Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Point of Impact - Book Review

Point of Impact is where it all started, the first book in Stephen Hunter's Bob Lee Swagger series. Don't let the uninspired title keep you away. Sure, the plot-line is worn out - an innocent man is set up to take the fall by the government and he takes awesome revenge. (Hunter himself talks about how so well-used the plot is that he used it again in Dead Zero. As he points out, when you've got a good plot, you stick with it.) But this is not only an origin story, it's a good tale well-told with Hunter's trademark delirious prose. All of the highlights you've come to expect from this series is here: gun lore, exciting shoot outs, plot twists, Swagger outsmarting and outgunning his enemies. A great start to what's turned out to be a great series.

Since this was written in the early '90s, it's interesting to see who the bad guys are.  Remember when things were heating up in Central America?  There was a time when that part of the world seemed so very important to the United States.  My how the world has turned.

(The movie version is Shooter, which I didn't see, which was directed by Antoine Fuqua, a more-than-able thriller movie director starring Mark Wahlberg, the more than adequate action movie star. I understand it wasn't very good. Oh, well.)

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Stephen Hunter Obsession

I'm not alone in my Stephen Hunter obsession. Here's part of Zachary Leeman's review of Hunter's latest, Soft Target:

Any novel that opens with crazy jihadists killing jolly old Saint Nick on the first page can’t be too bad.

“Soft Target”. . . manages to be more than just not bad; it’s a modern Western on amphetamines; it’s Tom Clancy if Clancy were a better weaver of the old fashioned good vs. evil yarn; it’s… well, it’s Stephen Hunter all the way. Semper fi and all that. . .

. . .Hunter is famous for going where no other writer will go. He enters the grey. He tells the densely complicated stories other thriller writers shy away from. He throws his noble yet heroic characters into the world of grey and forces them to deem what is black and white, good and evil, and we sit back and enjoy.

Hunter’s novels also appeal because of their visual style, and this one is no different. He manages to keep the pace fast and the narrative swift without sacrificing clarity, because he knows exactly what we want. He feeds us the exact images and verbs our inner beasts need to gobble up in order to be completely consumed by the story. Hunter has perfected the craft of the thriller by keeping his prose simple a la Hemingway and giving us the details other writers shy away from, all while providing these in the context of a visually striking world only a man who reviewed films for decades could give us.

Ten Reasons Why I Should Be Preparing Your Tax Return and Not Turbo-Tax

Tax season looms. Time to bump this list to the top of the blog. I wrote it almost two years ago; it's not perfect but I don't have anything to add. Interested? Look to the sidebar for my contact information. Let's talk.

1.) There are no free lunches. I've had a chance to look further into Turbo Tax's free edition of their software and it's not, you know, free if you have to file a state tax return or you call them with a question. Their other packages? Sure, somewhat cheaper than what I'll charge you but my price includes the state return and, of course, e-filing's free. So while TurboTax can beat my price, they can't beat it by too terribly much.

2.) Price isn't everything is it? Cost is. What will it cost you to use TurboTax to do your tax return rather than me? Let's see, there's the cost of the software, the computer to run the software, the time you spent learning the software and inputting the information, and the potential cost you'll have if the IRS has a question about your return. And make no mistake, the IRS is questioning more and more returns. You'll have to take time to respond to any IRS inquiries and should the IRS take a hard line - something they seem to be doing more and more nowadays - you'll have to take time to research and respond to that. That's all included with my fee. I call that a pretty low cost for a some peace of mind.

3.) Customer support. I'll grant TurboTax has pretty good customer support. Not as good as you'll get from me - I'm a phone call or e-mail away. And depending on the circumstances, I'll even come to you. I don't think anyone from TurboTax will do that, do you?

4.) Coffee. Drop your information off and stay for a chat, get coffee. It's Colombian. It's free.

5.) Change is the tax code throughout the year? Changes in your personal status? You won't call TurboTax will you? Didn't think so.

6.) Record keeping. I maintain files of all the tax returns I prepare for you. Think of all the attic space you'll save. And I'm ready to provide copies to whomever you authorize me.

7.) A reliable referral source. Anyone you send to me, I guarantee will get the same great service you got.

8.) Networking. I have an incredible span of clients. Chances are, if you have a professional need, I can refer you to someone I know who'll take care of it. We're all in this together, you know.

9.) Tax organizers. At the beginning of each year, you get an organizer from me to help you get your records in order for tax preparation. That and a client letter with the latest tax information that might affect you.

10.) If you have a business, I can do more than just your tax returns. I can do your accounting, payroll, consult about QuickBooks, your business, perform financial statement reviews and audits. Name it. I'll help you find a solution for your business.

Interested? I've added my contact information on the sidebar. Give me a shout. Let's see what I can do for you.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Time to Hunt - Book Review

I'm continuing with my out-of-order reading of Stephen Hunter's Bob Lee Swagger series - I read 'em when I can get 'em - and the next one I had on hand was Time to Hunt . It's the third in the series and Hunter would break off for three books to explore the goings on of Bob Lee's father Earl, who I've already written about.

This time around, Bob Lee's family is in jeopardy. His wife and daughter are out in the wilderness riding horses and thanks to a narrative trick we believe that Bob Lee is mortally wounded within the first few pages. Then Hunter takes us on a long flashback, back-filling Swagger's Vietnam experience as well as Swagger's spotter, Donny. All of this sidetracking is vitally important to the present day story so that when Hunter brings us back, we know exactly who the players are and what's at stake. Picking up the narrative, Hunter takes us headlong into the thriller territory we've come to know and the twists and payoffs and very satisfying. Oh, and then there's all that gun lore that's so important to the series.

No, this one doesn't disappoint at all. One of his best. And the book that's probably the key to the whole Bob Lee Swagger character.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Good morning #teamcoffee from The Villages, Florida, America's friendliest hometown. I'm considered a whippersnapper here which delights me.

Monday, December 5, 2011

The 47th Samurai - Book Review

Back to Stephen Hunter's Bob Lee Swagger series. Next up: The 47th Samurai. (It follows Havana in publishing chronology but it's a return to the series after a three-book hiatus. I'll get the story chronology straight when I'm through with the series in about three books or so.)

Hunter's plans for Bob Lee seem similar to his plans for Earl - place his character in a new setting and turn 'im loose. In this case, Hunter plunks Bob Lee in the middle of Japan and the traditions of the samurai. (D'uh.) He ties the Earl Swagger series to the Bob Lee series with a prologue involving Earl and the plot drives from those scenes. Hunter spins his magic with the new setting and old characters and makes the implausible plot and events and climax seem doable in its own world. Just try not to think too much about it after you close the book. He seems to know as much stuff about swords as he does guns and that's quite a bit and I always find that part of his books to be the most interesting.  There's the usual trouble you'll find in series fiction - events shape and grow the characters yet essentially they remain unchanged at their core.  Minor characters age and their actions must be explained and tracked and at the end there's a new character to wonder about.  (Which is no wonder if you've read the subsequent books like I have.)

A solid installment in the series.

Now, to backfill the remaining three prior books.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Nothing Secret About Victoria's Secret

The latest commercial of Victoria's Secret, that lacy underthang company, tries to tell me that the perfect gift I could give this Christmas season is one their of lacy underthangs.  Or so I think that's what they're telling me.   I'm a little distracted by all the ladies the commercial has caught lounging in their undies. They don't seem to be bothered at all to be caught short, clothing-wise.  I guess I shouldn't be either.  But I get the message:   nothing recalls the gift of Christ like giving a gift of super-sexy underwear to the one you love.

And Victoria's secret use of a religious iconography seems a little odd, too - you know, their models wearing angel wings as they glide down the runway in their recent fashion show.  Certainly the Bible has its share of eroticism but I can't imagine the angels going about their glorious tasks in their skimpy frockery and high-heeled shoes.  That would have been a sight for those poor shepherds to see that Christmas night so long ago.

Well, at least this gives me an opportunity to give you another poem by my favorite poet, Billy Collins.  As he says, this is already too much, this fuss about things that used to be unmentionable:


Victoria's Secret

The one in the upper left-hand corner
is giving me a look
that says I know you are here
and I have nothing better to do
for the remainder of human time
than return your persistent but engaging stare.
She is wearing a deeply scalloped
flame-stitch halter top
with padded push-up styling
and easy side-zip tap pants.

The one on the facing page, however,
who looks at me over her bare shoulder,
cannot hide the shadow of annoyance in her brow.
You have interrupted me,
she seems to be saying,
with your coughing and your loud music.
Now please leave me alone;
let me finish whatever it was I was doing
in my organza-trimmed
whisperweight camisole with
keyhole closure and a point d'esprit mesh back.

I wet my thumb and flip the page.
Here, the one who

happens to be reclining
in a satin and lace merry widow
with an inset lace-up front,
decorated underwire cups and bodice
with lace ruffles along the bottom
and hook-and-eye closure in the back,
is wearing a slightly contorted expression,
her head thrust back, mouth partially open,
a confusing mixture of pain and surprise
as if she had stepped on a tack
just as I was breaking down
her bedroom door with my shoulder.

Nor does the one directly beneath her
look particularly happy to see me.
She is arching one eyebrow slightly
as if to say, so what if I am wearing nothing
but this stretch panne velvet bodysuit
with a low sweetheart neckline
featuring molded cups and adjustable straps.
Do you have a problem with that?

The one on the far right is easier to take,
her eyes half-closed
as if she were listening to a medley
of lullabies playing faintly on a music box.
Soon she will drop off to sleep,
her head nestled in the soft crook of her arm,
and later she will wake up in her
Spandex slip dress with the high side slit,
deep scoop neckline, elastic shirring,
and concealed back zip and vent.

But opposite her,
stretched out catlike on a couch
in the warm glow of a paneled library,
is one who wears a distinctly challenging expression,
her face tipped up, exposing
her long neck, her perfectly flared nostrils.
Go ahead, her expression tells me,
take off my satin charmeuse gown
with a sheer, jacquard bodice
decorated with a touch of shimmering Lurex.
Go ahead, fling it into the fireplace.
What do I care, her eyes say, we're all going to hell anyway.

I have other mail to open,
but I cannot help noticing her neighbor
whose eyes are downcast,
her head ever so demurely bowed to the side
as if she were the model who sat for Coreggio
when he painted "The Madonna of St. Jerome,"
only, it became so ungodly hot in Parma
that afternoon, she had to remove
the traditional blue robe
and pose there in his studio
in a beautifully shaped satin teddy
with an embossed V-front,
princess seaming to mold the bodice,
and puckered knit detail.

And occupying the whole facing page
is one who displays that expression
we have come to associate with photographic beauty.
Yes, she is pouting about something,
all lower lip and cheekbone.
Perhaps her ice cream has tumbled
out of its cone onto the parquet floor.
Perhaps she has been waiting all day
for a new sofa to be delivered,
waiting all day in a stretch lace hipster
with lattice edging, satin frog closures,
velvet scrollwork, cuffed ankles,
flare silhouette, and knotted shoulder straps
available in black, champagne, almond,
cinnabar, plum, bronze, mocha,
peach, ivory, caramel, blush, butter, rose, and periwinkle.
It is, of course, impossible to say,
impossible to know what she is thinking,
why her mouth is the shape of petulance.

But this is already too much.
Who has the time to linger on these delicate
lures, these once unmentionable things?
Life is rushing by like a mad, swollen river.
One minute roses are opening in the garden
and the next, snow is flying past my window.
Plus the phone is ringing.
The dog is whining at the door.
Rain is beating on the roof.
And as always there is a list of things I have to do
before the night descends, black and silky,
and the dark hours begin to hurtle by,
before the little doors of the body swing shut
and I ride to sleep, my closed eyes
still burning from all the glossy lights of day.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Havana - Book Review

Havana, the last of Stephen Hunter's Earl Swagger novels, is set in, well, Havana, where this time Earl is recruited by CIA types to take out none other than, who else, Fidel Castro.

Need to know about Havana in the early 50s, before Castro came to power? (You know, around the time as it's depicted in Godfather 2?) Here's your book! Full of gangsters and government-types and revolutionaries, and mojitos and cigars all under a blazing tropical sun it's Hunter's fever dream of the era, mixed with real events and his fictional character, all wrapped up with a nice show down between our hero and the bad guys. No, it can't come near Hunter's masterpiece in the series, it'still a fine example of Hunter's writing powers.  Sadly, though, it's apparently the last we'll see of ol' Earl in a book of his own. In his next book, Hunter will then pick up where he left off with Earl's son, Bob Lee, but now we know as we read those books more about this larger-than-life hero that looms so large in Bob Lee's mind.

Stick around to the end:  Hunter includes two articles he wrote for The Washington Post that resulted from his research trips to Havana - one about Castro's raid on the  Moncada Barracks and another on the Shanghai Theater.  I hope the links work but if you click through you'll get a good sense of Hunter's writing style.    

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Pale Horse Coming - Book Review

Next in Stephen Hunter's Earl Swagger is Pale Horse Coming and it's a doozy.

The bare bones plot borrows from the real life events of the Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male (per Wikipedia. Click through that link if you want a synopsis of the entire plot.)  See, there's this prison in the deepest, darkest reaches of, uh, Mississippi, and Earl's friend has been wrongfully taken prisoner.  There's a break out, a capture, much misery, another break out, a break in and then it's all Apocalypse now with the world ending in fire and flood and whole lot of shooting thrown in for good measure.

Long and thrilling, Hunter is clearly having fun with his series and when an artist is having fun great things happen and no doubt Hunter is an artist in this genre.  For shooting fans, there's the usual gun lore to be found and for movie fans Hunter borrows from his day job as a movie reviewer and pays homage to those movies where a group of guys (and a girl!) go up against impossible odds and prevail.   Sure, it's all preposterous.  So?  It's also epic and could very well be Hunter's masterpiece of his series.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Hot Springs - Book Review

Chewing through more of the Stephen Hunter list, I opted to change things up a bit and shift over to the Earl Swagger portion of his series. (Earl Swagger is the father of Bob Lee Swagger; Hunter runs two series where they intersect somewhere down the line in Black Light. Black Light is the third in the Bob Lee Swagger series and was written before the Earl Swagger series though it takes place years later. Got that?)

So Hot Springs is the first in the Earl Swagger series and introduces more in full to a character that Bob Lee Swagger fans already know about. Earl's a World War II hero, returned home to Arkansas after being recruited by law enforcement to help clear out that hotbed of sin known as Hot Springs. Hunter does his usual bang up (heh) job of getting the story underway and showing us why Earl's such a hero while keeping us interested in the gun lore about which Hunter is an expert. There are plot twists aplenty as well as cameos from real life gangsters, heckalacious gun fights, a portrait of post World War II Hot Springs, rural Arkansas and a very fine climax. An excellent start to this series as well as a primer on an offstage character that looms so large in the Bob Lee series.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Night of Thunder - Book Review

Some post-filing season catching up:

In keeping with my intent to fill in some of the spaces in the Bob Lee Swagger series, I finished Night of Thunder, a not-bad entry in the series but one which his fans, according to the comments on the Amazon.com page, thought was one of his weaker efforts. But, like Hunter says in his Afterword, he decided what a NASCAR event needed was a good gunfight and, by gosh, that's exactly what he's accomplished. If that's not your thing, well, that's not your thing and there's not much to be done about it, but Hunter's prose reaches a feverish pitch here and, though my experience in this culture is limited, I imagine his descriptions of the event and the people involved with it are about the best you'll find anywhere. Oh, and there's a corking good gunfight thrown in there as well.

And, as usual, there's the heavy baggage of updating readers on the tangled relationships of the series character with those around him. Once those are sorted out, though, it's a wild ride. Sure, of the books in this series I've read this may be the weakest but it's very entertaining and a solid entry. Nothing wrong with that.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Dead Zero - Book Review

After nine months I've managed to return to Stephen Hunter and his Bob Lee Swagger series. The latest is Dead Zero and it doesn't disappoint. This time around Swagger has to track down some rogue element within the government who can't stand to have the possibility of peace in the sandbox and complications ensue. Plenty of the stuff I've come to expect from Hunter: shooting, guns, 'splosions, sure, but it's his writing style that I'd admire the most. Keeping things from going over the top, but barely, Hunter tells his story with great enthusiasm. Sure, there's the usual problems of a series character - all of the baggage Swagger's managed to pick up over the series has to be commented on and sometimes updated and there's yet another surprise about family relations. That kind of plot twist and is old and tired but if you like that sort of thing, well, that sort of thing is there for you. Hunter knows what he's doing. Who am I to say otherwise?

But I'm back to my original dilemma: now that I'm current with the series, should I go back and fill in the spaces. I know back in February I said I didn't see the point but I'm enjoying this series so much I just might have to go back and read about Swagger's origins for myself instead of relying on a passing comments in the newer books.

We'll see. There's a lot of other books I'd like to read.


Sunday, October 16, 2011

Likable Links

I've been swamped with work so I haven't been able to post some links that I'd wanted to post. I've used the following already over on my Facebook page - I'm not overly sold on the benefits of Facebook but it's a good place to keep up with friends and family and even a few clients - and since this blog's RSS feed sprays over to my Facebook page, these links will be a repeat.

Anyway, this caught my eye. You might like 'em, too:

America's most literary street.

Mass Karaoke at the Minnesota State Fair.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Hemingway's Boat - Book Review

It seems to me the Hemingway biography industry has run dry - the last I remember reading was Michael Reynolds final volume of his wonderful biography - but just when you think there can't possibly be anything to add to life of Hemingway along comes Paul Hendrickson's Hemingway's Boat and that changes everything.

Hendrickson singular take is to begin in 1934 when Hemingway acquired his beloved boat, Pilar, and then work his way forwards and backwards and, sometimes, sideways. For that effort alone, Hendrickson should be applauded - he more than makes his case that everything that came before Pilar and that came after had a profound effect on Hemingway and his boat is what ties it all together. Passing characters in Hemingway's life get a closer look. Arnold Samuelson, who spent a memorable Summer with Hemingway in Key West which both Hemingway and Samuelson would write about, changes from a sometimes comic character to a tragic one. And there are new characters on the scene - Walter and Nita Houk, a couple who Hemingway befriended in the early 50s, that provide a sweet counterpoint to an ugly time of Hemingway's life. If Hemingway was capable of great cruelty, he was also capable of great gallantry. As Hendrickson points out, Walter Houk is still alive today, one of the few people who are who were around during those days and can provide a firsthand account of how things really were. But because Houk's story sheds a positive light on Hemingway, his and his wife's story has been overlooked by other biographers. That's too bad.

And then there are the final chapters about Hemingway's sad youngest son, Gregory, and the intriguing theory that perhaps the two shared similar impulses. It's too easy to say that Hemingway's overt macho-ism was a response to his mother's dressing him up as a girl when he was a toddler and later trying to twin him with is younger sister that led to his very real mental problems. Certainly his own father's struggle with mental illness had more to do with that than anything. But how do you explain Gregory's penchant for transvestism taken to the final extreme of transexualism at the end of his tragic life? Hendrickson says that Hemingway's impulses may have found an outlet in his writing; Gregory's impulses, alas, didn't, and he ended up acting them out in a most dramatic manner. Still, Hendrickson believes, and I do as well, that despite the distance between the two, neither could really give up on the other.

No doubt the Hemingway family was a strange family, driven by impulses they couldn't understand. Hemingway, whether he knew it or not, did the best he could to come to terms with those impulses through the life he lead and his writings. He was really a confessional writer before Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton forced the term to be coined.

Here's a review from OpinionJournal that delves deeper into the book than I do here and which summarizes and makes the final point about the book far better than I can:
This is persuasive. Yet there may be a simpler and more common explanation for the artistic decline and the despair it engendered: that Hemingway exhausted his material. It is a common fate for novelists, especially novelists who achieve early success. Most go on publishing, pretending that their new work is as good as their old. Hemingway, who told so many lies in his books, couldn't tell this lie to himself. He continued to write, at far greater length than in the good years, in the hope that the work would come out fine. It didn't. So the reams of manuscript and typescript were locked away in the bank. Even so, the gods had not altogether deserted him; he was granted that late miracle, "A Moveable Feast."

For Mr. Hendrickson, discovering just how unhappy and unsettled Hemingway was for so long makes him more of a hero. He states his case persuasively, which is why this book is so good. Certainly one cannot help admiring the way in which Hemingway stuck, grimly and doggedly, to his m├ętier, even as his powers failed.

There are two sentences that sum up what happened to Hemingway. They were written neither by himself nor by Mr. Hendrickson but by Fitzgerald, whose own weaknesses Hemingway, his friend and rival, admirer and denigrator, threw in his face. They were words that Fitzgerald gave to Dick Diver in "Tender Is the Night" to explain his decline: "The change came a long way back—but at first it didn't show. The manner remains intact for some time after the morale cracks."


No, you won't read this book about Hemingway because Hemingway doesn't mean anything to you. Even so, to miss it is to miss an extraordinary book about an extraordinary American writer.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

A Drop of the Hard Stuff - Book Review

Why, lookee here, I finally got a book read. Actually, I've read more than one book since my last book-related post - I just haven't said anything about them. Looks like I've got some catching up to do. Not that I've read that many but still.

Anyway, just finished Lawrence Block's latest Matthew Scudder novel, A Drop of the Hard Stuff. It looks like I haven't posted anything about Block though I know I've read within recent memory the last installment in his Keller series. He hasn't written a Scudder novel in quite some time so it's good to get back to the character. And, ingeniously, Block manages to take us back to a time where Scudder was really setting himself apart from the other private investigator characters of other mystery series: 30 years ago, when Scudder was first struggling with his sobriety. The mystery at the core of the novel is less important than Scudder's personal struggle and it's a delight to visit New York City back in those days. Bracketed by scenes in current time, it's a nice contrast to the way things used to be. Better? Not at all. But interesting nonetheless.

Honestly, I'd grown a little weary with the evolution of the Scudder character in recent books; domesticity doesn't really suit him. This is a nice way to re-visit him without having to go back to the old novels. Block's writing is effortless, as always, and while there's no real surprises to be had - and I wasn't as pleased as I'd like to be with the plot's resolution - Block remains a pro and he brings everything, and everyone, in for a safe landing.

Hard Stuff is good stuff.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

April iPhone Photo Dump

My goodness. I'm getting worse at dumping these pictures from my iPhone. May's done come and gone and June is already off to a fine start and still no April pictures. Well, time to cure that. Ready? Here we go!

April is the cruelest month. Just ask T.S. Eliot or any CPA. In my case, that means I don't have a whole heckuva lot of time to for photo opportunities. Still, you take 'em where you get 'em. It isn't unusual to find a CPA in his office on a Saturday morning and I'm not exception. One of those fine mornings, they held the biking portion of the Redbud Classic. The route runs right by my window:



The hardcore head out first and fast:



The not-so-serious are a little more. . . leisurely:



While dashed in the store one day, I noticed this seasonal display, unusual for this part of the country:



We're becoming more multi-ethnic here in Oklahoma. Usually you'd find this tucked away on a dusty shelf somewhere but in honor of Passover these items get a more prominent location:



Monday nights, Clara teaches ESL. That means a movie for Emily and me, if we can find one. Emily gets to pick both the movie and the seat:



Storm season approaches and so do massive thunderheads. These stayed south and to the east but ominous no less:



Here's a better shot:



So the storms passed us by. That means the running of the hoses and sprinklers:



When the weather is fine, the clouds are almost cheerful:



Post-filing season, there was time for golf. The fairways and greens are coming up nicely. Too bad my game wasn't:



Aw, Emily. My drive wasn't that bad:




April is past us and tucked away in our memory. Let's see what May holds.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Twistin' the Night Away

Last night's tornadoes left us unscathed but others weren't so lucky:
At least eight people were killed and dozens more injured after multiple tornadoes ripped through Oklahoma on Tuesday, including a massive twister that left a trail of damage 50 miles long.

Cherokee Ballard, spokeswoman for the state medical examiner, said the death toll has risen to eight. About 6 a.m. Wednesday morning she learned from a hospital that a child has died. She did not know in what county or hospital the child died.
Ballard also said the fatalities include four deaths in Canadian County, two deaths in Logan County, one death in Grady County and the child's death.


There are plenty of pictures and first-hand accounts at the link so follow it through if you feel compelled.

For us, things were tense enough that we headed to the closets - no, we don't have a shelter though a neighbor does down the street and that's where most of the the neighbors go. You can also go to the high school about a mile away so there's we'd have no lack of options if we felt it was dangerous enough. All signs indicated we'd be spared but a last minute button hook of the storm made us re-think things. Rain, hail, wind, lightning, thunder - the usual mix, but that was all we got. (I can't find a graphic to illustrate this but I did see something on television that showed the tornado's track was headed right for us but sputtered out and died a couple miles away.) The power went out for about 2 hours which is about our limit for roughing it.

So, once again, we were blessed. Even more so than usual.

(For us, it was nothing like the May 3rd tornado. That, my friends, was something.)

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Bob Dylan's Birthday

While you're celebrating, you may begin to think there's something happening but you don't know what it is. Well, here's why:
Bob Dylan famously found Jesus in 1979—and then apparently misplaced him, moving away from born-again Christian rock in his set lists and on to his next reinvention. Mr. Dylan himself has been steadily ducking messianic labels since the 1960s, and on the advent of his 70th birthday (May 24) can only be bewildered that critics still tend to refer to him in Christ-like terms. "I never wanted to be a prophet or savior," he told "60 Minutes" in 2004. "If you look at the songs, I don't believe you're going to find anything in there that says I'm a spokesman for anybody or anything really"—except, possibly, for Victoria's Secret, in whose TV ad Mr. Dylan had appeared a short time before, staring moodily into the camera while his song "Love Sick" played in the background. Yet for intellectuals as diverse as music critic Greil Marcus and historian Sean Wilentz, he is a subject fit for fine-grained, extended study. (Mr. Marcus became a writer, he says, in large part because of Mr. Dylan's music.) No other living musician has generated so much ink—articles, biographies, cultural studies, dissertations, monographs, coffee-table books, even the scholarly "Cambridge Companion to Bob Dylan."

Thursday, May 19, 2011

A Drink Before The War - Book Review

As I mentioned, I thought I might fill in the Dennis Lehane books I haven't read so why not start with the first?

The first book in a series is always interesting - the writer is just beginning and seems to be trying to hard and too earnestly where later in the series he's in full, confident stride. Lehane is no different here - there are glimpses and glimmers of what may be great things to come but for now the characters seem kind've gimmicky. Come on: an office in the bell tower of a church? (Yeah, yeah, there's a reasonable explanation for it. Okay, the explanation isn't reasonable. Never mind. It's a gimmick.)

Lehane's liberal political leanings are at full sail here. The central problem. Racism, of course. You know, if it wasn't for the racism of the white characters, the black characters wouldn't act the way they do. There's also a lot of class hooey - did you know poor people are inherently good because they're poor? Yep. Same reason why rich people are inherently evil. It's a law of nature. This kind of thing is surprising, too, since the book was published in 1994. The 60s were 24 years gone but the eras radical values still echo for Lehane.

But what about the plot, the style, Lehane's skill with language and ratcheting up the suspense? Far-fetched, not bad, pretty good and not bad, in that order. So toss away the ridiculous plot and politics and gimmicks and you'd have a good start for a series. Presumably Lehane gets better because the series goes on for several more books before he tries his hand with other things. For now, though, this is an uninteresting start.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

George Will Turns 70

And reminds us: Is this a great country or what?
Finally, to be 70 is to have lived 30 percent of the life of this nation, which is almost enough time to begin to fully appreciate the inestimable privilege of being a legatee of those who first unfurled the republic’s sails and steered it toward the present. That is why — with homage to F. Scott Fitzgerald — as we beat on, boats against the current, we should be borne back ceaselessly into the American past: It is impossible for the young to know, but never too late to learn, that America truly is something — perhaps the only thing — commensurate with our capacity for wonder.

Stallion Gate - Book Review (Again!)

In the recent "Great Blogger Blackout," the following post was lost and never re-stored. Posting it again for the sake of completeness so if it seems familiar, well, that's because it is. (Funky font brought to you by Facebook, which is a lesson learned, I guess: sending the RSS feed to my Facebook preserved the post. Users of Blogger might be well-served to do something similar with their posts in the event of future blackouts.)

Taking a break from his Arkady Renko novels, Martin Cruz Smith back in the '80s tried his hand at another genre - the World War 2 history genre, I guess you'd call it. Anyway, Stallion Gate it's a fictional treatment of the the development of the atom bomb at Los Alamos with some intrigue about spies thrown in for suspense with a twist of romantic drama to make things more interesting, as if the subject matter alone wasn't interesting enough.

Unfortunately, Smith takes the liberal view that communists really weren't that big a threat to the United States and anyone who thought so was paranoid and foolish. His protagonist, Joe Pena, doesn't take very seriously his assignment to prove that Oppenheimer is a Red and instead the personal becomes political. All that is good and fine, I suppose - LeCarre has made a pretty good living at just this sort of thing - but after 9/11 I don't have the patience for it anymore.

Still, Smith's powers of description are in full force here and he renders the New Mexican landscapes beautifully. He keeps things moving along and works in his research, which I assume is accurate, about the creation of the atomic bomb and the site where it was created in interesting ways. But the ending is ambiguous - did Pena get caught in the atomic blast? It seems so. But since I found him unsympathetic so I really didn't care and I guess that's the real problem with this novel: I just didn't care about the main character. A fatal flaw in any novel.

(Another of the cheap books I bought at the Friends of the Library book sale.)

Friday, May 6, 2011

Mel Talks

Mel Gibson has a new movie coming out and as part of his public rehabilitation, here's an interview he gave that's as revealing as it can be considering the legal questions that remain unresolved. He does well.

Gibson is like all of us, looking for redemption after a fall only his was more public than most. Give him credit. At least he's trying. Early reviews of The Beaver has been unkind to the movie but Gibsion's performance is getting some good reviews. No doubt he's a talented actor - a talented director, too - so if nothing else, seeing this movie will be an opportunity to watch a man use his work as part of his contrition. A rare occurrence these days.

(Here's my prior post about his troubles with a slightly bizarre rant from a commenter.)

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Famous Authors And Their Typewriters

There's a nostalgia out there for typewriters; this may be overselling the point a bit but there's a nostalgia for famous writers and their typewriters as well:

There’s something magical about catching a glimpse of one of your favorite authors at work – even a photo of the epic event can send an anxious thrill down your spine, as if you might be able to see some hint of literary genius in posture or setting, in attire or facial expression. And it’s even better if they’re working on a typewriter. After all, there’s something impossibly gorgeous about a typewriter – maybe it’s the vintage charm, maybe it’s the physicality the noisy machine lends to the writing process, but people. . . go mad for typewriters. . .

I think the writer of this piece misses the point about typewriters. It's likely she learned her craft clicking away at a computer keyboard and has little experience with typewriters.

Sure, nostalgia for typewriters is fun but writers used these instruments as tools of their trade. Bottom line: a typewriter helped the writing process and made getting the prose down on paper easier. Using a pad and pencil or pen was inferior though many may have continued to use that - Hemingway recommended first drafts in long-hand - you had one more chance to sharpen your prose and no one knew more about sharp prose than Hemingway- and Martha Grimes still writes in long-hand though you can be sure the manuscript she turns in to her publisher has been run through a word-processing program. Which is to say if a writer is still writing his drafts by hand, he's being self-indulgent. But when it comes time to cranking out clean, readable copy for editors or readers or other users of the piece of writing, typewriters were far superior than old-fashioned handwriting. I imagine these writers at the linked article would gladly trade their Remingtons and Olivettis and IBM Selectrics for a laptop and a Word program.

No, I'm not immune to romance. This is what I imagined I'd be doing when I graduated from college with a degree in journalism:


The truth is, crafting prose is hard work and you're lucky if you can make a living doing it. A professional finds, and uses, the best tools of the trade to help him along.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Osama Bin Laden - Killed!

Of course you've heard the news but in pre-Internet days, news like this would be preserved by buying copies of newspapers and magazines and stowing them in a closet and bringing them out in future years to remember the occasion. Now we post links. Well, I'd better post 'em while they're available:

From MSNBC.com:
Osama bin Laden, the mastermind behind the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks that killed thousands of Americans, was slain in his luxury hideout in Pakistan early Monday in a firefight with U.S. forces, ending a manhunt that spanned a frustrating decade.

"Justice has been done," President Barack Obama declared as crowds formed outside the White House to celebrate. Many sang "The Star-Spangled Banner" and "We Are the Champions," NBC News reported.

Hundreds more waved American flags at ground zero in New York — where the twin towers that once stood as symbols of American economic power were brought down by bin Laden's hijackers 10 years ago.



From Fox News:
Declaring “justice has been done,” President Obama announced late Sunday that Usama bin Laden was killed by U.S. forces in Pakistan, marking the end of the worldwide manhunt that began nearly a decade ago on Sept. 11, 2001.

The president made the stunning announcement within hours of informing congressional leaders. He said bin Laden was killed Sunday, the culmination of years of intelligence gathering. The news drew a large crowd to the front of the White House, as well as in Times Square, as people chanted “USA. USA.”

Obama, in his address to the nation shortly before midnight, thanked the Americans who have toiled in pursuit of bin Laden and applauded those who carried out the successful mission in Pakistan. Describing that mission only briefly, he said its result “is a testament to the greatness of our country.”


In a few months, certainly years, these links will no longer be any good but at least my little blog will have a reminder of this historic day.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Sorry Charley - The Truth Behind Steinbeck's Travels With Charley

It's been a few years since I've read the book but count me among the fans of John Steinbeck's Travels With Charley. Here was the soon-to-be Nobel prize winner laying it on the line and hitting the road to report about the current state of America. But how true was the book?

Turns out, not very:
A huge commercial success from the day it hit bookstands, Travels With Charley in Search of America was touted and marketed as the true account of Steinbeck’s solo journey. It stayed on the New York Times nonfiction bestseller list for a year, and its commercial and cultural tail—like those of Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men and The Grapes of Wrath—has been long and fat. For five decades Steinbeck scholars and others who should know better have not questioned the book’s honesty. But I had come to realize that the iconic American road book was not only heavily fictionalized; it was something of a fraud.

I'd say "fraud" is too harsh a word but when you're dealing with writers who make up stuff for a living, you have to expect that the work they insist is true may not be entirely so.

I'm not disappointed to learn this. I didn't expect the book to be straight journalism - no one reading it can come away quite believing everything Steinbeck has to say. Bill Steigerwald in the above linked article as well as his blog entries has done a fine piece of literary excavation and found a truer version of Steinbeck's story. And he also found there are plenty of people out there who, well, can't handle the truth. Steinbeck might've found that amusing and worth writing about, too.

I think Steigerwald's work sheds a different light on Steinbeck's book but says more about Steinbeck's supporters and promoters than the man himself.

Friday, April 29, 2011

March iPhone Photo Dump

I know it's the end of April and I'm only just now getting around to my monthly iPhone photo dump but, well, I've been a little busy. So let's just get to it, okay?

March began sunny and warm and clear. Clear enough that I finally noticed something I hadn't noticed before: I can see downtown Oklahoma City quite clearly from the entrance to my building:



But March weather in Oklahoma is nothing if not restless. My father-in-law had to do some time in the hospital for what turned out to be nothing serious and the days turned gloomy. The view from St Anthony's looking East:



Barely 10 days later, my mother-in-law did her own time in the same hospital for some heart-related tests. The construction of the Devon tower kept her more amused than anything. The cranes worked through the day and through the night, she said:



I posted a short video on YouTube of the part of my morning routine that includes setting loose the dogs. This barely does it justice though the blur of motion is just about captures the morning's feel:



I found time to make a batch of wine. Usually that kind of thing deserves a post of its own but see my comment above about being busy. This time around: a pinot grigio. My palate's too unsophisticated to detect much of a difference between it and the riesling I made but it's a good batch. (A client of my office partner gave him a case of wine for a filing season ending gift and I managed to snatch up a bottle of pinot grigio to perform a taste test. Mine compared favorably to a major commercial product so I was quite pleased) Perfect for Spring:



March was windy and dry and that meant grass fires:



We managed to get to Dallas for an overnight trip. I spent time browsing in the bookstore while the girls shopped. There's a name now for the genre of fiction that Emily's addicted to:



The atrium of the hotel always makes me dizzy. You?



Don't look down!



And so I end March where I began: a view of downtown from my drive home. The afternoons are sunnier, clearer, the skies bluer. Winter's a dim memory.


Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Tree of Life - Movie Trailer

Emily and I made it to the movies last night and one of the trailer we saw was for the new Terrence Malick movie, The Tree of Life. Here it is:



I have no real idea what it's about; neither, apparently does the synopsis writer for IMBD:

The story centers around a family with three boys in the 1950s. The eldest son witnesses the loss of innocence.


Well, all righty then.

Not that I'm complaining. Too often, movie trailers tell the entire story of the movie and there's no real point in seeing it if you're interested in the story alone.

Oh, but The Tree of Life looks intriguing. Due to come out next week, it's sure to be swallowed up by the Summer's blockbusters. But if the trailer's any indication, you'd better see it while you can. I don't think any TV screen will do it justice.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Catching Up

I've been a bit busy lately what with filing season and all. I plan on catching up and soon but don't hold your breath.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Cheap Books

Speaking of cheap books - and I was - the price point of e-books may be as low as 99 cents:
Joe Konrath has an interesting interview with independent writer John Locke who currently holds the coveted #1 spot in the Amazon Top 100 and has sold just over 350,000 downloads on Kindle of his 99 cent books since January 1st of this year, which, with a royalty rate of 35%, is an annual income well over $500k. Locke says that 99 cents is the magic number and adds that when he lowered the price of his book The List from $2.99 to 99 cents, he started selling 20 times as many copies — about 800 a day, turning his loss lead into his biggest earner.

I think that's about right. I know for iTunes, I don't mind taking a chance and dropping a buck on a tune. If I don't like it, I'm only out a buck; if I do like it, well, the pleasure of the 3 or 4 minute ditty is endless.

Writing a book takes a lot of time and effort and talent but no more so than producing a piece of music. Sure, the pleasures of a good book may last longer but that's only because it takes a longer time to consume. You'd think, then, you'd be willing to pay out more for a book than for a song but that's not how the market works. You pay what for perceived value.

In this case, Konrath has found no one's interested in taking a risk on his book for $2.99. For a dollar, they're willing to take that risk. I'd take that risk, too, if I used an e-reader. Once Konrath has his reader hooked at this price, he still has the writer's responsibility to be interesting. If he is, then he's got a customer for his next book. If not, well, he still earned a buck. In the writing world, that's not bad.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Books I'm Not Reading

I'm not reading Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon. Yes, yes, I know, it's a mystery classic, made into a great movie with Humphrey Bogart blah blah blah but, really, I'm 75 pages into it - somewhat nearly half way but at 230 or so pages, so I'm a good way in - it's just not that well written. Maybe it carries too much of the "classic" baggage; it reads as a cheap imitation of itself. Sam Spade isn't really likable in the book though, yes, in the movie, it's a different story. In the movie Spade was played by Humphrey Bogart; in the book, Spade is played by Sam Spade. Too much of what happens is a just a lot of talk in different rooms and in between these scenes are scenes of Spade getting from one room to the next.

And, okay, another reason why I'm not reading the book is that it only cost me 50 cents. I picked it up, along with a stack of others, at the Friends of the Library Book Sale a couple of weekends ago. Didn't spend much and got a bunch of things I'd been wanting to try but didn't want to invest the money or the time going to the library to check 'em out.

See, that's what happens when you don't have much invested in a book but that's not a bad thing: that means the book has to try all that much harder to keep me committed. The Maltese Falcon has committed an unpardonable crime: it let my attention wander.

Oh, I may get back to it. An investment of the time to get to 75 pages is still something. But for now, other books in my stack beckon. Let's see what they have to say about it.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Innocent - Book Review

Scott Turow's Innocent is a sequel to his Presumed Innocent, that wonderful first-novel and legal thriller from the 80s that was made into a pretty good movie with Harrison Ford. Rusty Sabich, the protagonist in that first novel, finds himself accused of murder yet again in this novel and, again, hires Sandy Stern to defend him. So all the players from the first novel are in the place only it's different this time. Or maybe it's not so different.

Regardless, Turow's prose is a pleasure; Turow claims Dickens as one of his inspirations and thought the characters may not be as rich and varied those in a Dickens novel, they are memorable and vivid with complex and complicated personal lives. The old wounds from the earlier novel have festered and remain unresolved, driving Sabich to take risky action which leads to his undoing but not in the way the plot might have you believe.

A genre novel that rises above the limits of the genre.

(Funny, a year ago, I'd returned to Turow and was underwhelmed. This time around, I just may have to pick up those old books of his and see what I've been missing all these years.)

February iPhone Photo Dump!

February was a light month - not only is it shy a few days of being a normal month but with the two snowstorms, it seemed the month was all about preparing for the storm, enduring the storm, and digging out from the storm.

Now here we are in March. The weather's warm! All of that snow is but a dim memory. Still, lest we forget:






Here's what happened with the second storm. This time the snow was dry and powdery, a pleasure to shovel:



Emily did the smart thing. Bundled up, reading in the flood of light reflected from the snow:



But all that passed and we survived. One night I went to pick up Emily and there was a full moon and the night sky was bright. You could clearly see a jet contrail glowing in the light and if I had a better camera I might be able to show you how lovely it looked. Instead, this'll have to do:



As the weather warms, golf becomes possible and that means Emily's skillz as a golf-cart driver are needed. Time to contemplate the meaning of existence while waiting for the party ahead of us to tee off. The flag behind Emily tells you it was a bit. . . breezy:



We're done with Winter. Oh, it'll try a comeback or two before letting up but, really, what's the point? The earth spins, the planets wheel, and we move on.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Three Stations - Book Review

Martin Cruz Smith's Three Stations is his latest Arkady Renko novel and finishing it catches me up with the series. (Though I still think I need Red Square to be complete; I've no desire to go back that far in the series. Famous last words, though, so you never know.)

This one's as good as any of them. A remarkably fast read - well, that's because it's shorter by about 50 pages - involving another Russian landmark or location. (Three Stations is, well, three train stations located next to one another, where a mass of Russian humanity boils with their coming and going.) An intertwined storyline that, though not quite Dickensian, does involve street urchins and the tired trope of a serial killer. But plot isn't really important in Smith's Renko novels. It's the portrait of modern Russia that he creates of a tired, worn out country with a long, frequently dark past, trying desperately to keep up with the modern world and not quite making it. And the characters, of course. Always the characters.

Another great installment in this fine series.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Moonlight Mile - Book Review

Dennis Lehane's latest, Moonlight Mile, is a sequel of Gone, Baby, Gone, a book I didn't read but a movie which I enjoyed (and didn't, alas, review.)

The players from the earlier book are all here but it's 12 years on and once we get caught up, Lehane takes us through an intriguing yarn involving identity theft and the Russian mob. Ah, the Russian mob. Once they're on the scene, you can be sure of some cold-blooded killing. And, in this case, comedy. Despite myself, I liked one of the chief Russian baddies and his stilted English. It all gets resolved in the end with a nice twist near the end when you believe there's no way out for the good guys. Which might be the only real flaw of the book - spoiler alert! - our good guys make it through but thanks only, really, by the good graces of the bad guys and not from their own actions.

But, otherwise, Lehane handles the chores of this latest installment in his detective series quite well. I've read only one other of the series - I've read his Mystic River and Shutter Island, and thought they were very well done - and at the time I didn't think the series was worth pursuing. After this, I may fill in the missing pieces.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Wanda Jackson to Rock Bonnaroo

The coolness of Wanda Jackson is boundless:
Wanda Jackson, 73, has been selected to play the celebrated Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival this summer in Manchester, Tenn.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Famer is part of a prestigious and eclectic lineup that includes Eminem, Arcade Fire, Robert Plant and Band of Joy, Lil Wayne, The Black Keys and Loretta Lynn.

The 10th annual Bonnaroo is set for June 9-12 on the 700-acre farm it has called home since its 2002 debut.

A Maud native and longtime Oklahoma City resident, Jackson has been celebrating a career revival since she partnered with rocker Jack White, who produced her new album “The Party Ain't Over.” She and White promoted the January album release with performances on “The Late Show with David Letterman” and “Conan,” and Jackson and Weatherford band Green Corn Revival ripped through a packed hometown show at the ACM@UCO Performance Lab in Bricktown.

Summer Morning, Summer Night - Book Review

While browsing Amazon.com recently, I came across Ray Bradbury's Summer Morning, Summer Night, a compilation of old and recent stories and recent sketches with the shared theme of Summer in his beloved Green Town. A chance to revisit the Bradbury country depicted so well in my favorite Dandelion Wine, I grabbed it and chewed my way through it when it arrived.

The older stories were familiar and comfortable and well done, perfect demonstrations of Bradbury's artistic power; the more recent stories were less so but worth reading nonetheless. The sketches were obviously filler, with most not really worth the effort and probably better left unpublished. But it was a reason to read Bradbury again and I was glad to have it. There was a time when I read him for the seasons - Dandelion Wine for Summer and, well, the rest of his work for Autumn but I've allowed that tradition to lapse. Too bad for me. I need to see what I can do to change that.

Anyway, this slim volume was the perfect antidote to the snowbound few days we had here recently. A brief glimpse of the promise of Summer.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Stephen Hunter - Why 33 Rounds Makes Sense in a Defensive Weapon

Writer Stephen Hunter - Hey! I was just talking about him the other day! - explains why an extended magazine makes sense for a self-defense weapon:
(E)xtended magazines are rarely featured in crime - and that awkwardness spells out the magazine's primary legitimate usage. It may have some utility for competitive shooting by cutting down on reloading time, or for tactical police officers on raids, but for those who are not hard-core gun folks it's an ideal solution for home defense, which is probably why hundreds of thousands of Glocks have been sold in this country.

But that's not why I'm linking to his article. Forget Hunter's subject; admire his style. Here's why I like him as a novelist, as a movie reviewer, as a columnist:
Guns were the software of the 19th century; the most dynamic age of development was roughly 1870 to 1900, when the modern forms were perfected. Two primary operating systems emerged for handguns: the revolver, usually holding six cartridges and manipulated by the muscle energy of the hand, and the semiautomatic, harnessing the explosively released energy of the burning powder to cock and reload itself. Since then, design and engineering improvements have been not to lethality but to ease of maintenance and manufacture, or weight reduction. A Glock is "better" than a Luger because you don't need a PhD to take it apart, nor a fleet of machinists to produce the myriad pins, levers, springs and chunks of steel that make it go bang. Moreover, you can lose a Glock in a flood and find it six months later in the mud, and it still will shoot perfectly, while the Luger would have become a nice paperweight.

Black Swan - Movie Review

It's the time of year where there's precious little to see at the movies but since it's Oscar season and there remains a Best Picture nominee or two we haven't caught, we saw Black Swan. No, we didn't expect a behind-the-scenes look at the grueling work that goes into a ballet production but we hoped for a little more than what we got. Oh, stylish, for sure, but can we do away with the jittery hand-held camera for a while please? We get it, the POV is up close and personal because this an up close and personal kinda movie so no need to hammer us over the head about it.

Natalie Portman is suitably hysterical but that's all she is; I hold with the reviewer who suggested a more interesting movie would have been about Mila Kunis' character trying to find her light side rather than Portman's character trying to find her dark side. (And Kunis steals the show, for my money. She's got that look. You know what I'm talking about, right?) And you gotta give the producers some props: a movie made for a $13 million pittance, it looks impressive.

A nightmarish movie with some technical flair that saves it but that's about all there is here. Not a real contender for Best Movie.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Latest in Beer

I tried a wheat beer several years ago and didn't like it. Tasted like water passed through a bag of lawn clippings and not very recent bag of clippings at that. I never tried another again. Time changes things and with this little homebrew hobby of mine, it looked like it was time to try it again. I'd tasted a good wheat beer at a restaurant and found it as advertised: citrusy, spritzy, just the thing for a sunny Spring day.

Of course, in home brewing, if you want to have a beer now, you'd better have started brewing it three weeks ago. So I did exactly that and though it's still winter and there's snow on the ground, I have a batch of wheat beer that's ready for the warm weather:


Not quite as good as the one I had at the restaurant but it's light and fruity and has a good creamy head. Success!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Brian Jacques Dies

Children's author Brian Jacques passed away over the weekend:
A former merchant sailor whose children's books sold millions worldwide has died aged 71.

Brian Jacques' Redwall series of books were translated into 29 languages and sold 20m globally.

He first wrote the series, set in an abbey populated by animals, for children at the Royal Wavertree School for the Blind in Liverpool.

When Rachel was still in elementary school, she came home one afternoon to excitedly tell me Brian Jacques was making a personal appearance at a local bookstore. Rachel had never heard of Mr. Jacques before that afternoon - I had only a passing acquaintance of his work - but her English teacher had told her how great his books were and that if she had a chance, she ought to go see him. I was early into my stay-at-home-Dad career so we had that chance and off we went.

By the time we got to the bookstore, a small crowd had already gathered. Knowing how these things are supposed to work, I bought a volume for Mr. Jacques to autograph for Rachel and we got in the lengthy line. Things moved along quite well - we were told that for the sake of efficiency, Mr. Jacques could not personalize his autographs and because of laryngitis he wouldn't be able to speak much, if at all. Cynical Dad saw this as a ploy to keep the fans moving through the line and the purchasing of books unheeded but by the time it was our turn, Mr. Jacques was quite charming. He made a subtle show of being taken in by Rachel's fresh-faced looks and he asked her her name in a hoarse whisper (Take that cynical Dad!). He leaned close to her, repeated her name in a low growl, rolling his r's and dragging out the last syllable in his Liverpudlian accent. Rachel smiled, he smiled back, signed, her book, and gave her a nod, his eyes twinkling. Rachel was enraptured, even though until a few hours before, she had no idea who this man was. And it didn't hurt that he looked a whole lot like Grandpop Pete:



Rachel has never been the most rabid reader in the world and I don't think she ever got past the volume we bought that day but Mr. Jacques gave her, and me, a warm memory of an afternoon with an author who took just a few seconds from his book tour to acknowledge a new fan. I thank him for it.

Flash forward to a few years later and Emily became of reading age. She picked up the volume from that afternoon and was instantly hooked. And, as is her habit, once she gets her reading meathooks into a series, she has to read them all, and in order. And so began a literary love affair for Emily as she marched her way from one end of Mr. Jacques ouvre to another. I remembered the time when books enraptured me, when I could get lost in their worlds and not become overly aware of what the author was trying to do. Mr. Jacques gave Emily quite a reading experience and I thank him for that, too.

In this digital world, it's rare that good writers come along and create a body of work that will last. Though I've never read any of his books, from personal experience and reports from the field, he managed to do just that.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Oklahoma's Number 7!

In sales tax rankings, that is. Via
TaxProf Blog, I can't import the data table but here are the top 10 rankings:

1
Tennessee
9.44%

2
California
9.08%

3
Arizona
9.01%

4
Louisiana
8.69%

5
Washington
8.64%

6
New York
8.52%

7
Oklahoma
8.33%

8
Illinois
8.22%

9
Arkansas
8.10%

10
Alabama
8.03%

I'm sure if we tried harder we could beat New York. California, too. But it'll take some doing by the Legislature to overcome Tennessee. I don't doubt they'll try.

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Reversal - Book Review

It's been over a year since I read anything by Michael Connelly and even then I wasn't too impressed so I'm not really sure why I picked up his latest legal thriller, The Reversal. I was at the library and it was available and it was his most recent so, well, why not?

I admit, it was a better read than the first in this series - the problem of the legal thriller being bogged down by the time constraints of the legal process was solved by having the main character, Haller, be appointed as independent counsel in a re-trial. Opposing counsel wants a quick re-trial so things move along lickety split. But there's the same problem I have with Connelly's prose style - for a journalist, he's merely OK - and instead of relying on an intriguing case playing out in the courtroom, he ends things with a contrived bang, as if he didn't trust his own material or skills to keep our attention. And I've yet to get a feel for Southern California as a setting which is odd since Connelly's been touted as being in the same league as Hammett. Obviously I'm missing something.

I did enjoy this one better than the first one though I have no desire to pick up the one that just preceding this in the series. I've given Connelly a fair shake and it's time to move on; I don't plan on coming back to him. Uh, unless I come across another book of his in the library. You take what's available.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

I, Sniper - Book Review

I've long been a fan of former Washington Post movie reviewer Stephen Hunter - I link to one of his reviews in this post - so you'd think I would've picked up one of his Bob Lee Swagger novels before I, Sniper and you'd be right. I'd read one of his several years ago and wasn't impressed enough to continue with the series. As a thriller writer, I thought, Hunter made a great movie reviewer. But I see he's gotten along quite well without me and his series has grown and I can't ignore him anymore, not if I'm wanting to find another genre series to get immersed in.

I, Sniper's a fine one to get re-introduced to the character. Hunter's at the top of his form, much better than I remembered. Plenty of nuts and bolts about sniper guns and the manly art of sniping as well as a highly effective scene of waterboarding that reaches the height of art. And I'm not kidding. The Wikipedia article I linked to describes his prose as almost lyrical and though that might be strange for the thriller genre, I think it's spot on. Overblown in parts, sure, but you can tell Hunter is passionate about his subject and I like passion. He takes a few sly potshots at the media and liberals, too, so that's an extra bonus if you're looking for that sort of thing.

Of course, the problem with entering a series in the latest installment is that the author has to bring new audience members like me up to speed with his character and, having done so, there's little reason to read the prior books other than for the sake of completeness. Still, that doesn't mean I might not visit those earlier books and get caught up on what I've been missing.


Librarians, Budget Cuts, Assumptions

As a response to a rash of budget slashing to public libraries, Wil Wheaton posted about how he thinks librarians are awesome. It's hard to argue with that premise; libraries and librarians are, indeed, awesome, and you'd be a fool to say otherwise. Who among us reader-types doesn't have a heart-warming memory of libraries and librarians, like Mr. Wheaton? It's part of why we became readers in the first place. Good for Mr. Wheaton for staking a controversial claim.

But then Mr. Wheaton spoils a perfectly lovely remembrance by ending it with this bit of straw man nastiness:
Libraries are constantly under attack from people who fear knowledge, politicians who think guns are more important than books, and people who want to ensure that multi-millionaires pocket even more money.

Ah, of course. The culprits to these budgets cuts are obvious. Knowledge fearing people, gun-clinging politicians, greedy millionaires. The usual suspects. It's so obvious.

Only it's not so obvious. Mr. Wheaton offers no proof of his assertion because I guess it just pretty much goes without saying: anyone who wants to cut library funding must be evil and conservative and not good and liberal like, say, Mr. Wheaton himself. There's just nothing left to say. Which is fine; it's Mr. Wheaton's blog, after all, and he can say anything he wants bno matter how ridiculous and without proof. That's the way blogs work.

His commenters are quick to agree on the subject of librarian awesomeness - and quite a few let Mr. Wheaton know how awesome he is for thinking librarians are awesome - and barely pay attention to his claims about the causes of library extinction. Maybe it's a given for them, too. I clicked through to some of the links posted by the commenters to other articles that bemoan the demise of libraries and nowhere did I see anything about knowledge-fearing, gun-clinging, tax-dodging people and politicians being behind this flurry of budget cuts. In fact, in Mr. Wheaton's own California, the culprit is the recently elected liberal Jerry Brown. And in Los Angeles, no one must be behind library budget cuts because the mayor and a good chunk of the city council have thrown their support behind Measure L, which, if passed, will give libraries a bigger guaranteed chunk of the city's general fund. (An increase from .0175 to .03 share of the general fund may seem minuscule but that's a 170% increase; you wouldn't turn down a 170% increase in your salary, would you? Didn't think so.) I guess that means the mayor and city council are powerless to stop these budget cuts without a vote of the people. If true, exactly what role do Los Angeles elected officials have to play in the spending process? What do they do, exactly?

I clicked on through to some of the related articles and learned this about library budget cuts. Hey, things are tough all over! Who knew?

I make a brief appearance in the comments pointing this out and Mr. Wheaton was kind enough to rejoin that the problems aren't limited to Los Angeles and California, completely ignoring my point. I countered that likely what holds true for Los Angeles and California holds true for the other areas quoted in the linked articles, that budgetary crunches call for cuts across the board and politicians of all stripes are likely behind them. Mr. Wheaton leaves that alone, content, I suppose, to continue to believe the narrative that all bad things come from stupid people and all good things come from people like him.

I'm not advocating budget cuts for libraries. I, too, think libraries - and librarians! - are awesome. Government should do what only government should do and maintaining a library system accessible to all seems like a role for government. (Though the Internet fills at least part of a library's role quite nicely without government intervention.) (And could we do with a little less easy access to porn, libraries? Keep the experience more family-friendly? I mean, I know all about the 1st amendment and everything but come on. Show some judgement.) But budgets are tight, spending has to be cut, and it all finally comes down to whose ox is being gored. If you don't cut library budgets, what do you cut? Police and fire protection? Sanitation? Road maintenance?

Government budget cuts mean tough choices. That's what politicians are elected for; that's the democratic process. Don't like it? Vote someone else in who'll do the job you want. But leave the straw men aside. That doesn't help.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Shafted

I've never played in the high school band or orchestra but both Rachel and Emily have and while attending their wonderful concerts I've often though that, you know, classical music is fine but if I were a band director I'd throw in some more crowd pleasing numbers. Not that these concerts need lively-ing up but I'm sure that just the right music would bring a smile to a lot of faces.

Like themes from movies. Music that sounds like classical music but bonds the audience with a common experience. The Theme from Star Wars. Jaws. The Magnificent Seven.

Or The Theme From Shaft.

This thought struck me the other night while I was driving Emily and Emily's buddy home. the Theme From Shaft came on the radio and you can be sure I cranked it up, much to Emily's embarrassment. Something there is about the funk that Emily didn't like. That or my sing-talking along with Isaac Hayes as he tells us how bad Shaft is. (You know, the only person that understands him is his woman? True!)

Oh, The high school band could be do it! Okay, maybe the whacka-chacka part might be difficult but Wikipedia tells me that's just a guitar with a wah-wah pedal. You know there's a high school kid practicing that sound right now in his bedroom. The rest of it sounds pretty straightforward to me. Emily could play the flute part!

Yes, a high school band could play the Theme From Shaft. Heck, a ukulele orchestra could play the theme:



Anyway, that's my idea. If I were a high school band director life would be funky indeed.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

iPhone Photo Dump

Who's in the mood for an iPhone photo dump? I am! Let's get started:

Post Christmas, the weather warmed enough so that we could play golf. Unfortunately, everyone else had the same idea. While we were waiting to tee off, Emily spent some time getting some putting pointers from Grandpa:



I think they were betting money on this one. I saw money changing hands later:



New Year's Eve, we took Emily and her friend with us while we went to a movie. On our way back, we stopped at the Chesapeake Energy Christmas light display:



A riot of color:



Emily and her friend, Alex:



You can almost hear the brightness of the lights:



We're well into Winter and that means the days are getting longer and that means pictures of the dawn on the drive in to work make their re-appearance.

A shot from the Westmoore parking lot after I dropped Emily off to school:



Another shot, with a bus driving by:




I tweeted some of the following pictures already so those of you who've already seen them may leave. Emily and I were cooking spaghetti sauce and meatballs a la Grandpop Pete; though he lives 1,500 miles away, the smells made us think he was right there with us:



Coming along nicely:



Emily seems pensive about the recipe:



Emily-a, she makes-a the meat balls-a! (Imagine a Sinatra song in the background.)



Rachel's birthday rolled around, her 19th so not the same milestone as last year's 18th but no less important. Her choice this year: Red Lobster. She brought her friend Matt along:



Don't touch Emily's silverware!



After dinner, I had to drop off Rachel and Matt at Wal-Mart to get Rachel's car; she'd had a flat earlier in the day and needed two new tires and her car was ready. As I turned down on our street, the full moon spilled silvery light on over the houses. Who says you can't find beauty in suburbia? Of course, I tried to get it on camera. Of course, I failed:



And that's it for this edition. The days and weeks and now month are flying by. These pictures aren't nearly enough to grab a hold of some of it but they'll have to do.