Monday, December 31, 2007

Don't watch this trailer

As this Monsterfest blog post notes, here be spoilers for the film version of Scott Smith's the Ruins. If you watch you will learn a few too many things about the book, so do as Monsterfest suggests and just read the book.

This excellent horror novel suffered from overhype (notably from the Stephen write-up on Amazon,) but it remains one of the most distressing and disturbing horror novels in years. The book is not for most people, but for those longing for a horror story with a moral core, this is a good choice.

It has a genuine sympathy with its characters that so much of the torture porn that stands in for horror lacks. I suppose it is this complicity with the killers that Haneke is getting at with his controversial Funny Games. This sympathy for the devil is what spoiled the follow-ons to Silence of the Lambs and the rise of evil anti-heroes like Jigsaw.

The characters who find themselves trapped in a Mayan ruin are real and their suffering is often a challenge to read. It isn't a book for everyone, but if you want to see how regular people might face a fantastic doom, then this is your book.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

I stayed the cold day with a lonely satellite

There are many in my generation ( the X one) that wish they had experienced the 60s, by which they either mean the Summer of Love or the political idealism. Well if you ask me, we have plenty of free love and political idealism these days, but what we don't have is the excitement of the space race. With that, we had a (brief) flourish of interest in science and in expanding the realm of humanity. Sure it was mostly pipe dreams and a cover for international rivalry. That said, it must have been both scaring and thrilling at the time.

In Red Moon Rising, Matthew Brzezinski tells the story of the start of the space race, the launch of Sputnik. His main areas of interest are the personal and bureaucratic rivalries that held the US back and helped get the Soviet Union ahead initially. He presents a clear picture of how policy is often accidental.

The story has been told before, but Brzezinski has the talent, like Richard Preston in the Hot Zone, to surface the thriller elements and to explain what makes each development so interesting. He begins the book with a detailed and almost breathless account of a V-2 launch against London and then the rush by the Western and Soviet armies to collect as many German scientists and V-2 technology as possible.

The book is short and the result is that there is not as much analysis as one might like. That said, this is a fun and informative read.

Friday, December 28, 2007

You’re sharpening stones, walking on coals

Here is a book that is going to get tongues wagging. Blacklisted by History: The Untold Story of Senator Joe McCarthy and His Fight Against America's Enemies is the sort of title that screams moderation and careful argumentation. Not unlike his book from the 60s, The Law Breakers, America's Number One Domestic Problem.

Last pie of the year

So I finally ran into a pie from Ken Haedrich's super-fantastic cook book Pie about which I have ambiguous feelings. The Ivy House Sugar Cream Pie is strange. First it looks odd, as it is as white as snow. Then the taste is strange, sweet of course, as it is just sugar, butter and milk, but not overly so. It tastes like some form of 1970s candy which I can't identify. Of the five people I have given a slice, a few liked it, but most didn't, agreeing with a commenter on this site which called it yucky. I ended up with positive feelings overall, but it isn't nearly as good as the buttermilk or maple cream pies and as such will probably not get made again.

On the sugar cream front I tried Necco's Old Fashioned Cream Drops. Imagine ten times the creamy center from Goetze's Caramel Creams covered in drug store chocolate. Although it is of the class of circus peanuts, I found it oddly appealing, but I also think Cow Tales are fabulous.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

A few sci-fi items

Here is Peter Suderman on the sad decline of Orson Scott Card.

Here is the entire first episode of the late lamented Firefly. This comes from Hulu, NBC's upcoming TV content site.

Here are the covers for the new Iain M Banks, Peter Hamilton and some other guy.


I find it hard to gauge whether people will like Lee Child's Jack Reacher novels. I lent the first one friend who loved it and he sent it to another that thought it was among the worst books of all time*. I suppose it depends on what you want in a book. Child's genius is not in his style, in his characterization or in particular, his believability.

Instead he creates truly nasty bad guys given to inventive means of killing. He then puts them up against Reacher, a loner Ex-MP who is smart, cynical and willing and capable of delivering immense amounts of GBH. So, nothing deep or redeeming here. Instead, Child provides strange mysteries solved by a very dangerous person set in a world where institutions are highly suspect. Call it post-pulp-noir if you like.

I ended up putting down Tripwire, which I thought was bloated and unfocused. The follow-on book Running Blind (called The Visitor in the UK, which is a better title) is far more effective, with Reacher reluctantly working with the FBI on a case for which he was the initial suspect. The killer is vile as always and kills in a rather dramatic and bizarre fashion. The mystery isn't lock tight, I figured out the how about halfway through, but the who was elusive until the end. Child's improvement in misdirection is evident in this book.

Tripwire was burdened with excessive character development, in this case a love story, which took away from what we need in these stories, weird crimes and Reacher's inventive responses to them. I'm happy that Tripwire was an aberration, not least because I had already bought the next book, Echo Burning, in hopes that I would like Running Blind.

*I should note that I lent him what he considers the top worst book of all time. Michael Slade's Ghoul. He is right, it sucks, but it was 1988, so give me a break. This one was blurbed by Bruce Dickinson of all people.

Monday, December 24, 2007


I hope every one is enjoying Christmas. I made the family egg nog and although I dialed it back a bit, it remains best for those with at least a 16 Constitution.

This Sci Fi sound quiz is fun. I scored 85 out of 100. From the same site is news of another Dune movie.

One of the best named blogs of all time, Steamboats Are Ruining Everything, has a number of posts on the dire effects of a decline in reading. They relate back to an article the blogger, Caleb Crain, wrote for the New Yorker.

Check out the vitriol in this discussion of creepy kids books.

The NYRB has republished Norman Mailer's reporting from the 1968 conventions.

The link to which is points is subscription only, but BookDaddy reports that the bulk of our knowledge of the Nordic gods comes from a single text!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Britt sings Bruce

Strange. I was just mentioning that one of my favorite Bruce songs is I'm Going Down and then I just found this cover of Britt Daniel singing it.

My mirrors are black for you

30 Days of Night was a okay horror comic. The story is simple, too simple. Barrow, Alaska, gets really dark in winter, which is ideal for vampires. So when the long night comes a bunch of vampires come eat the townspeople. Then the townspeople fight back. The End. The pedestrian plotline had a few mild surprises, but the art is the main attraction. The colors veer from shades of gray to wild reds and their mouths open like a sharks to eat the victims.

The sequel, Dark Days, is an improvement. There is an interesting story this time involving a human and a vampire seeking their own revenge for deaths in Barrow. The end works well and calls into question the motivations of some of the characters. Because there is a story, there is much less gore, although there is plenty still.

The Secret is another graphic novel horror novel, although it is less successful than Dark Days. In this tale, a group of teens make prank calls and end up calling the wrong person. A girl disappears and one boy is determined to find out what happened. Nothing good of course. The climax is exciting and well done, but the denouement is cliched.

It is much harder to make a good horror story in graphic novels, and movies than it is in books. A partially imagined fright is much worse than something on screen or in an image. Once you see it, you can categorize it and understand it. It is much easier to develop dread, fear and horror in words as your own brain fills in the terrible details.

Still, I keep reading these things, so there must be something to them. These graphic novels are like B-horror movies, but they have the great advantage that they take much less time to read.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Random items

The long delayed Cool Moon Ice Cream is open. Located across from one of Portland's great summer kid magnets, Jamison Square, it is too bad they opened at the beginning of winter. They serve the standard flavors but also things like "Unusual flavors could include avocado, candied ginger, Black cherry with chocolate and pine nuts, Campari grapefruit sorbet, and many others. Possibilities are only limited by imagination!" While there weren't that many off the wall flavors available when I walked it, there were enough to make the choice a challenge.

I tried butter pistachio and lemon ginger, which would have been better apart then together. The butter pistachio is an improvement over baseline butter pecan, as the pistachios deliver more flavor. The butter flavor unfortunately overpowered the ginger in the lemon ginger ice cream. The lemon ginger was quite tasty and is probably best had alone to savor the shift from tart to sweet.

The shop serves a wide range of sundaes and sodas as well. The staff is friendly and the shop itself is cheery. This is a good addition to Portland.

I saw the Jicks last night at the Doug Fir. If a band you like is playing the Doug Fir, go. The sound is great, the venue is small, there is a full bar in back and the tickets are inexpensive. The Jicks sounded great and continued in their jammy vein they have been exploring. This means the default indie dance mode of a barely perceptible head nod is giving way to a mode of dancing last seen on the HORDE tour.

Speaking of Portland and music, Carrie Brownstein is now blogging about music and other topics on NPR. Her pieces are thoughtful and well-written, have a look.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Turn and face the strange

Does all the Christmas cheer get you so down that you are looking for some adultery and murder, of the literary sort? Then Michael Dibdin's Dirty Tricks may be just your book. Dibdin is best know for his Aurelio Zen mysteries, but I think his stand-alones, like the Last Sherlock Holmes Story, are more fun.

This volume is a witty, acid look at the British class structure, including the Thatcherite nouveau riche, ca. 1991. The main character, Tim, undergoing an extradition investigation in a Latin American country describes his take on the crimes he is said to have committed. Returning to Britain after years abroad teaching English, the narrator Tim begins to connive his way into wealth via adultery and skulduggery. The twists and turns as he tries to maintain his position are the fun of the tale. And as it turns out Tim may not be the only one sleeping in the wrong bed. It sounds quite a bit like Matchpoint, but it is funnier and presents a broader cultural attack than the Allen film.

The narrator, who is a truly reprehensible person, is not unlike Tony Soprano. He is a likable person who occasionally reveals what a terrible person he is. The reader laughs along with his observations and then recoils at his actions or his often baldly stated cruelty. And as you might expect a predator like Tim forgets that sometimes they chase the wrong prey.

Best Christmas show

This is really, really late, but it is worth noting that this DVD collection collects a number of single Christmas DVDs into one of the better collections out there. You get the Grinch but you also get The Year Without Santa Claus (featuring Heat and Coldmiser,) and Nestor the Long Eared Donkey ( terribly underrated in my mind. Here is his song) and Rudolph's Shiny New Year. From the latter you may recall the Father Time Song. So it's mostly Rankin and Bass plus the Grinch, which aside from the Charlie Brown special, is all you need.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

From beanies and weenies to chevre

David Kamp's The United States of Arugula is the cheery, optimistic companion to the reflective, worried Omnivore's Dilemma. Michael Pollan's book focuses on the American food supply today, while Kamp explores how the US went from a country that made Dr Pepper-based olive jello molds, to one with dozens of pastas and cheeses in a non-specialty store.

Kamp identifies the beginnings of taste in American cuisine with the rise of the Big Three, James Beard, Julia Child and Craig Claiborne. Claiborne created the serious food section and restaurant reviews at the New York Times, and may be less known that the others. These people built the world of food writing, which hadn't existed before in the United States.

The next sections deal with the rise of specifically American high end restaurants. Much of this section is devoted to the story of Chez Pannise, which emerged as a post-hippie idea that local ingredients were best. While the writers and the high end restaurants certainly motivated the elites, the related rise of the celebrity chef spread the foodie culture to a broader slice of society.

This is an upbeat book that views American cuisine and food culture at a high point and climbing. He points to the introduction of more options at fast food restaurants as a sign that tastes are changing at all levels of society. While Kamp may be a bit too optimistic, this is a fun read with amusing gossip and great stories about the world of food.

Through the storms and the light

FHM delivers their top ten sci-fi hotties, to which I say fie. Where is Col. Wilma Deering? Barbarella? Kalylee Frye? Jessica Six? Scully? I mean come on.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

An odd one from Bruen

Ken Bruen's Killing of the Tinkers is the follow up to his the Guards and feature the drunken ex-cop, Irish hepcat Jack Taylor. It's an odd book, billed as a crime novel but it is really more of Irish Bukowski set against a crime back-drop. Taylor isn't so much an anti-hero as he is a non-hero. He is a side character used for color elevated to protagonist. Taylor is asked to investigate crimes, but in this book even more than the last, the story is about his sorry life and the sorry decisions he makes.

It's an altogether strange book. Bruen has always been about dialogue and character, but that is all there is to these books. Even the turns and surprises of the crime case is really just a backdrop for the reactions of Our Jack. His American Skin will be more interesting to crime readers.

Monday, December 17, 2007

A few covers

It doesn't reach the glories of Radiohead's cover Headmaster Ritual, which is the rare straight ahead cover that sounds better, but Velvet Revolver's cover of Bodies is great fun. You can find it here along with an oh so appropriate cover of Negative Creep. It sounds pretty much like you would think Velvet Revolver playing Bleach-era Nirvana sounds like, heavy and not-pretending.

And the Arcade Fire have a Smiths and some Clash covers over here.

Omnivore's Dilemma

Michael Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemma is a compelling, rich study of how America gets its food that blends a John McPhee like personal journey with probing and difficult philosophical questions about how we should eat.

The Omnivore's Dilemma is what should we have for dinner. In the past, the choices were limited, but today they are close to unlimited. Pollan charges that we should understand from whence our food comes. To do that, he traces the food sources of four meals, a fast food dinner, an organic meal from a national chain, a locals-only meal and finally a meal personally hunted and gathered.

The key to fast food, and by extension much of the grocery, is corn. His exploration of the role of corn in the modern diet is good enough to warrant buying the book. He describes how policy developed to support low corn prices and the deleterious effect on cow and human health that results. He also explains why farmers are stuck with the system.

In the organic chapters, Pollan questions the extent to which Big Organic is really better than what Whole Foods would term conventional growing. He argues it is better, especially due to great reduction in chemicals, but argues that the overall environmental impact is similar. Virginia's Poly Face Farms is the hero of the tale. Through rigorous rotations, the Salatin family produces a wide range of meats for locals and does so in one of the most environmentally friendly ways possible.

Pollan is very much part of the story, buying a cow to follow it through the nation's beef supply and working on the Salatin's farm to understand how they differ. He briefly becomes a vegetarian to understand that approach. In order to complete his study of food, Pollans goes on mushroom hunts, forages for fruit, grows vegetables and then goes hunting for wild boar. Although initially skeptical, he comes to understand the hunting mystiques but believes it must be felt to be understood.

His eventual pro-hunting stance is part of the complex food view he constructs which argues for eating as locally and as environmentally friendly as possible. He ends up opposing animal rights as being fixated on the rights of individual animals without thought to ecology. He vigorously and convincingly argues against the industrialization of agriculture which primarily helps the companies involved to the great detriment of health and the environment.

This is an excellent read and you will find yourself wanting to pass on your copy. At the airport this weekend, a man saw my copy and approached me to comment that he had just started and wondered what I thought about the book. It is that kind of book.

Are you asking for a challenge?

Yessir, yessir I am.

Try this geography challenge. I made it to level 12, but have yet to defeat that level.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

He's gonna be your number one

Midnight Tides, book five of Steven Erikson's Malazan Book of the Fallen, is another excellent volume in what may be the best fantasy series being written today. Although it is not categorically superior to Memories of Ice or House of Chains, it improves the series in a number of ways.

Firstly it successfully balances the series bleak tone with effective uses of humor, in particular the relationship between the oddly broke financial genius Tehol Beddict and his oddly knowledgeable manservant Bugg. Their schemes and manipulations are truly amusing, a feat Erikson hasn't really managed before. The humor is appreciated as Erikson continues to serve capital-E-epic tales of the destruction of nations and families.

In this case, a family of Tiste Edur, including a character who appears chronologically later in House of Chains, and a family of human Letherii tragically interact with each other. This being Erikson you know some of them are going to die, but the varieties of magic allow for peculiar fates. He weaves the small scale personal stories quite well into the overall political struggle between the Edur and the Letherii, again an improvement. In some of his other novels, many of the plotlines have been either tangential or set-ups for future volumes. This is probably the best integrated plot yet.

This is the second book in a row where Erikson moves the overarching narrative to an entirely new set of characters. At first this is frustrating, as you miss the earlier characters and have to work to learn new countries, religions and so on. This switching is one way Erikson keeps the books so fresh. He does create new characters, but eventually weaves them back into the major plotline involving the battle amongst the gods.

Also new is the political context of this book. At a certain point, I was wondering if I was reading a fictionalized account of Cullen Murphy's Are We Rome? The nation of Letherii is clearly meant to depict the flaws of 21st century America, notably hubris, an addiction to military power as a tool, an overemphasis on firepower, expanding inequality and a crushing load of debt. The treatment of native Americans is also figures importantly. This might get the fantasy haters interested, but they stopped reading this in the first sentence.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Sci fi Indiana?

Now the very idea of an Indiana Jones IV may make people scream, but an Indiana Jones with aliens might make them scream all the more. I am all for it.

If you do like aliens, perhaps you will like the Star Wars toys that never were. I suspect the Owen and Beru would have been big hits.

Picking the next book

In looking at my next book to read, I have a bad habit of picking books I am less likely to enjoy than one I am likely to enjoy. A case in point in the Omnivore's Dilemma, which I am greatly enjoying. Despite my great interest in the subject matter (food and the American diet) and the great accolades accorded the book, I let it sit on my shelf while books I could have safely bet I would like less made it to the bedside first. Why?

I can point to a few reasons that lead to sub-optimal reading for me.

Gift or loan book: If someone gives or loans you a book, they expect to hear back about it, so these books tend to head to the front of the line. Sometimes they are in fact the best choice, as has happened recently with the Malazan books and Shot in the Heart. The better someone knows you, the better off you are.

Library books: I tend to check books out willy nilly. I can take the risk because there is no cash cost, although there is the reading opportunity cost to consider (which I don't usually consider.) Fortunately, this risk is mitigated by quickly dropping books I am not enjoying.

Finding the next great book: I have to admit a big part for me is my desire to tell people about some great book they haven't read or even heard of. This requires reading the lesser known and under-praised, and reading a lot of good if not great books. This generates lots of "I could have had a V-8" moments.

Pretty colors: I have a lot of unread books. If I had to guess, the number would in the low hundreds. So when I walk around the house looking at the various unread books, an attractive spine is more likely to catch my eye then a dowdy one.

So with all of that, it is a treat when I read something truly outstanding.

Update: I realized, after I posted, that this sounds whiny. Poor me, lots of books as gifts, wah! Really I was just getting at why does it take so long to read books you know you will like.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

A good book

After fitfully reading two books that left me if not cold, then certainly chilly, I am completely engaged in Michael Pollan's the Omnivore's Dilemma. It covers some of the same ground as Fast Food Nation, but looks at all of American eating, not just the fast food. I found it almost immediately engaging. Read the introduction and first chapter here (note: it is a PDF if that is an issue), I expect you will be hooked.


There is a fine tradition of satirical Amazon reviews. For quite some time, fake reviews were posted for the various Family Circus books, but Amazon has deleted most of them. As this post notes they are related to the Dysfunctional Family Circus. There are still good ones out there though. The ones for Tuscan Whole Milk are truly great (via Andrew Sullivan).

Monday, December 10, 2007

Finishing the Wheel of Time

The Jordan books will be finished by Brandon Sanderson. Pat of Pat's Fantasy Hotlist isn't psyched. At least this way it will be finished in a single volume.


Have there ever been good prequels? Really, I was trying to think of one and couldn't. I was thinking initially of the Dune prequels and of course of those movies, but other than that have there been prequels of value?

Ironic internet humor

If you miss MST3K, you might want to look at Cinematic Titanic and RiffTrax. The former is an upcoming series of downloadable/DVD-based shows similar to the original show. The latter is an ongoing series, by the second host, Michael J Nelson, of downloadable commentaries on more popular films. I would like to listen to the Star Wars Holiday Special.

Here is Chad Vader interacting with the RiffTrax.


Books like the Long Tail have popularized the shift from mass to niche culture. In Microtrends, pollster Mark Penn expands the topic area to politics and takes a data-centric view of 75 changes that spell business and political opportunity. The book's overarching thesis is similar to that of the Long Tail's arguing that as citizens and consumers, people are defining themselves in ever smaller segments. This will be tough for marketers, but far worse for political parties as they have to manage ever more diverse coalitions.

The specific nature of the 75 microtrends means that the interest in each chapter will vary greatly. Some will focus on the politically oriented trends and others will be more interested in the cultural ones. I found the growth in participation of individual sports like archery and kayaking and the decline of team sports like basketball and football to be interesting. At first glance it would look like validation of the Bowling Alone concept, but it could also be a reflection of increased access to less traditional sports. Much of the fun of the book is debating the underlying causes of the trends. On a book-related note, Penn notes that the average length of novels read is increasing.

You can read an interview with an author and download a chapter at the book's website. The site discusses a fair amount of the book's content and gives you a chance for a test drive.

Microtrends is published by the Twelve, an imprint that will publish only 12 books a year. It's a bit gimmicky of course, but the implication is that the books are good enough to sell. The latest is the Nuclear Jihadist, a book about AQ Khan.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Least favorite Christmas song

I quite like Christmas music, esp. the Bing Crosby sort. Listening to the Christmas station though, you run the risk of listening to some real horrors. Here are my least faves.

3) Christmas Shoes. An aggressively saccharine and annoying song that implies that God makes people sick and die so that better off people remember what Christmas is about. Here is Patton Oswalt hating on the song.

2) Wonderful Christmas Time. This is one is godawful AND it is written by one of the greatest songwriters of all time. I suspect that McCartney figured he'd never write anything to equal Merry Christmas (War is Over) and decided to write the worst possible Christmas song.

1) Christmas in the Northwest. This one sounds like it was recorded in a car commercial session that got out of hand. So very bad. This one is only inflicted on those of us in the Pacific Northwest. Be glad if you live elsewhere.

Friday, December 07, 2007

The Wire prequels

If you enjoy the Wire, then check out these short prequel films on Amazon. If you haven't seen the show, the prequels will give you a sense of the feel.

Gift Idea: For those who want to read one book on American foreign policy

Walter Russell Mead's Special Providence provides the cleanest, most comprehensive model that I have seen for understanding the sources of American policy. Many other accounts focus on the specific visions of presidents or the changes wrought by the end of World War 2. Mead argues that four traditions started early in the Republic and continue to drive foreign policy, albeit in differing combinations.

The first tradition, Hamiltonian, emphasizes policies that promote economic growth. The second, Jacksonian, is the populist and nationalist strand that makes the US an unpleasant enemy. The third Wilsonian is the strand that seeks to improve the world, sometimes through treaty and sometimes through force. The last, and often weakest is the Jeffersonian which seeks to make the country a model for others, but is largely disengaged. So for example, the Bush administration is strongly Wilsonian and Jacksonian, while the Clinton administration was strongly Hamiltonian with a less aggressive Wilsonian strand.

While there is an element of abstract analysis involved, the book is readable and fair. Mead is an engaging stylist, injecting humor and telling observations in his story-telling. He is center-right in orientation, so left-oriented people may disagree with some of his eventual prescriptions, but even those who disagree will find his way of looking at foreign policy to be helpful in understanding the cultural constraints and incentives in which American foreign policy is created.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Book related music

Tegan & Sara's addictive Back in Your Head starts out with "Build a wall of books between us in our bed," which got me thinking about book related tunes. Yes, yes, in the case of this song books are a symbol of a decayed relationship, but there aren't that many songs that tie directly to reading and books.

The erudite Morrissey puts out one of the most litero-centric songs of all time in Cemetery Gates. I doubt we will ever see so many poesy references in a pop song again.

For whatever reason, Sting caught flack for his Lo-lee-ta reference in Don't Stand So Close to Me. I suspect this was due to people thinking Sting can be pompous rather than for daring to reference a work of fiction in a pop song. And I think it is an appropriate reference in this case.

In the horror genre, Metallica's the Thing that Should Not Be is entirely about Lovecraft's Cthulhu. The even have an instrumental called Call of Ktulu, referencing Lovecraft's Call of Cthulhu.

In Weezer's nerd anthem, In the Garage, Rivers Cuomo gives us not only Nightcrawler but also Kitty Pryde.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007


Like Classical Athens and Victorian London, Renaissance Florence is one of those peculiar places where greatness, artistic, commercial and political, congregated. Traci Slatton's Immortal explores the rise and fall of the city through the eyes of an undying boy, from an early encounter with Giotto to interactions with the various Medicis.

Like the city itself, the book switches from the potential beauty of the city, represented by the art, and the dark side, represented by the boy's often unpleasant life. The boy starts out as an abandoned street urchin and shortly becomes a imprisoned whore. His life gets better but his undying youth earns him enemies who bedevil him throughout the book until his final end. The boy represents the potential of Florence, as a fair republic and a sponsor of art, but the forces of reaction constantly threaten its destruction.

The book is aimed at those who enjoy historical fiction with a spiritual/fantastic bent. Not only does the titular character not age, but he has visions which provide him with a deeper understanding of how the world operates. Given this spiritual leaning, it is a little surprising how violent the book is, although this is part of the story Slatton tells. Some background in Florentine/art history will also help when reading the book.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Some stuff

This fake apocalypse movie trailer with Seth Rogan is fun.

Check out the destroyed cities I am Legend posters from around the world.

Joanna seeks and finds the best oatmeal cookie in Portland.

Its December and I have seen no Mallomars in Portland. I grow concerned.

The Guardian wonders if people have stopped reading Conrad. I for one still would like to read Nostromo.

Shot in the Heart

Did I say that Shot in the Heart was my top read for 2007? Silly me, this may be my top read of the decade. It is clearly going on my all time favorite list. As I mentioned before, this is the story of Gary Gilmore's family, and it is so rough (one brother executed, one dead far too young from fast living, one a shattered man floating alone and one a successful writer) that it isn't a surprise that author Mikal Gilmore thinks it would have been best if his parents never married and had children.

Gilmore captures the effect and range of powerful emotion with an impact greater than that of novelists, because it is real. The tragic nature of his family history means that two of the most significant emotions are loss and regret. His exploration of the choices not made and the relationships lost made me so reflective that I couldn't sleep for hours after finishing the book.

There have been many sad and terrible stories in the past, but Gilmore keeps the reader from becoming numb by changing the tone and the direction. He talks about the happy times the family had, if only to show what might have been. He also spends a lot of time on the family mythology. In some cases, there are actual ghost stories. In others, family members tell stories that are metaphorical or allegories to explain the terrible past. Gilmore notes where he cannot corroborate the stories, but the tales reinforce the omnipresent power of both family and the past.

Portlanders will be interested in the depiction of Portland from the 40s to the 70s with a brief visit to the early 90s. Most of the activity is in SE Portland and Milwaukee but the wild night life gets a nod as well.

Monday, December 03, 2007


The LA Times has an article on Powell's at its point of management transition. The article celebrates the store but notes challenges like a management transition, the drop in used book prices, a flattening of sales and the uncertainty of the book market. On the plus side, the article notes initiatives like the book documentaries.

Sometimes I take Powell's for granted, which I shouldn't.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Back to History Challenge 2008

Who can resist a good reading challenge? Shannon at the Back to History Challenge calls for people to read 12 history books in 2008. The following rules are provided:

A FEW RULES... All participants should try to mix up their reading choices. Please do not have ALL biographies, or ALL memoirs, etc. There is no limit on any sub-category, but remember...this is supposed to be a CHALLENGE. You should be getting out of your comfort zones and finding something new to explore. You should read one historical non-fiction, or historical fiction novel a month. Ultimately...let’s have fun!

My challenge will be making a dent in the piles of books I already own. My normal behavior is to buy new book and then get distracted by the latest and greatest. Here then are my 12 choices, with some possible substitutes

1) 1491 by Charles Mann. This is a history of the Americas up to the arrival of Columbus. An area of which I know little.

2) Forgotten Armies: The Fall of British Asia by Christopher Bayly and Tim Harper. Despite the title, this is both military and political history.

3) Inside the Cold War by H.W. Brands. Brands is a favorite, which I suppose violates the comfort rule, but this is more academic, so I have to get points for that.

4) The Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy by Adam Tooze. Lots of war-related items on this list, but this is primarily economic history, an area in which I am terribly under-read.

5) Queen's Play by Dorothy Dunnett. Her use of medieval idiom and vocabulary tends to befuddle me, but I'd like to give her another try.

6) The Gates of Africa by Anthony Sattin. A history of the search for Timbuktu.

7) A Savage War of Peace by Alistair Horne. The leading account, in English, about the French War in Algeria. The parallels to Iraq make it a all the more compelling.

8) Can't Find My Way Home: America in the Great Stoned Age 1945-2000 by Martin Torgoff. A political and social history of drug use in America.

9) Rise and Fall of British Naval History by Anthony Kennedy. An early work by the prophet of decline.

10) Damage Them All You Can by George Walsh. A single volume history of the Army of Northern Virginia. If I am feeling particularly studious, I will swap this or follow up with Lee's Lieutenants.

11) A Consumer's Republic: The Politics of Mass Consumption in Postwar America by Lizabeth Cohen. The title sounds dreary, but it has a snappy cover image, and it is published by Vintage which is usually a good sign for history.

12) Movie-Made America: A Cultural History of American Movies by Robert Sklar. This one might require more work in the lingo of cultural studies.

Other options
1) India: A History by John Keay.
2) City of Nets by Otto Friedrich