29 November 2011


Books: The Poet by Michael Connelly (1996)

Jack McEvoy specializes in death. As a crime reporter for the Rocky Mountain News, he has seen every kind of murder. But his professional bravado doesn’t lessen the brutal shock of learning that his only brother is dead, a suicide. Jack’s brother was a homicide detective, and he had been depressed about a recent murder case, a hideously grisly one, that he’d been unable to solve. McEvoy decides that the best way to exorcise his grief is by writing a feature on police suicides. But when he begins his research, he quickly arrives at a stunning revelation. Following his leads, protecting his sources, muscling his way inside a federal investigation, Jack grabs hold of what is clearly the story of a lifetime. He also knows that in taking on the story, he’s making himself the most visible target for a murderer who has eluded the greatest investigators alive.

This was the first book I read by the prolific Michael Connelly. And while I enjoy a good thriller, the sensational type that comes out today –the endless serial killers of that fake James Patterson, the ever growing trend in true crime books- is very disturbing. Serial killers fascinate us, and unlike the cop shows or books of the past, which seemed to keep the more horrific details hidden, today we are given every detail, no matter how disturbing it is. And thanks to procedural shows like the CSI franchise, the Law & Order franchise and Criminal Minds the camera gets right in there; we see the knife, the bullet tearing into flesh. And we see how disgusting human beings can be. Maybe that’s why I like fantasy so much? Real versus make believe?

The Poet is well written, and Connelly knows how to pace the book so you have to continue reading, and he is a million times better than James Patterson, but I still thought he brought way too many twists in the novel. And like all crime thrillers of the last 2 decades, it’s an outside force that puts the puzzle pieces together. Am I really to believe that the FBI failed to pick-up on trails that killer was leaving? 

One thing I found interesting was this novel was released in 1996 (probably written in ’95) and how 15 years has changed in technology. The internet was there, but in its infancy. No one had mobile phones, and fax machines were how the FBI got their info when not in the office. It’s a reminder on how police work was difficult then (there is a part set in a Santa Monica police station where they fingerprint a suspect, but because it’s not set up with a data base, he goes free. That would not happen today). It seems amazing how the police and the FBI could find people; it seemed to come down to pure luck and a lot of coincidences.

Connelly wrote a sequel called The Narrows a few years ago. I might eventually pick that up. Maybe.

25 November 2011

Seven Season of 'Doctor Who' delayed until fall 2012

In what is more a financial issue than a story arc, Steven Moffat has confirmed what was speculated as far back as this past June, that the seventh season of Doctor Who will be pushed to a fall premier versus’ the spring launch that started when the series returned to the airwaves in 2005. 

When the original series aired, so much like the American broadcast TV schedule, it ran from the fall to spring (of course, it was airing 26 half-hour episodes a season then). But when the series was resurrected back in 2005, it became a spring/summer series. While the series had good ratings, it did suffer viewer drop-off (and if anyone analyzed the BBC iPlayer, where the show can be downloaded later [becoming one of the most downloaded drama], they see that while it was watched, people were unwilling to cut down their summer plans to watch an episode). And while international distribution was bringing in money to the BBC, it seemed that the always cash strapped BBC was losing money on a very expensive, yet very high-profile TV series. 

So basically, the show’s perennial timeslot on Saturday late afternoon/early evening in the summer was killing Doctor Who. And while the show aired here on BBCAmerica, it was at 9pm Eastern/Pacific on a Saturday night (though HD viewers in the West could see the show at 6pm, as it ran on the Eastern feed).

Even as early as 2010 (the series fifth season), during the early months Steven Moffat’s first year as showrunner, word began circulating that show was –at times- over budget and was having difficulties meeting deadlines –which was why Neil Gaiman’s scripted episode The Doctor’s Wife was delayed a year (and still had a ¼ of its budget cut when it did finally get made). More financial issues continued into 2011, which –perhaps- lead to the departure of two of its executive producers, Beth Willis and Piers Wenger, and could explain more clearly why season six was split in two –a spring season and then a fall one. 

When the show was picked-up for a seventh season of 14 episodes in June, the BBC and even Moffat were mum on exactly how that season would air in 2012. Moffat seemed to speculate, as summer turned into fall, that the series would be better suited for an autumn (as it always was) airing –when darkness settled much earlier than the summer. And while Doctor Who has been nothing less than a huge success since its return, for the always cash conscious BBC, the show was costing them a lot of money and because of its summer airings, it was losing a huge audience for a show with such a budget. And ratings are the barometer of all TV series budget. 

So now with “official” confirmation from Moffat, we can speculate that the seventh season of Doctor Who will begin airing sometime in the fall of 2012. And much like season six, will be split in half, with at least 6 episodes in the fall, followed by a few week hiatus which would lead into the now traditional Christmas episode (and whether that would be a stand-alone or part of what ever arc Moffat has designed for that season is anyone’s guess –or even dumping the whole concept altogether maybe?) followed by another hiatus before the shows balance is broadcast in 2013 –the 50th anniversary of the series. 

With this come other speculations as well; Matt Smith has already stated he wants to come here to America and work. He’s committed through season seven, but would he be willing to stay another year is a huge shot in the dark question. While 2013 is the franchises 50th year, its official birthday would be November 23, 2013. Could we see a regeneration of 11th Doctor (already being sort of foreshadowed in the last season finale, The Wedding of River Song) in the season seven finale? That could help the series ratings wise when it (speculation here) launches an eighth season in the fall of 2013. And where, in the end, does this proposed David Yates directed movie version of Doctor Who fit in? Will it follow, possibly, the way the X Files did their first movie? Or a complete reboot of the franchise as a movie series? 

In the end for Doctor Who, 2012 may be a more of a watershed year for the shown since its 2005 return. And where it goes in 2013 and beyond remains in the hands of BBC, who historically, play everything close to the vest when it comes to its programming schedule.

23 November 2011

Books: Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr (1960)

Set in a Roman Catholic monastery in the desert of the southwestern United States after a devastating nuclear war, the story spans thousands of years as civilization rebuilds itself. The monks of the fictional Albertian Order of Leibowitz take up the mission of preserving the surviving remnants of man's scientific knowledge until the day the outside world is again ready for it.

A highly literary science fiction novel, with his conflicts between the scientist's search for truth and the state's power, and a cyclical motif make it an interesting, if laborious read.

I mean, I get the theme that man has a habit of repeating himself, that we destroy, rebuild and will destroy again. Perhaps some 50 years ago when this was published, people were more inclined to fear nuclear weapons. Sure, we still do today, but man's inhumanity to man is pretty consistent.

As for the religious dogma, well that was interesting. Insomuch as I understood little of it. A bit dry, a bit dramatic and pretty depressing. I had wanted to read it for a while, but to be honest, I don't find anything that made this book so special to win a Hugo Award.

Anne McCaffrey

I met Anne McCaffrey, who died on Monday of a stroke, only once. And it was by chance, really. While she lived in Ireland, she was born in Massachusetts. So, for one reason or another, she was in the United States back in the late 80s, and she visited the B. Dalton Bookseller's I worked at in Woodfield Mall with collaborator Jodie Lynn Nye. And it was a casual visit as well, because if memory serves me right, she had nothing new out.

Anyways, I had never read her Dragon Riders of Pern novels, even though the 1980s was my decade of reading a lot of fantasy novels. I know this sound misogynistic of me to say, but I was never interested (then) in reading female centric fantasy novels written by female authors (but I was a huge fan of Barbara Hambly)-though she had said that "I started writing s-f in the late 50's early 60's when readership was predominantly male. And their attitudes unreconstructed. [... Women] began reading s-f and fantasy—and, by preference, women writers. My stories had themes and heroines they could relate to. And did. I never had any trouble with editors and publishers. I had trouble getting male readers to believe I was serious, and a good enough writer to interest them."

It was not that I did not taker her serious, I was just never interested.
Anyways while she was at our store, she agreed to autograph a few papberbacks we had of her titles, but like I said, I don't think she had a hard cover out (though, now that I write this, she may have had a historical fiction novel out in hard cover {?}. It's some 20 years ago, so my memory is not as sharp). What did have in hard cover was a few remainders of her early works, what's called "bargain" books you see today at many book stores. Granted they were not full price books, but they were hers. 

But she refused to sign them, and seemed insulted that I would even suggest such thing. And there lies another reason I never would pick-up a Pern novel, or anything else she wrote. Sure she was tired -she plumped down in one of the benches we had like the she was carrying the whole world on her shoulders- from traveling (and I don't remember asking her why she was in Schamburg, a suburb of Chicago, in the first place. Most major authors publicists hated the idea of venturing into the 'burbs with their authors), but I felt disappointed with her attitude.

So that first impression of her, sort of tainted me. Plus, as I've seen over these last 20 years, she became a victim of her success. Authors like Anne Rice, Terry Brooks and many others found writing outside their established series hard to do. Fans just wanted vampire novels from Rice, while fans just wanted Pern novels from McCaffery. The other stuff they did, while it did well, never drew in those fans of their more successful titles.

I appreciate authors who try something different.

But I realize her passing is big, not only for her family, but her friends and the readers of Pern novels (even though her son has taken up the mantle). That series will forever define her, which is good. 

I just wished I met her on a better day.

22 November 2011

Not shopping at Midnight

We all know what Thanksgiving is about. And whether you spend it with your biological family, or the friends who have become your family, Thanksgiving is a great day to relax, eat, drink and fun. Because, traditionally, the next day begins the mad dash to the Christmas holidays.

Now, however, Thanksgiving is becoming an excuse to avoid both friends and family. Retailers have decided that Thanksgiving -one of the few holidays that they were closed- should become a shopping day. Walmart and Kmart will be open on Thanksgiving, while other retail outlets like Kohls, Target and Best Buy will open at midnight on Thursday.

People are camping out at stores, as I noticed today at the Best Buy in Montclair. I was checking out, buying the sixth season of Doctor Who, and I told young lady, after a brief talk on why I was not purchasing the DVD set with my Best Card (long story), that those guys waiting outside were idiots. 

She said they were waiting to get the good deals -which are not all that special really (another Best Buy worker informed me). I told her that she should be upset that some of her co-workers have to cut their family time down due to the company choosing to open for Black Friday. That its not the customers who need or want the store open, but the shareholders, the CEO's and the other 1%.

To say that its the customers "demanding" the stores open early is empty rhetoric. The truth of the matter is, if Best Buy opened at 6am everyday, they would have customers. Some stores in big cities open at 7 or 8 am. And because they do, they have customers. Simple logic.

What I don't get is why the 1% think its okay for them to have a holiday, but not okay for the frontline workers. 

Also, because the sales are not that much different from the normal ones, the customers are fools to fall for such psychological manipulation. But that's the brilliance of marketing, create a mythical notion that the sales that begin the day after Christmas are somehow better than the ones before (how many times does Khols and Macy's advertise "the lowest prices of the season?" You would think things were free on Black Friday, considering these sales are suppose to be better) or even later, as Christmas nears. 

Which is another thing. Many shop the first weekend, and then business dies. It's like movies that are front-loaded, ones that do big business the first week and die (sometimes by half) the next week. Then they wait until the last week, hoping stores are desperate to put things cheaper.

Meanwhile, who gets screwed in this equation? Yep, the frontline worker who has to put up with all kinds of shit from customers who expect them to know what their mom or dad wants for the holidays. This is time of year that most frontline workers hate, dealing with unruly customers who insult, push and generally destroy stores more than usual. It's a time when the limits of most employee's nerves are pushed to the breaking point. 
All in the name of a holiday that has no meaning anymore to most people. It's simply an excuse to max out credit cards and buy stuff people will be throwing in their closets by the end of January. 

In the end, its the 1% that will benefit from all these stores opening at midnight on Thursday. They win. You lose.

But I win, because I know these bastards. And I say fuck you, Best Buy, Target, Walmart and anyone else.

Fuck You!


18 November 2011

Books: 11/22/63 by Stephen King (2011)

There’s nothing like time-travel stories that fuel my imagination. I love the whole concept of it, whether it being a trip to the past or the future. Perhaps that is where my love of Doctor Who comes from, the potential idea that somehow a trip to the past can be easily done as a trip to the grocery store. 

Of course, beyond Einstein’s theory that states time-travel is not possible –and even with people like Stephen Hawking sort of agreeing with it – it has never stopped science fiction writers from writing books about, or Hollywood cranking out TV and movies about the ability to change your past or future. 

It’s also created a college industry on how to handle the rules of time-travel. Up until the idea of quantum mechanics –the idea that there really in a finite number of universes than one single lane- most writes explored time travel just that way, time was a one-lane highway that stretched into the past and the future. How they dealt with paradoxes and the rather unique idea of the butterfly effect (which, according to Wikipedia is an element of science called chaos theory: the butterfly effect is the sensitive dependence on initial conditions; where a small change at one place in a nonlinear system can result in large differences to a later state) was a fun part of their story. One the other tropes of science fiction has been the watershed moments in history, events that would be described as a point in history where the world turned on a dime. The best example was the Star Trek episode The City on the Edge of Forever, where one person, Edith Keeler, was the junction point between two different time-lines, one where Hitler succeed in his campaign and the one we all have lived with (or, in Doctor Who terms, a fixed point in history). 

One of the biggest watershed moments of the last 50 years –not including the events of 9/11- was the assassination of JKF. Since his murder in 1963, many science fiction authors along with a boat load of historians, has pondered what might have happened to the world had JFK survived beyond that November 22, 1963 in Dallas. 

In 11/22/63, Stephen King –not a science fiction author per se- takes on one fictions greatest “What if’s,” along with the many conspiracy theories that have unwound like spinning top since that sunny day in Texas. The crux of the Kennedy Assassination conspiracy is that a person like Lee Harvey Oswald was too insignificant and not clever enough to do it alone (and King makes this part of his novel). But here is where Occam’s Razor comes into play. The theory goes “that when two competing ideas seem to explain the facts, the simpler is likely to be the true idea” (or, as Arthur Conan Dolye wrote for his Sherlock Holmes character: “when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth”). 

Such issues motivate 11/22/63, which deals with a man named Jake Epping, who goes back in time to derail Kennedy's date with death. So King invokes the butterfly effect for this long novel. Every action taken in the past has an effect on the future, which means even the best intentions often have unintended consequences. Jake discovers that early in the novel, when he tries to save a man he knows from a childhood catastrophe, only to learn, upon returning to the present, that in the new world he's created, his acquaintance was killed in Vietnam. 

Fortunately, the past resets each time he visits it, which means Jake can make things right simply by taking another journey in time.

What makes this book so long –and some may argue at 842 its four hundred too long, especially on the heels of his 2009 1,000 plus tome Under the Dome- is the “rabbit hole” to the past lands him in September 1958, five years before the assassination. This forces Jake to live in the “Land of Ago” as King puts it, until he can prevent Kennedy’s murder. But long-time fans of King (those “constant readers” he calls them) will understand King’s fascination with the past. Like author Peter Straub, King remembers the 1950s and Sixties with great love. He takes great detail and pains to explain the “Land of Ago,” and some may find that boring. 

Back in 2001 when Stephen King and Peter Straub wrote their follow-up to 1984’s The Talisman, that book was more of a stop-off to King’s long Dark Tower series than a true sequel to the first book. King never intended The Talisman ever to be connected to that seven volume series, but somewhere along the way Black House got folded into it. In 11/22/63, King gives us a sort-of follow-up to his 1986 novel It, as Jake Epping spends a good portion of the first 300 hundred pages hanging around Derry, Maine (the town featured in that novel, which has also popped up in other stories) in the present and 1958 –where he meets Beverly Marsh and Richie Tozier of that novel, just after the events of the First Ritual of Chud. So for fans, this little diversion from the theme of the novel is fun. But I can assume some detractors will wonder why he stops off in Derry for so long. But Dallas is a character as much as the people, and to me, for anyone to truly understand that city of 1963, King had to use his fictional town of Derry –an extra place of ugliness where horrible things happen, yet the people who live there seem to exist in the ether of indifference- as a mirror to explain what happened that Friday before Thanksgiving in 1963. 

The last half of the book is about Jake’s life in the past, as he settles down and falls in love with a woman who makes him question where he truly sits in time. We get a detailed history –some true, some made up- about Oswald’s role before he shot the president from the School House Book Depository. And while there have been tons a books published on the assassination, King tries (somewhat) to humanize Oswald. He’s portrayed still as bitter man, derisive, and a wife-beater. But there was, at times, where history and fantasy sort intermixed and you a sense –maybe- that all Oswald ever wanted in his sad little life was to leave a mark.

The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe

17 November 2011

Bus, Boats, Cars

The Captains

I watched The Captains last night over Netflix streaming. It's a documentary by William Shatner where he talks to Sir Patrick Stewart, Avery Brooks, Kate Mulgrew, Scott Bakula and Chris Pine (as well as himself) about their tenure as captains of each of each of their respected Star Trek TV series.

While not a huge fan of Shatner's over-bloated ego, he comes off pretty even here. The convention stuff still fills me with unease. Yes, I love Star Trek, but never felt the need to dress up in costumes and parade around with a bunch of other fans to point of that I liked Star Trek. I was, and perhaps always will be, the fan who likes to watch from a safe distance. My friend Marc back in Chicago used to say that I have a healthy obsession with Star Trek.

One thing they addressed in the documentary was what success did to their lives outside of the set, that the work seemed to destroy personal relationships. It is no surprise that all the actors (with the exception of Pine) had marriages that failed due to the strain of production. As Mulgrew pointed out, they were sometimes on the set for at 12 hours, but that usually stretched (especially if it was a Friday) to 16 or 18 hours.
And think about that. Each of the spin-offs produced about 26 hours of television a week. Spending that many hours away from spouses and children on average 9 months out the year, and you can see why a lot of actors and production people (who spend more hours on a set than cast) were either divorced or single. Then add on appearances and now conventions, and you can see further why appearing in Star Trek can be more cause for concern than happiness -though their are tons of advantages. 

While both Mulgrew and Bakula has success early in life -she doing the soap Ryan's Hope and he doing Quantum Leap- when they entered the realm of Trek and already were battle damaged in the relationship department, Shatner, Stewart and Brooks had relationships that broke (or were strained) during their productions run. Stewart, perhaps, is more forth right with his two failed marriages, while Brooks sort of skirts the issue a bit (he's been married since 1976), but does admit the strain DS9 put on their relationship.

Like any actor taking on a living legend that is Star Trek, they have to reconcile the possible success it will bring with the downside of what damages it can do to the ones you love. Chris Pine, the new Captain Kirk, seems to understand this (he's third generation actor, his dad being Robert Pine of CHiP's fame) a bit.

While I was watching it, I reflected on the actors who've played The Doctor in the long-running BBC series Doctor Who. Each of them -long even before its revival in 2005- has to set a time for their departure. I think they understand that committing to a long contract (Stewart mentions how fearful he was of committing 6 years to TNG). While it may never come clear why Eccelston left after one year, you have to fully understand why David Tennant only stayed as long as thought possible, and why Matt Smith will have to do the same.

While being part of a popular, long playing franchise that Star Trek (and Doctor Who) is, and the love and the financial boom it brings, these actors have to weigh that against their souls and their family relationships. We as fans, perhaps, cannot understand why Matt Smith or David Tennant would give up their roles after a few years, but in the end, its not about the fans.

It's about the soul. It's about the love waiting at the door when you home at the end of the day. That is more important than being a Starship captain or the last of the Time Lords.

15 November 2011

Why I like books

“If you go home with somebody, and they don't have books, don't fuck 'em!" -John Waters

My friend Adam posted a link on my Facebook page about writers and their book collections. It's basically about their obsession with books. Though they post their favorites, none of which I might add I've actually read, but I get a great, cuddly feeling about it anyways.

Book reading has always been for me a grand adventure. Maybe I missed by true path of my life by not going the literature route in school. I mean I love books, and I feel the need today to continue pushing books onto people. But then again, I loved cooking as well, and I feel -at time- more regret about never going to cooking school. Then again, after catching Iron Chef from time to time and Gordon Ramsey, I'm sure my love for cooking would have eventually like bananas past their prime (even though they make great Banana Bread).

Still, I don't buy into the notion that peoples lives are so busy that they have no time to pick up a book. Sure we have people studying to be doctors, lawyers and what not, but you still have the time to pick-up a book, one for pleasure and not for school, and read. To me, like sex (which is very once in a blue moon with me), reading a book for pleasure even when other things are important, is a most satisfyingly thing.

But I understand the temptation of TV and the internet. They are suckers of time, easy and mindless. Just something to relax by after hours of studying for that long and laborious test or a trying day at work. Dancing with the Stars gets 18 million viewers for no other reason than people think that after a busy day, TV is far easier than picking up a book. I accept that as an excuse, but in the end, that is what it is, an excuse.

I'm not sure exactly where my love of reading comes from. My mom used to read, but she sort of gave it up. I mean, she became, after my Dad died when we were kids, that person who had little time to read. She had two boys and two girls to bring up as a single parent. Her time was devoted to us, and when we were all tucked away in bed, the lights dimmed and she had time to herself, the TV became her excuse not to read. And even though the late 1960s and early 1970s was a time of three broadcast networks and a handful of local stations, she always found something to watch.
Today, with literally hundreds of TV channels, people can find something to watch. And if they can't, there is always the internet. Not only can you waste time doing nothing, you can also watch TV shows that no TV station is even airing anymore. And I know life, the economy and other factors get in people's way of reading, but if you can find time to watch the old boob tube, you can find time to read.

But I digress.

Memories are fluid, and sometimes what you think is a memory -especially when trying to recall childhood- is nothing more than a remembrance of someone else. A memory that you've co-opted, I guess. I was just two months shy of my sixth birthday when my dad passed. And up until my mom remarried in 1972, most of those four plus years are gone from my memory. I have flashes, and sometimes objects trigger something, or when I talk to my Uncle Harold, I can remember things about those wilderness years. But I no longer think of most them as true memories. I think I've co-opted them and accepted them as "real" memories. 
So after my mom wed again in '72, I was 9 going on 10. I don't know if my troubles that I had after my dad died (I have no memory of what I did, but I was apparently a pain in the ass. But that was a time when there was nothing around, no people to help kids cope with the loss of a parent) started me on my reading adventure. My mom has told me that out of her four kids, I was the easiest to keep amused. She has told me more than on one occasion, that if she put me in a corner with my toy cars, she could come back hours later and find me still playing them.

So between '72 and my start of high school in the fall of 1977, I read some. I know I digested The Three Investigators -perhaps, as I think of it, this series started me on my path of liking stuff that is not necessarily popular; I never read The Hardy Boys- and even tried the Bantam line of Star Trek books my older brother started reading. Of those, I read more of the James Blish ones, if only because they were adaptations of the TV episodes, and I guess, maybe, I comprehended them better. I read a few of the original Trek books that came out then as well. 
But 1977 is the year I really began to take reading more serious. Part of the reason, maybe, was while I knew something was different about me, I could not put a finger on it. What I did know was that I was tall, skinny, concaved chested kid who was not into sports (much to my older brothers chagrin), but loved TV and books. 

So for my freshman year of High School, I devoured one Agatha Christie after another. I also read other mystery authors, but Christie was the one I went back to again and again. By then, as well, Star Wars had entered the lexicon of my life, and I remember reading the movie adaptation of the film before actually ever seeing the movie (which I finally saw the summer of '79, a year or less before The Empire Strikes Back was do). 1978 also brought Battlestar Galactica, which I became obsessed with (and mostly because its 3-hour premiere episode aired on my 16th birthday). I still have all those novels that were published during that time, though the earliest were -like the Blish books- adaptations of the episodes. Then came Buck Rogers (I don't think they produced book versions?) followed by a watershed year for me, which was 1979. 

While I continued to read -and because while both my older brother and sister had TV's in there rooms, and we had the one in the family room, the shows I wanted to watch were the shows no else wanted to, I ended up somewhere reading- TV became my real love, and science fiction -or space operas- became my obsession. 

Still, books held an important place in my life. I read and read, and in the summer of 1980, when grocery shopping with my mom at the old Eagle store at Higgins and Golf Road, I stumbled upon the paperback edition of Stephen King's The Stand. At the time, it would be the longest book I ever read (if I remember right, it clocked in at about 820 pages) and I took it as a challenge. 

Needless to say, Stephen King has become one of only writers I come back to again and again. It's been 31 years, and I've read almost everything he's put out. 

So in the 1980s, I began my love of King, my love of Star Trek (launched now as a movie series, and eventually the spin-off series in 1987), Star Wars and had stumbled upon Doctor Who on WTTW, the PBS station in Chicago, as early as 1980. I read a lot of fantasy -inspired by The Lord of The Rings, of course- and space opera science fiction. On occasion I would read what I call hardcore science fiction, like Asimov, Clarke and Pohl, but I was never entranced by them. I mean they were tales that took modern day issues (somewhat) and wrapped a science fiction story around it (like what the old Twilight Zone did), but maybe I was unable to comprehend the social and political aspects they were trying to convene. 
Or I got bored with the idea? Though I think the reason I read Lucifer's Hammer by Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven was its "disaster, end of the world" theme -which was hugely popular in the 70s due to The Towering Inferno, Earthquake and the endless Airport sequels- than the geopolitical and science aspects about how to deflect a meteor hitting the earth. I did read a few other collaborations  by the two, The Mote in God's Eye and Footfall, but those hardcore sci fi novels were not what I wanted to read.

Fantasy -both good and bad- really took up most of the 1980s for me. And when I started working for B. Dalton's Bookseller in Woodfield Mall for Christmas 1987, I was on the road to long-time career in the book business that furthered my addiction.
Though I buy far less books now than I did thirty years ago, it is still an addiction. And like Thomas Jefferson, I as well "cannot live without books." Its the one thing that has stayed with me, even as my love of TV and movies has waned. It is my one consistent companion, and one I hope that will be with me always.
Which brings me to the digital age, and the disappearing physical bookstore. I've become, in some ways, the old guy who yells for kids to get off his lawn. As much as I embrace new technology, I cannot seem to embrace the e-readers. Yes, as my friend Jody says, the physical book is a dinosaur, the future is carrying hundreds of books -like I do know with music- on a small, hand-held device you can take anywhere. I don't think that real books are dead, though I agree as more people -especially the younger generation coming up- begin adapting to e-readers, we will not need 800 Barnes & Nobles stores (the demise of Borders can be easily defined as a company that failed to evolve). 

But I love books, love the feel, the heft and smell of them. Will they come a burden -as Edmund White says in the article -to those I leave behind? Sure, but after I am gone, I hope they can donate them, whether to a museum or what ever charity exists between now and then. 

I will continue, somehow, someway, to buy books. There was quote that was on the wall of my Borders here, one that I love and fully understand. Humanist Desderius Erasmus said "When I get a little money I buy books and if any is left I buy food."

That, in the end, is me.

10 November 2011

Random III

Books: Parrot & Olivier in America by Peter Carey (2010)

After –and really before- finishing Peter Carey’s Parrot & Oliver in America, I wondered what the book was about. It is inspired by Alexis de Tocqueville, the young French nobleman who wrote Democracy in America, the first great study of manners, morals and politics in the United States. 

But beyond that knowledge, I’m at a loss to say I did not fully understand the plot of the novel, though some could say it had no real plot beyond poking fun at the French Aristocrats and early American schisms between Puritan and the changing times.

The character of Olivier de Garmont is an over-protected man/child with allergies and other afflictions who –after being apart of the Reign of Terror of the French Revolution, which he does not remember- is exiled to America, a place he no desire to come to in the first place. 

Meanwhile, Parrot’s history involves a tramping childhood with his father, a strange apprenticeship to an engraver-forger, a voyage to Australia at age 12 with a shipload of convicts, marriage to an Irish girl in New South Wales, a gift for exact imitation of speech, a frustrated artistic vocation, and long service of various kinds to the enigmatic Tilbot. 

In essences though, Carey paints a coarse America -based largely on De Tocqueville’s point of view it seems- is entertaining and the interaction between Parrot –a lowly English-man- and Oliver –an aristocrat buffoon- is somewhat predictable. 

Still, Carey’s prose is vivid, poetic at times and very forceful. It’s enjoyable, and worth a read if only to prove the literary novel still exists in the 21st Century, but it bothers me that I could not grasp what fully Carey was trying to convey.