A place for FF's to write and read brief reviews of books and films for the benefit of other FF's.

A place for FF's to write and read brief reviews of books and films for the benefit of other FF's.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley by Peter Guralnick

Elvis seems like he was basically a twelve year old all his life. He was really into fireworks, guns, karate (a LOT of this book is about karate), slot cars, policemen, cowboys, horses. He was constantly buying cars for people. One day he bought fourteen cars for people, including one for a random woman he met on the car lot. When he got a camera, he "quickly figured out the possibilities. Sometimes he used Priscilla alone, sometimes in Priscilla’s absence he got girls to wrestle for him wearing only white bras and panties, and occasionally he included Priscilla, too, in an expanded scenario." He had no idea what anything cost and spent money like crazy on weird jewelry he designed.

He had to be surrounded by people constantly, and assorted people he met around Memphis came onto his payroll and spent years as his professional pals. At one point one of them drew up a list of duties for everyone:
“it was up to Marty to “call Mrs. Pepper for Movie Times (As Early As Possible); Transact Business and Correspondence with the Colonel’s office for Elvis,” and maintain a purchase order system for all charges in Elvis’ name. Alan Fortas got the assignment to, “along with Marty, be responsible for Organization both in good and bad situations,” maintain Elvis’ scrapbook, and “be in den with Elvis as much as possible.”

The scene at Graceland was pretty nuts: "In the short time that the Lackers had been living at Graceland, Elvis’ uncle Johnny Smith had threatened Marty’s wife and come at Marty himself with a knife, while Clettes Presley (Vester’s wife, and Johnny and Gladys’ sister), who drank as heavily as her brother, had made it clear that she had little use for him, too. Marty didn’t think much of Elvis’ retarded uncle, Tracy, who went around saying, “I got my nerves in the dirt” and made noises “like he was getting ready to explode”

At the end of the last book Elvis was 23 and his mother had died, just after he went into the Army. He was already about as famous as anybody, but he was considered kind of a joke by New York critics. After the funeral he was sent to Germany, where he lived off-base in a weird household with his dad and a German secretary and some friends. His dad took up with the still-married wife of a fellow soldier of Elvis' - the fellow soldier was drunk all the time and didn't seem to notice. This twisted situation made Elvis angry, he had loved his mother dearly and this seemed too soon. If there's a turning point in this book that set Elvis on the desperate and sad path that would pretty much be the rest of his life, I guess it's this.

Elvis met Priscilla when her military dad was sent to Germany. She was 14, but for some reason her parents let them date. Elvis had strange ideas about feminine purity - he would sleep with other girls but wouldn't want to sleep with ones he was seriously dating.

Once Elvis gets back to America his story and this book turns pretty repetitive and tragic. He was contracted to make a bunch of movies, and he seems to have been aware that these were terrible. He was ashamed of a lot of his recordings. After a few years of nutty partying, constantly on speed, he had a kind of breakdown. A new hairdresser, Larry Geller, showed up. Elvis started asking him probing spiritual questions. "There has to be a purpose... there's got to be a reason... why I was chosen to be Elvis Presley." Larry started bringing Elvis spiritual books, and Elvis started going to the Self-Realization Fellowship in Pacific Palisades.

But mostly he just kept doing crazy amounts of speed and massively powerful prescription painkillers given to him by "Dr. Nick." There was a brief period in '68 where he kinda pulled it together and had a huge TV special, and he played to huge crowds in Vegas, but he's kind of a mess throughout this book.

Elvis had a weird thing about not liking ladies who'd had babies. He sort of turned on Priscilla after she had a baby (although he was cheating on her pretty thoroughly before, too). There's a sad story of a woman who got pregnant by Elvis, tried to tell him, and then heard him say something about how once someone was a mother they were sacred and shouldn't be interested in sex. She went and got an abortion alone.

The absolute low point might have been the day he flew to Washington, more or less on a whim, had a crazy letter he'd written on the plane delivered to the White House, where he brought a gun to his impromptu meeting with Nixon. In their meeting Elvis talked about how he felt the Beatles were really behind a lot of anti-American feeling. Then he gave Nixon a hug and took off.

Three years later some beauty pageant winner was sleeping in his bed when he died while sitting on the toilet. That day he'd thrown a raquetball racket at somebody, played Willie Nelson's "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain" on the piano, and been delivered a packet of "Seconal, Placidyl, Valmid, Tuinal, Demerol, and an assortment of other depressants and placebos which generally allowed Elvis to get several hours of sleep at a time." Also he'd taken a bunch of codeine to which he was mildly allergic.

Anyway, this is a really sad book. I pretty much skimmed it. It seemed like a lot of the tragedies of Elvis' life were a lot like those in Michael Jackson's life. I guess it's pretty impossible to get super-famous when you're a teenager and not completely implode. Elvis seemed to have a vague sense inside himself that he'd missed his potential, somehow. One of the band guys he played with in the first book said that he felt that Elvis was a kind of idiot savant - he knew hundreds of songs, but was strange and sensitive and certainly had no idea how to handle being as famous as he was. Maybe nobody does!

He's really likable all through Last Train to Memphis, I'll prefer to remember him that way!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Last Train To Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley by Peter Guralnick

Peter Guralnick went to my high school. He came back to talk once. The only thing I remember is that he said going to college had been for him "a dumb idea." That notion was completely opposite to the whole point of my high school, it was quite jarring, I couldn't even really understand what he meant.

Anyway, this is a good book, although for my taste it was maybe 200 pages too long. It's a tough trick for "authoritative" biographers: they have to cover all kinds of side journeys, occasional characters, and messy meanderings that are not "on story" in the way movies have spoiled me to expect.

I feel like what I want from this blog is for people to summarize books for me and tell me the best parts, so let me do this one for you!

Elvis' parents were real country folk. His father had done time in Louisiana's dreaded Parchman Farm prison for writing a bad check. It all seems pretty Dickensian, his boss was "making an example of him." Elvis' twin brother was born dead, and Elvis' mom told him he'd acquired the power of the dead twin.

Then the Presleys moved to Memphis and lived in public housing until they made too much money to qualify (still not much money). Even in Memphis they were seen as kinda bumpkins. Elvis was completely devoted to his mother.

In Memphis Sam Phillips was running Sun Records, trying to record "real Negro music," and the unrelated Dewey Phillips had a radio show that broadcast to a mostly black audience. Elvis listened mostly to gospel music and sometimes sang at an Assembly of God church.

As a boy Elvis used to turn on lights on Saturdays for his Orthodox Jewish neighbors.

Elvis was driving a truck for an electric company and trying to be an electrician, even though he felt he was too easily distracted to be good at wiring - he was a little afraid of blowing himself up. He was dating a girl named Dixie who was really in love with him. They were committed to remaining "pure" until marriage.

Elvis used to hang around Sun Records, and he recorded a demo of himself. Sam Phillips had him on a list of maybe promising singers. Months later he found what he thought was a good song for him. It turned out to not sound so good, but Elvis and the musicians Sam had recruited kept screwing around for hours until Elvis started singing an old blues song.

When Elvis' record of That's Alright Mama first got huge on Dewey Phillips' radio show. The first time it was played on the radio Elvis was too nervous to listen and went to the movies. Dewey Phillips kept calling his parents and demanded Elvis come down to the station. When he got out of the movies he went down there. Dewey tricked Elvis into being interviewed on air. He asked Elvis where he went to high school so everyone would know Elvis was white.

Elvis wore "crazy" clothes, like a pink shirt. But he was also incredibly sensitive. He was always afraid people were laughing at him. Sam Phillips wouldn't let him play at a bunch of rougher bars because he thought Elvis would get beaten up.

"[Roy] Orbison later said of his first encounter with Elvis: 'his energy was incredible, his instinct was just amazing... Actually it affected me exactly the same way as when I first saw that David Lynch film [Blue Velvet]. I just didn't know what to make of it. There was just no reference point in the culture to compare it.'"

One thing I took from this book was that musicians in those days died on the road like all the time. Cars caught on fire. At some point Elvis' mother made him promise not to fly anymore, so he would take the train to Hollywood and New York.

(says a bandmate of an early tour): "he would run the women, he'd run two or three of them in one night - whether or not he was actually making love to all three, I don't know, because he was kind of private in that sense and if I thought he was going to run some women in the room with him, I didn't stay. But I just think he wanted them around, it was a sense of insecurity, I guess, because I don't think he was a user. He just loved women, and I think they knew that."

By 1955 when Elvis was 20 girls would tear his clothes to pieces. "Of course the police started getting them out, and I will never forget Faron Young - this one little girl had kind of a little hump at the back, and he kicked at her, and these little boots fell out." ??? Sometime after this Elvis took Dixie to her junior prom.

Manufacturing a hit record back then could actually put a small record company out of business, because there were high upfront costs of making the record, so Sam Phillips had to sell Elvis' contract, seemingly without rancor.

"Popular music has reached its lowest depths in the 'grunt and groin' antics of one Elvis Presley," wrote the Daily News. OH REALLY!

In between having his clothes ripped off Elvis seemed to "date" relatively pure-heartedly. There's a weird account on p. 315 of Elvis and his girlfriend sort of dry-humping and tickling each other and almost doing it but then not doing it: "'we almost did it, didn't we baby?' And I said, 'We almost did.' He said, 'That was close, wasn't it?'"

Later, in Hollywood, "more experienced girls" were surprised to find that "what he liked to do was to lie in bed and watch television and eat and talk all night - the companionship seemed as important for him as the sex - and then in the early-morning hours they would make love."

This book had a good amount about what food everybody ate. Elvis liked eggs cooked rock hard and burnt bacon. At age 23 he's conducting an interview "while lunching alone in his dressing room on a bowl of gravy, a bowl of mashed potatoes, nine slices of well-done bacon, two pints of milk, a large glass of tomato juice, lettuce salad, six slices of bread, and four pats of butter."

In Hollywood he seems to have fallen in with some real lame characters and professional best friends. He stayed at the Knickerbocker Hotel until that got too nuts and he stayed at the Beverly Wilshire. His movies were shot on the Paramount lot. Sometimes he would call his mother and talk to her all day.

This book ends with Elvis getting drafted into the Army. He agreed with his weird hypnotizing carnival-guy manager Colonel Tom Parker that he should turn down all special offers and just be a regular soldier. He joined the Army and then his mother died. He was totally shattered.

After his mother died, he invited his dentist over and showed him around the recently purchased Graceland. "He said, 'the newspapers have made my house so laughable' - that was the word. He said, 'They have made it sound so laughable, I would love to have your opinion of my home.' He took us all through the house, my taste is not so marvelous, but it was very attractive, it all fit - there was a modern sculpture on the chimney over the fireplace, and I had the same sculpture in my office, it was called 'Rhythm.' Anyway, when we got back to the living room, he said, 'What do you think? and Sterling said, 'If you give me the key, I'll swap you."

I don't think I'll read volume two anytime soon because I don't want to read about the sadder things that will befall my new friend Elvis.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Fatal Shore: The epic of Australia's founding, by Robert Hughes

This was a book I kept seeing on certain kinds of bookshelves: there was one on the Commerce Street apartment of Rosen's grandmother, for instance. I bet Helen Stevens' dad had a copy. Finally a trip to Australia coincided with coming across a chance mention of it in SDB's writings so I read it.

My favorite kind of book: books where the thesis is "history is absurd," some amazing fact on every page, and the author writes like he's had one or two before sitting down at his typewriter. You've heard that Australia was settled by convicts, but the details of England deciding to transport boatloads of people, basically treated like human garbage, onto a distant place nobody knew the slightest thing about keeps getting more incredible.

England was filling up with criminals - people who'd, say, stolen some cheese or a shirt. It seemed too much to hang these folks, so they kept them on leaky hulks in the river. There was a vague plan to send them to America, but then the Revolution happened. The ships kept filling up. There was an idea to dump them in West Africa and let them fight it out with the locals, but that was scraped, finally, in favor of sending them to Australia, which had been visited like three times.

To the busy FunFriend I can't recommend a 605 page book about Australia, so share in my joy vicariously through these highlights.

- "At the lower end [of poor London circa 1788] were occupations now not only lost but barely recorded: that of the "Pure-finders," for instance, old women who collected dog-turds which they sold to tanneries for a few pence a bucket.

- one guy who got transported was "an impecunious young actor" named Mansfield Silverthorpe who stole a trunk.

- of the first night the convicts were allowed on land in Australia: "as the couples rutted between the rocks, guts burning form the harsh Brazilian aguardiente, their clothes slimy with red clay, the sexual history of colonial Australia may fairly be said to have begun."

- sometimes people would have a heavy iron put on their leg. "Months later, when the weight was removed for the voyage, the prisoner's right leg would jerk up uncontrollably as he walked."

- "Davey marked his arrival in Hobart Town in February of 1813 by lurching to the ship's gangway, casting an owlish look at his new domain and emptying a bottle of port over his wife's hat."

- runaway convicts were called "China travelers," because they thought they could maybe run all the way to China. Instead they'd starve in the bush or be bitten by snakes or killed by aborigines.

Anyway, if you like floggings and sadism, there's lots of that in this book, on average a flogging per page.

Friday, October 21, 2011

I, Claudius (1934), by Robert Graves

1. Know going in that the book is about Augustus, Tiberius, and Caligula, and not really about Claudius as Emperor.

2. If you want to know more about Roman history, this is a great book. He personalizes all these figures into the "horny Stalin" types they really were. I feel like I know how the whole Imperial Rome thing worked now, and why Caligula was a bad guy (or at least, the few remaining historical sources make him out to be such a bad guy.)

3. As a "novel," it's a bit of a slog as you get very few scenes where Claudius talks to people. He's mostly talking about other people's lives and historical events.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Blue Blood, by Edward Conlon

Blue Blood is the cop memoir ("copoir") by Edward Conlon '87, who went to Regis, wrote for the Lampoon, and became a beat cop in the South Bronx. The book is an extremely detailed account of the years before Conlon became a detective. If some sections feel repetitive and mundane, I think that's intentional; Conlon seems to want to show just how repetitive and mundane police work can be. Even so, I was never even remotely bored; I actually found the book hard to put down.

As an added bonus, it's fun to imagine literally anybody else from the Lampoon in literally any one of the scenarios he describes. (Klein interrogating a crack dealer; Vali asking, very seriously, if there are any guns in the apartment; Dubbin using the word "skell," etc.)

Have any FFs had the chance to meet Conlon?

Wanted (2010)

I wanted to hate this movie, but instead I found it mildly entertaining.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Appointment in Samarra (1934)

In the last 3.5 years, I've read 53 novels chronologically from 1900 to 1934. John O'Hara's Appointment in Samarra likely marks the point where American novels get cynical, dark, and creepy — like the 1930s' equivalent of Bret Easton Ellis. The main character is completely loathsome, and there's no real moral center of the book.

That being said, it's a brutally honest portrait of small-town Pennsylvania of that time, and pretty easy to read. Not sure that there is truly any literary value but perhaps historical. John O'Hara's star has fallen from the literary pantheon, but it's interesting to know that this guy was huge at some point. 

Also if you want to write about anti-semitism in pre-WWII American novels, the characters spend their days bashing Jews the entire time.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Year of Magical Thinking, by Joan Didion

I thought this book sucked! Did anybody else read it? I loved The White Album, and there was stuff in Slouching Towards Bethlehem that blew my head open. HATED Where I Was From.

Is this a safe space to discuss the wild unevenness of Joan Didion? Most of TYOMT seems to be about which hotels Joan Didion stayed at.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Art of Fielding, by Chad Harbach

The first 60 pages of The Art of Fielding are very baseball-y, and I thought it might turn out to be one of my all-time favorite books. Then it got way more college-y, and I didn't enjoy it as much. (Your opinion may differ if you don't have a deep nostalgic affection for taking grounders.)

The main character, Henry Skrimshander, is a college shortstop who's never made an error. It doesn't take Guert Affenlight to recognize that metaphor! (Guert Affenlight is another character.) I think fielding lends itself especially well to prose because so much of it is mental. Excerpts from "The Art of Fielding," a fictional book-within-the-book by fictional shortstop and philosopher Aparicio Rodriguez, were some of my favorite parts.

I guess my complaint with the college-y section is that it feels so constrained. The five main characters mostly interact with each other, and some of their relationships are more interesting than others. (As campus novels go, I prefer the underrated and much more expansive I Am Charlotte Simmons.) Still, Henry's quest for perfection remains compelling throughout the book.

Apparently a lot of references were lost on me because I've never read Moby Dick. I blame Herman Melville for writing Billy Budd and my high school English teacher for making me read Billy Budd and Billy Budd for stinking.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Drillbit Taylor, 2008

Not that terrible! Not very good, and almost no jokes, but Owen Wilson charms me. I watched this while I prepared and ate dinner by myself. I think that is probably the way someone should watch it. Don't make a night of it.

Limitless, 2011

A solid entertainment! Didn't love the ending, and it glossed over some potentially interesting plot points, but that seemed like it was for the sake of keeping the story tight and the audience happy. I wouldn't mind seeing this as a TV series actually.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Bel Canto, by Ann Patchett

My mom's taste in entertainment is weirdly great, the best example being her inexplicable love for Flight of the Conchords. She bought Bel Canto for me, and it did not disappoint. The plot is based on a 1996 hostage crisis in Peru, and Patchett manages to convey the monotony of a months-long standoff without ever being boring. The main characters are very likeable and include a Japanese business executive, his translator, and a famous opera singer. Mostly this book is about how the human capacity for violence is no more powerful than our capacity for appreciating art and beauty and shit.

Fun facts about Ann Patchett from Wikipedia:

For nine years, Patchett worked at Seventeen magazine. She mostly wrote non-fiction, and the magazine would publish only one of every five articles she wrote. She said that the magazine was cruel and eventually she stopped taking criticism personally. She ended her relationship with the magazine after getting into a fight with an editor and exclaiming, "I’ll never darken your door again!"

"Don't read Ann Patchett's other books!" my mom warns.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Trip, 2011

There are a few charming/funny parts in this insanely long Steve Coogan movie, but the best part by far was watching Vali's face while he was watching—he looked so confused and angry the whole time.

Midnight in Paris, 2011

I saw Midnight in Paris a month or two ago. I thought it was O.K., but the acting for the most part was horrible (Owen Wilson, Marion Cotillard and the guy who plays Hemingway are the exceptions). Most of the jokes were that Owen Wilson would meet someone and he would say, who was that, and Hemingway or someone would say, "That was Salvador Dali" and Owen Wilson's eyes would bug out and he'd go "BWAH! I JUST MET SALVADOR DALI!" "THAT WAS DEGAS???" "F. SCOTT FITZGERALD, THIS CAN'T BE REAL!!!" Anyway, my parents loved this movie, but they are pretty big Francophiles. I think it would be fun to do a version of this movie in the present day to be released in 50 years— the progatonist meets someone and then goes "WHAT?! THAT WAS KYLE BERKMAN???" and then you just hope that in the future Berkman is a huge superstar.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Abstinence Teacher, by Tom Perrotta

A sex-ed teacher in a New England suburb is made to teach an abstinence only class due to the influx of born-again evangelicals in the town. Meanwhile, a born-again soccer coach struggles with his faith and family. I enjoy Perrotta's writing and the book is a quick read. I was sort of hoping for more of a skewering of the abstinence class, but that would have been pretty easy and it's probably a good thing the book doesn't focus on that very much. One thing I had trouble with is imagining ten-year-olds being good at soccer. I referee'd a ten-year-olds' soccer game once and the kids didn't even know where they were. No one was running in the same direction. There might as well not have been a ball.

Chronic City, by Jonathan Lethem

About some oddball characters in a slightly altered version of New York City. There are some interesting parts in this book, but seems a little cutesy if you live in and are familiar with New York. I don't quite know what to make of it, to be honest. I wouldn't recommend it if you are on a beach somewhere, but I wouldn't discourage you from reading it if you are holed up in an air conditioned apartment and feeling sort of out of place in the world. The middle third of the book is pretty aggravating.

However, I would strongly recommend Lethem's graphic novel update of "Omega the Unknown." So there you have it.

Into Thin Air, by Jon Krakauer

The story of the catastrophic 1996 ascent of Mt. Everest. I love Krakauer. This story is compelling and tragic. I'd read Into The Wild, and after reading this I bought Under the Banner of Heaven and Where Men Win Glory. What I'm trying to say is that I'm making quite a bit of throwing-around money.

Citizens of London, by Lynne Olson

Very interesting book about the Americans who were pushing for the United States to enter WWII while Britain was struggling to survive as the last European holdout against the Nazis. It focuses on Averell Harriman (not a particularly positive portrait of him), Edward R. Murrow, and Gil Winant, who is the most fascinating character in the book. Churchill and Roosevelt, meanwhile, come off as big egotistical babies. Crazily, all three of these American protagonists become so closely involved with the British wartime government that all of them had affairs with members of Churchill's family.

Everything Must Go, and Blue Valentine

These movies are depressing as SHIT.

Saturday, September 10, 2011


This movie was pretty much what I expected: a "good" but not very emotionally compelling depiction of what a pandemic might look like if a bunch of movie stars were involved. I was a little ahead of the game, from having played the board game Pandemic -- and I got a little distracted trying to figure out whether Laurence Fishburne was supposed to be the Operations Manager or the Dispatcher, or why they didn't just set up a research station in Macau from "Day 1". I guess these are the burdens of being an expert!

Friday, September 9, 2011

The Big Nowhere, by James Ellroy

This is without question the darkest book I've ever read. Although it was my first Ellroy novel, I pretty much knew what to expect from "L.A. Confidential" (the movie) and "The Black Dahlia" (the horrible movie) -- two or three cops with nearly polar opposite personalities, thrown together by happenstance or machination, explore the criminal underbelly of mid-century Los Angeles in a dangerous attempt to unravel a potentially explosive conspiracy. What I did not expect was skullfucking.

Ellroy does a fantastic job of personalizing the characters' investigations in a believable way, and there's a lot of great stuff about the extent and nature of Communist influence in Hollywood and the politicians' less than patriotic motives for uncovering it. Howard Hughes is a minor character. Howard Hughes's pimp is a major character. There is a dog called Rape-o.

I think James Ellroy would be good at writing phools' names.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Stripes (1981)

A comedy starring Bill Murray and Harold Ramis with no jokes.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

In Pharaoh's Army by Tobias Wolff

This knocked Michael Herr's "Dispatches" out of top place for best book I ever read about Vietnam. The writing had such a quality of honesty that it shined an embarrassing light on most other memoirs, and made me realize how much other memoirists are bogged down with carefully calibrating their self-presentation. Wolff seems to have blown past that to some higher Zen level. Sometimes he seems heroic, sometimes he is selfish, sometimes he is kind, or cruel, or just plain dumb, but in very human ways. He seems to never exaggerate his incompetence for comedy or his dark experiences for tragedy, it all seems presented cleanly and evenly. As if he already thought through everything you could think of him and moved on.

This book is in the form of short chapters, short stories really, which makes for easy reading. I did sometimes think the chapters were completed with a short story-style tidiness, like well-made dumplings. As if he'd been thinking about them so long the reality of the experience became too polished? But he knows better than me what it's like to remember these things.

At one point Wolff befriends a Harvard guy. That was a really interesting chapter.

Fire In Babylon

This documentary is about the West Indes cricket team in the 1970s. You might think, "Wow, what a great example of a thing I don't care about!" BUT: this movie is terrific. Great characters, great drama, twists and turns, great villains, great music, a great part where one of the Wailers shoos away a dog, great footage of Jamaica and Barbados in the '70s.

The Thin Blue Line

This was a deep one on my queue, but with the help of FF BFD I polished it off last night. Very compelling. Both the form of the movie and content of the story kept me engaged. It was so artfully constructed it made me think most other people making documentaries are a whole class below Errol Morris.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

This movie had a lot to enjoy, including a compelling father/chimp-son story, a nicely paced-out chimp prison story, and a crazy extended set piece of apes running rampant and kicking ass over San Francisco. James Franco is in it, looking weirdly both beefy and ragged. Another cool part is where the chimp-son is so hell bent on defending an Alzheimers John Lithgow that he causes serious personal injury to another person.

If you're like me, you'll certainly enjoy seeing Andy Serkis continue along his quick trajectory towards becoming the Daniel Day-Lewis of mo-cap.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Levels Of The Game by John McPhee

This is a short book, an extended New Yorker article really, about Arthur Ashe and Clark Graebner's tennis match during the 1968 US Open. The tennis stuff I ended up skimming, it's just not that compelling. Sportswriting to me is always best when it's about everything other than sports, and there's lots of that here. Arthur Ashe's boyhood - he lived in a park, where his father was a police officer - is interesting, and there's a whole part about his genealogy, and about a mentor who launched a program to promote black tennis players. There are extended descriptions of the lifestyles of both Graebner and Ashe who were both amateurs at the time.

The two best parts of the book:
1) Graebner's "training meal" that he eats every night: "a vodka martini, a shrimp cocktail, a baked potato without salt or butter, and roast beef or a steak." Ashe eats "soul food" and "once in a while he will have a glass of beer with a shot of lime juice in it."

2) Ashe, talking about Australia, says "Australian English is a barroom language. It is not a language for a woman."

All told I didn't like this book as much as DFW's tennis writing. But it was pretty compelling as a profile of two people from distinct backgrounds and their lives in the 1960s, performing as amateur athletes at the highest level.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Even the Giants, by Jesse Jacobs

I loved this little graphic novel. There are some really funny moments in it and the drawings are beautiful. It reminded me of another tiny favorite of mine: Tales of Woodsman Pete, by Lilli Carré. Enjoy!

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, by David Mitchell

Not as good as Cloud Atlas, but good. It took me a little while to warm up to the story, mainly because you don't get a solid sense of where it is going until the end of the first book, but after that I was hooked. I think the James Wood review in the New Yorker complained that there doesn't seem to be a real "reason" for this book, other than just to write a masterpiece of historical fiction. That seems like an okay enough reason to me, but I can see the point Wood was making: why write a work of historical fiction if not to prove some point about what we can learn from some era or way of thinking that persisted in the past? Mitchell does pay a little homage to the idea that slavery is wrong, which is pretty much what all historical fiction is about, since that is the only thing we have ever learned from the past—but he doesn't get bogged down in it and manages to turn out a pretty compelling story. Good work!

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, 2011

I thought this movie was great. I was a little uncomfortable about the scene with all the Jew bankers, but it was still a good scene.

Monday, July 4, 2011

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

This book takes place at a small liberal arts college in Vermont. The protagonist/narrator is a self-hating suburban Californian who falls in with an exclusive and privileged group of ancient Greek scholars. The story (made clear in the two-page prologue) is about how five of the scholars (narrator included) come to murder the sixth.

It's definitely a page-turner, there's a lot of sordid stuff to suck you in, but it peaked around the midpoint and then the ending sort of petered out (the action of the ending, I felt, being sort of a cop-out). In many ways it's a fascinating study of how one powerful person can stealthily control a bunch of weaker people, but it never quite overcomes the inherent coldness of a study -- even though I suppose I did care about some of the characters. (Can a story ever be truly satisfying when the characters you care about most will always be fundamentally powerless?)

It's a good depiction of a middle-class outsider's relationship to old-money privilege, and it's very New England. I especially enjoyed the fantasy-fodder of weekends spent at one of the character's Gothic ancestral mansion. Worth reading, since it's a quickie.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Brave New World (1932)

I don't recommend reading this after high school. What seemed eerie and cautionary at 16 reads like completely anachronistic farce at 32. They say "Oh Ford" instead of "Oh God."

Although this book gets lumped in with 1984, Orwell's future is much bleaker. Brave New World is somewhat ambivalent about its future vision, as everyone ends up pretty happy and society is stable. Things don't turn out well for the one sorry dude who likes Shakespeare and hates bliss. And they even ship off the independently-minded, cool kids to island communes. That sounds like magnet schooling.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Young Lonigan (1932)

Young Lonigan is the first book in James T. Farrell's "Studs Lonigan Trilogy" — a relatively minor work that is clinging to its bottom half place in the "Best American Novels" canon.

The first volume is only about 140 pages and follows a teenage Studs graduating from Catholic school and spending his summer going increasingly juvie as a reaction against his well-meaning parenting and a masked rage against falling in love with a girl.

Young Lonigan kinda works as a scrappy tale of Chicago in the 20s, with nice slang like "everything's jake." It feels like it must have established this "genre" of juvie kids out on the Chicago sidewalks. (I would be convinced Harmony Korine took his inspiration for KIDS from Farrell if I thought for a second that Korine was really into reading the Modern Library's 100 Greatest Novels and not vomiting into the Modern Library's 100 Greatest Novels.)

But the first book alone doesn't feel substantial enough to warrant your attention. I suspect that the shit gets good in the 2nd or 3rd installments, and if you buy a modern version of this book, all three are included in one volume. I will read on and let you know.

One additional note: There is a brutal chapter towards the end of the Irish no-goods bullying the hood's Jewish kids. Farrell clearly felt bad about this, though and suddenly invents a Jewish protagonist for the next chapter who calls the Irish idiots and waxes poetically about the genius of Jews.

Bad Teacher, 2011

Bad Teacher was good for some laughs, but I am here to weblog about my moviegoing experience.

I saw Bad Teacher at the Los Feliz 3. If you haven't been to the Los Feliz 3, its defining feature is an upward-sloping floor (basically the opposite of stadium seating). At the Los Feliz 3, trends get bucked. Anyway, I'm alone in the mostly empty theater (Carrie has gone to the bathroom) when a 70ish-year-old man approaches. "Best seat in the house," he says, easing himself into the chair next to mine. "Is that yours?" (He is pointing at Carrie's purse.) I tell him no, pretty curtly, because a) the guy is shattering all kinds of personal-space rules and b) he has one of those smells that isn't all that bad, but it's so strong, you know it must be masking something truly heinous. Unfazed, the old man takes out his cell phone and starts telling someone, in excruciating detail, about his recent difficulties with uncontrollable foot bleeding. By now Carrie has returned and is very much enjoying my predicament. Just before the lights go down, a not unattractive middle-aged woman slides into the theater's only remaining seat, on the other side of the old man. "I have to go," he says. "A blonde just sat down next to me." He proceeds to hit on this woman for the entirety of the previews and most of the movie itself. Finally, during the closing credits (Carrie and I remain glued to our seats), he requests -- and is given -- her phone number.

Bad Teacher: B
Moviegoing Experience: A+

The Imperfectionists, update

Liked it! Sort of similar to Goon Squad in a way. Keep up the great work.

Commando, 1985

Arnold Schwarzenegger's character, John Matrix, has a great relationship with his daughter, Jenny, played by a young Alyssa Milano. They fish, hunt, swim in a river, chop wood, and feed deer out of the palms of their hands. But then a guy kidnaps the daughter so that John Matrix will kill a South American president or something, and so Matrix kills hundreds of people, with the help of a woman he meets at the airport who laughs in the face of death, because she is some kind of secret psychopath. Here's what you will enjoy:

-the steel drum loop that is the soundtrack
-John Matrix reading a map
-John Matrix getting out of a bi-plane in a speedo so he can row a bunch of guns to shore and then put his clothes back on
-the special effects
-the fake mustaches
-how slow John Matrix runs while hundreds of men shoot at him
-the opening montage of Matrix with his daughter, Jenny
-the awesome bad guy with the chain mail, who, though he has thin arms and a potbelly, believes he is the only man as strong as John Matrix
-a shopping mall policed by over fifty mall cops

I wish this movie had come out after the Matrix.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

X-Men: First Class, 2011

Pretty good for an X-Men movie. Up to you if you want to stay through the credits like Jack and I did. There is no extra footage, but it's fun to see people's names.

Manhunt, by James L. Swanson

This is the story of the 12 day manhunt to capture John Wilkes Booth. Not the most interesting writing style, but very clear and informative. Swanson describes but does not fall prey to Booth's charisma, and portrays him as a delusional egotist who makes a number of bumbling errors. The descriptions of the assassinations of Lincoln and Seward, and the night that follows, are the highlights of the book—Swanson gives a real sense of the mood and place. One thing that was fascinating was how aware everyone present seemed to be of their place in history. At every major event from the assassination in Ford's Theater to the killing of Booth, onlookers are grabbing bits of bloody cloth, locks of hair, coins in a pocket—anything historically significant that they can get their hands on. Did anyone see that movie The Conspirator that came out this year? I haven't seen it, but it is about this kind of junk.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Way Some People Die, by Ross Macdonald

The story follows P.I., Lew Archer, as he tracks down a missing girl, and deals with gangsters, drug dealers, failed actors, and the police in the process. While I didn't ever feel any real urgency or suspense, the characters were all well-described and unique, with some enjoyable, weird details. One doesn't get a real sense of who Lew Archer is, or how he differs from Chandler's Phillip Marlowe character, though it's hard to judge a series from one book. Similarly, there are some Chandler books that are more interesting in terms of plot, but there are also some pretty sloppy ones. One good thing about this book is how pointy he says one lady's breasts are.

Hall Pass, 2011

This movie looks like it was written and filmed by high school kids. A couple of guys (Owen Wilson and Jason Sudeikis) are attracted to women other than their hot wives. What should the wives do about this? is the question the wives ask their best friend, Psychologist of the Year award winner, Joy Behar. I do not know how they all became friends with each other, but they are, and it is a good thing too, because Joy Behar tells the wives that they should give their husbands a "Hall Pass" which means the husbands can have sex with other people for a week. Owen Wilson gets it first, but then Sudeikis gets one also because the police catch him masturbating in his car. Anyway, the guys spend a week eating at chain restaurants and somehow the wives end up hanging out with a minor league baseball team in Cape Cod? I was pretty drunk when I watched the first half of this. One of the wives' dad introduces her to a handsome older gentleman, I guess for the purpose of boning. There is also a scene where a lady shits on a wall and another scene where you see two guys' different sized dicks. Don't forget to wait through the credits - there is an extra scene that is equally good to all the other scenes in the movie.

No stars!

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Concrete Blonde, by Michael Connelly

My dad has been a big Michael Connelly fan since the summer of 2009, when he rented a house up by Woodrow Wilson Drive. As is so often the case with rental houses, the bookshelves were filled with trashy mystery novels. Michael Connelly particularly interested my dad because his recurring main character, LAPD homicide detective Harry Bosch, also lives in a house up by Woodrow Wilson Drive. At the end of that summer, my dad left The Concrete Blonde on my own bookshelf, and this week I finally decided to give it a try.

Here are some excerpts:

"That's extortion," Cerrone said.
"No asshole, that's justice."
(end of Chapter 12)

"That's justice," she said, nodding at the statue. "She doesn't hear you. She doesn't see you. She can't feel you and won't speak to you. Justice, Detective Bosch, is just a concrete blonde."
(end of Chapter 15)

"What's happening, Lieutenant?" the homeless man asked.
"Justice is happening."
(end of Chapter 17)

The point is, I just downloaded another Harry Bosch novel, which I plan to listen to immediately. No one else should read The Concrete Blonde except, obviously, Strach.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Idea for a way to rate movies

# of times you checked your phone while watching at home.

My Left Foot: 5. (I liked it though).

Ross Macdonald

O.K., Hely, I have picked "The Way Some People Die" for our Ross Macdonald book club. I chose it because it was the only Ross Macdonald book at my local Barnes & Noble. I am reading some other books right now, so it's cool with me if we don't start right away.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Bridesmaids, 2011

It's funny! Go for it!

Too Big to Fail, 2011

I listened to the HBO original movie "Too Big To Fail" last Tuesday. It made Hank Paulsen look more compassionate than I imagine he is and it made Richard Fuld, the chairman of Lehman Bros. played by James Woods, look like a crazy idiot asshole who maybe could have prevented the economy from crashing so hard if he had accepted a loan from Warren Buffet. Do you know why he didn't accept the loan? He thought he was too big to fail. There is a lesson in that for all of us.

If you know a lot about the financial crisis, this won't shed a lot of light on it. If you don't know much about the financial crisis, this could serve as an accessible introduction to it.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Father of the Bride

Kimberly Williams' eyebrows are ENORMOUS CATERPILLARS in this movie. One of them is visible in the poster:
I wish that "cute" women could still get away with eyebrows like that.

This movie made me cry at least twice. And it's pretty funny that B.D. Wong's character is named Howard Weinstein.

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

The 1978 remake of well-loved science-fiction classic The Invasion of the Body Snatchers is only available on Netflix streaming for a few more days. It's very good so you should probably watch it. Also watch the original, and if you have some spare time, watch Them!, which is also good.

Monday, May 23, 2011

It's Kind of a Funny Story (2010)

A New York City kid is stressed out at his elite private school and all the demands on him so he checks himself into a psych ward. Zach Galifinakis is a charming mental patient and there are a few funny crazy people moments, but all of the montage-y parts about the main character's stressful life are pretty boring. There are sort of two movies here: one is a pleasant indie movie about a basically sane teenager becoming friends with a wacky fringe character, and the other is a bad, zany comedy in which the protagonist suffers from random, fake-looking projectile vomiting. Still, very watchable.

A Short History of Nearly Everything, by Bill Bryson

If you are like me, meaning your brain refuses to understand or remember scientific facts, this is a great book. It is very "big picture" about our understanding of the world, and made me want to do some more science reading. I was always frustrated in school (particularly during physics) when we spent a long time on ideas that we now know to be wrong, but Bryson makes the history of science interesting by giving details about what strange (and often petty) people scientists were and are. It also helps to show that we have so much left to learn.

There is no thesis to this book, so unlike Guns, Germs, and Steel, which hits you over the head with a point over and over again, this one just keeps moving. If there were a thesis it would be: scientists are weirdos. Bryson's writing is easy and enjoyable—many of the blurbs refer to his wit, and here is one more:

"Bryson's wit is as sharp as his tongue: pink, and covered in beard hairs."

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Two Recommendations

1. A Meaningful Life, by L.J. Davis (1971): This book has been adopted by the Brooklyn Fetishist movement as an early fable about gentrification (Jonathan Lethem prefaced the edition I read), but it's really just a dark, sometimes very funny story about a failed writer lamely battling against his own creeping nihilism.

2. For the Relief of Unbearable Urges, by Nathan Englander (1999): I'd had trouble with Englander's novel (The Ministry of Special Cases), but thought these short stories were pretty great. Unlike much of the inauthentic, maudlin garbage that passes for popular Jewish-American literature these days, these stories have a lot of, for lack of a better word, soul. Particularly good are "Reunion," which reminded me a bit of Cheever, "The Twenty-seventh Man," which Englander is now apparently adapting into a play, and especially "The Tumblers," which was one of the best short stories I've read in a long time.

Tobacco Road by Erskine Caldwell (1932)

I had never heard of Erskine Caldwell or his book Tobacco Road but it was on the "100 Greatest Novels" list I have been using as one of the references for my own historical reading list. And the jacket copy called Caldwell "the world's most popular novelist" so this would at least be good for seeing what people used to enjoy back in the day.

This book is ridiculous and should not be read.

The 159 pages — with lots of horrible period illustrations – follow an implausibly pathetic Southern white sharecropper family where the father is so lazy "he won't get up for an hour when he trips on things," constantly makes fun of his daughter's harelip to her face, can't remember half of his children's names, and likes to burn stuff, which ends up being his undoing. A some point these laughable hicks buy a car, which they trash immediately in myriad ways and run over and kill at least two people, which is only mentioned in passing. The first 40 pages is all about a bag of turnips. The other female in the book has some horrid nose deformity that everyone talks about endlessly.

If you want to read something "Southern Gothic," avoid this and read As I Lay Dying or even Winesburg, Ohio, even though that's not technically the South. Faulkner follows very similar people but gives them at least some sliver of dignity.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Best and The Brightest by David Halberstam

Been re-looking at this book which I read a long time ago. I highly recommend at least the first hundred or so pages. It is amazing at conveying not just the facts and story but an attitude, a sensibility. That seems like a trait of the best non-fiction. The articles in LA Weekly, say, often try for this and don't nail it.

The book is about the men, largely Harvard-associated men, who controlled foreign policy as America drifted into the Vietnam War. Many of the characters described are attractive in some ways, brilliant and stylish and confident, but their blind spots and their massive arrogance helped the country slip into tragedy. Much of the book is in the form of mini-profiles: McGeorge Bundy, for instance, who almost became president of Harvard when he was 34.

But it's also a story about how tiny errors, misunderstandings, and biases accumulate into enormous disasters - the French experts at the State Department were considered cooler and more prestigious than the Asia experts, personal status battles kept some people out of key meetings, people had fixations based on their WWII experiences, egos and political debts had to be soothed or paid off with important appointments, on and on.

Anyway, I can't recommend the whole book, which gets pretty detaily, but an interesting thing to flip through at the bookstore or library.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Six Shooter

I've been reading the plays of Martin McDonagh. The Beauty Queen of Leenane I found to be the most gripping. I also watched - and would invite you to watch - his Oscar-winning short film Six Shooter, available on YouTube. Relevant to our discussion of sociopaths, it sticks with the trademark McDonagh themes of human cruelty played for comedy and horrific violence also played for comedy.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Source Code (2011)

I agree with my worthy colleague EAP that Source Code is a good time at the movies. Source Code is a great retelling of the Majora's Mask legend. Vera Farmiga is a charming Tatl, and Jareth the Goblin King is an elegant gay Link. Eli Vance's performance as Dr. Doom is also laudable. I do wish that Hollywood would cast a lead with a giant hole in his skull who, for once, doesn't have magical mental powers. These kinds of stereotypes have dogged the hole skull community for years.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Girls Like Us by Sheila Weller

This is both a group biography of Carole King, Joni Mitchell and Carly Simon and also a social history of the mid-60s to mid-70s. It is awesome.

I generally tend to dismiss the culture of this era as strident and misguided (or just drug-addled and dumb), so it was great to be reminded that smart/creative people then were largely just like they are today -- some privileged/educated, some not, all searching for their voices and trying to be impressive and getting wrapped up in their own status games. The main differences were that, back then, they were just discovering female sexual freedom/empowerment, and drugs, and they earnestly believed that the Revolution was coming. It's fascinating to read about.

Weller's writing is great and direct, such as here: "Where Monterey Pop had been a bellwether boutique, Woodstock would be Wal-Mart."

The level of detail is perfect, in my opinion (would I want to read a 527-page biography of any one of these women? probably not) and contains lots of great gossipy info. For example, a young Carly Simon met a young Sean Connery on a cruise ship, and he "tried to pursuade [my sister] Lucy and me to do things we had never heard of." She also had romances with Terrence Malick and Milos Forman (the latter's accent and personality inspired SNL's "Two Wild and Crazy Guys" sketch).

Carole King's husband and songwriting partner had a barely-concealed affair with one of the girl-group singers they were writing for, and intentionally had a baby with her. Carole knew, but stayed in the marriage and the professional partnership for years after that. Much later, when Carole was far along in one of her own pregnancies, Warren Beatty begged her to have sex with him, saying he'd never had sex with a very pregnant woman and wanted to know how it felt. (Beatty pops up many times in the book, as a beyond-belief lothario and all-around ridiculous human being.)

Joni Mitchell comes across as an intolerable Borderline Personality Disorder type. Carole King comes off looking pretty good, though there was a rather tragic decade (or maybe even longer?) when she took up with a series of abusive mountain men in Idaho. Carly Simon seems like an oversexed, neurotic delight.

The Lost Books of the Odyssey, by Zachary Mason

I was wary of this book because I had read a review that said it was sort of glib, but I didn't find it to be that at all. The premise is that the author found these lost books of the Odyssey, which are variations on stories from the Iliad and the Odyssey, in no particular order, and in my opinion, it works really well for the first half of the book. There are some interesting, dreamlike variations that deal with fate and storytelling and one or two that reminded me of Stephen Millhauser stories (which is the highest praise I can give something). At around the halfway point Mason loses steam, and some of the stories become repetitive and others seem to not fit as well with the rest. A bunch of stories also sort of felt like descriptions of the game "Mist." In sum, the first half is great, the second half isn't as good.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Saturday Night Fever

This movie is really tragic and good. A little slow, as '70s movies can be, but there are several wrenching scenes. Has anyone else seen it?

Friday, May 6, 2011

All That Jazz

I liked this movie. Roy Scheider is very convincing as a womanizing, hard-living director/choreographer. There is some pretty weird fantasy-sequence stuff in here, like Jessica Lange playing a flirtatious angel of death, and some people dressed as circulatory systems dancing to a jazzed-up version of "Bye Bye Love" in front of a giant plastic curtain. Both of Roy Scheider's love interests are interesting and his relationships with them feel real. (Ann Reinking is so beautiful!) Watching this movie reminded me of a very strong desire I once had, to be an aspiring Broadway dancer in the late 70s/early 80s and wear matte leotards and sheer black tights and have a cloud of beautiful frizzy hair. It also made me wish there were more crazy autobiographical movies like this one and fewer bland biopics.

Columbine by Dave Cullen

KCE and DAK were super into this, but it was maybe twice too long as I needed and I found the structure - cutting back and forth through various story-threads before and after - a little difficult. It is thoroughly well-reported, and in a strange way inspirational, but I don't think it was worth reading. Here are the main things I took away (possible misrememberings):

- The principal of Columbine seems to have been a devoted, noble kind of guy who was doing a great job running the school beforehand, and did an even better job after. His story, and the story of a teacher named Dave Saunders, were quite moving. The best details were just about these guys' ordinary lives - drinking a rum and Coke every night, getting together with a high school sweetheart after a divorce.

- Eric Harris was apparently a straight-up, born evil sociopath (or psychopath, the term Cullen seems to prefer). The chapter about psychopathy was the most interesting, and better than the book The Sociopath Next Door.

- Dylan Klebold seems to have just been a tragic, depressed kind of kid. It almost seems like he might've gotten through it and into stability if he hadn't met Harris. Cullen suggests that the combination of a depressive and a psychopath has been noted before in criminal "dyads," like Bonnie and Claude and the DC snipers. I would've liked to hear more about this.

- Both the Klebold and Harris parents were neither abusive nor inattentive. Eric Harris' dad kept a journal where he tried to figure out what was wrong with his son, and did everything he could for him. After the shootings both sets of parents seem to have behaved with great dignity - they met with parents of victims, they did their best to understand this. The Harris parents have never been interviewed. The only journalist the Klebolds ever talked to was David Brooks (although I think Mrs. Klebold since wrote an article in O magazine). I found their stories really tragic.

- Klebold and Harris made a video right before the shootings where they listed a bunch of kids they were gonna kill. They didn't kill any of them.

- Their goal was to blow up the whole school, and they came pretty close. If their bombs had gone off, they would've killed maybe 500 people. Their plan was to stand outside and shoot kids running out after the bombs went off. But the bombs didn't work.

- There were several minutes where Klebold and Harris just stopped shooting, and walked around the school, past roomfuls of kids, without shooting anybody. Cullen attributes this to a psychopath getting bored, the thrill going away.

- The stories about how the Trenchcoat Mafia and "do you believe in God" myths got started are interesting case studies in media hyping.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Looming Tower, by Lawrence Wright

This history of al-Qaeda has been on my long list pretty much since it came out and I figured this week was as good a time as any to read it.

The premise of the book's approach is that even major historical events are ultimately just a function of the actions and decisions of individual men and women. Personalities and relationships matter as much as, and likely more than, broad social forces.

Lawrence Wright, who won a Pulitzer Prize for The Looming Tower, puts it this way: "One can ask...whether 9/11 or some similar tragedy might have happened without bin Laden to steer it. The answer is certainly not. Indeed, the tectonic plates of history were shifting, promoting a period of conflict betwen the West and the Arab Muslim world; however, the charisma and vision of a few individuals shaped the nature of this contest."

Wright takes a similar view of the law enforcement agencies tasked with fighting terrorism, although he can't quite seem to decide if specific personal enmities or organizational rivalries and long-established bureaucratic roadblocks were most responsible for the failure of the FBI and CIA to share intelligence and perhaps prevent 9/11.

Wright puts quite a bit of emphasis on single fateful decisions and their inevitably unintended consequences. The appeal of his logic is the reassuring suggestion that horrific acts can be prevented, that evil is not a force of nature but something that lives only within the hearts of evil men.

This week, Wright wrote about the death of Osama bin Laden:

"Democracy and civil society are the cure for the chronic misery of Muslim countries that has fed the rise of Islamic extremism. The death of the most notorious terrorist the world has ever seen, whose mission was to create a clash of civilizations, will allow the door to open more widely to the tolerance, modernism, and pragmatism that is so badly needed and so long awaited in a part of the world where despair, corruption, brutality, and fanaticism have laid waste to so many generations."

Anyways, this book made me think about a lot of stuff. It's dense with names and dates but not a tough read. It's basically a really, really long New Yorker article.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung (1987)

1) I had never read any Lester Bangs but found this for ¥500 at a local used bookstore buried near the staircase.

2) Lester Bangs is probably the only writer I know who most celebrates amphetamines out of all drug options. Even HST and Irvine Welsh seem to relegate speed to a lower echelon. Bangs drones on and on about how great speed is. Needless to say it also sets the pace of his prose.

3) If you want to read Lester Bangs, have Wikipedia open and be ready to do some book learnin' on obscure 1960s garage bands and mid-period Lou Reed records you've never actually heard. The opening essay on The Count Five is hilarious only if you have an incredibly tight grasp on the musical career of The Count Five, which no one does and probably didn't back in the day either. You are probably not huge into the band Slade, I am guessing. Add that to the research list.

4) Bangs' episode with the J. Geils Band is probably the only good thing ever written that includes the J. Geils Band.

5) I had to go back and listen to a lot of Stooges records, which reminded me of New York around 2002.

6) Bangs' writing about Lou Reed is great even if you aren't into Lou Reed.

7) Finally someone creates literature about Tangerine Dream!

John dos Passos - The 42nd Parallel (1930)

This first book of the U.S.A. Trilogy manages to be lots of fun and explicitly "Modernist" at the same time — eat that shit, Joyce. The secret is that dos Passos separates the Modernist passages out from the main narrative as "Camera Eye" and "Newsreel" sections of contextless headlines and oral histories, which can mostly be ignored or skimmed. They're short and painless anyway. The actual narrative follows five or six different individuals, all of whom start off as salt of the earth and most of them end up that way too. The writing is highly colloquial.

The book provides an interesting social history note in that all of the men in the book are forever trying to figure how to find sexual satisfaction, and have few choices: either going to a brothel (and picking up a bug) or pressuring their girlfriends into pre-marital sex, which in this book always, always leads to pregnancy. Good to read a book from 1930, however, that very openly discusses that people actually have sex and get up to no good without it being clouded in oblique language. Not exactly "gritty" social realism but feels like an accurate version of living in the 1910s.

Dos Passos was a big leftist in this era but he should be commended for not being too heavyhanded. He is constantly drawing labor leaders and Wobblies as fuck-ups and fuck-offs.

I recommend the book as a breezy read that also qualifies for literature. Anyone read the next two installments 1919 and The Big Money?

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Solar, by Ian McEwan

I was reluctant to read Solar, which I assumed would be full of preachy monologues about melting ice caps and whatnot, but it was the only palatable option left on the fiction table at Borders during their going-out-of-business sale. Turns out I should have given Ian McEwan the benefit of the doubt, because this book is pretty good. It includes the two key elements of every Ian McEwan novel I've read: highly intelligent-sounding technical science writing and a totally zany major plot point. (I've read two of his novels.) There is one preachy monologue, but the speaker is problematically drunk and the audience is universally bored, so the scene itself is entertaining.

Maybe read Saturday first, though.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Two more questions

Anyone have any Terry Southern recommendations?

Ross Macdonald favorites?

Philip K Dick

I've never read any Philip K Dick. Anyone have a favorite book by him?

Whoever answers that question might be interested in this list.

Into Thin Air, by John Krakauer

This book has been out for so long that you probably already made a decision about whether to read it. I think I'd already even skimmed through it once. But I was watching Touching The Void, which is great, decided to continue my mountaineering buzz, and read this book. It is amazing. So compelling. Much of the action takes place at an altitude where even an experienced climber might suddenly start bleeding from their face and then die, or their heart might stop. Tiny errors compound. A Sherpa risks death to carry a New York society lady's satellite phone. A bottleneck forces people to wait while their brains die of oxygen deprivation. Krakauer's own role in the story is incredible.

This might've edged out Into The Wild as my favorite Krakauer book, but hey - read both!

Win Win (2011)

Charming but not amazing. A lot of good set-ups without great punchlines. Giamatti is not at his Giamatti-est, which is fortunate. Jeffrey Tambor is underutilized, but Bobby Canavale is funny and lovable. I might be in the minority, but I would have been happy with 60 percent more footage of high-school wrestling matches. Go see it, you saps.

Fast Five (2011)


Lost In America

This movie has a few pretty funny scenes but completely loses its narrative drive at around minute 45 and then becomes incredibly slow and boring and one-note. LONG shots of Albert Brooks walking down a small-town street. Just walking, not expressing any sort of feeling or interacting with anyone. Julie Hagerty's character is grating and dumb without any charm to balance her out. Her "yuppie" wardrobe is so odd and dowdy and unflattering it's pretty riveting in and of itself.

Friday, April 29, 2011


This is a really poignant documentary, the subject of which you likely have heard of someplace: this guy Mark Hogancamp was beaten nearly to death outside a bar by a bunch of teenaged thugs and suffered severe though not completely debilitating brain damage. He then took to creating this stunningly elaborate model of a fictional WWII-era Belgian town called Marwencol, and taking thousands of photographs of dolls enacting melodramatic stories within it. He's clearly messed up in a lot of ways, but also pretty self-aware. It's just so pleasant to watch a very talented person making art that is deeply personal and compulsive and totally divorced from "ambition" as we know it. It's a story rather tailor made for the "This American Life" crowd, but don't let that stop you from seeing it. Also it's amazing the shit that one can buy in a small-town "hobby shop" -- tiny guns with removable clips, and the subtle articulation of these doll bodies. Who makes this stuff? I wouldn't mind watching a documentary about them.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Three Books

I read these three books recently:

Den of Thieves, by James Stewart: This book is about Michael Milken, Ivan Boesky and the culture of insider trading on Wall Street in the 80s. It's in that same style of narrative corporate nonfiction as Barbarians at the Gate and Liar's Poker, though Stewart, a reporter by trade, isn't as good a writer as Michael Lewis (but who is, am I right?). Twenty years later, the lesson of the book is probably that even major scandals ultimately have very little effect on how Wall Street does business.

Riding Toward Everywhere, by William T. Vollmann: I love this dude. He spent a while hopping freight trains ("catching on") and wrote about it. It can be exciting to read an author who has truly transgressive views (sample sentence: "Once upon a time I almost married a Cambodian whore") yet maintains coherence. Vollmann's writing often reminds me of Dos Passos, who is one of my favorite writers.

Carpenter's Gothic, by William Gaddis: I've tried and failed to make headway on J R on a few occasions and don't have The Recognitions, but Carpenter's Gothic is much shorter (262 pp.). I found this book pretty captivating--it was short enough that I never got too frustrated at having to sometimes go back and re-read dialogue I'd attributed to the wrong character--and I'm happy to have finally read some Gaddis.

Monday, April 25, 2011

A Novel of the Earth's Last Days

It's been a little while since I read Left Behind: A Novel of the Earth's Last Days by Tim LaHaye and Jerry P. Jenkins, but in reviewing my notes, I found an excerpt that I think merits contemplation.

"He remembered the oldest joke in the airline industry: Ozark spelled backward is Krazo."

Please Give & It's Kind of a Funny Story

I saw both of these movies this weekend.

Please Give is about a couple (Catherine Keener and Oliver Platt) who sell furniture they buy when an old person dies. They also own the apartment of their next door neighbor, another old person. Catherine Keener feels guilty that she's always waiting for people to die and tries to make up for it by giving money to homeless people and one time playing basketball with some kids with Down's Syndrome. Her daughter has bad skin and also resents her mother's generosity to strangers. All of their lives change a little bit when they get to know their neighbor's granddaughters (Rebecca Hall and Amanda Peet). Hall is nice and Peet is mean. This movie was OK.

It's Kind of a Funny Story was delightful as fuck.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Oxford Murders (2008)

This is a movie with Elijah Wood and John Hurt which I watched because I am NOT picky. It's about some murders that happen at Oxford. Elijah Wood and John Hurt have a lot of arguments about math and philosophy, which are very boring, even though I'm pretty sure the math and philosophy they're discussing is pretty remedial. They explain the Fibonacci sequence to each other at one point. Also, John Hurt blows Elijah Wood's mind with this thing that everybody already knows about:

-It was made in 2008, but it's set in 1993 for some reason. There is a part where they use really old big cell phones. But why?
-The acting is so bad, but not because people aren't acting hard enough. People are certainly acting super hard in this movie.
-The head butler from Downton Abbey plays the Police Chief, so that's okay.
-Elijah Wood plays an American, but speaks very formally and stilted as if he really wants to be doing a British accent but was told not to.
-There's a lot of people yelling at each other the whole time, even though you can't tell why anyone's angry.
-There is constant overly dramatic music, such that you think maybe this movie is supposed to be a joke?
-There's a part where John Hurt dresses up as Guy Fawkes, because England.
-There's a part where Elijah Wood eats spaghetti off a lady's boobs. But then they just sit there and talk about math, but there's still spaghetti all over her and it's VERY distracting. Then Elijah Wood jumps up because he got an important idea or something, and he also has spaghetti sauce on him and you can't take anyone seriously in this scene.

From some reviews:

"The Oxford Murders" attempts to pose interesting philosophical and mathematical issues, but this purported whodunit thriller never solves its main mystery: How and why did this film get made in the first place?


At the very least, trying to figure out the sum of the square roots of any two sides of an isosceles triangle provides a welcome distraction from the totally nullifying experience of watching The Oxford Murders.

The worst part was that one review mentioned that this movie was based on a book, and I suddenly realized I HAVE READ THAT BOOK. (The book was also called The Oxford Murders, so there were some clues.) I have to get my shit together.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A Brief Rundown of Recently Watched/Read Items

Yiddish Policemen's Union (Michael Chabon, 2007): I liked this book, and especially enjoyed the fake Yiddish slang. Not a particularly amazing novel, but certainly a funny and mostly well-written detective book.

Never Let Me Go (the movie, 2010): very pretty, but very, very sad. There is not a minute of this movie that will not make you very, very sad. Just read the book.

Fantastic Planet (1973): this is an animated movie about humans rebelling against giant, blue aliens on a strange planet. According to the netflix jacket (where I get all of my cultural information), it may or may not have been based on the Soviet occupation of the Czech Republic. It also may have been based on what people like to see when they ingest drugs. Final analysis: interesting looking, but pretty boring to watch on amtrak.

Dr. Strangelove (1964): I rewatched Dr. Strangelove, and it continues to be a good movie.

The Outlaw Josie Wales (1976): this is probably my favorite Clint Eastwood movie. As Mr. Eastwood helpfully explains to you before the movie starts, it is about war and maybe about Vietnam, but not really. Anyway, it is terrific and everyone should see it.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Legend (Tom Cruise)

Has anyone seen the Tom Cruise movie Legend? I was thinking of watching it.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Moon (a movie, 2009)

Have any of you guys seen this movie? It's pretty good and Sam Rockwell gives an unsurprisingly great performance.

That said, my favorite character in the movie is Gertie, a robot who is shockingly bad at hiding his "emotions" from Sam Rockwell (my favorite thing that Gertie does is make a squiggly unhappy face when Sam Rockwell asks him what's going on on the moon). Kevin Spacey does his voice and it's really so great. See this movie, but mostly for Gertie.

Let the Great World Spin, by Colum McCann

I just started reading A Visit From the Goon Squad, per everyone's recommendation and felt compelled to endorse Let the Great World Spin, which I finished about a week ago. I'm only a few chapters into Egan's novel, but from what I've read so far, the two books seem to have a lot in common -- namely, 9/11 and multiple narrators that are somehow connected to each other. Maybe more! But I don't know yet; I just took a break from reading at a bar in Chelsea Market to write this review.

LTGWS Is primarily set in 1974 New York, on the day when that French guy walked on a tightrope between the twin towers (hell yeah, I saw "Man on Wire" but I don't remember his name; he's a character in this book and I still forget his name, sorry!). Basically every narrator's story spirals outward from (or collapses into) this crazy day in New York history. It's too bad that "man on wire" came out before this novel (I know he was kind of pissed about it), but at least he won a national book award, right?

I thought that McCann did an amazing job developing his female characters. I liked reading his lady the chapters the best, actually (sort of like how I liked Patty's chapter in "Freedom" the best). My favorite character in the book is Gloria, a black woman who loses all three of her sons in the Vietnam war and is smarter and more complicated than all of her white friends, but never lets on.

If you liked AVFTGS, then I'm pretty sure you'll be down with this book. I read it moderately fast (3 days?).

First Orbit

Made to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin's historic orbit around the Earth, this movie (available on youtube) combines real-time real audio from Gagarin and his mission control with visuals shot from the International Space Station and some kind of arty atmospheric music. I thought this would be the best thing ever but it was pretty insanely boring such that I quit after 50 minutes. The visuals were very disappointing -- about 80% of the time I didn't even know what I was looking at. (The fact that I was watching it on a crappy little youtube window didn't help it any.) At some point I just started doing other stuff, and would click back when I heard Gagarin start talking again. The "dialogue" was kind of charming but almost comically unexciting. ("Cedar, how do you feel? How is it going?" "Feeling good. Very alert. The orbit is going perfectly.") A couple nice parts were when mission control said (or was translated as saying): "Continue in the same spirit!", and when Gargarin, with regard to weightlessness, said something like, "All the floating! Interesting! Beautiful!"

So, yeah, not really worth anybody's time, but still, I'm glad this exists.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Grown Ups (2010), Podcast



I liked this movie. Saoirse Ronan is great. She's my favorite teen girl kicking ass in a movie so far (sorry Chloe Moretz). The movie overdoes it on fairy tale metaphors (one scene in particular is ridiculous) and there were some plot points that were never fully explained, but I didn't really care because overall it was this nice teenage coming-of-age story with cool action sequences. Cate Blanchett is great in it and very convincing as a psycho spinster villain. The British teenager from Tamara Drewe is also in this and very funny. Also people should see Tamara Drewe.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

On Demand

If, as a group, we can burn through all of the movies available On Demand, it would be a great service.

Fitzgerald & Hemingway: Works and Days, by Scott Donaldson

Somebody should write a super fun, gossipy biography about these two, who were always running around, getting drunk, and being in anecdotes together. This book wasn't it -it's a collection of essays by Prof. Donaldson of William & Mary, who prides himself on being a bit more accessible than other professor types because of his years in the newspaper business. True enough. I saw it at the bookstore and bought it and spent part of my Saturday afternoon pretending I was in college again. I don't recommend it unless you are in the exact mental state I was in at the time. Even then, no.

But I did learn the circumstances of F. Scott's death, in the ground floor apartment of his gf Sheilah Graham, on 1443 N. Hayworth.

"She and Scott had lunched together, and then he settled down in her green armchair to read the Princeton Alumni Weekly [weekly!] while waiting for the doctor's visit. She gave him two Hershey bars for his raging sweet tooth. The last time their eyes met, he sheepishly looked up from making notes on the Princeton football team to lick the chocolate off his fingers. A few minutes later, he rose from the chair as if yanked by an invisible cord, grabbed at the mantelpiece, and crumpled to the floor. By the time the Pulmotor [?] arrived, he was dead."

Youth In Revolt

I thought I was going to hate this but I mostly liked it. Though I keep deciding I'm sick of Cera, I'll then see him in something and realize I still love watching him. His performance as the main character's alter ego "Francois", a quietly sneering, cigarette-smoking aesthete and sociopath, was extremely fun to watch because it was sort of shocking ("Wow, look at Cera playing a total asshole!") without being too big. There were some animated sequences that were cute but unnecessary and perhaps too cute. The girl/love interest characters in movies like this usually bug me because they are rendered as not much more than adorable crazy-making machines (I guess I'm mainly thinking of Summer in "500 Days of Summer"). The girl here, while not exactly the antidote to this problem, at least had her own issues to deal with and was consistently inscrutable in a pretty funny way. Fred Willard always makes me laugh. 85 minutes running time -- can't beat it.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Red (2010)

This movie was released at the same time as a bunch of other shlocky action/comedy movies and I threw my hands up at the whole bunch and decided I would wait until they all became AMC "movie classics" in ten years. But then someone in my household refused to watch Tron: Legacy or 127 Hours, so we watched "Red." And I loved it! It is solid entertainment. They cast some very lovable geezers (Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren, John Malkovich), which makes you cheer every time they blow somebody up. Morgan Freeman does deliver a wistful speech on aging which made me wish that the movie "The Bucket List" was about two terminally-ill old men who decide to kill a bunch of assassins and go out in a blaze of glory, but this movie is sort of the next best thing.

Put "Red" on your Bucket List today.

Saturday, April 9, 2011


Okay, this happens farther down on page 14:

His massive body was shaved and smooth. He lowered his gaze first to his feet, which were tattooed with the scales and talons of a hawk. Above that, his muscular legs were tattooed as carved pillars--his left leg spiraled and his right vertically striated. Boaz and Jachin. His groin and abdomen formed a decorated archway, above which his powerful chest was emblazoned withthe double-headed phoenix...each head in profile with its visible eye formed by one of Mal'akh's nipples. His shoulders, neck, face, and shaved head were completely covered with an intricate tapestry of ancient symbols and sigils.

This is starting to sound like a poor man's Prison Break. Also, if you're going to write a book about the mysteries of Washington D.C., you better get to the fucking L'Enfant Plan fast, because that's one of like three things I remember from college.

The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown

Okay, I'm only 14 pages in, but here's what's going on so far:

Now, energized by what lay ahead, he strode toward his bedroom. Throughout his entire home, audio speakers broadcast the eerie strains of a rare recording of a castrato singing the "Lux Aeterna" from the Verdi Requiem--a reminder of a previous life. Mal'akh touched a remote control to bring on the thundering "Dies irae." Then, against a backdrop of crashing timpani and parallel fifths, he bounded up the marble staircase, his robe billowing as he ascended on sinewy legs.

I'll keep you guys posted.

Friday, April 8, 2011

A Brief History of Time, Stephen Hawking (1988)

Over the last few decades, A Brief History of Time has gained notoriety as a pop science book that everyone bought but could not get through due to it being completely impenetrable. Theoretical physics was hella trendy in the early 1990s, like C&C Music Factory.

I found an old copy for $6 at a used book store in Kyoto as I was fleeing catastrophe in Tokyo, so I decided to see if I was smart enough these days to actually understand Hawking. Good news is that the book is gentle at first. But without warning, Hawking's prose suddenly starts flailing between dumbed-down metaphors for theoretical physics and the most obscure fragments from a PhD thesis. Hawking will string you along with easy-peasy discussions of black holes and entropy. And the next sentence, he'll write, "If the laws of science are unchanged by the combination of operations C and P, and also by the combination of C, P, and T, they must also be unchanged under the operation T alone." And then he ends the same paragraph, "If it were, crockery manufacturers would go out of business." This book is a goddamn roller-coaster ride.

I compromised on my goals and stopped reading before the last chapter on worm holes. But I did enjoy the book as an introduction to why we know what we do about the nature of the universe. The best part is that we predicted a lot of what make up the cool illustrations in astronomy books — black holes, neutron stars, etc. — through mathematical formulas. If deduction actually works somewhere, I'm happy it's with the laws of the universe.

A Visit From the Goon Squad : A Review

I saw this book all over the place for months. It was in the window of every bookstore and on display at the airport , but I never picked it up because I was thinking, "another book about music journalism? Pass!" and "I've already read Nick Hornby. I get it." But then I saw DAP recommend AVFTGS on Twitter. I just went back tothis Twitter feed to find the exact tweet and I could only find this:

DAP99 Jennifer Egan's "Look at Me" is beautifully written, elegantly constructed, and unsettlingly, hauntingly prescient.

So maybe DAP never recommended AVFTGS and I got the two Egan novels confused or maybe I just can't find the tweet. Anyway, I thought one of our friends liked it and this is one of the reasons I read the book.

I loved it. The novel is actually a collection of related short stories. We follow a community of people somehow involved with or touched by the punk rock music scene over 30 years or so. Every chapter (short story) is from a different character's point of view and written in a different style/tone. I really hate spoilers, so I'm not going to say anything else about the characters, but if you want a more detailed review, email me and I'll tell you.

I will say every voice felt completely unique - it's a real testament to Egan's talent for character development - kind of like a performer rattling off twenty impressions in a row. There's no "you can skip that one" chapter in my opinion. The major theme is time - how we change over time and how our lives have progressed from adolescence to adulthood. Pretty classic stuff, but Egan allows us to see the characters as they see themselves (in their own chapters), but also from the viewpoints of the other characters around them. For example, in the first chapter, we meet a music assistant who describes her middle-aged boss who is weird and kind of obsessive. Later we meet that boss and realize why he's a weirdo. If you've ever wondered how people see you or if someone knows he or she is a complete asshole or weirdo, this book tackles those questions within this extended community of people.

I think everyone should read A Visit From The Goon Squad immediately.

Five Stars.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Rules of the Game (1939)

This was really good. Maybe not "best of all-time" good like a lot of people say, but very solid. Everyone is very ugly in this movie, including the lead woman whom all the male characters pine for. Considering the risk Renoir took using such a homely cast (including himself as the bumbling failure Octave), I can see why it's a critics' favorite.

The Tortilla Curtain, by T.C. Boyle

I usually pride myself on finishing every book I start, no matter how boring it turns out to be. But recently I've had trouble, first with Absurdistan by Gary Shteyngart, then with The Sportswriter by Richard Ford. (If you can't get me interested in a book about a sportswriter, something has gone terribly wrong.) I'm pleased to report that I had no such difficulty with The Tortilla Curtain.

The main characters are a nature writer living with his wife and her son in a gated community in Topanga Canyon and an illegal immigrant living with his pregnant wife at the bottom of the canyon itself. There are also coyotes. At times, the story gets pretty dark, but there are lightly comic sections as well, like an excerpt of the nature writer's overwrought prose. I think T.C. Boyle has a real talent for getting inside the heads of his characters, and his writing never feels didactic or overly partisan. Also, it was a refreshing change of pace to read a contemporary novel that wasn't written in and/or about Brooklyn.

(The pregnant wife is named America, which, come on, really? But the coyotes made up for it.)

source code

"Source Code" is one of those movies where reviewers smugly say something like "Of course, I don't want to reveal very much about the story because that will take away from the experience of seeing it..." and then they totally reveal something about the story that takes away from the experience of seeing it (YES THAT'S ME CALLING YOU OUT CLAUDIA PUIG FROM LARRY MANTLE'S FILMWEEK ON AIRTALK YOU STUPID DINGDONG). So I won't say anything except that this is a movie I really enjoyed and I think you would enjoy it too. It stars Jake Gyllenhaal and he's really pretty good in it. Going to the movies is fun.

A Visit From The Goon Squad, by Jennifer Egan

Haven't read it. Who has the stones to review it?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Just Kids, by Patti Smith

This book is great. Smith's writing is beautiful and her observations are blunt but nostalgic. I did not know much about Smith or Robert Mapplethorpe for that matter (other than that she was a punk icon and he was a controversial photographer), but this book tells the story of their intense relationship as they were in the process of discovering what kind of artists and what kind of people they would become. Keith Richards, in Life, briefly describes his childhood and learning the guitar, and then almost immediately he is in The Rolling Stones and they are becoming a huge success and he is playing with all of his heroes. Smith and Mapplethorpe, living in the Chelsea Hotel, are similarly surrounded early on by giants in the arts community, but it takes them a good deal of personal struggle to figure out where they fit within that community.

Life, by Keith Richards

I read this book hoping it would be a balls-to-the-wall fuckfest full of ridiculous gossip and insane stories. It's not really that. Keith's voice in the book is pretty charming and he bequeaths himself very honorable attributes (friendship, loyalty, humility, toughness), painting a picture of himself as a pretty great guy. Sure, the Rolling Stones used to go on two or three hours late every night because Keith would be high on heroin and no one could wake him up because he slept with a gun under his pillow, but that is just lovable Keith, right? I mean, yeah—that sounds pretty awesome.

The main problem with the book is that it just lists events—nothing is really fleshed out. And most of the events are either vague times that Keith wrote a song, or more often, times that Keith couldn't find heroin, luckily found a lot of heroin, or had to go through security with a bunch of heroin. And he can't really remember those times very well.

It also seems like whenever Keith was tired he would just say to the writer, "ask someone else," which is why there are so many observations from other people. A few observations from Keith's son, Marlon, are outstanding, because they describe the crazy life he had going on tour with the Rolling Stones when he was seven years old and then living in the Great Gatsby house with two lunatics. But those descriptions are only about a page long, and many of the other observations in the book are thrown in without any real point.

Here are some of the main claims in the book:

1. Keith Richards is able to ingest a ton of drugs and alcohol, better than anyone else. Especially John Lennon.

2. Mick Jagger needs to get off his high horse and he is generally a pussy.

3. It's O.K. to do a ton of drugs if you monitor the amount and only do the best stuff.

4. Keith loves women, but many times he'll just lie in bed with them and not have sex. Unlike Mick Jagger, who is just about having sex for the sake of sex. And Mick Jagger has huge balls and a small penis.

If the whole book was ragging on Mick Jagger, I would have liked it more. But he is very much on the periphery and one of the least described characters, I felt.

The Proposal (podcast) 2010

I listened to this movie playing while I was doing something else at an angle where I could not see the television. Here are my observations:

1. By the end of the movie, I was able to believe that Sandra Bullock's character had become less "bitchy," but not that she and Ryan Reynolds had fallen in love. Their love may have been conveyed through a series of romantic glances and shared, quiet tendernesses which I missed by not seeing the visuals.

2. There is an awesome scene in which the two leads announce their fake engagement and everyone in the room yells that they want to see a kiss (bear in mind, the assembled are merely reacting to an announcement, not watching Ryan Reynolds propose). "We want to see you kiss!" "Kiss her!" Apparently, and I can only imagine how it went down, the kiss was not satisfactory. The crowd (composed of family and friends) demands more: "No! A real kiss!" "Really kiss her like you mean it!" Be forewarned, lovebirds: I will be ordering a lot more of you to kiss each other, and I will not be denied.

3. Ryan Reynolds is pretty much a spoiled dick in this movie (based solely on the audio).