Friday, December 25, 2009

More Books I Read in 2009

Catching up with a couple of my favorite continuing characters this time.

Madman is one of my favorite comic book series. I love the 50's vision of the future vibe and the subtle humor, but mostly, I admit, I like the romance between Frank Einstein and his ladylove Joe Lombard. Madman's been away for a while as creator Mike Allred was busy on Marvel's X-Statix and his own graphic adaptation of the Book of Mormon, but he's back now. Madman spends most of this book trying to get back to Joe from some nightmare existential crisis bad guy Dr. Mondstadt sent him on. While he's battling his way back to reality Joe and friends launch his presumed dead body into space where he finds himself with very little oxygen. He's rescued by some people who believe he was prophesied to save their universe from a horrible fate, which he does -- and in the end is reunited with Joe -- well, sort of, it looks like a fusion of Joe and the costumed hero It Girl. We'll see.

Even though "Oh My Goddess" is my favorite still-running manga, I've missed the last several volumes. I thought things must have changed a lot when on page three Keichi is shown sleeping with Belldandy, Urd and Skuld -- but they just karoaked too long and fell asleep. Oh My Goddess is many things, and one of those things is a motorcycle manga -- normally my least favorite element of the series -- a long drawn-out race between Keichi and his dad in (I think) Volume 26 was what cooled my enthusiasm temporarily for the series. This is another motorcycle story too, but with a twist as Keichi and Chihiro have a competition to see who can create the most exciting motorcycle. And if we had to put up with a lot of sprockets and gears and "vrooms' we also got to see Urd in a bikini and to hear some words of wisdom from Bellldandy.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

I really hate this song

Believe it or not, I try hard to become a Christmas curmudgeon. I actually try to ignore my seasonal-affective disorder and the crass madness that infects America at this time. But it's hard to come up to the level of Cloud Ten blissfulness that the ubiquitous Christmas music demands of us. Like if you're not "happy in a million ways" during this "most wonderful time of the year" and don't list "snowflakes that stay on my nose and eyelashes" as one of your favorite things then there's something wrong with you.

So, I concentrate on things that I am grateful for. In the area of Christmas music I am glad that I no longer seem to hear the single worst Christmas song ever inflicted on mankind. They played it all the time when I was a kid -- they even forced us to sing it -- and I hated it with a white hot second-grade passion.

The song is "Jolly Old Saint Nicholas" and it's ostensibly from the mouth of a greedy, obsequious little suck-up trying to con Santa into thinking he's a good kid deserving of many fine gifts instead of the ass-cutting that I would have loved to have seen him get. I'm not going to post the lyrics -- I can't take a chance on getting this festering turd stuck in my head -- but they're not hard to find online should you be feeling brave and/or masochistic. The first verse is pretty straightforward, a kid talking to Santa Claus and trying to suss out what the old guy might be planning to bring him Christmas night. But in the second verse he sells his siblings up the river and tries to pass himself off as some kind of unselfish saintly child. Referring to the family stockings he says "Mine will be the shortest one, you'll be sure to know." Right, kid.

Then in the third verse, the little hellion really pulls out all the stops. After violating protocol by telling Santa what the other kids in his household want for Christmas (probably getting it all wrong intentionally just to eff up their holiday) he has the audacity to tell Mister Kringle:

"As for me, my little brain isn’t very bright;
Choose for me, old Santa Claus. What you think is right."

Pul-leez! Who the hell do you think you're kidding? This entire monologue is nothing more than an attempt to get more presents by using reverse psychology on the jolly old elf. i.e. knowing he brings more toys to good boys, trying to pass yourself off as someone who only cares about what his siblings want, and very self-deprecatingly allowing Santa to choose your gifts for you -- obviously assuming that what Santa will think is "right" for such a perfect little cherub is half the contents of the sleigh.

It was an obvious ploy to me even when I was a kid, and no doubt Santa will be able to see through your cheap ruse just as easily and fill your "shortest stocking" chock full of coal. Maybe if he has time he'll even knock you in the head with a lump of it. Maybe that'll knock some sense of decency into your "not-very-bright" brain.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

One beer I won't be trying

I love sampling new beers. I'll even sample some Winter brews even though, as I'm sure you know, I loathe this season we're in. However I saw a beer today at Total Wine that I won't be trying. The sight of this thing literally chilled me to the bone:

More books I've read in 2009

This was such an interesting reading year for for me -- lots of books that I'd looked forward to that disappointed, but just as many great ones that came from out of nowhere -- that I think I'll do a year-end wrap-up. Unlike every magazine and media website however, I will actually wait until the year is over to do so. Who knows, maybe the best book I'll read this year is the one I read on New Year's Eve. (And yes, I will be at home reading on New Year's Eve with any luck.)

Anyway, I may remember 2009 as the year I discovered Jonathan Tropper. I first read The Book of Joe and really liked it, then I read How to Talk to a Widower and loved it. And I just recently completed Everything Changes and . . . uh . . . I didn't like it that much.

Part of it's probably my fault. You read that much of an author's work in a short period of time, his stylistic and thematic quirks become obvious. In Tropper's case, his protagonists are always guys in their early thirties who do not have their shit together, partly because of their inability to let go of the past, and they are all headed -- though they don't always know it -- for a giant emotional showdown slash public humiliation.

Although all three of the protagonists were similar, their differences were the critical factors in determining whether or not I liked them and ultimately their book. The guy in Widower had just lost his wife who he loved very much, so I cut him a lot of slack. Joe was jerky and self-absorbed but he took a lot of his anger and wrote a novel. (The Widower guy was a writer too, come to think of it.) In Everything Changes, Zach King seems to have everything going for him -- a rent-free NYC apartment, a beautiful, rich fiancee who is nuts about him, a good job -- and all he does is wallow in self-pity and try to sabotage all these blessings. True, he did have a rotten dad who abandoned him and his brothers, and his best friend died in a car wreck a couple years ago. But come on! All in all, things are going pretty good for you, Zach. And isn't it obvious to you that as much as you hate your father you're following in his footsteps, hurting everyone who makes the mistake of caring about you?

I'm going to forgive Tropper this misstep. I'm still looking forward to his newest one This is Where I Leave You, but I am going to wait a while before I read it and cleanse the palate some first.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Pivotal Fitness is Completely Clueless

I think most gyms are evil. And Pivotal Fitness more than most. They make you sign a long-term commitment because they know most people are going to drop out after a few months. So they make money on fat quitters, people who don't even come to the gym but have to pay for months, if not years, for something they got a little too excited about in January around resolution time. If you're one of those people who actually does use the gym, then they look for more ways to soak you -- personal trainers, (and BTW Pivotal Fitness has some out-of-shape trainers, who would sign up for that?) or classes or some other way to separate you from your hard-earned money. For a while now, Pivotal has been putting signs up all over the place advertising some new weight loss training program (cost extra of course) designed to teach you all about nutrition.
Then tonight they have a members appreciation party and they serve refreshments. Great, I'm always interested in nutrition and I was wondering what Pivotal Fitness thinks people who want to lose weight and get fit should eat.
So what nutritious food did Pivotal Fitness set out for its members that it appreciates so much? Pizza, fried chicken wings, pork barbecue and all the fixings! And to wash all that healthy goodness down? Diet Coke and sweet tea.
Now, that is insane. I am embarrassed to belong to a "health" club that would serve such unhealthy food to its clients.
Now, you can say, well, it was a party, they're not saying you should eat like every day, all things in moderation, right?
To which I say if that's the case then why not move all those weights and machines out of the gym, set up a bar and let's smoke cigarettes and watch television. That's what people do at parties, isn't it?
No, Pivotal had a chance to make a point about nutritious food and how you can eat healthy and still have fun and they utterly blew it. And they blew it for one of two reasons -- either they don't know any better or they have such contempt for their customers that they figure the only thing those fatties understand is junk food. And I think it's the latter; I'll tell you why.
There was, I must admit, also a vegetable tray available, albeit with a fat, creamy dip. And the carrots and celery were almost gone by the time I got through working out. Which means that a lot of my fellow gym goers opted for the healthiest thing available and ignored the tempting crapola that Pivotal tried to entice them with. Which means that they're smarter than the nutrition "experts" at Pivotal Fitness.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

More books I own in 2009

Been a while since I did an update on my book collection.

Okay, picking up where we left off (in autographed art books): I started reading Mad before I started reading Marvel comics and even after I became what I then considered too old for comics -- about 10th or 11th grade --- I still read Mad. This big book has bios on all the artists whose work has appeared in Mad, as well as examples of some of their best stuff. Hard for me to pick just one favorite, but if you put a gun to my head, I'll say "Jack Davis -- no, wait, Will Elder. . . although Mort Drucker's caricatures are just phenomenal. . ."

One of my favorite comic books is Legion of Super-Heroes, and like a lot of my favorite comics I no longer follow it. The problem with being a long-time fan is that you're there when a series hits its peak, and sometimes it's hard to get excited about it once those golden days are over. For me the Legion peaked when Jeff Moy was the artist on that book. His characters -- particularly the females -- have such a sweetness about them. His art can seem somewhat simplistic when compared to some of his torturous contemporaries, but don't kid yourself, it takes a lot of talent to draw this cleanly and simply. I met Moy at a convention somewhere, purchased this sketch book and commissioned a picture of Shrinking Violet which is on the wall in front of my desk. I'm not going to take it out of the frame and scan it, but I'm sure after seeing these other samples of his work you'll have no problem taking my word for it that it is gorgeous.

This next one is a retrospective on the life and art of George Perez. If you don't know who George Perez is you know nothing whatever about comics. He is probably most famous for doing books with tons of characters -- JLA, Avengers, Teen Titans -- and making all of those characters distinctive.And just a couple samples of his magnificent artwork (cuz that Modern Masters cover really doesn't do him justice):

Another former-favorite series that I no longer read is Spider-Man. I'm actually a little bitter about this one. You see, I used to like John Romita's Spider-Man, but I loved his Gwen Stacy. Really loved. I'm not going to go on and on about her, mainly because I already have here, among other places. Suffice it to say I never cared about the book after she died. It just seemed pointless.
All right, that's all for now. I'm going to go light a candle for Gwen Stacy. We'll finish up the autographed art section next time.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

More Books I've had read to me in 2009 got caught up in the holiday spirit and offered me a free audiobook -- really free, no commitment, no credit card. I chose one I knew I would like. Every time I've read "The Great Gatsby" I've been amazed by Fitzgerald's accomplishment. (Not counting the first time, when I was in the tenth grade and more sophomoric than most sophomores and forced to read it.) When I think about it though, it's kind of surprising that I love this book as much as I do, given my propensity for romance and optimism. I mean, Gatsby was the ultimate romantic. His belief in love and its transformative powers never wavered; he lived his whole life believing in the American dream and where did it get him? Dead at the bottom of his swimming pool. Even before he was murdered he was unable to enjoy any of the parties, cars and beautiful friends that his wealth afforded him.

For me, Mark Twain's "Huckleberry Finn" is The Great American Novel, but "The Great Gatsby" is the only one that gives it a run for the title. And in many ways they are exact thematic opposites. In Huck's America you do the right thing even if means going to hell (i.e. catching the scorn of one's contemporaries) and things turn out all right for you in the end. For James Gatz though, you do what you have to do to win the woman you love and it ends up killing you. And I guess if you get right down to it, I prefer Huck's world cuz I believe -- I want to believe, I need to believe -- that that's the way it works, that you do what you have to do for the people you love and it saves you, not damns you like it did Gatsby.
So, why do I love this book? Because it is so beautifully and so compellingly written. Because every time I read it I find new things to marvel at. Even though it's a short book and I've read it several times I always find something in there that I hadn't really noticed before -- or, I should say, I find something else that affects me emotionally each time. (This time I was thinking about Nick Carraway, the narrator, and what a clueless nebbish he is most of the time (and the perfect narrator for that reason by the way) but he has an astonishing moment of clarity the last time he sees Gatsby alive:

"They're a rotten crowd," (referring to the rich and famous that partied at Gatsby's house most every night) I shouted across the lawn. "You're worth the whole damn bunch put together."
I've always been glad I said that. It was the only compliment I ever gave him, because I disapproved of him from beginning to end.

And maybe because I'm a father, the scenes with Gatsby's dad after his son's death, how proud he was of his "Jimmy" and the guilt he still bore for beating him once, those scenes just absolutely emotionally flay me alive.
Just an amazing work of art. Perfect as so few things are in this world. And even if I refuse to let myself believe that ". . . we beat on, boats against the current, borne ceaselessly back into the past" I believe it when I read it in "The Great Gatsby."

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Blue about berries

One of my favorite memories from the Summer of 2009 was the day Kim and I went to pick blueberries. It was a beautiful sunny day and we went in the morning before it got too hot. We picked three big buckets full, and I probably ate several handfuls too -- they are irresistible right off the bush like that. Anyway we kept a few fresh ones around and froze most of the berries. A couple of days ago I ate the last ones. A sad day. I was hoping they might last all winter. It's my own fault though, I didn't pace myself on them at all. I put frozen blueberries in my protein shakes, in my cereal and sometimes I just ate a handful of frozen berries. (You don't have to thaw them or anything.)
Maybe next year we'll pick a few more buckets worth. Or maybe I'll just try to show some self-discipline.
No, definitely more buckets.

Friday, December 04, 2009

More books I read and stuff I found cleaning up

I don't know if it's because I'm behind on my Buffy history (I didn't discover the show till it was over and have been catching up with the DVDs, but I'm only up to season 5) or because of these pain pills I'm popping for my back, but I had a hard time making "The Long Way Home" make any sense. Evidently, now there are hundreds of slayers not just one, Dawn is a giant, Xander is missing an eye, there are fairies and zombies and a guy with no skin at all, and the army is after Buffy, and Sunnydale is just a big hole in the ground. I'm confused.

While cleaning my office I came across this toilet paper:
Once upon a time there was a toilet paper called White Cloud and it was perfect, not too strong, not too soft, and it was discontinued. Charmin Ultra was the second best TP available and even though it wasn't as good as White Cloud it was miles above Northern or Cottonelle or any other brand. So I started using it when my stash of white cloud was finally depleted. Then Charmin Ultra changed their recipe (I don't know what else to call it) and it was not as good as it used to be. That was when I went online to find a luxury toilet paper, and what I found was Shitbegone, which turned out to be just as crappy as every other toilet paper at the store. Somewhere I have a response from the owner of the company angrily rebutting my statement that Shitbegone is no better than Scott, and that's prettty bad. Shitbegone is gone now. Who would have guessed that selling Scott toilet paper with a vulgar but colorful wrapper would fail?

Hey Ali, I (finally) found that picture

A while back I promised my brother's girlfriend that I would show her a picture of my brother with a honkfro or whatever it is you call a white boy afro. That was a while back and I didn't find it until today when I was cleaning out my office. Anyway, here it isThat's my late lamented grandmother and my sister Susan trying to get out of the way of that hairdo. And I think John stole both of those shirts he has on from me.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

More books I've read in 2009

Esquire A.J. Jacobs decided to read the Encyclopedia Brittanica, all eight bajillion pages of it. In "The Know-it-all" he tells the story of his year-long foray into the fount of all earth's knowledge. This was something I wanted to do when I was a kid -- actually at one point my goal was to read every book in the Richmond Public Library -- and if I was going to do it I should have done it then back when I had a working memory. Now I'm lucky if I can remember what happened in the Buffy comic book I read last night, so my reading the encyclopedia would be like pouring water into a bottomless pit. But I enjoyed reading Jacobs's account. It's not just about what he learned in the EB, it's also about his life at Esquire, his jealousy of his super-smart brother-in-law, his stint on "How Wants to be a Millionaire", the frustrations he and his wife are having with infertility, and the problem his wife is having with his habit of spouting off irrelevant facts at inappropriate moments. But it's got plenty of useless facts he learned too. And some not so useless -- like the fact that man and dalmations are the only mammals that produce uric acid. So if you're worried about a drug test, just see if you can borrow your local fire-station's mascot. Jacobs also wrote "The Year of Living Biblically" which I enjoyed and his new one is "The Guinea Pig" which I am looking forward to.

I also read "Connective Tissue" by Bob Fingerman, who did a comic many years ago called Minimum Wage that I liked a lot, and not since that has done anything for me. Connective Tissue just proves my theory that if you leave male artists alone and let them draw whatever they want, all they'll ever draw is naked women and monsters. This book is about a video store clerk who is transported to a world where nobody wears clothes and monsters roam the street. Problem is the naked people are as grotesque as the monsters. Fingerman continues his streak (so to speak) of disapppointing me, and I'm beginning to think Minimum Wage was a fluke.

I also read "Mean Seasons" the fifth volume of Bill Willingham's Fables and enjoyed it very much. But it's been a couple days since I finished it and don't remember that much about it already (see what I mean about my memory) only that Snow White had six kids and they float around in the air.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

If we make it through December. . .

My picture of choice for this month on my homemade Bones calendar is an obvious one -- from one of the best episodes ever "The Santa in the Slush":