Monday, January 31, 2011
I already have read "The Bell Jar" and "The Picture of Dorian Gray." My third read was "Water for Elephants" by Sara Gruen. Once again, this particular novel was one of my wife's choosing--we alternate who chooses what we read; a highly original concept, I'm sure you realize.
This is the most contemporary book I've read among those she and I have chosen so far. Sometimes it's a nice change from taking on the "greats" among the classic American and British literati. I'm not trying to downplay Ms. Gruen's writing style and depth, but I'll just say that she's no Oscar Wilde or E. A. Poe. And that's not necessarily a bad thing. Man cannot live on Amontillado alone.
The story is one that takes place in the contemporary time of the publication (2006-ish), and with the protagonist, named Jacob, living out his days in a rest home. By his own admission, he's 90 or 93-years-old; he can't remember. When a circus comes to down and sets up just down the street from his living center, he flashes back in his mind to when he worked in circus as a younger man.
The majority of the book plays out in these flashbacks. It takes place during the Depression. The death of Jacob's parents cause him to walk away from veterinary school at Cornell just before he completes his final exams to become a doctor and take up practice with his father.
He ends up wandering his way into a second-rate traveling circus called the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth--a bush league version, and wannabe competitor to Ringling. His veterinary knowledge lands him a job in the show's menagerie.
It's in this place that he rooms with a "little person," Walter (aka "Kinko"), who is one of the clowns, becomes smitten with one of the female performers, starts a rivalry with her husband, and tries to hang on in this circus that's barely surviving on its own.
Oh yeah: there's an elephant in the story. Frankly, she's the least interesting part of the book, though Gruen felt inclined to try to make her central. I think the story could have existed with our without the pachyderm which isn't necessarily a good thing, but the truth is, the story marches on in spite of her.
I liked the story. The author did her research, and many of the happenings in the book were based on real instances from circuses of that era. From redlighting (when circus staff who had outlived their usefulness were literally thrown from the moving train at night) to cases of "Jake" (a paralytic illness that came from people drinking various substitutes for real alcohol).
If you don't like any appearance of foul language or sex in your literature, there is just enough in this book that I might advise to you to stay away. It's no Harlequin novel, but it is a love story based on blue collar circus laborers, and thereby there's some love'n and come curse'n.
I enjoyed the book. I don't think it landed in my pantheon of all-time faves, but it was a page turner. Definitely a good beach book. I'd give it 3-and-a-half-out-of-5 peanuts.
...Also, it turns out that a movie is already in the can for this book and it's coming out in April, 2011. It stars Reese Witherspoon and every woman's favorite vampire, Robert Pattinson. Take a look:
Friday, January 28, 2011
Oh fair Olympia Gyro poster lady,
How thou vexes my heart—and stomach.
Thou art the Greek goddess
Of the Mediterranean version of the hamburger.
With thy fake tan and expensively manicured nails,
Art thou an old-looking 22-year-old,
Or a young-looking 42-year-old?
Thy platinum hair floweth thick and white like tzatziki sauce.
Thou holdeth the pita close to thy mouth
With inviting, hungered eyes.
Is thy breath hampered with raw, sliced onion, or rather,
Graced by the light whispy brine of the Aegean Sea?
I pondered ingesting something healthy for lunch,
But thy Siren call hath led me
Straight to thy seasoned-lamb filled pita…
Wednesday, January 26, 2011
(I like the Moody Blues and all, but two drummers? Really? Pink Floyd used to do the same thing toward the end. Was their percussion ever that complex? The day another drummer is playing alongside Neil Peart is the last day I listen to Rush.)
Monday, January 24, 2011
If you miss those eerie moments at a slumber party or scout camp, then you have options! Thanks to the miracle that is the worldwide superhighway interwebs, you can still sit in on an intimate scarefest.
By gathering around “Jim Harold’s Campfire.” Jim publishes a handful of podcasts and vidcasts that all focus on the paranormal. My favorite of the bunch is his “Campfire.” The premise is simple: he conducts and records phone interviews with people who have a true account to share about their run in with the otherworldly. Many are about ghosts, but the casts also include stories about out-of-body experiences, eerie premonitions, run ins with the occult, unknown beasts, UFOs, etc., etc.
I’ll be honest, the scare factor of the accounts can really range. Some are lame, and some (in my humble opinion) reflect more on the sanity of the teller opposed the accuracy of their account. But others make the hair stand up on the back of my neck, even if I’m listening to it in the bright morning light of my morning commute.
No matter what level of believability the stories fall into, Harold always maintains the same earnestness with his interviewees. He seems like a genuinely cool guy. Sometimes that’s as much the charm of the show as the stories themselves.
I have to thank my friend Jim Hamilton for putting me onto Jim Harold about a year ago.
You can access the podcasts here, or download them to your iPod from iTunes.
As Jim Harold says: “Stay spooky!”
Thursday, January 20, 2011
It's a great song, so get it yesterday. (I mean it!)
Monday, January 17, 2011
While I had heard the name of Oscar Wilde, I was unfamiliar with what he had written. And, admittedly, I was not familiar with the story or character of Dorian Gray until I watched "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen." The little about Dorian's story that that movie shed light upon intrigued me.
I really enjoyed reading it. It definitely fits into that Victorian romance genre where you'd find books like "Dracula," "The War of the Worlds," and "Frankenstein."
The story has three main characters. The title character, Dorian, is an uncommonly handsome young man. The second is the painter, Basil Hallward, who initially "discovers" Dorian and becomes obsessed with Dorian's ideal beauty. Not from a physical standpoint (that is, not entirely), but rather from the idealism of innocence and purity that Dorian's visage evokes. He paints Dorian and considers it his greatest accomplishment.
Then things get interesting once we're introduced to the third main character: Lord Henry Wotten. Lord Henry is just a low-down dirty rotten scoundrel - in a good way. He's a hedonistic, materialistic, selfish, amoral character who becomes smitten by Dorian in the same way that Basil did. In fact, Dorian is seemingly as innocent and ideal as Basil thinks he is until Lord Henry begins to influence him with his world view.
Lord Henry convinces Dorian that beauty and youth are all that matter in the world, and that he currently has achieved the pinnacle of both. This sets Dorian down a path of conceit and selfishness that is motivated by the need of seizing the day while he is in his prime of beauty and youth. He despises the portrait Basil painted of him because he will grow old while the portrait will remain ideal. He wishes that he could switch places with the portrait and have it grow old while he remains pristine. Somehow his wish comes true, and it's the portrait that begins to age, as well as reflect Dorian's decaying morals and character. The image in the portrait grows grotesque as Dorian himself remains flawless.
I'll stop with my plot outline and spoilers for those who want to give it a read. It was enjoyable, and I'll confess that my favorite part of the book was Lord Henry. He really was an exceptionally-written scumbag. I found myself laughing out loud as I read at what a totally evil and amoral guy he was.
Pick up "The Picture of Dorian Gray" if you get a chance. It's a fun supernatural tale.
Saturday, January 15, 2011
Friday, January 14, 2011
Or, possibly this:
There's always the classic Orson Welles radio broadcast, and a rarely-heard-of TV series from the late 1980s.
Though I'm a mid-30's Gen-Xer myself, my first exposure to the story was through the movie from the '50s. Those swan-necked spacecrafts leaving crispy critters in their wake made for a pretty good sci-fi action horror.
I was probably one of the only people in the world who watched the TV series from the late '80s, and I'm familiar with Orson Wells' radio broadcast and the scuttlebutt it caused, but I've never heard it in its entirety.
But, in spite of all these movie, TV and radio versions, I had never touched the source of all of these productions: the original novel written by H. G. Wells and published in 1898. I'll be honest, I was so unfamiliar with it that I didn't realize the story was that old. I would have guessed it had been written 30 or 40 years after that.
I decided to read it. Friends, its a great story. Since most people are familiar with the movie versions, I'll do some comparing to them.
It takes place just after the turn of the last century in England. Unlike the movies, you largely never know if the invasion is happening anywhere else in the world, or to what extent. The narrator only knows what's going on before his eyes in his home of Woking, Surrey, a small town just outside London, in addition to the later accounting he gets from his brother who experienced the invasion in London proper.
Like the movies, it's about Martians invading earth. Like the Spielberg movie, the Martians lay waste to the countryside in walking tripod machines that fire a "heat ray."
Unlike the movies, where the Martians lay waste untouched, in the book, the British fight back and are able to take down three of the Martial tripods at different points throughout the book. Admittedly, that's only a token ding as the Martians are frying humans with their heat ray by the hundreds of thousands and choking them with their "black smoke"--a thick poisonous gas the Martian launch in canisters from their tripods into densely populated areas.
Like the movies, the protagonist finds himself on the lamb and holing up with other refugees. At one point, he's with an artilleryman who's retreated from the front line, and later with a curate who slowly loses his mind.
I'll spare any more details or spoilers from here and just leave with the thought that it's a fun adventure, a good period piece and a classic. Take a chance to read it if you can.
Wednesday, January 12, 2011
First off, I’m not saying we need to keep Boylen. And even after sitting through last night’s slaughter in person thinking “This should NEVER happen to the Utes, in the Hunty, at the hands of our rival,” I’m also not yet among those who think he for sure needs to be tossed whether it’s yesterday, tomorrow or at the end of the season. If he is, great. I don’t have the perspective to make that decision. If firing him will get us better sooner, I support it. If it’s simply a knee-jerk reaction from a shamed fanbase with an inflated view of who we “should be,” then I don’t support it.
These are just thoughts I had while brushing my teeth this morning, so take them for what they’re worth...
1) What were we expecting? Boylen had never been a HC at any level when we hired him. What were our expectations? What were Hill’s? Were we not expecting there to be a learning curve? So, what’s a reasonable learning curve? And if there is a reasonable time for a learning curve, does it really matter what happens DURING that curve so long as the result is the desired one at the END of the curve?
So, either we were willing to be patient with the need of a learning curve, which was most likely to happen with Boylen, or we were not and we were expecting Boylen to beat the odds and be “naturally above average” at coaching. A coach with D1 experience needs at least 3-4 seasons to get his program rolling. Did we expect Boylen to be as good as an experienced D1 coach even though we hired him knowing he lacked this experience? Whose fault is that?
2) Do we think Boylen has not learned or is not learning on the job? For those who expected Boylen to have some learning to do, how much time does that take? I said above that an experienced D1 coach will be given 3-4 years. If we expected a learning curve, how long should we give Boylen? Four to five years? Five to six? Why does he not deserve this if we knew he'd need it when we hired him?
3) He’s made mistakes. He admits it. He is in the process of trying to fix them. Are his mistakes so egregious that they are to be punished with only severe consequences? His mistakes, as I see them, are:
a. Recruiting whiffs. Every coach has these. Even our lord Majerus brought in bad talent sometimes.
b. Discipline. From where I stand, it seems Boylen, like Giac, is like a parent who values being a friend with his kids more than an authority figure. You can be both, but friend has to always take the back seat to parent, IMO. Boylen seemed to let players get away with too much horseplay off the court last year. He seemed to have learned and dismissed those players. This year, I think he doesn’t’ discipline players on the court who make mistakes. But that’s a fine balance. If he yanked a player for each mistake, we would either have no players on the court or we’d be rotating wholesale like a hockey team.
c. Fundamentals. I won’t belabor this point, but it seems that we all see that--for whatever reason--our players are either not being coached well in them, or they are not talented or experienced enough to translate that to game situations. Either way, that’s Boylen’s job to fix.
4) Lest we forget, but we have had significant injuries to three of our starters this year. Foster, Jay Watkins and O’Brien have all had injuries that you could easily argue have stunted their progression this year. How does this factor into how the season is going? Let’s say we get Randy Bennett or Reggie Theus for next year: Will they do significantly better if three of their starters are out (or unable to practice) for a majority of the season? Does this not have something to do with our record this year?
5) Is Boylen a pathological liar? Because, from day one, he’s said all the right things. He talks about building the U’s program in the way it should be built:
a. He wants primarily American players; I’m on board.
b. He wants to build primarily with HS talent; I’m on board.
c. He wants "Utah" on the chest to mean something; I’m on board.
d. He wants kids to go to class and graduate; I’m on board
e. He wants guys to be tough and take a hit; I’m on board.
f. He wants a team full of long athletic guys; Eh, show me it works and I’ll believe
Has he not tried to do these things? Has he failed? If he’s failed, is it short term failure (i.e. a learning curve), or is it long term evidence of a guy who doesn’t have “it” to coach D1?
6) What challenges does Boylen face that any subsequent coach will face? How does a new face address any of them, and specifically how?
Fellow Ute fans, I don’t know the answer. I think there is a chance that if we let Boylen remain, that he gets it to work. It’s also possible he is a crappy coach. Personally, I don’t think we know which he is yet. I think what we’ve seen so far is mostly D1 learning curve. If we don’t have the stomach for that, it’s mostly Hill’s fault because our only options when hiring Boylen was that he was human and needed more than 3-4 seasons to hit a groove, or he had to be a coaching phenom – few of which truly exist in college hoops.
I also realize that our program is in the toilet, and Boylen owns a significant part of that. I feel he doesn’t own all of that blame, and whoever we bring in next will likely have the same challenges, so unless we think Boylen is an utter dolt, things may not change with a new coach and we're just becoming the Clippers version of D1 hoops thinking that a coaching carousel is the elixir for our ill hoops program that we refuse to administer to.
Again, this is not me saying we should keep Boylen. I frankly don't know what we should do. I think if you put a gun to my head, I say we give him one more year. (Yes, I say this knowing he has to recruit 5 players this year that will determine our course for the next five years.)
I'm glad I'm not the good Dr. Hill.
Monday, January 10, 2011
I had never heard of it before until my wife introduced it to me. Anna and I wanted to have a little book club between us this year, so we picked a couple books each to begin with. We decided to start with the other's choice as our first read, and that's how I ended up reading a book that is probably a staple in any collegiate Woman's Studies course.
In a nutshell, "Jar" is a story about mental illness, made more interesting by the fact that the Plath struggled with mental illness and took her own life as a result, with "Jar" being the only novel she ever wrote (in addition to some poetry).
The protagonist and first-person narrator, Esther Greenwood, is a young over-achieving academic. While on a writing scholarship in a small New England college, she takes a month-long internship with a women's fashion magazine in NYC.
Up to this point, her academic achievement and intellectual talents had been what paved the path in her life. But now, she's starting to see that she has to make life decisions about marriage, sex, motherhood, a career, etc. Whether it's the pressure of these looming choices or due to other factors, she begins to experience depression and other illness that creeps into the story.
It's interesting to experience the illness from her perspective as her condition worsens. I started to wonder how much to trust any of her observations.
The glitz and glamor of the internship in the first half of the book becomes juxtaposed to the lifeless hospitals and asylums that become the backdrop of the latter half of the book.
What drove the interest of the book for me was Esther's perceptions of the people in her life, some connected to her by proximity (such as fellow interns or patients), and platonic bonds of family and friends like her mother and boyfriend.
I enjoyed the book. I never would have picked it up on my own, which is what made it an interesting read from that standpoint alone. I read it at the same time as I was reading H. G. Wells' "War of the Worlds," which is more typical of what I read. The two books could not have been more different.
But "The Bell Jar" was an enjoyable read on its own merits. I don't think it became an all-time favorite for me, but I'm glad I read it.
Thursday, January 6, 2011
Some of the music I already had, and a good half of it I had to dip into iTunes to help fill out.
This is not some all-encompassing and inclusive list, but the songs that I remember liking and cranking. If you deem any of these bands or songs to not be hair metal, sorry, that's life. So, with no further ado, and in no particular order:
1) Welcome to the Jungle - Guns N' Roses
Should I feel guilty that my 6 yr. old son the other day screeched out "You know where you are!?"
2) Round and Round - Ratt
As a kid, I thought the line was "We'll put you on your shell!" On another note, the lyrics to this song make no sense to me whatsoever.
3) Nothin' but a Good Time - Poison
Before going on a family vacation to California in 1988, I bought the cassette of Guns N' Roses "Appetite For Destruction" to listen to on the way. Still at the mall, I showed my older sister what I had bought. When she saw the "Parental Advisory" label on it, she put a big guilt treatment on me and said "You should probably stick with the Pet Shop Boys." Tail between my legs, I took "Appetite" back. I exchanged it for Poison's "Open Up and Say Ahhh." 'Twas not my proudest moment.
4) I Wanna Rock - Twisted Sister
I find it hilarious that he switches between "Wanna" and "want to." Sometimes you need to emphasize how much you "want to" rock.
5) Unchained - Van Halen
I've only seen Van Halen in concert once, and that was in the late '90s when they were touring with neither Diamond Dave or Sammy, but Gary Cherone. He sure did nice pirouettes for a rock singer. *Rolls eyes*. Lack of bragging rights aside, he did sound like the others and it was at this show that I came to appreciate this song. There was something about the live performance of it that sounded great. Oh, and apparently it's "blue-eyed murder in a size five dress," not "blue white murder in a sci-fi dress."
6) Livin' on a Prayer - Bon Jovi
I'm pretty sure this is the Jovi song that was played at my 6th grade dance. I can only assume that I danced to it by stepping right and clapping once, then stepping left and clapping once, just as I was taught.
7) Wild Side - Mötley Crüe
The difficult thing with the Crüe and a hair metal list is deciding which song to include. It could have been this song or a half dozen others. Oddly, just like GNR, I never owned a Crüe album.
8) Pour Some Sugar on Me - Def Leppard
Def Leppard's "Hysteria" album is one that fell into my hands. My older sister dubbed it from her friend, decided it was too devilish (or some such) and offered it to me or threatened to throw it in the trash. Naturally, I snatched it up, and she went back to her Erasure and Debbie Gibson. For some reason, I mostly listened to side one with "Animal" and "Sugar."
9) Love in an Elevator - Aerosmith
I don't think of Aerosmith as a hair band. They're a straight up rock band whose music during the late '80s nicely complimented the pop metal of that time. Besides, Aerosmith was new to me in the late '80s. I was still ignorant to "Toys in the Attic," etc.
10) God Gave Rock n' Roll to You II - KISS
Most playlists have a weak link or a darling that you just can't kill. This is the one. I'm more of a fan of the band KISS than any of their music - if that makes sense. I'm not even sure they're hair metal, or what, exactly. But this list didn't feel complete without them. So Gene and Paul, be glad you're here.
11) Down On Me - Jackyl
I remember when the DJ at KBER introduced these guys for the first time. He was so excited and called them something like "the next AC/DC." They did sound good. Really good. Their problem was that they released their first album in 1992... just as grunge was exploding. Timing is everything.
12) The Final Countdown - Europe
I hate this song as much as I love it. I think "Arrested Development" and GOB caught the essence of this paradox. But I also needed to find an excuse to buy it and play it now and again. Is it even metal? I'm not sure. These guys play electric guitars, have long hair and the lead singer uses unnecessary vibrato when they hold a note, so I say yes!
13) Once Bitten Twice Shy - Great White
Before they were known for a tragic fire in a small club, they were mostly just known for this song, but it was a good one. I thought the line "I never knew you had a rock n' roll record until I saw your picture on another guy's jacket" was so clever. I mean, it doesn't rhyme well, but it sure tells a quick story.
14) I Believe in a Thing Called Love - The Darkness
These guys were WAY late to the party - by, like, 15 years. But this song kills and the video is even better, and there was no way I'd leave these guys off a playlist like this.
15) Still of the Night - Whitesnake
Hard to decide what song to include from these guys. But the riff in this song melts face as much as any not laid down by Zeppelin.
Nobody's Fool - Cinderella
Wait - White Lion
I Hate Myself for Loving You - Joan Jett & the Blackhearts
Here I Go Again - Whitesnake
Kickstart My Heart; Dr. Feelgood; Girls, Girls, Girls; Smokin' in the Boys Room - Mötley Crüe
Empire - Queensryche
Paradise City; Sweet Child o' Mine - Guns N' Roses
We're Not Gonna Take It - Twisted Sister
Tuesday, January 4, 2011
With each child added to my brood, the difficulty of getting out to the theater, as well as the lack of movies that seem to justify the cost (two tickets and a babysitter are in the neighborhood of $50; that's w/o dinner or popcorn) means that I get out to the movies far less frequently.
As such, Anna and I load up on Netflix streaming movies. Cost aside, I think the Netflix approach has put me in front of some amazing films, or movies that more closely match my niche interests; (zombies, anyone?)
Over my long holiday break, I watched "The Pianist," staring Adrien Brody. It came out in early 2003 in the U.S. It's a film directed by the controversial (and some would argue, despicable and deplorable) Roman Polanski. Some folks avoided watching the movie based on his involvement alone, and frankly, I don't begrudge anyone who made that choice not to support him. If you're not aware of why Polanski is reviled by many, I'll let you Google it and not waste anymore time on it here.
I watched the movie and was extremely moved by it. It's one of those films that I watched a week ago, and it's been hanging out on my mind ever since.
It's an account of the real life Polish and Jewish pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman, based on his memoirs of how he avoided the holocaust and other atrocities of WWII.
It was a very graphic and straightforward portrayal of the inhumane treatment of Jews and the Poles during the war. I'm not going to lie: It was gut wrenching. Horrible.
To be honest, I think I was more discouraged by the lack of humanity shown to the Jews overall than I was encouraged that one man among a few had a generous dose of mercy and, frankly, good luck or God's grace to have survived it. His life was a living hell during the war as he watched friends and his whole family be led to their doom in one way or another.
Daily, he endured starvation, privation, cold, violence and a constant companion of fear. Again, I'm almost discouraged that a man can endure all of that. Why? Because, I believe that God does not put anything in our path that we cannot handle. What scares me is that I think all of us can handle much more than we're given. Mercifully, most of us are not stretched to the brink like Szpilman was, but I feel for those who are. My life has been easy, safe, warm, clean and comfortable. I'm sure I could endure a lot more hardship than I have thus far, but I'll be honest that I fear coming to know my limits.
I wonder how hard I'd fight to live another day, when each day is certain to be filled with cold, starvation, death, despair, doom and pain. Life is a gift, but good grief...
I felt similar sentiments recently after reading and viewing "The Road."
There was someone during the course of the movie who referred to those killed early on as the "lucky ones," or something to that effect. I had a hard time disagreeing. It hurts me to think of what some people are put through in this life.
Life is precious. Real rational (non-instinct driven) love is one of the few things that truly separates us from the animals. It's beautiful when it's shown, and horrible when it's not displayed among men.
Check out "The Pianist." It was both horrible and beautiful, but it had me me hug my wife and kids a little tighter and spend a little extra time thanking God for my blessings.
Lastly, show someone some kindness today. Why not?