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":

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Musings on Marketing

If I ever open a drinking and/or dining establishment I don't think think I'll name said establishment after the street it's located on. It will just lead to confusion and headaches among my clientele if I am successful and branch out.
The King Street Grille downtown on -- what else -- King Street is a nice little bar/restaurant. My daughter Leah and I have been there a couple times and I really like their burgers on those pretzel buns. Umm, carbolicious. But now the owners have opened a couple new locations on Kiawah Island and in Mount Pleasant. These new locations are both called King Street Grille too, even though they're on Freshfields Drive and Hungryneck Blvd. (And really don't you think the Hungryneck Grille is a better name anyway?)
The Market Street Saloon has scantily-clad women dancing on the bar. Not surprisingly this has become a popular nightspot, so popular they've opened up a new location on Northwoods Boulevard. No, it's not called the Northwoods Boulevard Saloon, but the Market Street Saloon.
And now there's an East Bay Deli now on Dorchester Road across from my church, despite the fact that it's a long way from East Bay Street. (And I realize it's not called the East Bay Street Deli, but it's in North Charleston; I don't know what bay it's supposed to be east of.)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

More Books I've read in 2009

It's rare that I stay up late enough to watch Craig Ferguson's show, but when I do I'm always impressed not just by how funny he is -- lots of guys on television are funny -- but by how genuine and honest he seems. Honesty is a rare commodity in show business and especially on television, and it shines like a beacon. I do believe this is the second most amazing thing I've ever seen on a talk show. Watch how at first people are laughing nervously because they don't know how to take a guy speaking to them from his heart. Keep listening. You can hear the audience change.

Anyway, I didn't have to stay up late to read Craig's book, and like his TV show, it's funny and honest. Honesty is pretty rare in the world of autobiographies too. He doesn't gloss over or glamorize what a wastrel he was, and his love for America is genuine.

I also read Nick Hornby's Juliet, Naked. I've read all of Hornby's fiction and it's interesting to watch him grow. Here he returns to the world of music-obsessives moving from the mix-tapes of High Fidelity to the Internet, which may as well have been custom-made for obsessive types. Hornby is often credited with inventing "lad-lit" the yang alternative to chick-lit, so it's interesting that his most fully-realized character in this book is Annie, the female lead.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

More movies I've seen in 2009

I heard so much about Twilight I felt like I had to see it. (Well actually at first I felt like I had to read the book, but a brief sample of Stephanie Meyer's writing style convinced me that the movie was probably a better bet.) Everything I heard was either praising it for being a great romantic work or damning it for being ridiculous and corny. Nothing was lukewarm.
Well, I didn't love it, but I didn't hate it either. So I guess here is Twilight's first tepid review. I had no problem with the unusual habits of Twilight's vamps -- the lack of fangs, the ability to go out in sunlight and suffer nothing more than a mild case of sparklies. I figured this was just some weird northwestern mutation of the vampire virus. As a matter of fact, I'm not sure Edward ever called himself or anyone his family the V word, so maybe they were just sparkly, fangless, immortal monster weirdos. My problem was the chemistry -- or lack thereof -- between Bella and Edward. I just didn't feel it. How could any girl actually fall for a guy who looks like the Joker in the old Batman TV show?
Minus the painted-over moustache of course. I mean that was one fugly fella. And why the hell was a girl from Arizona as pale as a Washington state vampire? Was that explained in the book? It sure wasn't in the movie. The only "suspense" in the film when the bad vampire was after Bella was not very suspenseful.
But in the absence of romantic chemistry or cinematic suspense, I did enjoy seeing how vampires play baseball. Although even then the fact that they could only play during a thunderstorm because the crack of their bats sounded like thunder did not ring true. I mean you may be stronger than a roided-up A-Rod but your bat's not.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Baseball and brewski

Everybody who knows me knows at least two things about me: 1. I love baseball. 2. I hate the New York Yankees. (I think those two facts are related, by the way. In other words, because I love baseball I hate the New York Yankees, as there are so many ways the Bronx Bummers are bad for the game, but that's another post for another time.)
So it may surprise you to learn that I won a case of Guinness betting on the World Series. Of course I didn't bet on NY to win, nor did I bet on some side issue such as how many buckets of Brylcreem Chase Utley would go through or how many times Derek Jeter would make some easy routine play at short and the announcers (who've been bought off as surely as the officials) would just go nuts praising him. What happened was a Yankee lover at work bet me that the Yankees would sweep -- win the series in four straight games. I'm not a big gamber but even I can't pass up a sucker bet like that, especially when Guinness is at stake.
Now maybe I should feel bad taking advantage of someone suffering from a man-crush on Derek Jeter. Here's a quote from my betting partner: I'm not a Yankee fan! However I do believe that Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez are larger-than-life beings who transcend athletics. We are fortunate to be alive today to see them play. How about this: Jeter/Rodriguez 2016? (What that last sentence means BTW is he'd like to see those two run for president in 7 years.) But I don't feel bad cuz I don't like most Yankee fans either.
So stop by the house for a glass of Arthur Guinness's pride, we'll toast the great American pastime and count the days till Spring training.

Monday, November 09, 2009

There must be something like 9 million different kinds of calendars available at this time of year, including several for popular TV shows both past and current. But the calendar I want evidently doesn't exist. At least I've looked everywhere for a Bones calendar and been unable to find one. So I make my own each month. Here's November.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Rob keeps on rereading

(Continuing my revisitation of one of my favorite literary relics from my misspent youth -- Old Glory and the Real-Time Freaks by Ralph Blum.)

All right, well, QED is really starting to get on my nerves. It's not just the fact that he's rich, but that's certainly one strike against him. This dude is so rich he has somebody who types up his scribbled diary or letter to his unborn grandson or whatever it is. He's also a snob:

We ate Laura's bread with lots of margarine, and I thought how Mommy never even buys margarine. Probably divorced ladies have to compromise, even with alimony.

The only thing I can think as to why I identified so much with QED was because I figured I was going to be rich too and I was looking for some pointers as to how to behave. I have no such illusions today and it's just as well. If I had been rich and followed in QED's footsteps I'd have been just another rich, snobby arsehole and the world doesn't need any more of them, for sure.

I didn't like him having sex with the diary-typist either, a married woman. But his girlfriend thinks it's great. She's the real hippie, not this spoiled rich poser QED.

But it's impossible to completely dislike the guy. Even if he does say things that leave you scratching your head, things like "Worrying about the wrong problem is like jacking off with sandpaper." I mean, does that make any sense?

Well, I've finished the book now, and the main feeling it leaves me with is bewilderment. Why did this book mean so much to me when I was a lad? Nothing happens in it -- this spoiled, rich 17-year old smokes a ton of grass and that's about it. The action -- such as it is -- do not present the protagonist in a positive light. He steals his best friend's girlfriend, loses his virginity to a married pregnant woman -- who works for him, typing up his diary, because even though he has no job and no responsibilities he can't type up his own scribblings. It's not at all romantic or erotic, so I hope it was meant to be comedic. It fails at that too, but it's less creepy considered that way.

The one part that should have been comedic -- QED's GF's father railroads him into participating in a sailboat race -- fizzles out when our hero overturns the craft before he gets to the starting line. This event makes him sexually climax but only because the author wants to use the pun "Nautical emission."

Oh, and his grandfather dies, but this is not dramatic or poignant. The old man is ready to go. I can see how most people who had to spend their days with Quintus Ells might long for death's embrace.

So the book stands or falls on QED's personality. If you like him you'll like the book. I don't like him very much. He's selfish, ignorant, racist and, as previously noted, spoiled, rich, snobby and immoral.

I must have liked him when I was 15 though. Maybe because back then I believed that rich people could still be decent and down-to-earth. I labor under no such delusions nowadays.

But, I would still say that this reread was success. It was good getting in touch with my 15-year-old self (and good saying good-bye to that knucklehead too). Some books are only great at certain times in your life. I loved Thomas Wolfe as a young man. Now I found him pompous, flowery and verbose. When they made me read "The Great Gatsby" in high school I thought it was putrid. When I reread it in my 40's it blew me away. So let's just say that "Old Glory and the Real-Time Freaks" is not a bad book, but for me it's past its expiration date.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Rob Rereads, part 4

(in which I revisit one of my favorite literary relics from my misspent youth -- Old Glory and the Real-Time Freaks by Ralph Blum.)

Wow, QED is this weird combination of stoner and preppie. His family is mega-rich, old Connecticut money, there are these massive family croquet games going on the south lawn of the estate. He calls his parents "Mommy" and "Father". But he smokes dope constantly.

And he's kind of a racist too (discussing Vietnam and his older brother who recently returned from there):

"Well, I'd rather get burned buying dope in Seattle than be picked off by a dink in Nam."

Tunis goes, "You mean a gook?"

Ells shakes his head; the dust from marijuana makes him sneeze. (QED also sometimes refers to himself in the third person) "Naw, everyone's a gook, friend or foe. Dinks are a sub-set, being all gooks after your ass."

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Rob Rereads, part 3

(in which I revisit one of my favorite literary relics from my misspent youth -- Old Glory and the Real-Time Freaks by Ralph Blum.)

Well, I'm only on page one, and I see where my memory has failed me once again. His name is not Quentin Ells, as I remembered -- it's Quintus Ells. I'd also forgotten his nickname -- Fiver -- not sure how he got it since he's 6'6''. I was right about how much he loves his grandfather.

"If you don't have a grandfather, go adopt yourself. Almost any old man who has really lived a life will do. But every kid should have a grandfather, and preferably one like mine."

And here are some words of wisdom from Quintus's grandfather: "I am all but convinced, Quintus, that our life is actually the container in which we keep our death."

Obviously, I remember the format very well. Here's how Old Glory and the Real-Time Freaks begins: I'm 17, fighting a case of the munchies, and trying to crank out an opening page to someone who won't read it for a hundred years.
And here is how my first novel A Bridge to the Moon Begins: Dear Son,

Happy Birthday!
I wish I could be there with you at your party and all, but I'm afraid I won't be able to make it. You see, I'm trapped here at 2:27 in the morning twenty-five or thirty years ago.
About the only thing I can do is send a senile old buzzard with my name there in my place. It won't be the same, I know, but I'll try to make sure he brings you a nice present - like a new Porsche or something. A Porsche and this letter.
You can go for a ride later. You can even do us both a favor and run over the senile old buzzard wearing my name if you want to. But first you gotta read this letter. It's important.

pg, 18 -- OMG, I'm even more of a plagiarist than I thought. QED gives himself a deadline to finish this letter -- his 18th birthday 38 days away. My protagonist Todd Burwell gives himself a birthday deadline too -- his 15th coming up in a few days.

I had also forgotten that QED was rich -- although if I'd thought about it, I might have wondered what he was doing on Air Force One. (Actually I'm still wondering about that -- haven't got to that part yet.)

And QED -- one lasting impression that the book left me with. I had never heard of QED in its original Quad Erat Demonstrandum sense -- Hey, I went to school in South Carolina, we don't cotton to a lot of Latin and suchlike. The first time I did see it that way, I totally thought the ancient Romans were ripping off Ralph Blum. And to this day, every time I see QED, I think of Quintus Ells and hope he's not deceased.

Almost all of my literary heroes are romantics and QED is no exception: I love Laura a lot, Grandson. I do that best. It's the only thing I do half right. (That last statement is false modesty, by the way, Quintus is a very self-confident young man.)

Later he says, I walk behind Laura whenever I can. Her hips kill me. She has this sway to her walk, a kind of stately way of moving her ass that practically puts me in Zone 99.

And, Kim, if you've ever wondered why I usually let you go up the stairs first, it's not because I'm a gentleman. I just love how you send me to Zone 99.

pg. 25. Now I know why he was on Air Force One. His father is some sort of diplomat and they were headed out to San Clemente for a meeting with President Nixon. You don't see many books with protagonists as wealthy as QED -- I mean, this guy is loaded, his family's been in the banking biz for a long time. But I don't think there many in 1972 either. Rich folks are so rarely heroic.

More later

Monday, October 19, 2009

Rob Rereads, part 2

No, I still haven't begun my reread of "Old Glory and the Real-Time Freaks", haven't even opened it yet. But I will soon. For one thing, I want to give the book every chance to be what I remember it as, and I know that too much anticipation can make even the world's greatest book something of a letdown.

While preparing for the big reread, I have been researching the author Ralph Blum. All I knew about him was that he quit writing fiction to write books about runes -- self-discovery and divination with, well, with rocks. And that's about all the Internet knows too. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Harvard University with a degree in Russian Studies. He's written several books about runes, and co-authored books about UFOs and zen and other new-age subjects. Most of his books are out of print. He evidently only wrote one other novel "The Simultaneous Man" a science-fiction work that predates "Old Glory" and is even harder to find. He is 77 years old and he has a new book coming out in early 2010, called Invasion of the Prostate Snatchers: No More Unnecessary Biopsies, Radical Treatment or Loss of Sexual Potency. According to the co-author bio, Mr. Blum has been living with prostate cancer for 20 years without radical treatment, which makes me think he must know something.

Then there's this quote from that makes me think maybe he doesn't:

"Know thyself. Nothing in excess. The Self is required to balance the Self."
Okay, yeah, whatever you say; no, I don't want to buy a flower.

I also found a 1972 review in the New York Times "In Old Glory and the Real Time Freaks, Ralph Blum. . . maps the self-guidance, self-adjustment and self-landing of a 6-foot-6 17-year old. . . He is a funny writer, his jokes expose hypocrisy, shorten social distance, suggest a more decent order of values in our society. . . his novel is likely to elicit a complicated set of responses. For me, the range goes from amusement and delight to compassion and anger."

This is the cover to the hardback version, not the paperback. The PB cover was better, if you ask me.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Rob Rereads, part 1

I read a lot when I was a kid, started before I began school because I just didn't want to wait that long. My first literary love was biographies and I plowed through every one that Jackson Davis Elementary School Library had --- which pissed off my Elmira Gulch-esque librarian, but that's another story for another time -- but somewhere along the line I graduated to fiction and it's still by far my favorite genre. Most novels I just plowed through on my way to the next one, but some of them made a bigger impression on me. Some of them I had to go back and reread, either because I missed something or because I wanted to go on living in that world with those people. One of the first books I remember that sort of blew me away was "If I Loved You, Am I Trapped Forever?" by M.E. Kerr, which is about this boy in high school who seems to have everything going for him -- he's popular, he's got a hot girlfriend -- and this new kid (Duncan Stein, nicknamed "Doomed") who starts school. He is a weirdo and a misfit, but he and his philosophy of unrequited love being the only kind of love that's real become a phenomenon at that school, much to our hero's chagrin. I think the reason I had to keep going back and rereading it was because it may have been the first book I ever read that did not have a happy ending and that fascinated me.
I reread this book a couple years ago and I'm happy to say it was just as good as I remembered it. I wrote to M.E. Kerr to tell her how much I liked that book and I received a very nice letter from her in return. Kerr never attained the status of her contemporary Judy Blume, but all her books -- and she was quite prolific -- are worth seeking out.

On the other hand, I also used to just devour Carter Brown books. Part of the reason was the great covers by the incomparable Robert McGinnis, but I also thought the books were funny, sexy and exciting. My favorite of his protagonists was Danny Boyd, who was always talking about how irresistible his profile was. But when I try to reread these, I can't get even halfway through. Carter Brown uses so many damned adverbs -- several per page, nobody ever whispers, they state "softly" -- that I find myself tensed up waiting for the next one like a prisoner expecting another lash from the whip. Not a pleasant experience.
Although the McGinnis covers are still breathtaking.

So, my results with rereading favorites from my youth have been mixed. So maybe you'll understand why I'm feeling a little trepidation about revisiting "Old Glory and the Real-Time Freaks" by Ralph Blum. You want to talk about being blown away by a book, this is the one that did for me. It's about a guy named Quentin Ells. (And isn't it interesting that I can't remember the names of the characters in the book I read last week -- not to mention the names of many of my co-workers -- but I cannot forget Duncan Stein, Danny Boyd and Quentin Ells?) Quentin is a teenager, but the book is a letter to his unborn son (or grandson maybe, I forget) and spends most of the book high; he tokes up on Air Force One, drops acid with his grandfather. He refers to himself as QED (Quentin Ells Deceased) because he expects he'll be gone by the time his grandson reads the letter.
How much did this book affect me? It made me decide I wanted nothing more than to be a hippie, and for better or worse, I've pretty much stuck with that career plan. When I decided I wanted to write a book I basically stole the letter to unborn progeny format.
I've been looking for this book a long time -- and by looking I mean looking for a cheap copy -- thanks anyway, Alibris) -- and I've finally found it and ordered it. Now I'm a little nervous. So much so that I haven't even opened the package and it arrived last Thursday and that is not like me at all. I usually rip open packages while standing in front of the mailbox. Will it be as good as I remember like "If I Love You. . . " or will it be adverb-addled crap like Carter Brown? Or will it be somewhere in between, just your typical mediocre novel? I'm going to find out soon, but for now I'm enjoying the anticipation. While we're waiting here's some more Robert McGinnis art. Is this guy good or what?

Saturday, October 10, 2009

How did I do at the Library book sale?

Great, actually; thanks for asking. This year I decided that going to the pre-opening Thursday night party was not good enough. To really get first crack at the books you've got to volunteer to help with the set-up on Thursday morning, which is what I did. It's very exciting opening up those boxes and not knowing what kind of treasure -- or Grisham-Patterson-Brown crapola -- you might find therein. (Well, it's exciting if you're a book nerd.)

The best thing I got this year was the book "Baseball" the companion to Ken Burns's magnificent documentary. This thing is gorgeous, truly a thing of beauty and a joy forever. A 60 dollar book in great condition for four dollars.
I also picked up "Excelsior" Stan Lee's autobiography, which I have read before but did not own
"Mad Cover to Cover" cuz I just can't get enough Norman Mingo:This beautiful oversized poster book
I also got the Buddy Chronicles from Peter Bagge, I can't find an online copy of the cover, and I'm too lazy to scan it, and it's not that impressive, so here's a shot of Buddy Bradley with some other comic immortals. For those of you not in the know, Buddy is the one with bones made of rubbber.

Evidently this a Quality Paperback Book Club edition, which collects "The Bradleys" "Hey Buddy" and "Buddy the Dreamer." I already possess all three of those books, which collect issues of the comic series "The Bradleys" and "Hate". I also possess all of those comics too. I might have a problem.

What else did I get? "Powerhouse Pepper" from Basil Wolverton. Wolverton's frenetic, nonsensical, punny style of humor is currently out of vogue, but not with me. Wolverton did a lot of comics work, but he's probably best known for winning the contest sponsored by Al Cappp and "Li'l Abner" to draw Lena the Hyena, the ugliest women in the world. A celebrity jury panel consisting of Salvador Dali, Boris Karloff and Frank Sinatra picked Wolverton's entry over thousands of others. I think you can see why.

I also got "Bufffy the Vapire Slayer: The Watcher's Guide, Volume 2".
I bow to no one in my appreciation of Whedon's slayer, and I will fight anybody who says the show ever jumped the shark. All seven seasons were great -- the eighth season in Dark Horse comics is great too. That being said, I have to say that as a shipper, the show was never as compelling for me after Angel left at the end of the third season. This will give me yet another way to relive season three.

I got this book cuz I used to love those celebrity roasts, and I want to see if a certain portion of Milton Berle's anatomy is actually mentioned at every roast.

And this book, which is nothing but pictures of naked people, cuz you know I love art:
I also love A.J. Jacobs, and I'm looking forward to reading about him reading the entire Encyclopedia Brittanica. (I did mention that I'm a book nerd, did I not?)
And the Marx Brothers Scrapbook, which looks great if you love Groucho, Chico and (especially) Harpo as much as I do.I've been reading "Bizarre Books" which is just what it sounds like, a bunch of books with weird titles, subjects or authors. My favorite so far is "How to Put Constipation and Hemorrhoids Behind You" so if you ever find that book pick it up I'll reimburse you.
So when I saw a book entitled "Through the Alimentary Canal With Gun and Camera" I had to get it, to add to my fledgling bizarre books collection:

And it seems like at every book sale, there's always one book that I come home with and wonder what I was thinking. This time it "The Guru's Guide to Serenity" which seems to be about how celebrities relax. The only thing I can figure is that I was getting a little stressed from digging through all those books and at that knuckleheaded guy in the Games and Humor section who insisted on displaying the books upside-down.

Also at every book sale there's one that gets away. This time it was Tom Robbins's "Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates" which I hid but forgot to go back and retrieve.

So anyway, not bad, eh? Oh, and with the volunteer gift certificate and the newby cashier who rang all my paperbacks up at a dollar even though all of them were priced higher than that, these books set me back only 14 bucks.

I went back on Friday of course. I'll tell you about that later.