out Sarah Weinman’s weekend update. She reads the major US, UK and Canuck Sunday book reviews and links to the good articles. You can waste a good half hour on this every Monday (or so). Here is the most recent example. The rest of the site is well worth it, but the update should be a weekly read for the mystery types.
If your taste runs nerdier, then you should be checking Locus online. They link to the major sci-fi reviews. The site design needs work, but take a look at the left side of the screen. A lot of the main content costs money so look to the links.
Posted by Tripp at 12:08 PM
Tuesday, September 06, 2005
As I purge my too large book collection, I find I am totally unable to abandon books with personal inscriptions. Even if it is just a happy birthday, it is too much. Partially I don't want anyone to find out that I got rid of the book they gave me. But mostly I think finding books with inscriptions in bookstores is sad. Recently I saw one of the worst stripe, the spurned reconciliation. This one said something along the lines of "Dear X, I'm sorry, can't we try again? Love Y." I almost cried in the bookstore. So please help me out and rip out inscriptions before selling.
Posted by Tripp at 6:43 PM
Monday, September 05, 2005
As I discard as many books as possible pre-move, I come across this article on Sarah Weinman. It talks about how hard it is to get rid of books. I used to be that way, but saving all that moving cash is incentive enough. Anyway, the article is funny, esp the bit on the designer use of books. For those that don't follow the Brit tabloid press and therefore miss the reference, Victoria Beckham (AKA Posh Spice), recently revealed that she has never read a book. Any book. At all.
Posted by Tripp at 8:35 PM
Maybe it's the candy embargo, but I got thinking about chocolate-covered cashews. I recommend Goods. Doesn't look like much, but they are tasty. Maybe I will stop there during my cross country trek, but I think it may be too far south. It is probably good that the TJ's chocolate cashews aren't that great as my willpower is not that strong. In any case I plan to acquire many regional treats, including Valomilks, along the drive. I may even break the sugar soda embargo to try Ale 8 One.
Posted by Tripp at 8:29 PM
Sunday, September 04, 2005
Saw two interesting items in the Post Fall book preview:
Anne Rice is coming out with a fictional look at Jesus, and it looks to be the first of a new series. I dread to think how much crap we are going to get from the fundies over this. With Robertson in hiding, perhaps Falwell will issue the fatwa against her. Bonus points to the first one to retroactively link Katrina to the book.
Wonkette is coming out with a novel as well. If you know her site (if you don't, you should) then you know you are going to get lots of good lefty political humor and plenty of back door action.
Posted by Tripp at 2:36 PM
Saturday, September 03, 2005
Coming back from PDX, I finished Any Human Heart and it was very good. It is a classic examined life story. The framing device is that a young British writer begins writing journals in high school and continues to write them til death. So we get the callow youth, the rising writer, the disappointed writer and so on. The journal format gets rid of pesky forshadowing and also shows a more realistic development of relationships. As you can imagine, it is all about highs and lows and the emotional reaction to each. Boyd does a really nice job there. The book reminded me of Updike's Rabbit books in that it traces a complete life and in that they both feature tons of sex. The main character is quite the horndog. A lot of the reviews make a big deal of the fact that it is also a history of the 20th century. I found this a little annoying. He is supposed to be a minor literary figure, but he seems to run into all kinds of historical figures, like Hemingway, Picasso, the Duke of Windsor and so on. If anyone wants this one, tell me.
Posted by Tripp at 7:03 PM
Friday, September 02, 2005
Sorry news from Hollywood (PDX, not CA). Wrigley Cross bookstore is closing on Sept 11. This is a personal bummer as I am able to walk there from our current house (although we aren't back yet). Everything is 50% so if you are a cheap bastard like me go down and take advantage.
Other dark news, it seems that Hershey's evil continues apace, there is a white chocolate Take Five. The little timeline on the home page hints of more evil to come.
Posted by Tripp at 4:40 PM
So I identified the other smores, which the tricky marketers have called smoores. The most important message on the wrapper is that the candy is "100% real." I'm guessing this is reassure the truly baked consumer. They look a little too much like the Mallomar to me.
Between interviews I was in Borders and spotted the Descent. This is one of the best thrillers of all time, easily the equal of anything Crichton has done. Essentially, it turns out that Hell is a real place. Sounds goofy, but it works. As you can imagine having read that, I was really excited for his follow-up, Year Zero. As much as you must read Descent, you must avoid Year Zero. I was going to have a spoiler alert here, but you know what, fuck that. Here is what happens, an ancient disease is released by archaeologists and everybody dies. Not every character, not everyone in Omaha, EVERYBODY DIES. And in a long drawn out manner. And he ends it in a nice nasty way, where we the reader see the final doom approaching while someone reads Goodnight, Moon to their kids. I read that thing a couple times a week and I have to think about everybody dying now. Thanks, man.
I know what you are thinking. A few posts ago I told you to read a book about Sudan, so what is the deal? Well, that sort of book is important because it helps you understand the world and may present possibilities for changing policies to prevent/mitigate/deter nastiness. For an even better take than the Sudan book, read Samantha Power. I'm not even opposed to everybody dies fiction, On the Beach is good, and so is the Doomsday Book. They however are redeemed by topicality or excellent character explorations. Year Zero is just everybody dying slowly and painfully.
Posted by Tripp at 11:35 AM
Thursday, September 01, 2005
In all the talk of candy, I forgot about one of the best sites of all time, Bad Candy. I haven't been for awhile and it looks like most of the stuff is new. Joanna will particularly dig the take on circus peanuts, but don't forget the Tamarind.
Also I noticed there are two Smores candies out there. Was everyone talking about the Hershey one? There was some other thing that looked like a big Reeses's but filled with marshmallow. I saw it in a really sketchy convenience store today. I am guessing everyone meant the Hershey one but you never know.
Went down to Hawthorne Powell's and saw two things:
The Ninja guy has managed to squeeze a book out of a joke website. Not sure I can recommend the book (although 162 reviews on Amazon do!) , but most certainly the website. Where else can you read about real ultimate power while listening to Big Pimpin'?
Norton is re-releasing the Aubrey-Maturin books with new covers and a more readable font. I've spoken to a number of people who started to read these books and stopped, often because of the extensive use of nautical lingo. There is so much sail-speak in these books that someone published a book to explain it. In defense of the books, I will say that the first two aren't terribly good and you might start with the third. If you are not down with that one you probably won't like the later ones. Keep in mind it's not all swords and cannonballs. You get lots of weird detail on the early 19th century. If you saw the movie, you get the idea.
Posted by Tripp at 12:22 PM