Monday, August 31, 2009

Books Bought August

Since July was, let us say, out of control as far as book buying goes, it made sense to cut back on book purchases in August. So I did. So here we go with the "Don't Blink or You'll Miss It" version of Books Bought August:

Columbine (NF 2009) - Dave Cullen

Nerd Confession: I frequently read Publishers Weekly and Library Journal. (There, I've said it.) We're actually encouraged to read these and/or other professional publications at the library to keep up with what's being published. (Not exactly an arm-twisting situation for me.) I keep track of both fiction and non-fiction that interests me and write the titles/authors in a book I keep for personal use and for readers' advisory. End of Nerd Confession.

Several months ago I found out that two non-fiction books were set for release at about the same time: No Right to Remain Silent: The Tragedy at Virginia Tech by Lucinda Roy and Columbine by Dave Cullen. I'm not obsessed with school shootings, but having been a teacher for 15 years, I have more than a passing interest in the subject.

A few months back I read No Right to Remain Silent. After finishing it, I simply could not read Columbine until a few months had passed. I saw the book a few days ago at a thrift store and thought that maybe I'm ready now.

Hardcover; Price = $2.50

Total Book Expenditures for August: $2.50

Next Time: What I actually read.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Dylan sings "Here Comes Santa Claus"? You Gotta Be Kidding Me!

This is weird. Good, but weird. I never thought I'd live to see the release of a Bob Dylan Christmas album, but according to Bob's website, that's exactly what's going to happen on October 13.

Now don't get me wrong. I admire what Dylan's doing - donating all of the proceeds of this recording and teaming up with two international charities to help feed the hungry. I salute him for it. But a Christmas album featuring "Here Comes Santa Claus," "Winter Wonderland" and "The Little Drummer Boy"?

Monday, August 24, 2009

15 Movies Revisited

A few days ago I posted one of those “Name 15 movies that have influenced you” lists. I also included a disclaimer:

DISCLAIMER: As the rules state, these are fifteen movies that will always stick with me. Some of them I haven't seen in years. Some of them I don't WANT to see again! Others I revisit every year. But they all have something in them that had a powerful effect on me, be it fascination, revulsion, or all points in between. So, in no particular order:

1. Bonnie and Clyde
2. Magnolia
3. Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)
4. 2001: A Space Odyssey
5. The Maltese Falcon
6. It's a Wonderful Life
7. The Blues Brothers
8. Vertigo
9. The Searchers
10. The Shawshank Redemption
11. The Verdict (1982)
12. La Dolce Vita
13. Chariots of Fire
14. Blue Velvet
A Passage to India

Erin G. asked me to elaborate. So I shall.

I saw Bonnie and Clyde (1967) when I was in the third grade. (I wasn’t in the third grade in 1967, but it took movies awhile to come to my hometown theater in Forest, Mississippi.) Maybe I was a little overwhelmed: I thought Faye Dunaway was a knockout and all that shooting (before the ending) was the loudest thing I’d ever heard after a steady diet of Disney films and the like. I was young enough to take Warren Beatty’s proclamation of “Let’s go straight/come clean/give up this life of crime” as a true admission of guilt and a promise to become a model citizen. In my naivety I somehow assumed that all of the law enforcement officials in the film would also be as understanding and forgiving as I was. Then came the ballet of bullets and mayhem at the end. And just like that, it’s over. My young mind couldn’t get over what I felt was a huge injustice. “They were going to go straight! This is terrible! could they do that to Faye?” Ah, youth.

I saw Magnolia (1999) just a few years ago and for the life of me can’t recall any other recent film that has affected me so deeply. I cannot think of another movie that conveys forgiveness and redemption with such power. I don’t think I have ever watched the film’s final scene without bursting into tears. The film is not for everyone. It offends and confuses many people. It amazes me, as does the incredible talent of its director Paul Thomas Anderson.

Maria Falconetti’s performance in Passion of Joan of Arc (1928) has been called the greatest acting performance ever captured on film. I will not dispute that claim, but the film’s greatness does not rest on Falconetti alone. Watch it in wonder, then reflect on the fact that this film was almost lost forever. (It was long thought lost until discovered in a janitorial closet in an Oslo mental institution in 1981.)

A lot of people never make it past the first 20 minutes of 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). I certainly didn’t the first time I rented it in college, but the second time blew me away, especially the ending. It seems to be somewhat fashionable these days to poo-poo on 2001, but I still find it filled with wonder. And isn’t that a big part of why we watch movies?

The Maltese Falcon (1941) is about as close to perfection as a movie can get. There’s not one weak link in the cast, not even the hint of one. I love everything about this film. Not bad for first-time director John Huston.

It's a Wonderful Life (1946) is set in Bedford Falls, and though it’s really not all that much like my hometown, I like to think that the two are similar. You can call it cheeseball, sentimental or Capra-corn, but I must watch it at least once a year.

The Blues Brothers has so many great lines, great scenes and fun music, (to say nothing of ridiculous mayhem), I’ll probably never tire of watching it. It was one of my late friend David’s favorite movies. I recently watched it with David’s brother and we had a great time.

Vertigo is Alfred Hitchcock locked in a dark, dark closet dwelling on dark, dark things. The more I think about the film, the darker it gets. Very dark for 1958.

The Searchers, in my mind, showcases John Wayne’s greatest performance. There’s an obsessive darkness in his heart and soul that you can almost feel. Although I’ve always thought the mixture of levity and darkness creates something of a flaw, the movie still stands as a masterpiece.

There’s a moment in The Shawshank Redemption where Andy Dufrense blasts Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro through the speakers out into the prison courtyard, a moment of otherworldly and indescribable beauty. Something about that scene encapsulates the whole movie for me.

Paul Newman gave many great performances, but The Verdict (1982) is my favorite. I’ve probably seen it a dozen times and have been fascinated each time.

I can’t express my thoughts about La Dolce Vita better than Roger Ebert does:

Movies do not change, but their viewers do. When I saw "La Dolce Vita'' in 1960, I was an adolescent for whom "the sweet life'' represented everything I dreamed of: sin, exotic European glamour, the weary romance of the cynical newspaperman. When I saw it again, around 1970, I was living in a version of Marcello's world; Chicago's North Avenue was not the Via Veneto, but at 3 a.m. the denizens were just as colorful, and I was about Marcello's age.
When I saw the movie around 1980, Marcello was the same age, but I was 10 years older, had stopped drinking, and saw him not as a role model but as a victim, condemned to an endless search for happiness that could never be found, not that way. By 1991, when I analyzed the film a frame at a time at the University of Colorado, Marcello seemed younger still, and while I had once admired and then criticized him, now I pitied and loved him. And when I saw the movie right after Mastroianni died, I thought that Fellini and Marcello had taken a moment of discovery and made it immortal. There may be no such thing as the sweet life. But it is necessary to find that out for yourself.

Chariots of Fire is probably one of those films that shouldn’t have happened. It portrays a Christian as an intelligent, devout individual who knows where true obedience lies. It’s an incredibly respectful look at Christianity. The kicker is that (as far as I know) no one associated with the project ever claimed to be a Christian.

There are so many things I remember about Blue Velvet: Watching it with my good Terry on his satellite in 1986, the crazed and depraved Dennis Hopper, the terrible things that actress Isabella Rossellini had to endure, the violence, the weirdness... Most of all, I’ll never forget the look of pure horror and revulsion on Laura Dern’s face when she discovers what Jeffrey (Kyle MacLachan) has been doing. It’s a film I can’t watch again, but will never forget.

Nobody “paints” a film like David Lean. A Passage to India, while not his greatest achievement, is a fascinating study of cultures, desires, misunderstandings and more. Lean worked on large canvases that seemed to stretch on forever, like the darkness of the Marabar Caves. And what really happened in there?

Hmmm.... Maybe I'll come up with another 15....

Friday, August 21, 2009

Still Here, Just Busy

Yes, I'm still here, but with my new iPhone, taking Bullet to the vet three times in a week, three Storytimes and Cindy's getting ready for her Quebec trip, I haven't had much time to blog. More to follow. Everyone have an excellent weekend.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Which Would You Choose?

I don't know where this is coming from, but I was thinking about it on the drive to work this morning. (Maybe it's because I'm currently listening to an audiobook called Simplexity that spends a chapter on how we learn languages.)

Let's say you want to learn a language other than your own. I mean you have an intense, burning desire to learn a language and you won't be satisfied until you learn one. You enroll in a class for the language of your choice. When you show up to your first meeting, the instructor says, "There's good news and bad news. The bad news first. We are only able to offer two languages: Spanish and Arabic. The good news is that they're free."

Which would you take? (Or would you take one at all?) Why?

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Books Read July

A disappointing month for reading, both in quantity and quality. As far as quantity is concerned, I'll bet I didn't read more than ten pages on vacation and not much more in the days that followed. Quality? Only one of the books really met (much less exceeded) my expectations. So here we go with a much-abbreviated version of


Outcasts United: A Refugee Team, an American Town (NF 2009) - Warren St. John

Easily my favorite read of the month. I first heard of this book on a podcast and was intrigued enough to seek it out. I'm glad I did. I have little interest in soccer, but great interest in how people from other cultures behave in unfamiliar environments. Further thoughts here.

Dead Until Dark (2001) - Charlaine Harris

Several weeks ago I watched the first few episodes of the HBO series True Blood, based on the Sookie Stackhouse mysteries by Charlaine Harris, so I thought it might be fun to tackle the first book in the series. The characters, tone, setting are all good, but I didn't think the mystery element was all that strong nor the ending all that satisfying. Still a fun read.

The Lightning Thief: Percy Jackson and the Olympians Book 1 (J-Fic 2006) - Rick Riordan

Nearly every kid that comes into the library asks for this first book in the Percy Jackson series and it's always checked out. My friend C.J. came through for me and loaned me the book on audio. In a nutshell, it's a fun, fast-moving riff on Greek mythology for kids. The best thing about it is the fact that kids (reluctant boy readers, especially) are excited about reading, which I'm all for.

Intent to Kill (2009) - James Grippando

I really enjoy suspense/thrillers, especially since we have so many patrons who also enjoy them and come up to the Info. Desk asking for recommendations. Early on I thought I'd be able to recommend this one about an ex-baseball player turned radio talk-show host after his wife died in an auto accident three years earlier. (Ah, but maybe it wasn't an accident...) Alas, too many plot elements became too unbelievable for me to recommend it. Maybe I'll give another of Grippando's books a try.

Yep. That's it for July, four books. Sad, I know. As Tony Kornheiser says, I'll try and do better next time.

Go out and read something. Better still, stay in and read something. It's too hot out there.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Strange Telescopes: Following the Apocalypse from Moscow to Siberia (NF 2009) - Daniel Kalder

Strange Telescopes: Following the Apocalypse from Moscow to Siberia (NF 2009) - Daniel Kalder

It was a pretty slow night at the library, a good time for checking in new books. Part of that process involves checking the bibliographic information in the library catalog against the book in hand and its labels. When I saw Strange Telescopes, I thought it was a work of Science Fiction incorrectly labeled as Travel (914.7). Sure enough, it was non-fiction. The subtitle “Following the Apocalypse from Moscow to Siberia” could be misconstrued as one of those crazed, off-the-wall sf romps you see from time to time. Soon I realized this was a crazed, off-the-wall travelogue recounting the real adventures of author Daniel Kalder as he investigated people living in the sewers of Moscow, witnessed live exorcisms, met a former traffic cop claiming to be the Messiah, and visited the world’s tallest wooden skyscraper. All non-fiction. Most sf writers would love to follow any one of those concepts in fiction, let alone four.

Kalder (originally from Scotland) lived in Russia for years, so he knows something of the people and the language. Yet no amount of time there could adequately prepare him for these four journeys. They are filled with wonder, yearnings, pratfalls, false starts, misunderstandings, humor and a sense of something both sacred and enormous.

Fairly early on you get the sense that because Kalder is a stranger in a truly strange land, he’s being toyed with. In each of his journeys, few of the locals pay any attention to the odd goings-on. (The messiah is an exception; the entire community is involved.) Kalder is seeking, but often he’s the only one. Is this because he’s from a different culture or does it have something to do with the changes that have taken place in the former Soviet Union for the past twenty years?

While investigating the wooden skyscraper in the Arctic, Kalder asks his tour guide Natalia how the builder got away with constructing such a monstrosity. Natalia replies, “It was the early nineties. The old laws were not working; the new ones were not yet fixed in place. We were in a new time, everything was in chaos. He took advantage of this situation, and that was that.”

Yet there seems to be more to it than that.

Kalder later says to his guide, “My feeling now is that the collapse of the Soviet reality, for all of the chaos and suffering it brought about, also led to a great liberation of personality and of dreaming, but that this has gone unnoticed because these manifestations of creativity rarely take the form of ‘objects’ such as books or paintings, or if they do, those are secondary products. As a result, they’re much harder to quantify or pin down, or even to find as, for the most part, they exist entirely in people’s heads.

“I’m not saying that the people I’ve spoken to are on a par with Dostoevsky in the genius stakes, of course. But they have produced remarkable work that is strange and fascinating and meaningful if you look at it properly and don’t just dismiss it with labels like ‘crazy’ or ‘insane’ or ‘eccentric.’

“And now I think I finally understand why I’ve been so interested in these people. When I write my book it will be as a testament to what happened at a unique moment in history - when several remarkable individuals stepped from the ruins of the Soviet Union into a brand-new, chaotic world and the roofs of their skulls flew off and these visions of possible realities forced themselves out into the world...I will be a cartographer of the impossible, drawing maps of these creations so they don’t just disappear into oblivion. I can’t record all of the them, of course - that would take years, and most of them would be impossible to locate anyway. These are just four of the most interesting ones that I found - or that found me.”

Interesting? No, fascinating. Indeed, a fascinating read.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Books Bought July

Welcome to the bloated, completely out-of-control Books Bought installment for the month of July. Here are the books I bought last month along with their "justifications" of purchasing them. Remember that June was a pretty light month, so I had it coming. Here we go....


Airships (1978) - Barry Hannah

(These first two books weren't actually bought, but traded from store credit at a used bookstore. I'm including them anyway.) It's somewhat embarrassing admitting that, as a native Mississippian, I have never read Barry Hannah. I should have. I even went to graduate school with his son (an excellent guitar player). I set about to rectify this gross shortcoming by picking up a collection of 20 Hannah stories.

Trade Paperback; Price = $0

Aristotle for Everybody or Difficult Thought Made Easy (NF 1978) - Mortimer J. Adler

For years I've been wanting to dip my toe into philosophy. I've actually read a little, but felt like I was in way over my head. A couple of my friends who are conversant in all things philosophical recommended this book to me.

Trade Paperback; Price = $0

Illyria (2006) - Elizabeth Hand

Everything I've ever read by Elizabeth Hand has been outstanding and often stellar. I remember my good friend Kelly being very excited about this novella when it came out a couple of years ago, but I resisted buying it. Winner of the 2008 World Fantasy Award, Illyria will soon be expanded into a novel. I wanted to read it in the version that originally won the award, but found it sold out from the publisher PS Publishing. I was, however, delighted to find it for sale at Realms of Fantasy Books.

Trade Paperback; Price = $15.00

Impossible Stories (2006) - Zoran Zivkovic

Zivkovic, a Serbian writer, has had a devoted audience in the fantasy/horror field for years, but I'd never read much of his work before. I noticed that he has a new collection of stories (Impossible Stories 2) coming out soon, and thought I'd check out this first collection of stories translated from the Serbian.

Signed Hardcover; Price = $35.00

Avengers: The Kree/Skrull War (1971-1972)

Okay, I went a little nuts with the Marvel Graphic Novels this month. Cindy and I stopped at the outlet stores in Smithfield, NC and I lost control. My good friend Trip and I were recently in a deep, philosophical (and spiritual, I might add) discussion of the Kree and the Skrulls, so when I saw this compilation from the early 70s, I jumped on it.

Trade Paperback; Price = $4.80

The Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 3

I'm crazy about Jack Kirby's art, and even though these reprints of FF #41-63 (and annuals #3-4) are in black and white, I wanted to reread the entire Silver Surfer/Galactus saga.

Trade Paperback; Price = $4.80

Silver Surfer: Rebirth of Thanos

Used to own the originals; thought they were cool.

Trade Paperback; Price = $4.80

Marvel Zombies: Dead Days

Marvel? Zombies? How could I pass this up?

Trade Paperback; Price = $4.80

The Night Has a Thousand Eyes (1945) - Cornell Woolrich

This one has actually been on my radar for a number of years. Thanks to Pegasus Books for reissuing it and for my good friends at Daedalus Books for selling it.

Trade Paperback; Price = $3.98

Oxford Pocket World Atlas, Fifth Edition

My knowledge of geography is pathetic. What geography, you ask? All of it: world, country, state, county, street, you name it. I've been meaning to work on an attempt to literally get a grip on the world, now I have no excuse. (Boy, China's pretty big, eh?)

Trade Paperback; Price = $4.98

Seven Famous Greek Plays - Whitney J. Oates, ed.

Another chapter in the Self-Improvement area of my reading. I thought this would be a great way to revisit some of the classics I read/missed/slept through as a younger man. Although I just read Matthew Cheney's Amazon review that the antiquated translations make this anthology disappointing. I'll struggle through it anyway.

Mass Market Paperback; Price = $3.98

Before You Were Mine (2007) - Maribeth Boelts, David Walker

This is, as far as I know, the first children's picture book I've ever bought for myself. No, I don't have children, but I do help lead children's storytime at the library and thought this might be a good one to use in the future.

Hardcover; Price = $4.98

Total Expenditures for July = $87.12

Next time: the stuff I actually read