Sunday, January 31, 2010

More Beers I drank in 2010

My favorite kinds of beer at least in the Winter months are the Stouts -- those thick, black Guinnessy things. I've tried a lot of different ones and a lot of variations on the formula -- I like the chocolate stouts, but not the cream stouts which taste like somebody poured milk in my beer, and ever since a bad experience with white Russians I've firmly believed that alcohol and dairy products do not mix. On a recent trip to Total Wine -- probably my second favorite browsing place after a good bookstore -- I saw a type of stout I'd never seen before. A cherry stout. I hesitated a second before taking it home because my luck with fruit-y beers hasn't been so good. I mean I don't mind a lime in my Corona or even an orange in my Blue Moon (although I like it better sans fruit) but most beers brewed with fruit are too sweet for my taste. (Come to think of it, I seem to recall liking my beers a little fruity in the Summer time, like Leinenkugel's Berry Weiss, but it seems like years since Summer was here and I've forgotten what it was like.)
Anyway, I did buy this beer and I must say I am impressed. This beer is from Michigan, where they know a little something about cherries, and evidently about beer too. You could definitely taste the cherry, but it wasn't overly sweet, not was it overwhelming. It just lightened things up with a hint, a tinge of sweetness that canceled out the sometimes bitter aftertaste of stouts. I am already looking forward to my next six-pack.
There is one thing I don't understand, and I hope somebody who knows more about these things can enlighten me. (That's a hint to my alcoholic brother, by the way.) How come this is referred to as a "malt beverage" on the label instead of a beer?

Saturday, January 30, 2010

More books I've read in 2010

I picked up "Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader" because I like Neil Gaiman, and because Alan Moore's "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow" (after which this boook is obviously patterned) is one of the classics of Western literature (in my book anyway). This is very different from the "last" Superman book though, as Batman dies not once, but many, many times -- and yet never dies. It was a hard concept to pull off satisfyingly and kudos to Gaiman and Kubert for making it work.

Also on the graphic novel shelf I got "Defenders: Indefensible" because I liked what the creators -- Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis and Kevin Maguire -- did with the Justice League many moons ago (although now that I think about it, a little of that went a long way) and I thought the childish, petulant, argumentative characters that these guys can't help but create would work well with the Defenders, who never really got along anyway.

I was wrong though. Although there were a few laughs in it, humor in super-hero comics is probably best utilized like meat in Chinese cuisine, i.e. as seasoning not the main dish. And it is misleading in the extreme to have the Silver Surfer on the cover as he does not help his compadres fend off the Dread Dormammu's latest attempt to conquer the universe, but instead hangs out on a beach with some surfers who for some reason speak the "rad" and "gnarly" lingo of 80's wave riders.

Oh, and I did read one book with no pictures in it. "Inconceivable" by Ben Elton. I had never heard of the author before, but I saw him compared to Mil Millington somewhere and you know I love Mil. This book is about a couple trying to conceive a child without much luck. In addition to barrenness there are also break-ups and betrayals -- and it is hilariously funny, maybe not Millington level funny, but enough so that I didn't mind the absence of pictures and I will be reading more from Mister Elton.

Monday, January 18, 2010

A great book I read in 2010

I almost stopped reading Steve Hely's "How I Became a Famous Novelist" in that crucial first fifty pages. I'm so glad I didn't. It's a devastating satire of the current state of literature in America. But it's also a love story and that kept me going through the beginning where it seemed things were going to get too snarky for me. An amoral, cynical slacker takes a look at the best-seller listand decides that he can write a best-seller using every popular cliche in the book, so to speak. His goals for doing so are fame, fortune and winning back his ex-girlfriend Polly who is planning to marry someone else. It's not as easy as he thought it was going to be:

Writing a novel -- actually picking the words and filling in paragraphs -- is a tremendous pain in the ass. Now that TV's so good and the Internet is an endless forest of distraction, it's damn near impossible. That should be taken into account when ranking the all-time greats. Somebody like Charles Dickens, for example, who had nothing better to do except eat mutton and attend public hangings, should get very little credit.

But he eventually does write a book The Tornado Ashes Club that does become a best-seller. But things don't turn out near as nice as they did in his fantasies. And by the end of the book this oh-so-cynical novel has become a love song to the power of literature:

You get lost in the language of it, but not because it's trying too hard. It's not. What it's really about. . . is how the cruelties we inflict on each other start out so small but become inevitable. It's about what kind of creatures we are and how we came to be this way. These fictional characters that only exist as words on a page somehow seem to know better than I do how to live your life.

A stunning turnaround. I also really appreciated the movie mogul character's one moment of clarity when he realizes how wrong it would be to make Madame Bovary into a movie

. . . here's the problem: it has to be internal. You can't dramatize it all. And there's no actress, not even Kate Winslet, who's that good. There never will be. There's always going to be that distance. You can watch a movie. But you can't live it. And Madame Bovary, you need to live it.

Exactly, and that is why I never want to see movie versions of books that I've loved -- after living in them watching just doesn't cut it.

More movies I watched in 2010

If left to my own devices I would never watch anything other than romantic comedies, boy meets girl in some interesting locale is endlessly fascinating for me. Thank goodness my wife is more culturally broadminded. Otherwise I would have missed out on "Young at Heart." By now most people know about this musical band of seniors and have even seen clips or watched one of their videos, but if you haven't seen the movie and gotten to know these people and seen for yourself how passion for something can keep you alive then you should.

But when it was my turn to choose again, I went with -- you guessed it -- a romantic comedy taking place in an exotic location. In this case India.

This movie is more than a fish-out-of-water, boy-meets-girl deal, although it does both of those very well. It also has something to say about corporate America's callous attitude towards its employees It also has Ayesha Dharker, who is seriously beautiful.

“…a film bursting with affection for its characters and for India. It never pushes things too far, never stoops to cheap plotting, is about people learning to really see one another. It has a fundamental sweetness and innocence…And in a time when the word ‘chemistry’ is lightly bandied about, what they generate is the real thing.” -Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Classic Rock Doesn't Make Any Sense Either

"Sent a letter on a long Summer day,
Made of silver, not of clay."
Journey, Wheel in the Sky

I know nobody writes letters anymore but people still did back in 1978 when Journey released the album Infinity from whence Wheel in the Sky debuted. But I have to wonder if any of the members of the band ever actually penned an epistle. They seem very confused about the type of substance on which it's best to write a thank-you note to Grandma.
I recommend paper, guys.

Classic Country Music Makes No Sense

"Good whiskey never lets you lose your place"
Johnny Lee, Cherokee Fiddle

C'mon, Johnny, have you ever tried to drink and read? Good whiskey always makes you lose your place -- and forget what you just read too.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

And then I read. . .

The trend of favorite authors letting me down continues with Richard Russo's "Bridge of Sighs." Russo usually writes about working-class people in decaying small towns of the Northeastern United States. Here his subject is Louis C. Lynch (AKA Lucy) and the problem with the book is that he's a perfectly nice, normal boring guy and the book is 600 pages long. That's a long time to spend in the company of a boring person. Especially since this is one of those sprawling multi-generational tomes and we also have to live with Lucy's equally boring father and eventually boring son. His childhood friend Bobby Marconi is not boring but he's not very likable either and he's not onstage all that much. I liked the book well enough to finish it, but I'd have liked it twice as much had it been half as long.

Poor Doug Tennapel, he catches hell no matter what he does. He's an outspoken Christian who writes graphic novels like "Black Cherry" about gangsters, murderers, strippers, drug addicts and demons. All of whom are pretty foul-mouthed. So the Christians give him hell about glamorizing sinful lifestyles (and for his potty mouth) and the heathens resent the religious symbolism that's never far below the surface in his work. I liked the book; I have no problem with pious characters or demonic ones, for that matter. My only complaint was that to me this book at heart was a love story, as gangster Eddie Paretti -- when not fighting demons or resisting two rival mob chapters after his head -- searches for his lost love, the titular Blackl Cherry. He finds her but in the end he leaves her and I personally did not buy his line of reasoning for doing so.
Well, now that I think about about it I have one other minor complaint -- for such a book of almost nonstop action, the cover of Eddie just standing there is pretty boring.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Almost Purr-fect

I've just about given up on my autograph collecting -- at least the through-the-mail portion. It's not that I've lost interest, it's just that it takes a lot of time to do it right and that pesky damn job is demanding more and more of my time.
Another thing it requires besides time is patience. I wrote to Julie Newmar requesting an autograph back in July 2003. Last week, six and a half years later I got it. I would say it was worth waiting for, Julie Newmar's Catwoman was the subject of my first several erotic dreams, and I have still carry a torch for her, but the postal service messed me up. This is a postcard and they cancelled the stamp on it so hard some of the lines came through, making Ms. Newmar look like she was drunk when she put on her mascara.
Do you think I should try to get a replacement? I should have it by Summer 2016.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

More books I read in 2010

When Alan Moore writes superhero comics, he goes one of two ways -- either the deconstructionist route a la Watchmen, which shows the tragic or ridiculous consequences of taking superheroes seriously. Or he writes a love letter to the Silver Age. He's a genius and I'll follow him anywhere he goes, but I prefer the love letters. Here he takes a two-bit Superman-ripoff created by the worst artist in comics -- Rob Liefeld -- and brings him alive. He's still a Superman rip-off, but it's great to see Alan Moore's take on such super-subjects as Lex Luthor, Lana Lang, Supergirl, the Legion of Super-Heroes, Kryptonite and Krypto the Super Dog.
This book is also a history of American comic books as in flashbacks we watch Supreme from the dawn of the Superheroes in the 1930's, through the EC age in the 50's and then the glorious, goofy silver age and on to some slams at the psychotic violence fests so many have become today. This book is marred by some pretty crappy artwork, but that's because it's from the 1990's when suddenly you didn't have to be able to draw or have any grasp of human anatomy to get a job as a comic book artist. (The flashbacks by Rick Veitch are great though.) And it doesn't matter, Alan Moore doesn't a great artist to make his work magnificent.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

My Favorite Day of 2009

My favorite day of the year just past was May 2nd. That was the day of the Charleston Dragonboat Festival at Brittlebank Park. So there was the human drama of athletic competition, the thrill of victory (we won our first heat) and the agony of defeat (we got smoked in our final two races). And there was a cooler full of beer, grilled burgers, friends and family, beautiful warm weather. But the best part I think was that we had the whole Summer in front of us. It was a day that we hated to see end. And when I say "we" I mean me and Kim. We stayed out there after all the competitors and spectators had gone home. After the clean up crews had gone home. That's how much we hated to admit that this perfect day was not going to last forever.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

The First Book I read in 2010

As I mentioned in the previous post the only two comic series I currently follow are "Fables" and "Jack of Fables", but that's because "Halo and Sprocket" is no longer published on a regular basis. This story of a young woman living with an angel and a robot, both of whom try very hard without a lot of success to understand the idiosyncrasies of human beings, is one of my all-time favorites. To quote Phil Hester, this "Halo and Sprocket" is "funny without being cruel,. . .sweet without being syrupy, . . .smart without being cynical."

2009 Literary wrap-up

No big pseudo-suspenseful countdown here. I'll just tell you right off the bat the best book I read in 2009 was "The Great Gatsby" by Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald. But I may have to disqualify it -- because I've already read it several times, and technically I didn't read it this year; I had the audio-book read to me.
Other than that, 2009 held a lot of literary disappointments for me. Several books that I had been anxiously anticipating let me down, among them, "B is For Beer" and "Villa Incognita" by Tom Robbins, "Mr. Muo's Traveling Couch" by Dai Silje, "My Tango With Barbara Strozzi" by Russell Hoban and "Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Long Way Home"by Joss Whedon. (That last one probably my fault, as I didn't do my homework.) It should also be noted that even though Tom Robbins struck out twice, I also read his "Skinny Legs and All" and if we disqualify Gatsby, that was probably the best book I read in 2009.
One author who didn't let me down was Nick Hornby. I loved "Slam" and "Juliet Naked."
I read three biographies this year. Craig Ferguson's was the best, Micky Dolenz's was the worst.
I discovered a couple of new authors that shot up to my list of favorites -- Jonathan Tropper and Paul Quarrington. Two graphic novel series that I was following -- "Astonishing X-Men" and "She-Hulk" -- either came to an end or got new creative teams that I have no interest in following, leaving the only series I currently follow "Fables" and its spin-off "Jack of Fables."
I also did an experiment in rereading, going back to "Old Glory and the Real-Time Freaks" for the first time in decades, and it was brought home to me once again that I have completely lost communication with my sixteen-year-old self, as I do not see the appeal of this book at all, even though I used to love it.

Friday, January 01, 2010

The last two books I read in 2009

Closing out the year with the latest volumes of a couple of old favorites. "Americana" is the latest in the Jack of Fables series. Jack (Horner, the giant-killer, Frost, be nimble) and his friend Gary the Pathetic Fallacy along with Paul Bunyan and one of the Page sisters patch Humpty Dumpty back together and go in search of treasure in the land of American folk tales and legends. We meet Huck Finn, visit the Salem Witch trials and the antebellum South, and run afoul of the book-burning librarian and his zombie Keystone Kops. Great stuff.

If you don't know about Post Secret go check it out right now. This latest collection of people's postcard confessions is alternately hilarious, heartbreaking and life-affirming. My favorite was the one from the woman who keeps a flannel shirt hung on the back of her bedroom door so when she's making love with her husband she can pretend he's MacGyver.