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.


More Than Broomsticks and Skeletons in Hogwarts Closets

J.K. Rowling outed Albus Dumbledore on Friday. From the BBC:

She made her revelation to a packed house in New York’s Carnegie Hall on Friday, as part of her U.S. book tour.

She took audience questions and was asked if Dumbledore found “true love.”

“Dumbledore is gay,” she said, adding he was smitten with rival Gellert Grindelwald, who he beat in a battle between good and bad wizards long ago.

Rowling told the audience that while working on the planned sixth Potter film, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, she saw the script carried a reference to a girl who was once of interest to Dumbledore.

She said she ensured director David Yates was made aware of the truth about her character.

There is a lively and thorough discussion going on at One of the major criticisms of the revelation is that it’s too late, and she should have been more forthcoming in the novels. I agree that her not revealing this fact before the publication of the final volume may smack of a cynical fear that sales might have been adversely affected. Religious zealots had enough to complain about with witchcraft (even though the characters clearly celebrate Christian holidays throughout the series), let alone the Gay Agenda. A scandal might have actually increased sales. Who can say? But clearly she was playing this carefully.

For a while I wondered (hoped?) if Harry might be gay. But it was soon put to rest. There certainly seemed to be some gay fodder with Remus Lupin, a character whose status as a werewolf inspired such discrimination against him, I thought for sure Rowling was making a statement about intolerance of homosexuality. But then she threw me for a loop when Lupin married and fathered a child with Tonks, a witch who surely could have been a lesbian. Lends credence to that common pitfall of American gaydar: Is he gay or just British? But I gave up on the notion that there might be obvious gay characters in the series.

Ultimately, though, I think the news about Dumbledore is good. If it’s true that she sent a note to the Half-Blood Prince director to … er, straighten out the script, it shows some integrity on her part. Makes me wonder what else just didn’t make it into the books. There is an opportunity in the two final films to make more of his relationship with Grindelwald, if even only visually and subtly. Let’s hope that Dumbledore’s official outing encourages the filmmakers to not ignore the subject and to treat it with some dignity.


Bridge to Paradoxia

Some time ago, I heard that there was a new film adaptation of Bridge to Terabithia being made, but I didn’t pay much attention. I remembered the book … mostly. Jeff got me to read it once. I read so few kids’ books as a kid, opting instead for The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and other Douglas Adams treats and (nerd alert! nerd alert!) Choose Your Own Adventure. I think he thinks I missed out on something vital. So, as an adult, I’ve read several Newbery Award winners and liked it. He made me a Little House on the Prairie lover (but he won’t read Harry Potter!). Ah, such is life.

I was alarmed to see Walden Media, producer of the Narnia movie(s), and Disney named in the full-page, full-color Bridge to Terabithia ad in last week’s Arts & Leisure section. I thought it would be a special effects-ridden disaster — like maybe it would literalize Terabithia and trap the poor children playing the two main characters in an emotionless, Lucasian, green-screen hell. The ad featured a giant troll, insect-like soldiers, fantastical humanoids I presumed to be Terabithians, a castle on a hilltop, somone riding an ostrich, and an overgrown beaver with a colander on its head — which I was sure would talk! And the way the children were rendered, it looked like the whole thing was CGI.

But I knew Jeff and I would have to see it anyway.

I am pleased to report that there are no talking beavers. Jess and Leslie are played by real humans. Special effects, at worst mildly intrusive, were kept to a minimum, and the emotional value of the story rings true and clear. There is a central plot turn toward the end that made several people in the audience gasp audibly, but we, knowing how it ended, were getting weepy long before anything bad happened. So, I guess the film succeeds on that front.

The movie, as well as the book, is about being a free thinker, having your head in the clouds while keeping your feet planted on hard ground. It’s about making your environment rather than simply reacting to it. It’s about seeing the world around you in a new way, imagining something bigger and more real in many ways.

So, upon leaving the theater, I couldn’t help but think: Doesn’t the very act of making this movie, “revealing” a Terabithia to us that may not be anything like ours, fly in the face of the whole point of the book?


So Long, and Thanks for all the Wiki

Douglas Adams was nothing if not a visionary. Of course, he was much more than that, but the thing about him that impresses me most is his concept of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I can’t say he predicted the Internet — any more than Jules Verne predicted space travel — but I think we can certainly say that he saw the potential of the Web technology we are now settling into.

The fictional Guide was written by intergalactic traveling researchers — hitchhikers — who sent their entries back to editors at the publishing houses of Ursa Minor who red-penned them (One of the major jokes in the Hitchhiker’s books is that the entry for Earth was boiled down to the diminutive and somewhat insulting “Mostly harmless”), compiled them and sent them back through the sub-ether to all the copies of the electronic book, the Hitchhiker’s Guide. Simple collaborative publishing. The convergence of laptops and WiFi made the Web into the embodiment of Adams’ vision.

This was not lost on Adams. For a while there was a site called H2G2. I think he started it, in fact. “Researchers” made entries about whatever they liked, or proposed additions to existing entries. A team of editors would review the work and publish the entries. A whole community of nerds came together over the project, including myself. I had readt the Hitchhiker’s books in elementary school, and have always felt them to be among the major influences of my life — how I talk, how I write, how I think. Adams himself made appearances on the site. I remember in particular his entry on tea, which taught me the invaluable lesson that it is not enough to merely pour hot water on a tea bag. Rather, he opined, the tea must be met with boiling water — not water that had just been boiling, but water that was at that moment boiling. In other words, one must briefly boil the tea leaves.

I wrote an entry on the OED, which to my delight was published. And then the BBC bought and absorbed the site. And after I got into an argument with someone over the shape of Michigan (He adamantly denied that it was the shape of a mitten and a rabbit. Idiot.), I realized I had little to no interest in maintaining a presence in an online community. I wasn’t ready to live online yet. A late adopter, me. So I gave it up. Someone else would have to write about Dolly Parton, I reasoned, and Michigan (uhm, check out the shapes) and Madonna.

And, as if by magic, someone else did.

What has been catching my attention lately is the phenomenon of wiki, from the Hawaiian word meaning “quick.” The collaborative writing of Wikipedia — no official editors; anyone can log in, create a presence in the wiki community and edit — is a step beyond the Guide. But rather than chaos, what seems to happen is that the people with good reputations are trusted, and their work sticks, and Wikipedia seems to take on some coherence.

Here’s Wikipedia’s definition of wiki. Meta-wiki. Yay! Fun with prefixes.

the untallied hours