Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Stating the Obvious

It's been 2 weeks since I wrote anything here. Not that long, I suppose, but a lifetime for someone like me who is used to writing every day.

It's been a nice break. It will continue... and it won't...

I won't post here for the foreseeable future.

But if you want to talk baseball, come read what I'm writing at Pinstripe Alley.

And if you want to talk books, let's connect at Goodreads or LibraryThing, where I'll continue to post book reviews.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Word of the Week

adjective: complete; comparative adjective: completer; superlative adjective:completest
  1. 1.
    having all the necessary or appropriate parts.
    "a complete list of courses offered by the college"
    • entire; full.
      "I only managed one complete term at school"
    • having run its full course; finished.
      "the restoration of the chapel is complete"
      synonyms:finished, ended, concluded, completed, finalized; More
  2. 2.
    (often used for emphasis) to the greatest extent or degree; total.
    "a complete ban on smoking"
    • humorous
      skilled at every aspect of a particular activity; consummate.
      adjective: compleat
      "these articles are for the compleat mathematician"

Friday, January 10, 2014

Happy Friday

Review: Andrew's Brain by E.L. Doctorow

When I received an advanced copy of E.L. Doctorow's newest novel, Andrew's Brain from the fine folks at Random House, I was excited.

Although Doctorow's novels have been hit or miss for me (enjoyed Ragtime and The March, loved Book of Daniel, couldn't finished World's Fair), I am always on board with the prospect of unreliable narrators and stories about story-telling. And Andrew's Brain offers us a doozy.

Andrew is a cognitive scientist with a capacity of self-inflicted wounds. He describes himself as a haphazard scholar, an indifferent lover and a compulsive shoot-from-the-hip decision maker. His life work studying the chemical miracle that makes the brain into the mind has left him without the superhuman deductive abilities he thinks such a study should bestow.

One of the things I like most about Andrew's Brain, especially compared to Doctorow's previous work, is the smallness of the cast. No personified masses in this novel; Andrew tells his story to someone he calls "Doc," who might be a psychiatrist or a prison warden or both. Andrew tells us about his two wives, and his two rivals for those women- his first wife's new husband, and his second wife's ex-boyfriend. The story told through dialogue, it has all the self-deprecating humor of Portnoy's Complaint without the sexual sensationalism.

As a small jab at modern literature, my wife and I divide our two bookcases of 20th and 21st century fiction: on the left are the lonely men, on the right are the awesome women. Like Roth's canon, Doctorow's newest work is the interior space of a lonely man, the kaleidoscopic tale he tells himself within the privacy of his head to keep trudging on in the world. Without giving too much away, Andrew's wounds are real, his trauma is rooted in the modern age. Andrew's story is told haphazardly, the punchline sometimes proceeding the joke, the aftermath often shown to us before the decision. It is, I think, about the way we piece our lives together and make sense of ourselves, even when that should be impossible.

30 Before 30: #19 DIY Night Stand

Technically, goal #19 on the original list was "Build a TV stand."

But something funny happened in May of this crazy year: we bought a house. And that changed a bunch of our priorities. In the 30 Before 30 Recap that I'm still writing, I use that excuse to explain away my failure to complete some of the higher ticket price items on my list like "Visit a new American metropolis" and "Go whitewater rafting."

But this goal just got changed a little. Instead of a TV stand for the office, a higher priority became a night stand for the bedroom.

So I built this:

I am, I will admit, probably a little too proud of how this project came out. The drawers are only marginally functional, since the design I was working off of didn't have any hardware on its drawers, I didn't really think of it until later, and my drawers don't fill the drawer opening vertically as closely as they would have needed to in order to be self supporting. So I wound up going back and inventing in the final stage of the project...

In retrospect I should have disassembled my drawer boxes and cut the pieces down so that there was room for metal drawer slides. Instead, I used a piece of scrap would and a C shaped plastic slider to create a center, under drawer slider.

So the drawers are small (I knew that going in) and require two hands to open. Lesson learned. The piece compliments Carol's night stand pretty nicely (I built mine wider and deeper than the plan, to match the dimensions of the one on the other side of the bed).

And while I was a little sad to paint it black, I'm was happy to bring back some of the cherry that forms the legs and top by distressing the paint job.

So now I take the things I learned in this project, and maybe I can apply them to building that TV stand in the coming year.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Doctor Zhivago

I don't really feel that I can do justice to Doctor Zhivago, other than to say that it is the best of the 4 films I've watched so far as part of my challenge to myself to watch 5 classics.

The cinematography, as with Lawrence of Arabia, leaves me unimpressed though I am conscious of the historical context. It is the love story that moves me, and Zhivago gives me the insight into the title character that Lawrence was missing. I would have liked to see Zhivago complete his walk home from his mistress to return, at last, to his pregnant wife rather than being whisked away into his two-year adventure through Mongolia. I doubt Zhivago was the sort of man who could have kept his promise to disavow his mistress; he does not seem, to me, to be a strong enough man to deny himself the joys of a second life (which is, after all, exactly the sort of life poetry allows a writer- the chance to step away from the everyday and things as they are).

The story of displacement, of military and social conscription, was fantastic and probably deserves a longer meditation than I have time for today. It's the sort of story (like The Old Man and the Sea or American Pastoral) that I could see as a touchstone.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Giving Up on Goal #2

One thing that is clear to me, is that I was a bit... let us say "overambitious" for my 30 Before 30.

2. Finish the Modern Library's Top 10 List
I've read six of the top ten in the Modern Library's Top 100. This year, I want to read the other four: UlyssesThe Sound and the FuryDarkness at Noon, and Sons and Lovers.
In the last year, I've read The Sound and the Fury and Ulysses.

If I had really given the two books their due, they would each have been a separate item on a list of 30. It's not that I couldn't have read these four books within a year, but that I couldn't have read them and still kept up with all my other reading, the new and forthcoming books, the old favorites, the suggestions from friends. I wasn't willing to give that up.

So perhaps Darkness at Noon and Sons and Lovers will make my 31 Before 31.