Wednesday, April 30, 2008

April Books Bought

Since I've seriously begun saving for a new computer, book purchasing has been somewhat curtailed. But I still found a few coins lurking here and there around the house, enough to buy the following:

Tell My Horse: Voodoo Life in Haiti and Jamaica - Zora Neale Hurston
Zora Neale Hurston's account of her travels to Haiti and Jamaica, where she not only observed but actually participated in several Voodoo rituals. This book was mentioned by Andy Duncan, writer of the superb short story "Zora and the Zombie."

On Stranger Tides - Tim Powers
I'm glad Subterranean Press published a nice hardcover edition of this hard-to-find Powers title at a VERY reasonable price. This edition isn't signed and has no extras, but it's still good news for Powers fans.

Share Your Master's Happiness - Glenn Parkinson
This quarter's pick for our bi-weekly Men's Study Group. (Parkinson is also our pastor.)

Starting Friction - Tenea D. Johnson
Collection of poetry from friend and fellow Clarion 2004 graduate Tenea D. Johnson.

Worship Matters: Leading Others to Encounter the Greatness of God - Bob Kauflin
Another book I wanted to read dealing with the role of worship in the church.

Black Belt Librarians: Every Librarian's Real World Guide to a Safer Workplace - Warren Graham
Graham's training workshop yesterday was informative and well-presented. So much so that I bought a copy of his book.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Coming Attractions

Thanks largely to my soon-to-be-replaced slow computer, there's not enough time to report everything going on, but here are a few things on the horizon:

The aforementioned new computer that I hope to purchase soon, an iMac

Today's Black Belt Librarian training (I kid you not)

April's Books Purchased (quite scant this month)

April's Books Read (not at good as March, but still respectable)

Thoughts on the new DVD release of Bonnie and Clyde

Friday, April 25, 2008

A Few Thoughts on No Country for Old Men (SPOILERS)

Recently I re-read and re-watched No Country for Old Men. I suppose I wanted both to see if the book and film versions were as good as I remembered them and how they differed.

The film is amazingly faithful in many ways to the novel, yet differs in some interesting points. Much of the novel's scattered narration by Sheriff Bell is incorporated in the film through dialogue. I never felt the narration in the novel was in any way artificial, but the Coen Brothers have placed many of Bell's thoughts and worldview seamlessly into conversations with his wife, deputy, and friends.

Some scenes (and characters) are completely eliminated, such as the young hitchhiker Moss picks up in the last third of the novel. The Coens wisely cut her character out of the film. While she does serve a purpose in the book, there's no room for her story in the film. In fact including it would probably result in a lack of focus, something I've never seen the Coens do.

But I want to focus on two differences in the book/film versions:

Chigurh has an extended conversation with Carla Jean Moss in her house, just after she's buried her mother. Llewelyn is already dead and Chigurh has found Carla Jean, ready to make good on his promise to kill her, although her death will change nothing other than to satifsy Chigurh's twisted moral code. In the book, Carla Jean recognizes the inevitability of her situation, is resigned to it for a time, then pleads with Chigurh for her life.

Initially I thought this was a very strong scene in the novel that lets the reader in on not what drives Carla Jean, but what drives Chigurh. I didn't count words, but I believe this the most Chigurh says in any one scene. When I first saw the film, I felt the Coens had gyped the audience: here's where we really get to see what drives Chigurh, but most of it doesn't make it into the film.

Now that I read/see it again, I think the film version of this scene is the stronger of the two. Carla Jean is scared in the film version, but she doesn't wimper and fall apart. In the film, when Chigurh flips the coin and Carla Jean refuses to call it, there's a brief shot of Bardem that shows us, just for a second, that refusal is something he's never considered. It's very quick, but it's there.

That scene comes at the perfect time. Maybe it causes Chigurh to reflect as he's leaving the house, but maybe I'm reading more into it than is there. Regardless, the next scene, where Chigurh's car gets smashed by another driver, is important.

Initially I thought the scene was an incredible cheap shot. I didn't remember how it had happened in the book until my friend Trent reminded me. In the book, Chigurh is slammed by a car (or was it a truck?) of Mexicans who had run a red light. In the film, Chigurh is driving away from Carla Jean's house when he looks in the rearview mirror to see two boys riding bicycles. It distracts him for just a moment. You would think that when he looks up, he would see the car passing underneath a red light, but it's green. He's in the right. But a station wagon rams into him for no apparent reason other than the guy ran a red light. I still think that's too coincidental. All it would have taken for me is to have had that light turn red. I'd like to think Chigurh was not only distracted by the boys but also by Carla Jean's refusal to play his game, to buy into his wacked-out worldview, even at the cost of her life.

I could write much more, but it's time to go to work. In the meantime, everybody have a good weekend and watch out for guys flipping coins.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Multi-Tasking, Man, Multi-Tasking

Whew! It's getting a little crazy around here... Cindy and I are Aunt and Uncle once again - our niece Maria was born on Monday and is doing great (as is Cindy's sister). Plus I'm getting lots of hours at the libraries, researching/shopping for a new computer, working on several home projects, other family stuff, schlepping a few books and getting stuff ready for a new project at church. And of course reading.

In the next day or two I hope to write about both the book and film versions of No Country for Old Men, which I have recently re-read and re-watched. Until then...

Friday, April 18, 2008

Cormac Strikes Again

Here's an email I got yesterday:

Dear Customer,

We've noticed that customers who have purchased or rated Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West by Cormac McCarthy have also purchased Best Books for Boys: A Resource for Educators (Children's and Young Adult Literature Reference) by Matthew D. Zbaracki. For this reason, you might like to know that Best Books for Boys: A Resource for Educators (Children's and Young Adult Literature Reference) will be released on April 30, 2008.

Best Books for Boys: A Resource for Educators (Children's and Young Adult Literature Reference)
Matthew D. Zbaracki
Price: $45.00

Release Date: April 30, 2008

Okay, I don't know about you, but I think that's stretching it a bit. Maybe little Johnny on the cover there is thumbing through Blood Meridian, salivating over the scalping scenes, wondering what it would be like to have his chest ripped apart by a barrage of bullets, but I doubt it. So what's the correlation here? After reading Blood Meridian am I supposed to have some deep burning desire to calm some kid down with a Lloyd Alexander book? Hey, maybe Cormac McCarthy will write a J-Fiction novel called No Country for Young Punks.

On a slightly more serious note, I was in a library not long ago (not in the same county where I work) and saw Blood Meridian in the teen section. I also saw Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried. These books weren't incorrectly shelved; there were multiple copies. And I'm pretty sure the copies of The Things They Carried had "7" stickers (for seventh grade) along the spines.

Is someone assigning middle and high school kids to read books like Blood Meridian and The Things They Carried? Don't get me wrong, these are both great books and I imagine lots of high school kids could handle them, but middle school kids? My question is what are they not teaching in order to teach these books? I don't mean to be a prude, but seems a little odd to me.

Or maybe Cormac is just expanding his territory...

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Fill 'er Up?

For someone who considers himself politically apathetic, I sure seem to be dipping into books with political implications lately (Legacy of Ashes, Fiasco). This morning I listened to a podcast of NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross (my favorite radio voice). She was interviewing Michael Klare, author of Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet. (You can listen on your computer or hear the podcast here.)

Klare says that although we hear a lot about our dependence on oil from the Middle East, Russia and Venezuela are also major players, all of which is creating a huge international mess. What's even more troubling is China, who, according to Klare, has only one major source of energy: coal. (If you're not sure what happens when you burn tons and tons of coal, ask Al Gore.)

I really have no justification for this belief (other than being a dreamer), but I have to think that eventually someone is going to come up with a viable alternative energy source that will severely diminish (if not eliminate) our dependence on oil. I have a good friend who is a scientist in D.C. who assures me that large amounts of time, energy and manpower are working on the problem. I just hope it's not too far off and that the cure isn't worse than the disease.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Family, Friends, Writing and Libraries

Not only is my niece Alex turning one week old today, she also has a blog. (She's a surprisingly good writer!)


My Clarion friend Tenea has a new book of poetry out. C'mon, everybody needs some poetry in their lives. Check her out!


Revisions on the YA novel continue, but revising Chapter Three is like digging a tunnel through a mountain. This looks like the chapter I repeated myself in the most. (I must've really liked what I was writing.) But at least my characters and their motivations are becoming clearer as are many of the story's details. Chipping away....


Did you know that not only is this week National Library Week, today is also National Library Workers Day. To celebrate, I'm reading

Free for All: Oddballs, Geeks, and Gangstas in the Public Library by Don Borchert. What could be a better way to spend the day?

Friday, April 11, 2008

There May Be Some Changes Around Here...

For the first 4.75 years of my PC's life, things were pretty good, but lately the problems have been increasing faster than the national debt. I bought an Apple computer waaaaaaaay back in 1994 and used it until 2000, when Cindy and I were given a ThinkPad from her dad, which we used until we got our current Gateway.

But I think its time has come.

I've done a fair amount of PC vs. Mac research this week and intend to do more in the coming weeks, but so far, I'm leaning toward a Mac (a desktop, not a laptop). I know they're more expensive than PCs, but the OS 10.5 Leopard looks pretty tempting, especially with Boot Camp, which will allow me to run Windows programs from my backup drive, Time Machine (a backup drive built in to the Mac), plus a whole slew of other features.

Apple claims (and I'd like to hear your stories, Mac users) that viruses are almost non-existent on Macs, which would certainly be a nice change.

We have also had tons of problems with viewing/editing/sending/even looking at our photos. With all these new nieces in our family, Cindy and I are accumulating tons of photos, most of which we can't easily access.

I'm convinced that my iPod problems are not due to iTunes, but problems with my computer.

So what do we want out of a new computer other than word processing and Internet access?

Easier photo access and manipulation including the ability to create/edit movies.

Easier iPod/MP3 usage.


Freedom (as much as possible) from viruses.

Programs that won't crash every time you use them.

Maybe do some podcasts.

Bottom line: If a Mac is going to give me fewer hassles and longer life than a PC, I don't mind spending the extra money.

So what do you say? PC or Mac? Why?

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Legacy of Ashes: A History of the CIA by Tim Weiner

According to Tim Weiner's history of the Central Intelligence Agency, the problem with American intelligence is two-fold:

#1 We don't know what we're doing.

#2 If you can't understand a situation, then change it.

Weiner's history of the Agency begins with its inception on the heels of Pearl Harbor, focusing on a livid President Harry Truman, vowing that such a surprise attack on U.S. soil would never happen again. Truman wanted intelligence from well-trained men and he wanted it quickly. What he got, says Weiner, wasn't quite what he wanted.

With the threat of Communism growing after the end of World War II, the Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan and the CIA all became major players in the Cold War. The problem for the agency became one of intelligence. Far too often, field agents literally didn't know what they were doing. They didn't understand the languages and cultures they were in, a problem that only got worse in Korea, Vietnam, Central America and now, Iraq. (See #1) Rather than fixing the problem, the Agency spent billions on mostly failed covert operations, pumped money into foreign governments, and financed regimes that would champion U.S. interests. (See #2) Few lessons were learned from Vietnam and apparently no one in the CIA expected to see the Cold War end for economic (not military) reasons. Yet for all its failures, the Agency frequently enjoyed a stellar public reputation.

Weiner's documentation of the early days of the CIA and it's operations seems stronger and more credible than in later years, possibly due to the large amounts of declassified documents from that time. In comparison, sections on Agency activity from the Reagan administration to the present are quite thin. And the author spends almost no time examining how the Agency interacted (or failed to interact) with other government agencies.

As you might expect, Weiner has faced an enormous amount of criticism as a result of Legacy of Ashes, including claims that he has misinterpreted much of the information from the 50,000 documents he examined (many of them recently declassified for the first time), dwelling on negatives and distorting agency achievements. Even so, this was both a fascinating and discouraging book to read. I've encountered very few people who have read it, but I hope they do, whether they agree or disagree with Weiner's findings.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Dylan Wins Pulitzer Prize!

That's right, Bob Dylan has won an honorary Pulitzer Prize. You can read all about it here.

Junot Diaz also won the fiction prize for his novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.

Friday, April 04, 2008

iPod Blues

If anyone knows the answer to my dilemma, your help would be greatly appreciated. Here's the situation:

I opened iTunes yesterday and saw that I had a blank iTunes library. Cindy and I both have iPods and separate iTunes accounts. (We use different desktops.) All of her stuff is still intact. Everything I had on my iPod is still there, but there's no evidence that I ever had an iTunes library on the computer. I did a general file search and only Cindy's stuff came up. But when I looked in the "My Music" in my hard drive, I found some of the stuff on my iPod, but not all of it.

I also checked my back-up drive. I thought it would be on there, but it wasn't. (Could be I'm not backing up correctly.)

Yet my iTunes account still shows my correct balance....

I hope there's a way to retrieve my library. I had several podcasts (which can be replaced easily since they're free), TV shows (which I probably wouldn't buy again) and audiobooks stored (which only represent time loading them, not money spent), including the unabridged Anna Karenina (all 30 discs). It's not a huge issue (just an inconvenience), but any help/suggestions would be appreciated.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

March Books Read

I know people who read far more than fourteen books in a month, but for me it's a record. The iPod is probably somewhat responsible, but it could also be due to the larger than usual number of non-fiction (which I read faster) titles. Whatever the reason, here's what I read last month:


Baseball: The History of America's Favorite Game (NF 2006) - George Vecsey

Watching Baseball Smarter (NF 2007) - Zach Hample

Both books discussed here.

The Shadow Speaker (YA 2007) - Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu

A few thoughts here.

Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood (NF 2008) - Mark Harris

Kirby: King of Comics (NF 2008) - Mark Evanier

How Angel Peterson Got His Name (J NF 2003) - Gary Paulsen
Ivan, one of my library co-workers recommended this book to me. It's an absolutely hilarious look at Paulsen's childhood as he and his friends practically invented...well, sort of...what we would today call Extreme Sports.

The Audacity of Hope (NF 2006) - Barak Obama
I knew very little about Obama before reading this book. Part biography, part roadmap on where we are (and how we've screwed up) as a nation, part "Here's my plan." Obama admits he doesn't have all the answers and I respect that. He's got some good things to say.

You: Staying Young: The Owner's Manual for Extending Your Warranty (NF 2007) - Michael F. Roizen and Mehmet C. Oz
Written in the informal style of the Idiot's and Dummies guides, You: Staying Young says you don't have to grow old as quickly as we think. Most of the problems, say the docs, occur on the cellular level. (No, it has nothing to do with the amount of time you spend on your phone.) Some good stuff here, but there's so much information, you'll probably have to choose your battles if you want to take on some of the self-improvement techniques.

The Last Apprentice: Revenge of the Witch (J Fic 2005) - Joseph Delaney
The kids are busting down the library doors to get to this one and now I know why. 12-year-old Tom Ward, the seventh son of a seventh son, apprentices with an old man called The Spook, who wards off a small English village from witches, ghosts and other nasties. A bit predictable for adults, but some great, creepy atmosphere and a great introduction to horror for young readers.

Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village (J Fic 2007) - Laura Amy Schlitz/Robert Byrd
This 2008 Newbery Winner is a fictional account of life in a Medieval village as told by the people living there. Maryland's own Laura Amy Schlitz's book, with outstanding illustrations by Robert Byrd is an amazingly beautiful book.

Charm City (1999) - Laura Lippman
Not my favorite in the Tess Monaghan series, but still a good solid mystery from Lippman.

The Black Cauldron (J 1965) - Lloyd Alexander
A little more talky than The Book of Three, and with less action, but still a winner in Alexander's classic Prydain Chronicles.

Into the Wild (NF 1995) - Jon Krakauer
Spellbinding account of Chris McCandless and his doomed solo expedition into a remote section of Alaska. I thought Krakauer's "Here's why I relate to McCandless" section went on too long, but I highly recommend this compelling read.

The Search for Joseph Tully (1974) - William H. Hallahan
A Christmas present from my good friend Kelly. Hallahan's story is part historical, part psychological, all creepy. Good stuff!

That's it for March. Go read something.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

March Books Bought

March wasn't the most out-of-control month for book buying, but it was close, thanks to the Chicago trip, recommendations from friends and a pretty good Amazon order.

The Man on the Ceiling – Steve Rasnic Tem and Melaine Tem
I originally thought this was a collection, but it's a novel, highly recommended by my friend Kelly.

Pump Six and Other Stories – Paolo Bacigalupi
I've read a few of Bacigalupi's stories in F&SF and enjoyed them enough to seek out his debut collection.

Tales of Pain and Wonder – Caitlin R. Kiernan
Okay, I admit it, I'd never read Kiernan before. Stop throwing things! I'm reading it now!

Life During Wartime – Lucius Shepard
Saw this one (although a different edition) on-the-cheap in Chicago

Alma – Gordon Burn
I'd heard about this one listening to a book review podcast about the new novel Sway, which features the Rolling Stones as characters. The author, Zachary Lazar, referred to Alma, a novel about the singer Alma Cogan (who died in 1966) which seemed more interesting than Sway.

The Magic City – E. Nesbit
Just because.

Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945 – Tony Judt
Recommended by Ivan, one of my library co-workers.

Pictures at a Revolution – Mark Harris
Which I've already blabbed about at length.

The Dangerous Act of Worship: Living God's Call to Justice – Mark Labberton
Recommended by one of our pastors.

Books Read tomorrow. Stay tuned.