Archive for the 'Books' Category


The Redcoats are Coming!

With My Rifle by My Side

Are those ducks or geese? Or terrorists?

Do your kids have enough firepower at their fingertips?

Just out this summer is a children’s book about the 2nd Amendment: With My Rifle By My Side (via joemygod). The title reminds me of similar stories about teddy bears and dolls. With their best buddies, real or imaginary, at their sides, there is no adventure they can’t meet, no task they can’t accomplish.

These days, apparently, teddy bears and dolls are just a distraction from what our children are truly called to do. Kids, we are told, need to be taught to defend their country.

The book is about “A boy’s initiation into rifle safety and hunting; and his awakening to the solemn necessity of firearms for preserving personal and national liberty. The young protagonist observes of the Founding Fathers: ‘With their rifles by their sides, they protected their right to be free. They defended their land, neighbors, towns, and families.’
Continue reading ‘The Redcoats are Coming!’


We Don’t Need Another Hero

Those black woolen thigh-length coats with the big buttons are great in the winter. What are they called? Not a pea coat. Anyway, the problem with them is the way they shed buttons like autumn leaves. At any given time at least one button is hanging on by a whisper, and another one is missing altogether.

Until recently, following a drunken mishap my friend and I no longer remember very clearly, mine was missing one at the top, one at the bottom, and a smaller one at the cuff.

I stopped in at a cleaners/tailor shop to ask if I could buy some replacements. While he sorted through some Tupperware containers of random spare buttons, I noticed tacked to the wall a photo that I recognized in an uncomfortable way. It was identical to the profile photo of a stranger who once friend requested me on Facebook.

The reason I remember the picture is that the guy in it is dressed in a superhero costume of his own design: shiny blue and silver and black fabric, a black silver-edged mask. I thought little of it, assuming it was a Halloween picture, but a brief investigation into his profile revealed many, many more images of this guy in variously slick and slender and shiny costumes. Capes, masks, gloves — the whole bit.

It wasn’t the tailor, unless he had gained weight recently. He was probably just someone he knew. With tailoring skills. What if it was his younger brother. Or … maybe his boyfriend! Maybe the tailor made the costume, and he was showing off the work, and not the person. Whatever it was, I resisted the temptation to ask who the masked man was. I just didn’t want to get into it.

In his Facebook profile, he described his hobby of wearing superhero costumes. Just for fun. All year round. Like, to wear at parties and stuff.

There are pictures of me in a Green Lantern t-shirt on my profile, and I list comic books as an interest. I imagine that’s why he found me, but it ends there for me.

I did not accept his friend request.


Best. Product. Review. Ever.

Ari Brouillette is my hero. Bear with this and read through to the end:

The Secret saved my life!


Cooking with Cream

From the Didn’t Want to Know files… Guess what’s in this:

semen dessert
Click to find out.

Didn’t know you could cook it.


Discouraging Discourse

Apparently Geraldo Rivera has written a book. His Panic: Why Americans Fear Hispanics in the U.S.

Let’s ignore the implied sexism of the title; it’s not the worst part.

“His panic.”

Get it? Get it?

He was on NPR the other day talking about it. The conversation shifted from his personal experience — my dad came over on a banana boat, no one calls me Gerry, my mustache is a part of my cultural identity, that kind of thing — to a more general discussion about U.S. immigration policy.

“The hostility by some anti-immigrant activists against Hispanics is no different from that directed against earlier generations of Irish, Italian and Jewish immigrants,” he said.

Many of the most fervent anti-immigrant activists are themselves the children or grandchildren of immigrants. The style changes, the accents change, the geographical antecedents change, but it’s the same. You can track headline for headline the response to the Irish wave of immigration in the mid-19th century to the reaction of the Minutemen and similar radical anti-immigration groups today.

I can track with him so far. I probably wouldn’t argue with much of what he says in the book. But he took a turn in the interview that really disappointed me.

The anchor asked him something like What would you say to the people who argue that their views about immigration are mostly colored by the legality of citizenship and border security?

Geraldo responded in a tone of confident superiority: “Are you really concerned about ‘border security,’ or are you concerned about the changing demographic face of the United States? For example, if it’s terrorism that you’re concerned about and you want this fence built between the United States and Mexico, why don’t you want the same fence built between the United States and Canada?”

For Geraldo to jump directly to the bugaboo of terrorism struck me as a total dodge, and it really bugged me. Especially considering that Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff himself has stated publicly that he’s more worried about the terrorist threat from the Canadian side than the Mexican side.

Besides that, given the context, I understood the question of “border security” to be more about illegal immigration than terrorism.

He continued: “It’s not crime. It’s not terror. It is demographics that is the true fear. If we wanted secure borders, what about the entire Atlantic and Pacific coasts?”

That’s fine. Xenophobia and the institutional bullying of immigrants is certainly a problem. But also, certainly, is the growing pool of undocumented workers in this country. His evasion of the illegal immigration question does his argument a disservice. This — not terrorism — is the entire reason his book is relevant, and I think Geraldo missed a golden opportunity to contribute something meaningful to the national discussion. But he passed it up in favor of an intellectually dishonest soapbox. Perhaps more disappointing is that the anchor did not press him to answer the question. Apparently, a strongly worded statement about terrorism gets you a free pass.


The Emperor’s Children

The Emperor's Children
I can’t say I don’t recommend it. Just be prepared to take some time with it.

Messud’s writing style is dizzyingly parenthetic. I lost count of the sentences I had to read over two or three times before I could disentangle the syntax. It’s like a photocopy of exact thought at times: It may have made perfect sense to her, but not everyone can follow along. I accepted it early on as a stylistic quirk, but often it seemed gratuitous, a mishmash of clauses that could have existed happily as separate sentences, whose unholy union only complicated and obfuscated rather than providing any deeper meaning.

She uses several turns of phrase that just don’t parse for me. And I think she hit the thesaurus a few too many times. I am not an unintelligent reader, and I have my own fondness for good words, but what’s the point when it obscures rather than reveals meaning? It’s inexcusable, especially considering her consistent misuse of the very simple word “comprise” throughout. Sometimes it’s not so much the fault of the writer as it is her editor.

That said, the novel is engaging. Each chapter is written from the perspective of a one of the principle characters, yet the voice is a consistent coherent narrator. The variety keeps the story from getting too dull.

The one thing that binds all of them to each other is their tremendous self-indulgence. (I’m sure her own self-indulgent writing style was not nearly as intentional.) I recognized people I dislike in these characters. And isn’t it always the case — I recognized qualities I dislike about myself in them. It kept me from liking them too much to remain objective, yet it made them familiar enough to keep me paying attention.

What drew me to this book was my curiosity about the new spate of novels and short stories that have come out in recent years in which 9/11 plays a significant part. It annoyed me at first that anyone would reduce that day and its aftermath to a plot point — even if it was done well. Six years on, it can still be a ballsy proposition. But like all such events, it is a plot point. It is our history, our story, our plot. I admire the way Messud uses it at the end as a means of releasing &$8212; shattering — the characters out of their illusions, while still capturing the horror, panic and disbelief of those days. I think it had a similar effect on all of us, however short- or long-lasting it may have been.


Is this what Michael Tolliver calls living?

Armistead Maupin may be indispensable for gay men of a certain generation, but he is not a good writer. There. I said it. May I burn forever in the fiery pits of hell.

What made him famous — no, what made him essential was his ability to encapsulate a city and a decade and a moment in gay history, American history, within the pages of his original novels.

Michael Tolliver Lives rides on the coattails of an important literary achievement. But it need not have been written. It reads like an extended epilogue, neatly placing all the characters in their uninteresting fates, betraying the imagination of readers the world over who thought they knew what happened to the inhabitants of 28 Barbary Lane. It’s like one more season of Absolutely Fabulous that gets yet farther away from the characters and the audience and, while it may get the auteur some brief attention and a bit of money, ultimately does a disservice to the original phenomenon of the work that inspired the most recent re-visitation in the first place.

To start with, there’s not much of a plot. It is one of the fastest reads of my life, and the book is kind of boring because, really, nothing happens. Upon turning the last page, I thought: Is that it? The title Michael Tolliver Lives says more than the whole collected 277 pages. If Maupin is trying to make a statement about life — full of sound and fury, signifying nothing? — no thank you. I will just live my own and leave Michael Tolliver’s alone.

The Tales of the City series was at least notable its convoluted plots and excellent character studies. And part of their charm was Maupin’s insistence on placing them in time with very specific cultural references. This time around, however, it is clear that it is he, and not his characters, who are behind the times. There is too much laborious explanation of things that are already quite clear. His dialogue is wooden. Night Listener was a marvelous little novel. This one fell far short of the mark. Maupin would have done better to have left the inhabitants of 28 Barbary Lane back in the late ’80s, where they were relevant and interesting and significant. These days, unfortunately, Michael “Mouse” Tolliver is nothing more than a slightly bitter, self-indulgent, over-sentimental, unfunny, but loquacious shadow of himself.

But at least we know he lives.

the untallied hours