Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Next Stop

At least for now, the blog has moved to this location.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Movin' Out

This blog will soon be moving to a new location. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Where Have All the Westerns Gone?

I weed every day. Not outdoors in the yard or garden, but in the library, specifically Adult Fiction. We have a pretty small section of Westerns, as I suspect most libraries do these days. A very dedicated few are keeping that section going, checking out the same 20 or 30 titles over and over. Zane Grey and Louis L'Amour are mainstays with a few Elmer Kelton and Elmore Leonard titles thrown in, but otherwise the Western is dying a slow death.

Maybe you have to have been from an older generation to truly appreciate a Western novel or story. I've only read a handful of Westerns but I saw lots of Western movies as a kid. Maybe that's a generational thing, too. When I was a kid, Gunsmoke was nearing the end of its 20-year run on television. I watched it from time to time, but even as a kid, the show struck me as somewhat sanitized, a little too squeaky-clean for the Old West.

In sharp contrast were the Western movies. I grew up in the 60s and 70s, watching Clint Eastwood as The Man With No Name and some of the more non-traditional Westerns like High Plains Drifter, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid and A Fistful of Dynamite. I didn't even know about the earlier tradition of classic Westerns like Stagecoach, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, My Darling Clementine, The Searchers and tons of others.

So I suppose I came to the table after most of the good cards had been dealt. Later I understood the attraction (and sometimes, even, the genius) of the American Western film, even though I largely ignored Western Fiction. Maybe I should make it a point to check out one of those Louis L'Amour books and see what the fuss was all about. Before they're all gone.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The City and the City (2009) - China Miéville

While I confess to never having read a China Miéville novel before The City and the City, I have read a few of his short stories. From those I came away with the sense that one of Miéville’s favorite themes is the uneasy, sometimes foreboding feeling one gets after realizing that the forces in this world that can’t be seen are more unsettling than the ones we can. The City and the City is, in a very fundamental way, about this feeling, but it is so much more.

The novel begins with a detective named Borlú assigned to solve the murder of a young woman in his home city of Beszel. No problem, right? Ah, but Beszel co-exists in the same place as another city, Ul Qoma. The citizens of one city have been trained for generations to ignore or “un-see” anything that might go on in the other city. Each city has its own police force and judicial system, but anyone caught “crossing over” into a place they don’t belong or participating in an activity that would cause one to “recognize” the other city comes under the jurisdiction of the Breach, a powerful entity that seemingly sees all, knows all, and tells nothing.

If it all sounds ludicrous, trust me that Miéville is talented (okay, brilliant) enough to make it all work. Even when Borlú is granted permission to investigate the case in Ul Qoma, I thought the whole thing was going to fall apart, but Miéville clearly has it all figured out in a way that, if you think about it, makes perfect sense.

The easy danger in reading The City and the City is in trying to turn everything into a metaphor. Yes, anyone who’s lived in a city (or even visited one, for that matter) knows that certain people can be ignored or un-seen, that the culture of a city sometimes exists on such behavior, but Miéville is doing far more than tossing metaphors around. He’s showing us ideas, big ideas having to do with philosophy, perception, motivation, manipulation, behavior control, mind control and much more. And, by the way, it’s a darned good detective tale.

The City and the City is a labyrinthine tale that is the ultimate “You can get lost in it” novel. Yet reading it is anything but a frustrating experience. This is the most mind-expanding (and the best) novel I’ve run across this year. There’s a reason it’s been nominated for a long list of awards: it’s stellar. Read it.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Now What?

I've have much more to say about China Miéville's novel The City and the City next time, but for now, I'm in a quandary: The novel is so good and resonated so well with me that just about anything I read after it is bound to be a major disappointment. Maybe the thing to do is read something at the polar opposite of this book, something completely goofy or maybe a short story collection.

So what book(s) have you read that you finished, thinking, "That's it. Nothing will ever top this one!"?

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Let Your Dog Organize Your NetFlix Queue

It's early on, but my dog is becoming quite the critic. We've had Broadway a little over a month and he's already making his movie tastes known to us. A couple of nights ago I tried watching Superman Returns. About 20 minutes into it, he started whining, so I stopped the movie and took him outside for a walk.

Last night I watched another hour of the film before I got bored with it. Broadway was way ahead of me. He got off his bed in the basement (in front of the TV) and went upstairs to his much less comfortable blanket.

Yet he stayed with me for every minute of the Wim Wenders film Wings of Desire (1987). (Maybe he picked up some German while he was racing?) I may just put him in charge of my NetFlix queue. I just shouldn't be too surprised if I see Space Buddies show up in the mail one day.

Friday, May 07, 2010

This is How It's Done

It astonishes me in this economy how few businesses get it right. Money is tight and when people do have a little bit that they can spend on entertainment (or anything, for that matter), they want it to count for something. People want to walk into a clean, well-maintained, well-stocked store run by friendly, knowledgeable staff who make you feel special. They want a good experience, they don't want to be intimidated or talked down to or jerked around.

The staff at Third Eye Comics in Annapolis know this. I can't think of any store that I've been in lately that's as well run as Third Eye. The entire store is spotless. Not only that, it's organized and has a natural flow to it. There's no wasted space, yet everything is in plain sight, no books hidden behind books, no stacks of merchandise littering the floor, and not a speck of dirt anywhere.

And these guys and gals know their stuff. On my initial visit, the store manager (one of the friendliest, most engaging guys I've ever met) asked me what type of comics/graphic novels I was interested in, made a few no-pressure suggestions and said to let him know if I had any questions. I did have a few and he answered them expertly.

Well, that can happen in lots of places, right? But the next time I came in, he called me by name, named the titles I'd bought previously and asked how I liked them. He does that every time. And he does it with everybody. The guy's memory is incredible.

During Free Comic Book Day last week, Third Eye was a madhouse. Yet the staff had the day exceptionally well planned out and never looked the least bit stressed or shaken. What was even more impressive was walking into the store this week, just days after FCBD. The shelves were completely restocked with incredible stuff. I remember seeing guys checking out on FCBD with several big ticket items. (I bought a fairly big ticket item myself.) Every one of those items had been reordered and were on the shelf.

These guys know their product. They know customer service. That's why they've been nominated for The Will Eisner Spirit of Comics Retailer Award, honoring the best comic shops in the world. That's right: in the world.

If you want to see a comic shop done right, heck, if you want to see a business done right, take a drive over to Third Eye Comics.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Books Read April

Hellboy Library Edition Volume 1: Seed of Destruction and Wake the Devil (GN 2008) - Mike Mignola, John Byrne
Thoughts on this collection here.

The Weight of Silence (2009) - Heather Gruenkauf
Thoughts on this novel here.

The Losers, Volumes One and Two (GN 2010) - Andy Diggle, Jock
Why is it that British writers are so good at writing about international espionage? Brit Andy Diggle’s The Losers (also a current movie) is an former elite U.S. Special Forces unit that discovers a nasty C.I.A. secret and is wiped out by the agency. Or so the agency thinks. Violent, clever and often hilarious, The Losers won’t be for everyone, but it just might be for you.

Your Best Body at 40+ (NF 2010) - Jeff Csatari
Having been in my 40s for a few years now, and regretting that I don’t look more like the guy on the front cover, I checked this book out from the library and thought a lot of the advice inside was doable, some with a little work, some with a lot. I’m certainly not on the path to consistency, but after two weeks of implementing just a few of the suggestions in this book, I’ve lost ten pounds and feel great. Good advice on just about all aspects of health, but I think the greatest strength of the book is the section on nutrition.

Get Outta My Face! How to Reach Angry, Unmotivated Teens with Biblical Counsel (NF 2009) - Rick Horne
I read this book as research for the Sunday school class my friend Trip and I are currently teaching. Some really good stuff here for parents who’re just about at the end of their rope. Many of the concepts here also could apply to teaching.

Human Target: Final Cut (GN 2002) - Peter Milligan, Javier Pulido
Sort of a Mission: Impossible type of story: Christopher Chance impersonates his clients in order to keep them safe from those out to kill them. A bit confusing; I had to reread a few sections to make sure I was on the right page (no pun intended). An okay read, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to read more. Also a TV series on Fox.

Batman & Robin: Batman Reborn (GN 2010) - Grant Morrison, Frank Quitely, Philip Tan
Wow, what a fun book! More thoughts on this one here.

Pure Pleasure: Why Do Christians Feel So Bad about Feeling Good? (NF 2009) - Gary Thomas
The first book finished on the Kindle app. for iPhone. Thomas lets us in on some news that’s really no surprise: Christians (some of them, anyway) don’t know how to have a good time. That statement may offend some, but consider how many Christians you know who rarely smile, laugh or admit to enjoying something legitimately pleasurable. Thomas says it’s time to re-examine pleasure and celebrate it in light of Scripture. An excellent book.

A Beautiful Place to Die (2009) - Malla Nunn
An Edgar Award nominee and my favorite read of the month. In 1952 South Africa, a white police chief of Jacob’s Rest, a small village, is murdered. Detective Emmanuel Cooper is sent in from Johannesburg to investigate. Pressure comes down on Cooper to arrest a black man, but everyone on Cooper’s list of suspects is white. Although the novel sometimes relies on stereotypes, the characters are strong and the amount of racial, social and political tension sustained throughout is impressive. Nunn (who is also a screenwriter) really knows how to tell a story.

Nemesis (2002/2009) - Jo Nesbø
Nesbø’s hero’s name is probably the worst (translation) of any detective in the history of crime fiction: Harry Hole. Translated from the Norwegian, Nemesis is an often compelling hunt for a bank robber who also committed a disturbing murder during the robbery. Hole seeks the help of a hardened criminal in finding the robber/killer while Hole himself is being investigated for another murder. I enjoyed Nemesis, but didn’t have much trouble putting it down from time to time. I don’t really know why that was the case, other than this isn’t the first book in the series and maybe I didn’t know all the backstory required to fully enjoy it. (Once again, the American publishers have decided not to release these novels in their original order. The first two books in the series, The Bat Man and The Cockroaches, haven’t even been translated into English yet.)

Kane, Volume I: Greetings from New Eden (GN 2002) - Paul Grist
Police procedural graphic novel that is intriguing, sometimes funny, sometimes confusing. Grist juggles several story lines at once, yet often uses flashbacks that look no different from action going on in the present. Many of the characters look so similar, it’s often difficult to tell who’s who. Still, worth a look.

That's it for April. Get out there and read something.

Monday, May 03, 2010

What's Your (Guilty) Pleasure?

One of my guilty pleasure is the 70s TV show Sanford and Son. I grew up watching the show as a kid and always laugh at it when it's on, even if it's an episode I've seen a dozen times. (My favorite, which never fails to put me on the floor, is the episode focused on Fred's cigarette-smoking habit.)

I love all the characters: Fred, Lamont, Bubba, Grady, Woody, Rollo, and especially Aunt Esther. Nearly all the episodes end the same way, with Fred's get-rich-quick schemes amounting to nothing, but the characters are always nothing short of hilarious.

So what's your guilty pleasure? It can be anything: a TV show, novel, movie. Anything you're comfortable sharing (and I'm comfortable reading).