Monday, November 13, 2017

A Man Called Ove


Photo: the paperback's cover, from its Goodreads page

Outstanding book, alternately funny and sad, wise and silly, that became a huge bestseller around the world via word-of-mouth--a true rarity. The author, a Swede living in Stockholm, hadn't had a bestseller before, but the grapevine took off with this one, and rightly so. You should read it.

Ove is an older man who loses his wife and his job in six months. Like most of us, especially as we get older, his life revolves around those two things, and with them both gone, he's got nothing. Or so he thinks. He spends a great deal of time not living, both before he met his wife and after she died, and this book is a good warning to not live that way. Your life is what you make of it, so you'd better make something of it.

The book is never preachy, but it seems very true. Things turn out pretty well, and almost everyone in it is like the Abominable--good people inside who just need someone to flesh it out. It's a little too nice and neat at the end, but that's the kind of pleasant book it is, and you'll be okay with that, even if you're not normally, in books and in daily life. I'm sure as hell not, and it worked really well for me.

Also true to know is that Ove is an older guy who is the definition of a curmudgeon. I've often been called a little grumpy myself, and the thing to know, this book says, is that such people a) have reasons for being that way, all sad and unbelievable, and b) that's not all who and what they are.

What is also good and rare about Ove is that he is no talk and all action (Stupid is as stupid DOES), and that he has a set standard of morals and life lessons he lives by that seem strict and unbending only to those who don't have them and who don't understand those who do. I speak from experience here. But he is a very strong and steadfast guy, of a high moral compass, even if he does come across as just a tick easier to deal with than Jack Nicholson in As Good As It Gets. But where Melvin Udall (the character name just came to me) has a clinical obsessive-compulsive diagnosis (which Ove may also share), Ove has a life of hard knocks and solitary strength that has led him to become this man. 

Seeing him learn to live life again, and yet stay true to his own character, is a helluva ride that you'll want to take. And you won't forget that you took it. I recommend this book very, very much.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

2017 Comic Con: John Cusack

I spent all day Saturday in Providence, RI at the 2017 Comic Con. I took TONS of pics and spent a couple mortgage payments there. Lots of pics to come in the following days.

First one up: John Cusack as Lloyd Dobler in Say Anything. When I was at the signing table, h
e smirked in a grumpy way when he used the wrong pen, instead of my blue sharpie, and his assistant said he'd sign a different picture in my blue sharpie, which he did. And then he kept the sharpie! I'm glad I got his autograph, but he lived up to his curmudgeon reputation. But it was poetic. Just as Ione Sky gave him a pen in Say Anything, so did I at Comic Con.



Pedro by Pedro Martinez and Michael Silverman


Photo: the hardcover, from its Goodreads page

Better-written than usual for this type of book, Pedro nonetheless continues a string of multi-millionaires complaining of lack of respect and then throwing their teammates and colleagues under the bus. Mike Napoli, for example, may wake up one morning, read a page of this, and wonder WTF?

It is well-written and it has a better narrative flow than is usual for the genre. Michael Silverman has created a structure of Pedro's voice, narrative voice (certainly not Pedro's), author voice (same) and then enmeshes direct quotes from others, like you're reading a screenplay of a documentary. It doesn't sound like it works (and, sporadically, it doesn't), but overall it does work and you read on.

You get the childhood background, but without the grittiness that you think the self-proclaimed poverty would demand. It's smoothed over when maybe it shouldn't have been, but then this isn't really a documentary, it just sounds like one. You get the beginning, with the Dodgers, then the other teams: the Expos, the Red Sox, the Mets and the Phillies. (Did you remember that Pedro's last start was in the 2009 World Series against the Yanks? I did, but it seemed surreal, then and now.) You get the typical beef about the management: the Dodgers and Sox especially.

And this is the first of two things that made me rate this a three rather than a four: it's hypocritical about two things, so glaring you wonder they weren't amended. The first: Every Sox fan knows Pedro's last game was Game 4 of the 2004 World Series. Immediately he let it be known that he wanted a 3-4 year contract, and the Sox wanted to give him the shortest one possible, a year, or two, at most. That was known before the season ended and for as long as it took for him to get a guaranteed 3-4 year deal with the Mets. And it was also known that his shoulder and arm were frayed. More time on the DL; more injuries; more babying at the end...All of this was known. And it was just as well-known that the Sox were right: Pedro had one good year left for the Mets, and then the rest of that contract he mostly spent on the DL. If the Sox had given him a 3-4 year deal, they were going to eat 2-3 years of it. They said that out loud, and they were right. If you were Sox ownership, do you make that deal? The Mets did, as they candidly said, because they had a newer ballpark and the fan base was dwindling, and they had to bring in a name.

The hypocritical part is that this book whines about a lack of respect from the Sox about all this--and then shows in following chapters that they were right! He acknowledges he lasted just one more good season (a very good 2005) and then had one injury after another. The 2009 season with Philadelphia was a half-season for him--he was 5-1 and basically started in September. The rest of the year he was the same place as the previous three--on and off (mostly on) the DL. He narrates all this without saying the Sox were right, but clearly shows in his narration that the Sox were right. He calls it a lack of respect that the Sox weren't willing to give him a long guaranteed contract and then eat 75%-80% of it. But of course that's not what businesses do. And the casual fan could see his physical regression in 2003 and 2004. It was obvious. I wouldn't have given him that contract, either. (He's made hundreds of millions from baseball and endorsements, so don't feel bad for him.)

The other blatant example of hypocrisy is how he states all book long that he was misunderstood, that he was mislabeled, that he didn't throw at batters intentionally, that he wasn't a headhunter--and then, often in the same sentence or paragraph, admits that he hit someone on purpose, and that he often told the player he would do so, and then does it. He threatened players verbally with it all the time, then hit the player--and then says he's misunderstood, that he's not a headhunter. This is so obvious in the book that you shake your head.

But, again, that's what these books do, right? They complain about money, about disrespect, about how the media screws them, all that same stuff all the time. It makes you yearn for another Ball Four, and to truly appreciate how direct and honest it was. Say what you want about Bouton, but he was well aware of how not a God he was, about how lucky he was to do what he did and to make the money he did, and he had actual thoughts to say, and didn't complain too much about management or anything else. Yes, he was traded for Dooley Womack, but he never says he shouldn't have been.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

The Painted Bird by Jerzy Kosinski


Photo: hardcover from the book's Goodreads page

Oh. My. God.

There's really no other way to review it. What can you say? It's impossible for one little boy to have been through all this and to survive this, so I'm compelled to agree with the consensus that this is not autobiography, not even biography, and Kosinski was indeed a fraud for saying so.

But like most of James Frey's A Million Little Pieces, so much of this could be true, especially (again like Frey's book) in character composite, that it feels true, rings true, and--understood as allegory--certainly reads true. No little boy could possibly be beaten this many times, so savagely, or have seen so much brutality and savagery, so many murders and rapes by every type of person...No little boy can live the life of a Hieronymous Bosch painting and survive it, physically or mentally.

And yet people did. As a mirror to the Holocaust, this rings remarkably and horrifyingly true. And people survived this brutal murder-and-rape life in the Middle Ages, too--Reading this was like reading Barbara Tuchman's A Distant Mirror, picked up and plopped into Eastern Europe, 1939-1945. Really, that's a good comparison: a lot of Bosch, a lot of the Holocaust and a lot of the brutal Middle Ages, all stirred together.

It doesn't matter to me who wrote this--and it's pretty clear, I guess, that Kosinski didn't. If he did, he wrote it in Polish and it was translated. It doesn't matter. It exists, and the writing is staggeringly uniform. There are maybe twelve lines of dialogue in all its pages. The sentences are simple and detached, with a smattering of social observance thrown in, especially when detailing the trains bringing the Holocaust's victims to the camps. Someone wrote it, and it's important that someone did. This is a book that serious readers should read--and don't feel guilty if you can't make your way through it all. It is brutal. But has someone lived like this? Yes. A great many, sadly. And a great many animals have lived like this, too.

It is as brutal a look at humanity as you will likely see. And it is not untrue in of itself, even if it was for Kosinski personally. It is unflinching and unsparing. It will make you grateful for your days, for your loved ones, for life itself. You will maybe be more empathetic. This book, like all great literature, could change your outlook of the world, of people. It may, it may not, but it could, and that's rare in literature, in movies, in any segment of real life. For this it should be read and reveled.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz


Photo: paperback book cover, from its Goodreads page

I haven't read a Dean Koontz book since the 90s, when he wrote about gov't conspiracy crap. Dan Simmons' Flashback reminded me of that stuff, and Flashback was every bit as crappy. I mean, really bad. A shame, because Koontz in the 80s was almost as good as Stephen King, and sometimes better. Koontz's A Bad Place, Phantoms and Whispers, among a couple others, were really good then, and hold up very well now. So it was with some trepidation that I started Odd Thomas; but I did so because it got some really good reviews, because I'd heard good word of mouth, and because I'd seen it at a lot of yard sales, which is a good thing--because it means that people bought it to begin with, rather than just renting it from a library.

I'm happy to report that Odd Thomas is mostly very good. The narrator is likeable, though perhaps a little too much so, but whatever. The supporting characters are well-drawn and pleasant to deal with. His small town is well-wrought. And of course you love his flame, who Koontz fates with writerly tricks, in a kind of double-twist at the end. He knows you like her; he knows you want her to do well; he knows you expect that she won't; he knows you'll appreciate it when she seems okay. And then...

I knew it was a series, of course. And, knowing that, I see where Koontz also realizes it's a series, especially towards the end when one of the lovely nurses practically throws herself at him. That's when you know the fate of someone else, too. But it's all very good, if not over-the-top at times (especially with an Elvis who can't stop sobbing hysterically), and overall the book deserves the positive responses it's gotten. I don't know if I'm going to read any of the others in the series, but I guess I will if I run into one at a library or a yard sale, or something. I should mention that I'm a little concerned about Koontz's prodigious output, which makes King seem under-published by comparison. Does he write every word of a book that has his name on it? I don't know. I think he does here, but overall I don't know. The tone and patterns of this book do not match those of the ones I read of his in the 90s, which is a good thing. He could've changed, of course, but writers usually don't. He does still go on and on a little too much. I skimmed a few pages in this one; otherwise it would have gotten five stars. I didn't skim pages that were badly written, though; they just seemed superfluous. He goes on, for example, about a spider in the desert, for about 4-5 pages. The spider never does anything to him, nor he to it...so I skimmed some pages, but that didn't hurt the quality of the book overall.

You'll like the characters and you'll feel for them, and the overall suspense is gripping. You may wonder, as I did, how three psychopaths could all function unnoticed in a small desert town. From what I know about them, they can't hide too well for too long, especially in a sparse population, without people whispering, or their behavior being noticed. And at high profile, highly public jobs? But that, oddly, didn't detract, either, so that's good. I guess this book works despite a few things, but it works nonetheless, and is therefore highly recommended. I read it all in one day, which also speaks well for it. 

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Yanks Lose ALCS, 3 Games to 2





Photos: Jose Altuve's Gem Mint 10 rookie card, from my collection.

Yanks lose 4-0 and go home as the Houston Astros move on to the World Series. So despite Judge's 50+ homers, a high-powered offense, and getting past the heavily-favored Indians, the Yanks go home. What. A Damn. Shame.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Gwendy's Button Box by Stephen King and Richard Chizmar


Photo: from its Goodreads page

More a morality tale / fairy tale than novel (or novella), and a lot more Chizmar than King, but still an okay read that goes by fast. Since it's more of a fairy story, the characterizations are purposely light, the action is more to learn from than to entertain, and it's all supposed to be a slight breeze. To expect more is to be disappointed.

The ending didn't work for me, as it's more explanation than resolution. Richard Farris (AKA, Randall Flagg) will disappoint, as he seems like someone kinder than we know him to be. Here, he's more like the old man from Hearts in Atlantis than the badass from The Stand and The Dark Tower. He should've been called someone else here, with different initials. He's really a different character. In this way, he's more of a disappointment than is the talky, explanatory ending itself, but the book is so slight that you really won't mind. Like all morality tales, the ending is explained too much and is too completely wrapped up. I would've rather had something extra left over to think about, but that won't happen here. Is it more Gwendy, the box, or just life itself? You'll be told, which is a bummer. Should've been left more open-ended.

And, lastly, you won't see anything Dark Tower-ish here. Mr. R.F. and the box are just extras stepping out. You won't be able to place them within the Dark Tower's milieu, so don't try. There's no leftover strand, or beam, and those worlds don't influence this one in this book. If you want a standalone book that has tendrils and whispers of The Dark Tower, check out King's The Wind Through the Keyhole, which was quite a bit better, and released to very little fanfare. That one is a Dark Tower rejected section or chapter if I've ever seen one.

So you'll have to take this book on its own purposely slight merits, and judge them by those. I think it's pretty clear to see where King starts off and Chizmar takes over. This would've been darker, more ponderous and a lot less slight if King had written a bigger chunk of it. My guess is that King started it, maybe the first two or three chapters, and included the kite scene and maybe a hat scene or two, but let Chizmar take it. My guess is he figured The Wind Through the Keyhole was one Dark Tower standalone enough, and he didn't need another one. I'm guessing Chizmar stayed as far away from The Tower as he could. Perhaps he was asked to.

This one was more of a curiousity for me. I don't consider it part of the King canon and I won't be buying one for my entire First Edition Stephen King book collection. My copy was from the library, where it will return tomorrow. So if you want a quick little book / morality tale that's maybe 20% King, max, give this one a shot. It's not bad, but it's not King. If you have other King books that you need to get to, you're probably better off doing that.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Sleeping Beauties by Stephen King and Owen King


Photo: Hardcover book from its Goodreads page.

Very long fantasy / morality tale, mostly well-written, with a little more craft than usual, which I don't mean in a bad way. The story pace and structure is similar to Under the Dome, as it's more of a series of things that are happening between lots of different characters, most of them not fantastic or scary. As in both long books, there is an underlying mystery behind them (Why is the dome happening? Is it a test? Why are the cocoons happening? Are they a test?) that probably won't surprise you when it concludes, but the reading pleasure is watching it get there.

I wasn't particularly swayed by the sudden change of heart of the other major character, if you will, who is the foil/antagonist to the Clint, the prison psychiatrist. It ends the way it does, and that's fine, but this guy's primary character trait just sort of dissipates. It didn't ruin anything for me, but it didn't jettison me towards the ending, either. Which is fine.

The characters are well drawn and fleshed out, though you wouldn't know one of them was a minority if the book didn't flat out tell you. That may be part of the point of the book, or it may be a fault in character development. You'll be the judge. You'll also have to judge about Evie's character, which is largely and purposely kept in the dark. The authors don't supply too many answers about her, except that she is maybe The Day the Earth Stood Still for the menfolk, I guess.

The premise will keep you thinking the most, I suppose. It's an interesting premise that nonetheless has many flaws. It's very heavy on the idea that most men suck for many reasons, and that women are primarily their victims. You won't get any argument from me on either point, except to say that I have known my share of unthinking and unfeeling women as well, though of course they by and large do not cause as much danger and damage towards men as men have towards women. (Though I'm thinking right now of a couple who were up there, almost manly in their destructiveness.)

I'm not sure it's helpful to broadly generalize like this, though of course there's no argument about the fact that, overall, generally, men have treated women like garbage since the first caveman struck a cavewoman over the head with his club and thought that was love. It wasn't, and it isn't, and men have been pretty stupid about it ever since. But, again, I know plenty of women who have been stupid about love, too, amongst them the women who defend men who are stupid about love. We could go back and forth on this forever, which is the problem with overreaching generalizations. It's not helpful to talk overall, generally, about anything. Every man is not an asshole just like not every woman is a victim. More men, of course, are violent assholes than are women, and more women, of course, are victims of violent assholes than are men.

But it's probably less productive to grossly generalize. It's maybe more productive to single out the assholes amongst the men, rather than insist that all men are assholes. We're not all Harvey Weinstein or O.J. or even much less examples of them. There are some very, very good guys out there who have always treated women well. Probably it's better to single out the major and the minor assholes out there and then simply stay away from them, or give them treatment, etc. This book never presents that as an option, as it paints a broad stroke over all the guys, including the two main characters, who could not be more different in temperament, but who are both painted the same colors anyway.

The book does end on a realistically melancholic note, as things fall apart because the center could not hold for anyone. You may wonder at the ending, and if the decision made at the end would really be made. That'll have to be up to you, as well. Until then you've got a fantasy / morality tale, with a very large dose of Walking Dead as the prison was under siege. In the end, this one is good, not great, not especially memorable outside of its premise, and a quick read despite its large size.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Blade Runner 2049





See this movie, which I saw today. (At noon, cuz I'm cheap. I mean, frugal.) It's a visually stunning, tense, exciting, thought-provoking masterpiece. It's long, almost 3 hours, but it's worth every second. Seeing the original couldn't hurt, but probably isn't essential. Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford are excellent, but maybe the best performances are by the love-longing ladies, especially Ana de Armas, D's lady hologram friend. A must-see if you like movies, especially ones visually mesmerizing. Despite the almost 3-hour length, I'll see this one again.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Vegas



Prayers?!? God wants you to enact gun control laws. You want signs? How about Sandy Hook and Vegas?

Saturday, September 30, 2017

The Girl Who Takes An Eye for an Eye -- Lisbeth Salander and Book Review


Photo: from the book's pic on my Goodreads review page

A bit of a letdown after Lagercrantz's excellent previous The Girl in the Spider's Web, his continuation of Stieg Larsson's Millenium series. This one takes a loooooooooong time to get going--more than half the book, I'd say. It's a little dull and plodding; only the faith that it would all mesh explosively at the end kept me going. And that mostly didn't happen, either.

It's extremely dry writing, more so than the already dry Nordic Noir usually is. I don't know if it's the original writing, or the translation, but I think it's the first, because there's only so much spicing up you can do with original material. It's very straightforward, lots of simple sentences, with no feel for its own drama. It's like a book-length newspaper article. It's interesting, but the reader should figure out the twin twist long before the author finally gets there. And because it's so drawn out, the reader should get the minor twin twist long before the author also gets there. There are no surprises here.

It's also very bloodless, though the three women of the story--Salander, a psychopathic baddie she meets in prison (and what the hell was Lisabeth doing there?) and a victim also in that prison--do come away extremely black and blue. Salander actually should've gotten a ton of broken bones, but somehow doesn't. And two characters survive a major stabbing, and they both crawl into the forest and survive. While Salander suffers quite a bit here, Blomkvist sleeps around with almost everyone.

In fact, I would've given this one two stars but for the truly great epilogue--three freakin' pages that save the book and show Salander at her most true form, really being her. By far it's her most honest scene, the Salander we've grown to appreciate and respect. Too bad she's not allowed to be like this at all throughout the book until this point. If you feel like stopping short on this one (and I almost wouldn't blame you), do me and yourself a favor and read the epilogue before you put it down for good. You don't have to read the whole book to fully appreciate it, either.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

The Accidental Tourist


Photo: from the book's Goodreads page

Smooth as silk novel with such believable characters and life-lessons that it seems like a life parable, which I guess it is. Spot-on writing has no genre to fall back on, so no tropes, no easy scenes or action to pass the pages. Just life, and daily living, making the mundane magical and the ordinary extraordinary. This has always been one of my favorite books, though I haven't read it in over 20 years, and it's only gotten better with age. One of the unique things about it is that there is no villian, exactly, except maybe fate and life itself. A writing teacher will tell you that Sarah is the antagonist, and I suppose on paper she is, but really the biggest obstacle for Macon Leary is Macon himself, which is the whole breathy idea of the book: We are our own worst enemies, as is our inability to adapt and move on. Simultaneously impossible and necessary, moving on is the only way to live, even if it makes living more difficult. Would Macon have done so if Sarah hadn't left him to begin with? No. Would it even be necessary but for what happened to their son? Of course not. But you have to ride the wave, or (as the extended metaphor shows near the end) you have to just ride the plane's turbulence and strap yourself in, because what else can you do? You can't prepare to much or worry to much, or live your life not living your life. If you do, you may turn into a man so afraid of the world that he writes travel books about not experiencing anything, about not leaving your hotel room, or trying new restaurants, or doing anything but what you've got to do for business in that city and then going back home. But life isn't like that, and your idea of what home is may change as well. The entire conceit of The Accidental Tourist is one of the best extended metaphors in all of fiction, and all the novel and writing have to do is just follow the wave it makes.

Anyway, you owe it to yourself to read this one. The movie is good, too, but don't let it stop you from reading this. This is a rare book that you can read 20 years apart and still get as much, if not more, out of it now than you did then. Like a classic movie, this book can be experienced over and over again, and savored like a favorite line or a classic meal. I couldn't effusively praise it enough.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Sunday, September 10, 2017

IT -- Movie Review

Extremely good movie, high on creepiness even if it was low on scares. I'm normally not a fan of movies with child actors, but these guys did not disappoint. One of the better young casts, equal, but not better, than Rob Reiner's Stand by Me, based on King's novella, The Body. Good movie, quite a feat if, like me, you're a big fan of the book, so you know what happens. Faithful adaptation of the book with good new, creepy scenes.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Surrender, New York by Caleb Carr


Photo: Hardcover front, from its Wikipedia page

Alternately good, and bad, well-written, and lazy, erudite, and at times pedantic, this book has got to be the most Jekyll-and-Hyde I've ever read. It really almost defies explanation. Some of the writing almost approaches The Alienist, but this book overall is nowhere near that great book, frustrating because it's the same author, and it's obvious that it could go there, but...

The book opens well enough, I guess, but it takes awhile for the crime to show itself. When it does, it's well-written and atmospheric. You won't think of a mobile home quite the same way again. One Goodreads reviewer hated it, but it's well-done. All of the crime scenes are well-written and thoroughly imagined--one of them perhaps a little too much so, involving a baby, a toilet, and a guy who gets shot 46 times. There's overkill there, and it isn't with the 46 shots. The ending is satisfying; in fact, it works better than it has any right to, but it's a case of been there and done that for me, the main character and one of the cops.

So that's all well and good. What wasn't:

--Normally long books don't bother me. I'm okay with long, leisurely strolls of a book, when it's okay that it sometimes takes circuitous paths. Some Stephen King books are like that. Lots of books 1850-1950 were like that. The Alienist and its sequel are a little like that, though they're tight and well-written a helluva lot more often than they're not. But this one is bloated solely because Caleb Carr falls in love, lazily, with his main character, his sidekick, a young boy who joins them, and a cheetah. (Yes.)  Fact is, with a little editing, the locker-room jiving between Dr. Jones and Dr. Li could've been tolerable. But there's no editing, from the publisher, the writer, or from the characters themselves--and they become sophomoric, boring and an absolute trial. Carr was maybe trying for a bit of 48 Hours-like dialogue here, but Jones and Li aren't Nolte and Murphy, and it's an eye-rolling mess. You don't like them together. You don't like how they talk. You wish they'd shut up and grow up and for God's sake shut up again. Curb some of their painful banter that Carr clearly enjoys and you lop off a good 50, 75 maybe 100 pages. After page 475 or so, I began skipping over it and just looking for the plot points.

--You'd think I was a prude when I say that the sheer number of f-bombs (and similar words) defies belief. I mean, there are hundreds of them, perhaps more, in this almost 600 page book. I'm not kidding when I guess that there's at least, on average, one per page. I'm guessing there are about 750 such bombs, and they're said by two doctors and a young kid. There are so many of them that I kept imagining Annie Wilkes's diatribe against lazy swearing in writing. Her speech perfectly fits this book. There are that many, and by God she may have been right. And I was incredibly happy to see that literally every review I read--from Michael Connelly's very favorable review in the New York Times, to other appreciative reviews, to some scathing Goodreads reviews--they all mention the sheer unbelievable number of obscenities. And we all wondered, How could Caleb Carr not hear them? How could he not notice how many there are, and how bad it is?

--The love interest for the almost 40-year old main character is beautiful, blonde--and 20. (Yes.) Need I say more? Carr's descriptions of their interactions and budding romance simply aren't believable.

--Kudos to bringing to the nation's attention the existence of "throwaway children," which in my job I've seen more often than I'd care to remember. But the (bloated, overlong) plot device of a governor, an Assistent D.A. and various other relevant law enforcement and political figures covering it up because they're afraid it'll make them look bad? It's been a problem since the 80s, and it's already made every state look bad. Simply not believable.

--Long, windy novels work when the narration is folksy and believable, or the characters are very likable. Neither is the case here. So it's not a long, leisurely walk. It's a stumble. When you agree to read a long tome, which Carr clearly likes to write, and that's fine, then you're readily sacrificing the time and you're willing to go along with a narrator, wherever he takes you, which you're aware could be all over the place. But, again, the plot has to be agreeably labyrinthine, which this isn't. Or it has to be agreeably written and smooth and light as a feather, which this isn't. Or the main character and his world have to be very likable, or at least very relatable--and they're not. Frankly, all of the reviewers I read agreed that Dr. Jones isn't all that agreeable a guy. This is bad because a) it makes it even more unbelievable that a beautiful 20-year old would fall for him so quickly, and b) because it's obvious that Jones is a stand-in for Carr himself, so in essence we're not agreeably relating to the author as a person. Makes you feel bad.

And so you might be wondering why I rated it 3 out of 5, which means I liked it. I suppose I would've given it 2 1/2, if I could have, and maybe even 2, but overall the promise of it, and of Carr's potential, kept me going, until I couldn't take Jones and Li anymore and I started skimming. I have to admit that I just read the last 125 pages to see who done it, and to see what happens to Ambyr, to be honest with you. Lucas, too, I suppose, though he was too precocious for me. The last half feels like maybe it was mailed in, though the resolution is written much better than the 100 or so pages before it.

So don't be looking for Carr's earlier, better works, like The Alienist, because you won't find it here. Though this was light years better than the one previous to this, an incredibly long, convoluted, badly-written mess about a forgotten culture in the middle of the German forest, and really one of the more clear Did Not Finish I've ever had. That one wasn't a book to be put aside lightly--it was to be thrown with great force. (Apologies to Dorothy Parker.) Anyway, here's to hoping that Carr goes back to the beginning, and really analyzes why Lazlo's books worked, and his latest hasn't.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

John Adams by David McCullough


Photo: Hardcover book, from its own Goodreads page

Unbelievably thorough and weighty biography that sounds, and probably is, the definitive book of John Adams. It is very concise and dense, and though good, it took me a couple of months to read, which is highly unusual for me. (I can read 750 pages in less than a week, if so moved.) Its density was a hindrance to my own fiction writing, so I had to stop frequently and for long lengths, as I couldn't digest the authoritative tone of the nonfiction and be creative with my own fiction at the same time. I don't pretend to understand it, but it's so.

Adams seems to be the odd man out in the history of the American Independence. We remember Washington, Jefferson and Franklin--who was never president--but we forget John Adams, two-time Vice-President to Washington's President, savior of potential wars between the U.S. and France twice, and Britain once. Maybe he's remembered for defending British soldiers when they fired on a riled-up Boston mob (and he got them acquitted, too), and maybe we remember that he and Jefferson died within hours of each other on July 4th, and the 50th Anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, but we don't remember much else, and maybe we should.

The book is very fair, as it points out his misdeeds and vanities as they occurred, and when he writes or says something ridiculous, McCullough says so. The author also does a tremendous job fleshing out other very important "characters" in these 750 pages, namely Abigail Adams, who was as on top of things politically (if not more so) than were the politicians of the time; Thomas Jefferson, a spendthrift and a clotheshorse who owned slaves but was mostly against slavery, who died very much in debt and who took more pride in his creation of the Declaration and of The University of Virginia than he did his presidency; Benjamin Franklin, who was apparently a pain in the neck for Jefferson and Adams to work with in France, and many others. They are all worthwhile to read about as well.

The writing is straightforward and respectable. McCullough knows the time and its characters and he covers it all. Probably the most compelling is the Jekyll-and-Hyde Thomas Jefferson, so a few random tidbits:

--The vote in Congress took place on July 2, 1776, and the signatures came mostly in the beginning of August. Adams and Jefferson wrote a great deal on July 2nd, and both wrote next to nothing on the 4th. Adams said that July 2nd would live forever in the history of the nation, that is was deserving of fireworks, parades, parties, etc. Really went on a great deal about it. Nothing about the 4th. But in old age, both men swore the vote happened on the 4th, but it didn't. But that's what people remembered, hence the holiday. And of course both died within hours of each other on July 4th.

--Despite writing that all men had the inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, Thomas Jefferson owned about 200 slaves. All of the Heminges were granted freedom in his will--except for Sally, who he fostered children with. She had to be freed by someone else after he died. His other 200 or so slaves were sold off to other slaveholders after he died.

--Without ever explaining why, Jefferson had all correspondence--hundreds of letters--between he and his wife burned. Shocking loss to history.

--Monticello means "small mountain." Jefferson built this mansion of mansions, and a small community, with slave labor, and he wanted to live there, very antisocially.

--Jefferson came from money and married into more money, but spent so much of it on his paradise on the hill, and on other things, like the best wine and the best furniture and food, that he went hopelessly into debt.

--The Virginia State Lottery was created initially to pay off his debts, but it didn't do very well and when he died, everything had to be sold off, and his debts still piled up.

Anyway, an erudite and engrossing read that may take you some time if you're not used to long biographies, like I'm not. But it may be a quicker read for you if you don't have to put it aside for awhile like I did. A friend of mine read it all in about a week or so. Either way, a remarkable and worthy read, and a very good primer of what good politics and presidents can do. John Adams himself was remarkable for the sage and simple wisdom he espouses--stuff that should be heeded today by those who most need the wisdom. It behooves us to understand it, too. 

The primary one I took away: The President of the United States agrees, in the Oath of Office, to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States, not necessarily the United States itself. There is a subtle, and maybe striking, difference. Think about it and see if you agree, but I ask you this: With what has come down the pike in these past few months, what is supposedly being protected, the U.S., or the Constitution? They are not one in the same, and that which supposedly benefits one does not benefit the other.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Florence Foster Jenkins


Photo: the movie's poster, from its Wikipedia page

The movie with Meryl Streep, that Bozo the President said proved she was an over-rated actress, was a small, very good film about confidence and courage, the power of money and illusion. Hugh Grant is perfect as the self-illusioned money-grubber sort-of husband, but he may actually have loved her as well. He walks a fine line and pulls it off, as did the guy he's playing. 

Jenkins was oddly painful to listen to, yet you applaud her, as many concert-goers and radio listeners did. Her record was the biggest seller for its label, and she sold out Carnegie Hall faster than Sinatra. The fact that she was terrible played in her favor, as did total political inexperience for someone else we know. Yet Cole Porter attended. Toscanini was a personal friend. People were paid off and others fooled themselves, yet there is something to be said for the joy and pleasure she brought to so many, all of whom were perfectly aware of her ineptitude. Maybe she made many of them appreciate their own incompetence, and therefore made it okay to celebrate the mediocrity in all of us. I don't know. But it would've made a wonderful test case for a psychologist studying group dynamics, the herd and the masses, and perhaps a touch of group hysteria.

My favorite line comes right at the end: "People may say I can't sing, but no one can ever say I didn't sing." Maybe so, but you have to respect that attitude. I didn't do it well, she says, but I did do it. Hell, that's most of my days.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Toxic People

Photo: from theodysseyonline.com

                                        9 Traits of Toxic People:
1. They talk more than they listen. They are truly narcissistic and manage to make everything about themselves.
2. They are completely unwilling to learn from their mistakes. Frankly, they’ll never accept that they’re capable of making mistakes.
3. They exaggerate everything. Drama seems to incessantly follow them around.
4. They are compulsive and often unrepentant liars.
5. They force relationships. They value relationships for the outward superficiality and not for any real connection.
6. Everything is judged by the experience they’ve had. Their experience is the only one that seems to count.
7. They have to talk you down to keep their own self-esteem up.
8. They’re very controlling and domineering people.
9. They completely lack tack and diplomacy. They don’t care if they hurt other’s feelings.
How do I handle these people? I run away. I mean that literally. I ran into one at a yard sale recently, someone from my past. I didn't say a word. Just turned around quickly, jogged to my car and left. I must've looked like the village idiot, but this person was truly dangerous to my psyche.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Negative Space Kind of Day


In bed at 1:30 a.m. Up at 5:30 a.m. Had a cup of coffee and a great slice of raspberry cheesecake for breakfast. I'm lactose intolerant but I didn't care because that's the kind of morning it was. Watched two episodes of TNT's Will. Watched parts of movies I'd missed and deleted them from the DVR. Felt tired and bloated. Answered some emails. (I'm about 1,000 behind.) Felt groggy by noon. Decided to nap for half an hour at 12:30. Awoke at 4ish. Needed another cup of coffee, very rare for me. Started doing the day in force at 4:30 pm. Will eat dinner and watch ballgame or movies with my better half and go to bed. Tired because I've definitely overexerted myself today. And I am not ashamed.

Monday, July 31, 2017

I'm Now On Facebook, and July's Donations


Photo: Original address of Facebook's headquarters, in Menlo Park, CA, from its Wikipedia page.

Yes, I've joined the 21st Century, finally, after being a technology curmudgeon for so long. So look me up if you're so inclined. I'm in RI, so you can tell me apart from the thousands of other similar names on there.

[And did anyone notice Facebook's CA headquarters' address? Is Hacker Way the best address for it to have?]


Photo: Salvation Army's logo, from its Wikipedia page, here.

In other news, I made 5 trips to the local Savers and Salvation Army the last few weeks, and in that time donated:

18 DVDs

58 hardcover books

68 paperback books

1,336 baseball cards

As you can see above, I have a movie, paper and cardboard hoarding issue.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Bride Calls Off Wedding, Feeds Homeless at the Reception


Photo: Sarah Cummins, 25, who called off her wedding and fed the homeless at the $30K reception.

This story was just too good to pass up and not pass along. It's taken (as is the photo) from this msn.com article, which you can access by clicking here. The author of the article is Maureen C. Gilmer.

The nitty-gritty is that Cummins and her mother spent upwards of thirty grand to pay for the wedding and invitation. She worked overtime and long hours for years, she says, to pay for this. One wonders why the groom-to-be isn't said to have done the same thing, which is perhaps indicative of why the wedding was called off to begin with. Unfortunately, she's not saying. And kudos to Cummins for not airing out that dirty laundry once the press and the internet descended upon her, by the way. Many of us have been less than discrete about verbalizing the incidents that have greatly bothered us, and naming the names of those who did them to us. Mine's in the memoir, baby!

So she had a non-refundable contract with the Ritz Charles, which must be near Indianapolis, where this article was first published. Sounds...ritzy. All that food for 170 guests--and kudos to Cummins for sending out reverse RSVPs to those 170 people, and for even knowing 170 people to invite to her reception, I suppose. I'm not sure I even know 170 people. Well, okay, I do, but only about 5 of them would be invited to any reception of mine.

Apparently, this last-second wedding and reception cancellation has happened before. I know this because a) that has to be why this stuff is non-refundable to begin with, because last-second cancellations happen so often that it has to be paid for, period; and b) last year I was told a story about a woman of about this age, in my neck of the woods, who called off her wedding and reception. She and her mother paid over $40,000 for everything, including the reception spot in the Caribbean. But the guy turned out to be slime, which the teller of this story, and her parents, and the bride-to-be's friends, and possibly innocent passersby and concerned motorists--all told this woman that her husband was slime and she'd be better off not being married to him. This woman agreed with them about two weeks before the scheduled wedding and reception. Anyway, they went on the vacation anyway, and everyone who was supposed to go still went (except for the groom-to-be, who was apparently in a jail cell), and they all had a helluva time, as well they should, since the whole thing caused a lifetime of PTSD and stress, and cost over forty grand.

But I digress. What did Sarah Cummins do? Well, she called local homeless shelters and invited 170 homeless people to the ritzy Ritz Charles. They dined on...Well, I'll finally quote the article:

"On the menu are bourbon-glazed meatballs, goat cheese and roasted garlic bruschetta, chicken breast with artichokes and Chardonnay cream sauce and, yes, wedding cake."

Sounds good to me! And the surroundings?

"The dinner will take place in the hotel's garden pavilion because Cummins said she always wanted an outdoor wedding but didn't want to risk the weather...She and her mother will arrive early Saturday to set up the centerpieces they designed themselves — gold Eiffel Tower vases with roses."

And afterwards? What about the honeymoon?

"When it's over, Cummins said she's leaving on her honeymoon Sunday to the Dominican Republic — alone — before returning for classes at Purdue."

What a great idea! I suspect Sarah Cummins will get many more marriage proposals after this. An attractive woman with that much money to spend on a reception who's smart enough and rich enough to go to Purdue? Where in Indianapolis did this happen?

Saturday, July 15, 2017

They Lie #2 "Interest Free for 6 Years"



I'm no Warren Buffet. (See the photo. That's Warren Buffett. From his own Wikipedia page.) I have a tax guy and a retirement guy because I don't know enough about taxes and retirement portfolios to do them myself. (Or do I? Hmmm...) But at my age (Don't ask; I'm not telling), I do know a thing or two about saving money and not overspending, which is the same thing. And I know enough to know that people, businesses and organizations will lie to make themselves a buck. As House used to say, "Everybody lies." And as I say...Well, see the previous blog about lies by clicking here.

So here's how a local (and national, I think) furniture store lied in a mailing recently:

It sent me a red, white and blue (July 4th week, right? Plus I'll bet it works subliminally) offer that said I could get any mattress or piece of furniture I wanted, and I wouldn't have to pay any interest for over 6 years. That 6 year thing was shown twice, in giant multi-colored print, twice on the same one page of this thing.

So there's a lot wrong here.

First, I noticed right away that there was not one single photo of a mattress of piece of furniture. (See the photo below? Furniture, right? Not one single photo of something like that in this ad. The photo is from jordans.com/living-room, by the way.) So what's being sold here? Furniture and mattresses? Nope. The furniture store is selling its payment options. And the option here is to get whatever you want, interest-free, for 6 years. So that struck me as odd, that a furniture store was focusing on its payment and interest options. Why would it do that? Well, I'll bet that they make more money on the interest payments than they do on their own furniture. That's why car companies sell cars the same way in TV ads. You see the car on the road, but the guys babble about the interest payments, or the no-interest, or the leasing options. They make more money off the money than they do off the car. Same here with furniture. Good for them, bad for you. Why? Because if someone's making money off your money, you're paying too much money. If you weren't, there wouldn't be any surplus money for them to make money off of. You'd pay just the price for the furniture, for example, so the store, the supplier and the employees get paid, but that's it. They have to move on. If someone's making money off your money, which is what interest is, then you're paying too much money. You don't want to do that.



Secondly, and maybe more important, YOU NEVER WANT TO PAY INTEREST ON ANYTHING, EVER, FOR ANY REASON. That's so important that I put it in impolite and angry caps. But the word "interest" is a swear word, right up there with mother----er and the C-word. In fact, it's even worse, because like an STD, once you've got it, you're never going to be able to make it go away. Right? Do you owe interest payments on a credit card? How about your student loans? Look at your mortgage. How much are you paying in interest? Interest in mortgages are unavoidable if you want a house (I've got 2 mortgages, so I know), but in everything else it is very easily avoidable. (If I can't afford to pay the monthly credit card bill, I don't buy it. And come hell or high water, I WILL pay off that credit card bill in full, and I will not make monthly payments on it, ever, for any reason. I don't have a cent of credit card debt, and I had no life for a few years after I got my degree so that I could pay off my student loans all at once, so I don't own a cent of student loans, either. But I truthfully was lifeless for a few years as I saved to pay off that bad boy.) If it's not an emergency--and I'm talking someone is dying here, or your house is about to cave in--and if you don't have the money, you don't buy it. Period. This furniture ad in the mail was banking on the fact (See what I did there?) that people are so used to interest payments, that the real kicker of the ad was the interest-free option and not the furniture. That's crazy. Because, once again, if you're paying interest, you're paying too much for something. There's no second course. If you're trying to lose weight, there's no dessert after dinner. And if you're trying to stay out of debt, there's no interest after the one initial payment.

You might think that you've got 6 years to pay that thing off, so you won't have to pay any interest at all. Fine--if that's true. But is it? What do you have to do to get the 6 years of no interest? What do you have to sign for? I'll bet you'll have to get that furniture company's credit card, and you'll have to get an account with them, or with whomever runs their financial backing. So someone's already making money off of you, and they're betting that you won't pay it off in 6 years. I repeat, someone's making money off of you, and someone's betting against you. That's inherently negative and should scare you away.

Well, let's read the fine print. After every "6 Years" there's an *. An asterisk means there's a catch, a stipulation, and it means someone's trying to screw you. If they weren't, the information would be in as giant, multi-colored print as the "6 Years." There's another * after "No minimum purchase" and a tiny crucifix (Why hasn't someone harped on that blasphemy, using a tiny crucifix symbol to screw people out of their own money?) after "No money down." They're also betting you won't read the fine print. No one ever reads the fine print. You should always read the fine print. So let's read the fine print. And I'm looking for the answer to the question: How much would the interest be?

Whoa! If you don't pay the amount in time, you'll be hit with 29.99% interest! Holy crap! That means you'll owe in interest $30 for every $100 you haven't paid. That's crazy! That's $300 for every $1000. That's insane. Is that worth the risk? Hell no! If you don't have any credit card debt, your own credit card has a lower APR than that. And, furthermore, you're already thinking badly because if you can't afford to pay it on your very next month's credit card bill, you shouldn't buy it at all. You can't afford to think that you have 6 years to pay that off. I can't. I can only afford to think that I've got 1 MONTH to pay it off, and if I can't do that, I don't buy it. Period. And, yes, my furniture's older, but it's comfortable enough. And, yes, I do deserve better--but that doesn't mean that I'm going to get it, or that I'm entitled to it. I have to earn it, and if I don't have the money for it in 30 days, I haven't earned it. Don't start down that interest-free road, because you don't know where that road ends. And "interest-free" doesn't mean "free." And if you're playing games with interest, you'll lose.



Photo: An asterisk in an early Greek papyrus. It's possible people were getting screwed with it then, about 2,000 years ago. From the Wikipedia page for the word "asterisk."

And it says here: "For $X a month you could redecorate every room in your entire home." No. No you can't. It takes a few grand to do that, and if you're like me, you won't be able to pay back a few grand in 6 years. If you can, then wait those 6 years and save and pay cash for everything so nobody makes a dime off your money and you're not in debt. Redecorating my home with brand new furniture would cost over $10,000. There's no way in hell I'd be able to pay that off in 10 years, never mind 6. And that'll be $3,000 extra in interest. So instead of $10,000, I'd owe $13,000.

And it doesn't say here that you can pay more than your equal monthly payment. Because you want to pay that off before the 6 years, right? To do that, you have to pay more than the equal monthly payment, every single month. If you're not allowed to do that--if you have to pay just the equal monthly payment so that you're stuck with this contract for exactly 6 years, then you're screwed. Because crap happens, and you're going to fall behind on a payment, maybe even the very last one, 6 years later, and your now in debt, or at the very least your credit takes a big hit.

No thanks. I'm throwing it away. Actually, I'm throwing it in the firepit, so I don't have to buy kindling. I'll save money off of the money this furniture company paid to mail this to me. So help me, I'll make money off of them.

And so that's how they lie. Misdirection, in this case. This furniture company is selling money with this ad, not furniture. Always ask yourself, "What would they gain doing that?" If someone were to call them up and ask them if they made more money off its payment plans or its furniture, I'll bet they'll say the payment plans. And that's how they lie. Not as bad as the flat-out lies meant to actually fool me like the last blog. This isn't for a power trip or for political gain. And everyone's got to make a buck, so this doesn't make me angry like the last one, but still...Ain't nothing for free in this world, right? Not even 6 years of interest-free payments. If it sounds too good to be true, it is. Especially if there's money involved. (Some things, and some people, are actually as good as they sound. But not if there's money involved.)

Next time on "They Lie": A mortgage company insisting they're holding a really low interest payment percentage for me that's actually higher than the one I already have.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

They Lie -- Fake News on the Radio



Photo: Original 1st Edition of the hardcover, from the book's Wikipedia page

One of my (many) personal catch-phrases that I say (perhaps way) too often is: "It's not that I don't really trust anyone, or anything...It's just that I don't really trust anyone--or anything." Occasionally I've wondered if maybe I'm being a little too paranoid or cynical. But then this past week happened. The last 10 days or so have blissfully reinforced my outlook. I've been emboldened, and it seems to me that I'm right, sadly but surely, that everywhere around us are "Lies! Lies!" (Those quotes were for a friend of mine. Those two words are amongst his favorite catch-phrases.)

So here's one of the lies flung at me recently:

1. A radio station commercial that sounds like a newswoman reading a report, but which is actually a commercial for an organization that represents the National Republican Party.

If you're in RI, listen in to B101. (And, no, that's my better half's preferred station, not mine. I don't have a preferred station. I mostly listen to CDs and YouTube.) Anyway, here's what this woman says. In a newscaster's tone, she tells us that 80% believe that the news about Trump and Russia is overblown and that we should all just move on. (This is before we knew that Trump Jr. sold his soul to that devil.) She then says that 75% believe that it is wrong for a foreign leader to mock our president.

But...80% and 75% of whom, exactly? She doesn't say. Now if she'd said the 80% came from 8 out of 10 Republicans polled, I'd believe that. And 80 out of 100. Or 800 out of 1000. Or, hell, even 4 out of 5. That's the number of dentists from that commercial, right? (Watch out for numbers. They don't lie, but they can be manipulated. You ever notice that polls--during ballgames, for example, when they ask a seemingly random and irrelevant question and then tell you to text your answer--are always gauged by percentage and not whole numbers? Because they don't want you to know that only 5 people texted, or only 10 people were polled. So, yeah, 4 out of 5 and 8 out of 10 are 80%, but is that a relevant stat?

Photo: from qz.com, (which got it from the Associated Press), as is the quote in quotation marks:


"This meeting was the one in which Trump gave highly classified information to Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov and ambassador Sergei Kislyak."

Another thing: If that woman is saying that 80% of the country--across all political lines--think that we need to move on from this Trump-Russia thing (Notice I didn't use a slash there, like Trump/Russia, because those two really are connected.), then I assure you that's straight-up BS. Lots of Republicans are wary and leery of Trump & Russia, so I'll bet that more than 20% of them would say it needs more looking into. And I double-dog assure you that if even all of the country's Republicans believed the news is "fake news"--which is not the case--then you still need a very high percentage of Democrats and Independents to feel the same way in order to make the 80% stat accurate. Do you honestly think that about half of all Democrats and Independents think that way? That's a "Hell, no!" no matter what your opinion is on the Trump-Russia issue itself.

Why the ad that sounds like a newscast? LIES! That's for the people who believe what they hear (Mistake 1) and who don't think about what they read or hear (Mistake 2) and who then tell others what they hear and relay it as fact when it isn't (Mistake 3).

 Who made that ad? Well, who has the most to gain by it? C'mon, isn't that creepy? That's right out of Animal Farm, and it's scary. (And shame on you if you don't know the reference. Animal Farm and 1984 should be required reading right now.) That's shady people working for shady politicians who are shadily using the media (in this case, the radio) to spread falsity and lies to benefit themselves and to give themselves more power. That should frighten and anger you, and if it doesn't, well, that's what they're counting on.

And a fake newscaster saying fake stats like it's news? Yeah--that's literally "fake news," people. And from the very people who swear it's being used against them. These people are slimy. I need to take a shower just having to think about these people. But think I do, and you should, too.

Please let me know if you've heard this ad, or something like it. Share your story.

Next time on "They Lie": furniture mailings that push "interest-free monthly payment options" more than their furniture, and a mortgage company insisting they're holding a really low interest payment percentage for me that's actually higher than the one I already have.