Friday, July 15, 2016

My Book Sacrifice

I've been tagged by a blogger friend and a vlogger friend--that'd be a person who makes videos as a blog, rather than a written blog like this; such a blog is usually on YouTube--to do an entry based on the following 4 scenarios:

1) An Over-Hyped book: Let's start this off with a Zombie Apocalypse! Let's say you're in a book store, just browsing, when BAM! ZOMBIE ATTACK. An announcement comes over the PA System saying that the military has discovered that the zombies' only weakness is over-hyped books. What book that everyone else says is amazing but you really hated do you start chucking at the zombies knowing that it will count as an over-hyped book and successfully wipe them out?!

2) A Sequel: Let's say you've just left the salon with a SMASHING new haircut and BOOM: Torrential downpour. What sequel are you willing to use as an umbrella to protect yourself? 

3) A Classic: Let's say you're in a lecture and your English teacher is going on and on about how this classic changed the world, how it revolutionized literature and you get so sick of it that you chuck the classic right at his face because you know what? This classic is stupid and it's worth detention just to show everyone how you feel! What Classic did you chuck?

4) Your least favourite book of life!: Let's say that you're hanging out at the library when BAM global warming explodes and the world outside becomes a frozen wasteland. You're trapped and your only chance for survival is to burn a book. What is the book you first run to, your least favourite book of all life, what book do you not fully regret lighting?

These four scenarios originated on YouTube by Ariel Bissette, and she explains it way better than I could. Watch that video here: http://youtu.be/Z_2UxYi8fOA.

So, the disclaimer: These are just my opinions. Can I say that again? These are just my opinions! (I was gonna put that all in caps, but that's rude.) One of the coolest things about books is that people get very, very, very serious about them. They will get offended by the opinions of others. Books can be so personal! So I get that. And I dig that. But that's why my opinions are strongly felt, too. You don't have to agree with them! That's the point!

If you disagree or if you agree, let me know. Feel free to answer these in a comment, or in your own blog.

And I gotta add: I was so PISSED at the following vlog that I almost left a comment! The vlog is from a usually-amusing and creative and smart, and always energetic vlogger named Christine Riccio. She has a vlog about books, where she talks a lot about a book, and reviews it and rates it, and she really gets into what she's read. Anyway, in her Book Sacrifice, she said that the classic she thought was terrible was The Catcher in the Rye, and she slams it. This book was Mark David Chapman's favorite (he shot John Lennon, if you're too young to know), but so what? Lots of religious books are the faves of killers past and present, so don't make me go there. Anyway, the specific vlog of hers referenced here is at this site: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0pEK25Z7PPs so you should see it. And I didn't leave a comment because, well, have you read the negative comments that losers leave on internet articles and YouTube videos? I mean, are you kidding me?!? Why do these people not have anything else better to do? Anger and bitterness are nasty, nasty things!

My answers:



photo: from the book's Wikipedia page

1. An over-hyped book I'd clobber a zombie with? (Does that mean it has to be big enough to be used as a weapon?) Well, where do I start? I have to say...Just about any John Green book. Great philosophical ideas and themes, so-so writing. And often books based on philosophical concepts (which most of his are) do not translate well into print, because you have to create a plot for them. Doing that for philosophical concepts can be slippery and metaphysical. Like, you can't touch it. Example: The Fault in our Stars. Two teens with life-threatening diseases are trying to keep it real, and are looking for the meaning of life, or just plain Meaning in general. They find it in the seemingly-real work of an author who turns out to be a boozing butthole, who is not his persona, who does not keep it real, who is in fact just a real jerk. Okay, except...can two teens with these diseases and cancer really travel that far? And don't get me started on Looking for Alaska. I know John Green is huge in the YA and teen world, and that's very cool. Keep reading him! (Just don't ask me to.) I'd throw other YA titles here, like any of the Twilight (You don't fall in love with vampires! You kill them! They're evil! They're not good for dates, or to introduce to your parents, or to take to Sunday dinner!) or Divergent series. And any Nick Sparks book.



photo: from the book's Wikipedia page

2. The worst sequel of all time is Doctor Sleep, the awful, shitty, boring, badly-written travesty of a sequel to the pitch-perfect classic The Shining. I can't tell you how angry this book made me. It sucked! Danny of The Shining turned out to be this?!? Are you shitting me? And Jack Torrance turning up at the end to push her off the cliff? And she screams "F--- you" as she falls? How...base! ARGH! I normally love Stephen King books. I've read them all and I still have them all. But when he's bad, Oh My Lord...

A close runner-up here would be the sequel to To Kill A Mockingbird. This manuscript was sent to the publisher by Harper Lee's money-grubbing agent, and she found it in Harper Lee's sister's safety deposit box. Harper Lee had had a stroke and late-onset dementia when she signed the papers to publish this. I'm thinking she had no idea of what she was signing. She infamously published that one book, despite offers of millions of dollars to publish others. Would she not publish for over 50 years and then do so on her deathbed? And the iconic, peace-making Atticus Finch as an old, angry racist?!? Are you shittin' me?!? And why was this found in Harper Lee's sister's safety deposit box? The murder / mystery fan in me thinks it was because her sister thought she'd publish it and make millions if Harper Lee died first...but she didn't! I'll bet Harper Lee had no idea where this manuscript was, that it was long gone and long lost. It's actually the book that was going to be Mockingbird, but the publisher thought it was too negative and suggested she write something else, so she wrote what became Mockingbird. So it's actually just an early draft! That a publisher allowed this to be made and tarnish the genius of her actual, only published book. A TRAVESTY!!! I haven't read it, and never will. I know someone who's an English teacher, and she's married to a lawyer, and they named their son Atticus (yes), and even she refuses to read this. Luckily for her son, most people will never associate his name with the guy from this book!!!




photo: Charles Dickens, from his Wikipedia page

3. The worst classic? I couldn't finish The Lord of the Rings until I saw the movies first. Tried a great many times. But a lot of it was good. I stalled at the Tom O'Bedlam part, or whatever he was called. Never even appeared in the movies. Anything by Charles Dickens. I've tried to get through A Christmas Carol. Still can't do it. I tried reading all of A Tale of Two Cities. Still can't do it. The sentences are just too damn long. Great individual paragraphs--notably the first and last, a classic example of bookending--and the last scenes are classics. That's how we should read Dickens today--just the classic scenes. 

Why so many words? 

Because he originally published his novels as serials in magazines. 

And he owned the magazines. 

And he paid by the word.




photo: from the book's Wikipedia page

4. My least favorite book of all time? See #2. Throw Rose Madder there, too. I stopped reading that one when this woman sat on the bad guy and peed on him. Yes. Books that were so bad they made me actually angry. Like, strike someone across the face angry. I'm an angry bitter little man and I don't care. I once read a mystery / cop novel, when I first started the 20th draft of Cursing the Darkness, I forget the title now--::tries remembering title, even keywords to Google it, but can't--and it was sooooooooo bad. Sentences like: "I got the call to go to the murder site. But I first finished my dinner. Funny how these always happen during dinner. And the dead aren't going anywhere." Are you f---in' sh---in' me?!? I mean, how bad does writing have to be to be published, anyway?!? So laughable I couldn't get angry because it was just sooooooooo bad!!!

So, those are my answers. What say you? Comment, or email, or write your own blog--whatever!

No matter what, keep reading!

Thanks for reading my blog! Bye! 

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Jackson the Greyhound Doing Better



A loud call-out to those of you who have emailed, called, or have otherwise sent get-well messages--via other media or in physical reality--to Jackson the Greyhound. Surgery to remove the cancer was apparently a success. The specialist, who did not perform the surgery, said that "over 99.9%" of the cancer was removed. And, since this cancer is the slowest acting form, it is "likely that, at his age, he will die of something else." It may not sound like it at first, but this was actually a good thing to hear. The Old Man will be 14 on Halloween, and he's still very energetic, very hungry and very spoiled.



So thanks for all the positivity, law of positive attraction, etc. Greatly appreciated and undoubtedly beneficial. Jackson thanks you as well.


Sunday, July 10, 2016

A Bat in My Bathroom -- Musings by the Firepit 7.9.16



Photo: I would've taken a pic of the bat in my bathroom (yes), but I'd chickened out.

So I've been away for about three weeks from this blog. As I sit here, after musing by the firepit, I'll share partly why I've been away:

--A close family member passed, someone who was sort of a second father to me, especially after my real one passed. Wake and funeral, and I was honored to be a pallbearer, and then...well, I just didn't feel like doing much for awhile. I won't lie: I had the Poor-Me's. This made me feel even worse, and then I told myself to get over myself, and, well, it got ugly.

--I finally decided to update my cell, as I tired of everyone scoffing at it. So what if it was about 5-6 years old? It was the one I got to replace my flip-top! So I was eligible for a free upgrade, as you might imagine, which means (I told my better half) that I would be relieved of a couple hundred bucks, instead of more. I got the newest Samsung Galaxy, and a tablet, and I upgraded my cell phone account and my cable account, as I was paying a lot for things I wasn't using. I walked out of there with better contracts that cost me the same I'm paying now, but with more HD, a better box, and a free tablet. The phone wasn't exactly free, as I suspected, but would instead cost me much less than its $400 cost if I broke it down over infinite months, with a rebate, etc. But the newest stuff makes it worthwhile, especially the camera (you can judge by the pic above, as compared to all past pics on this blog) and the email access. And I'm not a tech guy, but boy the camera is much better and it's now so easy to delete emails at doctor offices and during commercials.


photo: from wildlife-removal.com, here. One of these guys was in my bathroom for about 12 hours.

--I got a bat in my house. I mean, the flying kind. You have not lived until you have seen a bat hanging upside-down from your bathroom window.

I was working on the same PC (yes, I know, why not the tablet? Or the phone? Or my Mac?) at about 1 a.m. when I heard something fluttering outside my office door, in the hallway. I knew immediately what it was. Unhappy. (I figure it came in when I walked inside from the upper deck after watching mucho fireworks up and down the bay and cove where I live.) It flew into my bathroom, and I shut the door. Then I called the Wildlife Emergency number I found on the internet. It said it was 24-hours, but I had to leave a message. They haven't called back yet, and it's been several days now. I then called a pest control company that handled bats (not all do). I said to the woman, "I have a bat in my bathroom." She said, "Oh, no! Say it isn't so!" I then left my contact numbers and my email and was told Fred would be there from 10-12 a.m. This was at about 11 p.m. I checked in my bathroom, with stealth. I didn't see it. I walked in. It flew out of my shower and I ran out and closed the door. I couldn't sleep until about 5 a.m. My better half got me up at 7 a.m. and I was wide awake. I peeked in again: it was hanging upside down from my Venetian blinds, exactly where I'd stand to do my #1 morning business, if you know what I'm sayin'. Good thing I saw it fluttering and didn't just walk in there at 7 a.m. the next morning like I normally would. I would slowly look to my right as I was draining, and I would get the shock of my life. And probably bitten. You would've heard me from wherever you live.



photo: from bat-house.net. This is the bathouse I have on a tree in my backyard. But, unlike this one, which you can see is on a telephone pole, bats don't want to go in mine. Apparently, they prefer my real house--specifically, my bathroom. See all those little guys in this one?!? Ewwww...

Anyway, I call the place back at 11:55, as Fred had not showed. I got transferred to five different people. The last one repeated back to me incorrect phone numbers for Fred to call me, and I admit to being upset. Surprisingly, Fred arrives. First thing out of his mouth: "So, what's the problem?" I said, "I have a bat in my bathroom." He turns pale and asks me if I'm serious. He'd shown up in a regular car, carrying a large screwdriver. (?) I said I was serious. He calls his supervisor, who must've said to hit me with the plans they offer. He'll get rid of the bat either way, but his boss correctly guessed that I'd be so freaked that I'd buy their biggest package of long-term care. Turns out, I did just that, to the tune of over $1,300. It involved a total concealment of my home and roof, except they couldn't put down screens on the roof until after August 1st, as it's against the law, because what if a mama bat lays eggs in my attic, but then she leaves from the screen and can't get back in and all the baby bats die in my attic? The baby bats are federally protected until the end of September. My attic and my sanity aren't. So these two guys came over the next day and laid down lots of traps, and heavy sticky things, and squirted black goo around my home's perimeter, and in the attic, and in the basement, and on my upper deck, though I reminded everyone that I think the damn thing had flown in when I opened the door. They told me that bats and mice need just a dime of space to get in. They spent about three hours here.

But I digress. Fred needed to get rid of the bat, and he was clearly unhappy about it. He kept calling his supervisor, in the hope, I think, that this man would come over and do it instead. Apparently his advice was for Fred to throw a towel over the thing and pummel it with the handle of the monsterous screwdriver. I posited that we could open the bathroom door. I would stand on the parlor stairs waving a broom so it wouldn't go down there, or I could tape a sheet to cover the stairs. I would have all the upstairs doors closed, except the one that led to the room that led to the door that opened up to the deck, where I think the damn thing entered to begin with. We would essentially just chase it out that way. He called his supervisor back. This man again suggested a towel and some pummeling. I asked Fred if he'd ever done this before, at all, and he said No. I also asked him why he hadn't been told that I had a bat in my bathroom, as I'd mentioned that several dozens of times, and I wasn't happy with the wrong contact numbers, either, which I had also mentioned a ton of times. "Yeah, our home office sucks," he said. (I'd already written the check.) He took a picture of the hanging bat and texted it and emailed it to his supervisor, who said he'd never received them when Fred called him maybe twenty minutes later. I almost asked him to email me the pic for this blog, but I didn't feel that was proper, and I can't for the life of me tell you why.

By this time we'd been having a long conversation in my bathroom, with the door open, standing next to my sleeping guest on my window blinds, because Fred correctly surmised that the bat wouldn't care and it was sleeping and it wasn't going anywhere. It was disconcerting to see how still and quiet these things are. I also wasn't happy that Fred said he suspected I had an attic full of the things, and that that's where this one came from, and that he'd climbed down a central air tube, or something. (It is true that I had a TON of mice poop in the attic and basement when I got here five years ago, and I wouldn't be surprised if there in fact had been bats in this belfry.) When I said I hadn't heard anything flying in there in five years, he pointed to our pleasantly sleeping friend. "You wouldn't," he said. This was unnerving, and I've been a little skeeved since. The two guys who visited the next day disagreed with this diagnosis; they said there hadn't been any new activity in my attic in some time. They were in there for over half an hour, shining their lights everywhere, and one was amazed at how much space there was amongst the eaves, and above the doors. This space goes all the way back to the end of the house, where there's no other access panel. Nobody volunteered to go all the way in. But they also spent over half an hour in the basement and in the crawlspace between the basement and the garage. And they did black poo the entire perimeter of the house, which is quite a bit.

Finally, after fiddling and farting around for over an hour and a half because he (understandably) didn't want to deal with the thing, he finally decided that he'd take two of these hand-sized black sticky things from his car--which is all he came armed with, and is apparently all he places; he's the salesman, I'm guessing--and get the bat out with those. He came back in the house with them, and took maybe fifteen minutes to climb the five steps to my bathroom. We conversed more outside the bathroom door; we'd become veritable pals by now. Finally he took each one in hand, holding them like EMTs hold the paddles before they shock the dead guy, and we paused again. He took a deep breath and slowly closed the bathroom door. (His company's insurance dictated that the customer could not be in any danger, so I couldn't go in, which was fine with me. Plus, I put myself in charge of being the one to open the bathroom door and the front door--fast!--if necessary.) Before this, I'd armed him with a plastic eye protector, and he'd found some really thick gloves in his car. I'd let my dog out in the back, in case things went bad and it flew away from us, so that my dog would be the only one without rabies.

So I stood outside the bathroom door, listening intently. There was nothing at all for about five minutes. I was about to open the door, or ask if he was okay, when he said, "Okay," and I opened the door. I purposely didn't look at him, or at his hands, but I intuited that he held the two black things together like a giant S'mores sandwich. He seemed greatly relieved and at peace, and he wasn't bleeding or frothing at the mouth. He walked slowly to the front door with me and we got outside, and he said something about seeing if it was out of its misery. I offered a plastic bag (we have tons for the dog walks) and said he could just throw it in, tie it up and throw it in my large garbage thing. He said it had been great talking with me, and this had been a first for him, and he clearly just needed to go somewhere and have either a drink or a nap. He'd spent about two hours here.

In summary, then, that's why I've been away: passing of close family member and my self-pity; phone and tablet; a bat in my bathroom.

Monday, June 20, 2016

The Conjuring 2



Photo: the movie's poster, from t3.gstatic.com

My review of the first Conjuring movie is here.

I visited the house in the first Conjuring movie. You can read about that here. There are lots of creepy photos of gravestones and crypt doors, too.

This was a good scare of a movie, perhaps better than the first. I can't remember the last time I was actually spooked in a theater, but I exclaimed something out loud during one of the scenes. (I never talk during movies, and usually tar and feather those who do. And I never get jolted at them, either. I tend to figure them out pretty quick, too, like when I saw The Sixth Sense and knew right after he got shot that he was dead thereafter. I mean, the kid said he saw dead people, for God's sake.) James Wan, the director, is especially good, I noticed, at showing something you expect to be scared by, then not being scared by that thing (because nothing's there, but you're a veteran of these movies, so you expect there to be, but Wan knows that, so purposely doesn't put anything there), and then when the camera slowly pans back to where it had been, something jumps out at you. That's what happened when I said something out loud. The instant is when the little girl is watching television--and it's not when something was in the television, either. Just next to it.

The story starts at the home of the clairvoyants--or mediums, or whatever exactly it is they say they are. (Actually, it really starts in the Amityville Horror house. You know you've seen and read a lot about this stuff when you see just the outside of the house in the opening shot, and think, "Oh, it starts in Amityville, with Ronald DeFeo killing his family." I also remembered the house was owned by the Lutzes and that the book was written by Jay Anson. I really should go on Jeopardy one of these days. By the way, I also thought, "As you know, Amity means friendship," but of course that's another movie.) One of them keeps seeing this really spooky-looking nun with barracuda teeth and dirty smock--ironic, considering how Christian the two say they are. (In fact, they technically work for the Church in this movie.) This nun-demon is harassing one of them, and they agree to stop their investigations.

Until...

In Enfield, England, a really nasty old man of a ghost is haunting a woman and her two daughters and two sons. (The father abandoned them--all five of them! How come people like that are never the ones harassed?) This only happens after one of them messes with a handmade Ouija board, which I never recommend. Anyway, this old guy had died in their living room, in his favorite old recliner, which every old man has. (We called my father's black, held-together-by-thick-black-masking tape LAY-Z-BOY "The Knowledge Chair," for obvious reasons.) This old guy is in the habit of biting unsuspecting screaming people on their arms--though they find his retainer after the last one, and the biting stops. So he's harassing everyone, insisting the place is his--while others insist it's not anymore, because he's dead, and so will he please leave, and not let the door hit his arse on the way out?

He agrees to do that--without telling anyone--but then...Well, Houston, we have a problem.

So go see this one if you like this kind of thing. Like most decent scare flicks, this one won't make too much sense when you have a second afterwards to think about it, but it's a good scare while you're sitting there. I'd heard from a few reviews that the whole movie seemed a half hour too long. It didn't seem that way to me, and it didn't really drag, either, which is rare for this kind of thing.

One thing I really liked about it is that the movie doesn't pander to the audience. At the risk of sounding like a prude, there's no gratuitous violence, gore, or anything else. It has confidence in its ability to scare, and it doesn't assume the viewer's an idiot. There are the token nay-sayers (Franka Potente, from the first Jason Bourne film, and from Run, Lola, Run), and it's nice to see that they're smart as well, and not just token blowhards. In fact, Potente's character had a point: these things are often either fakes, or the person being possessed--usually an adolescent girl--has psychological or emotional damage and disabilities going on that have nothing to do with being possessed. (There's one on YouTube, a French girl from the 50s, that I play whenever I want to freak out my better half, who insists with vigor that I turn it off.) Anyway, these girls think they're possessed, so they're not faking, exactly, but the parents often know there's no actual possession going on, but they let the whole thing go on anyway because of a Munchhausen Syndrome, and...yeah, it's all a mess, and very hard to both prove and disprove. The girl in this movie looks and sounds like the one I'm talking about on YouTube, and I think some of The Exorcist is based on this girl as well.

I kept waiting for something else to happen, because the girl's behavior and voice mirrored the one I mention. When the slight twist happens, you may be a little let down like I was, as the movie comes full circle again, and if that was going to happen, why not just do so where they were, and not make these two have to travel across the Pond to get what they can get (and did get) just as well back home? Like I said, like most terror flicks, it's a house of cards if you think about it too much.

So don't do that. Go see it. You'll get your scare fix, and probably stronger than from the first one.

For more on the Enfield story, and for a fact vs. fiction article, go to http://www.historyvshollywood.com/reelfaces/conjuring-2-enfield-poltergeist/

I'm most impressed by the tidbit at the bottom, which says that when the new family moved in, they almost as quickly moved out, staying for just a few months. This is unlike what the new families said of the Amityville house, and of the house mentioned in the first Conjuring, which I visited.

As a reminder, you can read about that here. There are a lot of pictures, including some creepy gravestones and crypt doors. My review of the first Conjuring movie is here.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

End of Watch -- by Stephen King



Photo: First Edition book cover, from the book's Wikipedia page

Another compulsively readable story from King, who again shows here that he's more of a natural storyteller than a writer, which adds to the feeling of compulsive reading, rather than detracts. My guess is that if he were to worry more about fantastic writing, and less about fantastically-compulsive storytelling, his books would sell a lot less than they do. At this stage of his career, that's not likely to happen.

You don't have to read the first or second in the trilogy to read and get through this one, and I'm not quite sure how I take that. Good for sales, I think, but this does detract from the journey you're supposed to feel you've been on with these people over the last three books. I didn't feel like I'd been on the road with these guys, and when it all ends, it's in a this happens, then this happens, then this happens--and then these things stop happening kind of way. The storytelling just stops, but there's no...verisimilitude. There's no feeling of loss, exactly, or of the curtain closing. It just ends. That's it.

The way it's written adds to this lack of feeling. I'm rarely a fan of third-person omniscient present-tense, and I wasn't thrilled with it here. This is best when the writer needs a gritty, you are there kind of feel. That isn't needed here, which is a good thing, because it doesn't happen. The after-effect of this, though, is that it distances the narrator from the story and reader. You get a sense of detachment--not good, if you want that present-tense to pack a punch. Probably it was a decision for pure storytelling sake; again, this happens, then this happens, then this...but there's a lack of resonance with this choice. It's hard to feel anything for anyone with this kind of distance.

The story itself probably isn't anything you haven't seen before, even in a bad movie. Essentially this is Chucky, who moved from doll to person to doll to person, and so on. Brady's the doll here, and a crappy, vintage game is the method (rather than a chant or spell), but really it's all the same. There's a bit of psychobabble about herd mentality here, as well. I'm not sure it's wrong, exactly--at my job, I see herd mentality all the time--but I'm not so sure it's as pat and automatic as it's presented here. You'll have to decide that for yourself. But it's an interesting, anti-puppet message.

That's minor, though. The story here is, well, the real story, and you're either going to go with it or you're not. It's not even a matter of liking it or disliking it, really. It's a pleasant enough ride while you're on it. When the ride ended, I wasn't regretting the ride, but nor was I hoping it would continue forever. The ride is the ride, and it's not really about liking it or not, or even judging it. The ending for such a long book may be a downer. As usual, there's an ending after an ending here (I've written about this in King's books before), and if you're a Constant Reader as I am, you'll see it coming. King pulls no punches; he lets the cat out of the bag rather early here. (And, well, see the title?) In the 1st end, there wasn't much more than an old body with Chucky in him, after all, and an old human body is still just an old human body. That's pretty much the message for the second ending as well, but in a different way.

This one is probably the best of the three. The second was the worst for me, and parts of the first were grating. Nothing grating here, but it's not The Stand or The Shining, either. I do feel his overall mojo is gone. I wrote somewhere recently that I thought there had been too much of the Tower in his writings before, sort of a forced Purpose. But now I miss that, because in his most recent stuff, there doesn't seem to be purpose enough. Reading his work now passes the time, but it's possible you may ask yourself why you're doing it, rather than that other important thing you should be doing. But perhaps that's what reading is, anyway: escape from what you should be doing.

Off the top of my head, I'm thinking that Revival (especially the ending) is the best of King's work lately, with Joyland being a pleasant distraction, but without the scares you'd expect to be there. Looking back at all his books now, I'm seeing that the last work of his to really wow me was Dark Tower VII: The Dark Tower--and that was 19 books ago. (11/22/63 was overall very good, but there were some blocks that dragged a bit.) Anyway, an old body is an old body, and it is what it is.