Thursday, May 31, 2012

End of the Blogathon

Today marks the end of the 2012 Blogathon, and it's been a lot of fun.

Some highlights for me:

A batch of book reviews-

The Art of Fielding
Goodbye, Columbus
Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal
The Monsters of Templeton
Wild Fermentation (guest post by Aundra of Fit for Life)

Thoughts about writing, the internet and books-
Charles Dickens Hates a Good Ending

Dealing with Spam

Learning How to Write from Shakespeare
Mothers in Literature with An Addendum
The Reading List
Thinking About All Books as Comedy, Tragedy or History
The Value of Workshopping a Poem and an Open Mic

Injuries and the Yankees
Facing Life After the Great Rivera

And the well-lived life-
Creating a Board Game: Chuck Fluxx
Congratulating Myself on a Job Well Done
Haikus on My Day Off
Loving Board Games Like Settlers of Catan
Recipe for the Perfect Mojito

Hope you've enjoyed reading.

But! The new post every day will continue for at least 3 more days. Tomorrow is my review of Cutting for Stone, Friday is Happy Friday, and Saturday has some thoughts about character death in novels.

Hope you'll be back.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Charles Dickens Hates a Good Ending

from here
Life is messy. I think art should reflect life, so I expect my art to be messy. Mix some discordant notes into your next symphony- please, please, please don't tie up the endings of your novels too neatly.

This is what drives me nuts about the Victorians (Dickens especially) and about the entire mystery-thriller genre. If all the loose ends tie into each other, something has gone wrong.

Charles Dickens hated good endings- he needed perfect endings, impossibly perfect endings in which (just as your life is about to be ruined by the cascade of your own bad decisions, like you deserve) your brother-in-law/ father figure steps in to save you, or else the woman you were going to rob who took you in and cared for you out of true Christian charity turns out to be your long-lost aunt.

Not always, but all too often, the author builds a brilliant house of cards, and I'm ready for the house to fall. The characters are making mistakes and poor decisions, and consequences are on their way. What will this mean? How will lives be ruined, and how would the strong recover?

And then the author pulls this nearly Deus Ex Machina garbage that results in a happy ending for everyone (or nearly everyone) involved, with as little actual heartbreak or sacrifice as necessary. I feel cheated of tragedy.

I'm gearing up for my review of Cutting for Stone, and I'm pleased to say that this lovely little book did not fall prey to the perfect ending. But for a little while I was worried.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

and a little wine Wordle

For the blogathon, Wordle day was actually supposed to be yesterday. But since I already had a post idea for yesterday, I decided to save my Wordle for today.

The first one I made, I tried to just use words from recent posts, but it picked up on parts of a lot of titles of books I've read recently. Since Wordle doesn't offer a way to exclude words, I decided instead to make a Wordle out of my post tags.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Patterns, Probability and Settlers of Catan

I love patterns.

This is why I love chess- most games boil their way down to a set few endgames. This is also why I can lose hours of my life to stupid flash games; games that have no purpose, over no real form of victory, but that over the (temporary) reward of solving the puzzle.

One of our favorite games is Settlers of Catan. It's a development game- the players build roads, villages and cities. The first player to 10 points wins (villages are worth 1, cities are worth 2).

There are 5 resource types, each attached to a number from 2-12 (except 7). Each game, the location of the resources changes, but the number stays constant.

So what's worth more? To place your starting location on the best resources, or to claim the best numbers and hope the dice play in your favor?

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Memorial Day Mojito Recipe

Illustration 1: Mojito mint grown on the back porch
Rockin' Mojito Recipe

Crush 5 friends with 1 spouse on the back porch

Fill glasses with equal parts light rum, club soda and simple syrup, mint to taste with homegrown mint plucked from the aforementioned porch (see illustration 1)

Load 1 grill with bbq curry chicken and hot dogs

Makes 1 holiday weekend afternoon

Enjoy responsibly.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Book Review: The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff

In the opening of Lauren Groff's debut novel, The Monsters of Templeton, a prehistoric monster floats to the surface of Glimmerglass lake on the day the narrator (Willie Upton) returns home, pregnant and disappointed in herself. That's the beginning of a novel packed with mysteries to unravel, and loaded with enough mysticism for a season of The Twilight Zone.

from here
I love magical realism for the surprises it promises us. Like sci-fi and fantasy, for magical realism to work the characters must inhabit a self-sustaining world, a place who rules and possibilities are consistent no matter how fantastic they seem. Think of your favorite fantastic television series (I think of Doctor Who and Chuck), and you'll find what holds it together is that the series holds to the rules it has established.

So, The Monsters of Templeton gives us monsters, pyrokenesis and a ghost. But the true monsters are, as always, men. It's more than an exercise of magical realism, it's also a detective novel.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Happy Friday

I considered Ray Charles' America the Beautiful to celebrate Memorial Day weekend, but I figure you can find that one on your own if you want it.

Instead, here's (Night Time is) The Right Time.

Have a Happy Friday.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Book Review: Bone by Jeff Smith (spoiler free)

from here
I've been reading Bone by Jeff Smith for the last 2 years.

Dear friends of mine owns a copy, and I'd stay with them every other weekend while teaching a Spring course at a nearby college. We'd play board games, entertain their toddlers, and then once everyone was tucked into bed I'd read another 20 or 30 pages of Bone.

I didn't know anything about it, other than that my friend liked it. So as I read, I was trying to figure out who it was written for...

The plot is fairly straight-forward: the 3 cousins have been chased out of town because Phoney's latest get rich scheme has failed. They get separated in the desert and each make their way into the Valley. The Valley is under attack by rat creatures, who are the first wave of an invading army. The Bones link up with an extraordinary family, and together they save the day. In between, there are a lot of sub-plots and schemes that reinforce the light shading of the characters (Fone Bone is smart and focused though a bit prone to boring lecture, Smiley Bone is gullible, Phoney Bone is greedy and covetous) while ultimately doing little to advance the over-all plot arc.

The backstory, however is vastly more complex. Much like Lord of the Rings, Bone hums with a history and mythology that the reader and even most of the characters are unaware of. This leads to the sort of sudden escapes and unexpected plot twists that I expect from a fantasy epic.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Book Review: Lamb by Christopher Moore

When Carol and I picked Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal as our next book to read aloud together, we knew what we were getting ourselves in for. It's a long book, but I read it ten years ago when it first came out; I remember it as wet yourself funny. In fact, a friend of mine borrowed my book, then had to buy me a new copy because she was reading beside the lake and laughed so hard that she dropped the book in the water.

And Lamb was funny. But I forgot how dark, too. Everybody dies could have just as well have been the subtitle. Interesting, how memory glosses over that part.

One of the joys of reading aloud is listening to the dialogue, hearing the tempo of the book. In this, Lamb excels. Moore has a gift for turning comic banter into prose.

My only regret is that after an transporting first 200 pages in which Moore imagines Biff and Joshua (Jesus)'s childhood and coming of age, he felt so tied to his biblical source materials that he cracked many fewer jokes. In the later part of the story, Josh becomes a side character, and without a straight man, Biff's lecherous and gluttonous ways get old fast.

While certainly not reverent in the traditional sense, Moore's books espouse their own brand of humanism. The wicked are usually punished, the carefree and the vagabonds learn a little responsibility (but never too much). So it goes with Lamb, as our hero Biff escapes any responsibility for his flaws. Like a sitcom, the ending resets, and I'm a little surprised there's never been a sequel.

This is book 19 of 52 I'm reading as my New Year's resolution.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Calm Before the Book Review Storm

It's been a little quiet around here for the last week. I've fulfilled my Blogathon 2012 commitment to post something each day, but it's hardly been of the depth I expect of myself. If not for the Blogathon, I might have only posted once or twice in the last week.

That is, of course, both good and bad. More is alright, but better is my real aim.

Which brings us to this post, designed entirely to whet your appetite (interesting that the phrase revolves around whet meaning "to hone" rather than it's equally logical homonym meaning "to moisten" when the phrase "mouth watering" is also so common).

In the next four days, three book reviews. The Monsters of Templeton, Bone, and Lamb will bring me 21 books on the year, slightly ahead of schedule. By the time those all post, I hope to be working on my 22nd review, Cutting for Stone (spoilers, excited to write that one).

For now, enjoy the music and a quiet night.

Monday, May 21, 2012

2 Haikus for My Unmowed Lawn

Ruffled by the breeze
in the sun, grass calls greenly.
Screw it. Let it grow.

If you need me, lawn.
I will be on the back porch,
my eyes closed, resting.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

In celebration of a job well done

I really do feel that I give my full energy to my job throughout the year. I've the got potential to be a workaholic- I'm always turning over my to do list in the back of my mind, and I'm prone to not sleeping well when there's too much to do and just going into work to get it done. I feel better when the job is done, so I'd rather put in the extra time to do it well than to just go home at the end of the day.

So throughout most of the year, I have to make a conscious effort to remind myself that the work will still be there tomorrow.

And once in a while, I have a project that comes up against a deadline that demands 100% of what I can give. When that happens, I'm happiest at work. My wife hates when this happens, but I can't help it.

Reunion weekend at the college where I work is an event like that. Last night, walking home from the finally party of the night at the end of another 16 hour day, after a concert and ceremony to honor one of my favorite professors, after a breakfast to celebrate the hard work of the reunion committees, after a drama alumni show, I was exhausted.

But it was the ecstatic exhaustion of a job well done. There was a time when I worried that I'd only get this feeling from teaching. I was thrilled to discover that I could find it in other work.

And I'm thrilled whenever I get this feeling- knowing I've give everything I have, and the result was better than I hoped for. It's a feeling that says to me: "Life is good."

Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Yankees' Injuries, Expectations, and the Slow Start of 2012

I've missed most of the last two weeks of baseball. I work at a college; today is reunion, tomorrow is graduation. It's been a little hectic.

I hesitated before writing a baseball post, since I've been living off of box scores and highlight reels. The AL East standings are upside down, which is not unexpected this early in the season. The Yankees' run differential (the separation between runs scored and runs allowed), sits at +11. That's good, but not great.

At this point in the season, with a performance like that, you'd expect the Yankees to be 21-18. And they are.

The team has had an unlucky string of injuries. The 3 headed beast of the bullpen is down to its weakest head, with Mariano Rivera and David Robertson on the DL. It feels like I haven't seen Brett Gardner since Spring Training, and I never got to see Michael Pineda throw a pitch. The 2012 Yankees were supposed to be machine-like. They were going to play in shades of 1998. And then the machine broke down.

As Yankee fans, we live with the weight of history. In recent years, the Yankee corporation has gone overboard celebrating this fact: at Yankee Stadium, baseball history is the unbroken string of pinstriped championship parades. And whenever someone want to remind us of that, they just need to mention 1965.

In 1964, the Yankees won the pennant but lost the World Series in 7 games to the Cardinals. They won the pennant the year before that. They won the World Series the year before that, and the World Series the year before that, and a pennant before that.

But in 1965, the Yankees got old and the wheels fell off and nothing was ever the same. Aside from a couple championships bought in the late '70s at the birth of free agency, it would take the Yankees 30 years to right the ship.

I don't think this is 1965, despite Arod's lack of power, despite the vanished pitching surplus, despite Mark Teixeira's sub-.300 OBP. I expect the team to round into form, and to move up in the standings as they start to win games against their division rivals.

But there seem to be a lot of rivals this year. The 2012 AL East has the makings of the toughest division since the current divisions were formed in 1994. And everyone loves to beat the Yankees.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Happy Friday

Your Happy Friday Haiku; or, as the world collapses around me into a singularity, demanding, no, commanding the re-focus of my sub-divided, comma-spliced attention, I instead choose to play a song we loved on repeat, just so I can feel washed by its recurring chords.
I have to make it.
Happy Friday from the Shins.
Hope you make it, too.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The To-Do List

I'm not promising a post on each of these topics, because I'm not promising to get them all done. But these are all things that are weighing on my mind as the weekend rushes at me:

1) Book Reviews: In the last week, I've finished reading The Monsters of Templeton, Bone, and Lamb.
2) Yard work: the grass needs to be mowed (again/ still), and I need to finish building Carol's garden boxes.
3) Survive Reunion: I work for a college; this is the week.
4) Finish all the work that will allow me to survive Reunion: see above.
5) Finish Book Club books: I have two book club books coming up on Monday and Tuesday (1861 and Cutting for Stone, respectively). I don't know that I'll be able to attend either book club because of rehearsals for The Sound of Music, but I want to finish the books.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Reaction to the Atlantic: Why Book Reviews Matter to Me

It's been a week since this article from the Atlantic made the rounds discussing online book reviews. I think, at this point, I agree with some of the argument there. I think that the digital age could save the book review, but only in as much as it allows the dedicated readers to find the reviewers able to speak to them.

First Predicate:
A book review should contain some analysis of what the author may have been trying to do. This might involve some plot summary and/or spoilers, but only if that furthers the examination of the book. While this doesn't necessarily require familiarity with the entire Western canon, the ability to compare the reviewed book to a similar book (thematically or structurally) would be useful.

As an alternative to the traditional book review, creative criticism is much more reader-centric. Just because I recognized the themes at work doesn't mean I enjoyed it. Hopefully, the evaluator gets to the point of identifying why the book fell flat. This is really an evaluation of my reaction as book reader, presented in a way that blurs the line between a book review and creative non-fiction.

Second Predicate:
What fills the pages at sites like Amazon and Goodreads and LibraryThing (which I use) are largely reader's evaluations. The "reviews" there rarely display the depth of either a book review or creative criticism. This is not to say that they're useless, just that they're useless to me.

I love baseball, but I hate baseball broadcasts. There's too much folksyism, too much pandering (this is especially true of national broadcasts, and triply true at playoff time). The more people the network execs hope to make like the broadcast, the less I enjoy it. Some of this rises from the fact that I am, at my core, a misanthrope (why else engage in a solipsistic activity like blogging?). But most of my resentment of national broadcasts rises from the fact that I already know a lot about baseball. The broadcasts are for the uninitiated, for the casual fan. That's not me.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Mothers in Literature Addendum

from here
On Mother's Day, I put up a post in search of great moms in literature.
Of course, I left out the fantastic mother in one of the books I was reading.

I just finished The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff (on audiobook after spending Mother's Day with my mommy), and while the full review is still peculating and a day or two away, I want to spend just a minute thinking about Vi Upton: mother of the protagonist, single mom, ex-hippie turned Baptist, critical care nurse, and all-around Empress of Awesomeness.

Vi serves as catalyst and judge for the story. When her daughter, Willie, comes home from college pregnant and spiraling into the depths of a crisis of conscience, Vi pushes Willie into a full on identity crisis. Vi reveals that Willie is not the product of bad decisions in a free-love commune, but the child of a respected member of the Templeton community. She then sets Willie on a quest through the family history to learn the truth.

Vi is not perfect, and while she is put together enough that her quirks read as endearing more often than neurotic, there is certainly a touch of neurotic/ fanatic lurking under the surface to give Vi an edge.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Book Review of Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz

Hi, and a little wine readers! I’m Aundra and I blog at Fit for Life. Mostly, I blog about suburban homesteading, fitness, local food, and daily adventures, but today I’m presenting a review for one of my new favorite books!

The book is Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods by Sandor Katz. I had the opportunity to meet Sandor Katz during his visit to Chestertown this spring for the Locavore Lit Fest.

Let me start by stating that I knew very little about fermentation before opening this book. In preparation for Sandor’s visit to Chestertown, I purchased the book last fall and let it sit on my bedside table until a week before the event (typical).

Sunday, May 13, 2012

4 Mothers in Literature for Mother's Day

I'm currently devouring Cutting for Stone, and the mother of the twins who I presume will become the main characters has just died. Mothers in fiction are much like Disney moms- the good ones are all dead, and the few that aren't evil are plot devices.

So in honor of Mother's Day, here's the four best, living mothers I could think of from books I've read:

  • Mrs. Murray from A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle- I haven't read this book in years, but I remember thinking Mrs. Murray seemed pretty cool. Any mother who cooks dinner over a bunsen burner gets an A from me;
  • Becky Thatcher from Becky by Lenore Hart- one of my favorite books with a female protagonist because it mixes historical fiction and literary revisionism, Hart imagines the life of Tom Sawyer's one-time girlfriend;
  • Hester Prynn from The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne- speaking of getting an A (puns!), I think Hester Prynne deserves a lot more credit for patience and compassion with Pearl;
  • Molly Weasley isn't quite as sainted as Harry Potter's mother, but she's pretty close. She might not always be believable (YA Fiction- eww) but I liked her.
What moms am I missing? What mothers are kind, patient, and still alive?

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Chuck Fluxx

That's right, our Fluxx knock-off based on the tv-series Chuck is complete.
Tonight is play-testing, plus lots of pizza.

Good times in Binghamton. Happy Saturday!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Happy Friday

This weekend I'm off to the land where I was raised to celebrate a friend's birthday and to see my mommy. Hope your weekend involves just as much laughter.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Review of Local by Brian Wood and Ryan Kelly

Local by Brian Wood and Ryan Kelly
from here
Imagine your life broken into short stories. One story each year, starting when you're 18 for the twelve years until you turn 30.

Would you like the story? Could you trace uninterrupted growth, or would you find yourself backsliding into the old habits and same mistakes year after year?

These questions are woven throughout Local, written by Brian Wood and illustrated by Ryan Kelly. Intricate, lush and compelling, Local follows Megan McKeenan as she runs away from home and never stops running: each year brings her to a new city, a new set of struggles, the same old worries and fears.

This is my favorite kind of graphic novel: no superheroes, no doomsday devices, no trick endings. Wood and Kelly set out to depict life, and it is intricate and gorgeous and dirty.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Value of Workshop

When I first started writing, I would pour out a rough draft and declare the work "done." It wasn't hubris, or over-confidence, or a belief in my abilities- I simply couldn't imagine what else I could do with this or that poem to make it better.

If it was as good as I could make it, it was done. I continued on in this state (at least as far as poetry was concerned) thoughout high school and through most of college.

When I was home one summer, I stumbled upon an open mic reading in a coffee shop off Clinton Square in Syracuse. I count that night among the 2 or 3 best things to ever happen to me as a writer, and in the top 5 of things to happen to me as a person.

After the open mic, we'd circle the tables and have a workshop/ playshop. One person would call out a topic, and everyone would write frantically until someone else called "stop!" (or, often, "ding!"). Then we would share what we had written. You could tell when you'd found a good line or stanza by the ooos and I-like-thats that passed around the tables. That led easily to conversations about what was working and how to get the not-working parts up and running.

All of which is a long-winded way of saying, I've got a prose poem up at Hazel & Wren's Open Mic, and I (and all the other writers who have submitted poems and prose) would love your feedback.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Review of The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
I took a course in creative non-fiction as an undergrad, so long ago I didn't have any gray hair, so long ago that I took myself and my writing very seriously, so long ago that I didn't enjoy comma spliced run-on sentences. During this long ago undergrad course, I tried to write a piece about the feel of a minor league baseball game, but my family history kept getting in the way. That was the first time someone articulated to me "The Field of Dreams Problem": every baseball story is a story of fathers and sons.

The Art of Fielding tackles that problem and many others, too, with the subtle grace of a double play pivot- it is not effortless, the execution is not always flawless, but it possesses an intrinsic beauty that speaks deeply and vividly to anyone willing to devote the attention to appreciate it.

The story revolves around 5 main characters: Henry, the shortstop with the cannon arm and unmatched fielding prescience; Swartz, a hard-nosed catcher who recruited Henry for the college team; Henry's roommate, Owen, the gay outfielder drifting towards an affair with the college president; said president, possibly the most distinguished alumnus in the college's history; and, the president's brilliant high school dropout daughter, recently separated from her husband.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Submit to Open Mic at Hazel & Wren

Hazel and Wren's monthly open mic is accepting submissions on Monday and Tuesday, in advance of the Wednesday Open Mic.

Last month, I submitted a draft of one of my National Poetry Month poems, and got some good advice on where to tighten up the piece. One of the many things I struggle with is deciding where to cut. I tend to write in large flourishes, then par down to the essentials, re-ordering and re-arranging as I go.

If you're the writerly sort, I encourage you to check it out.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

5 Debut Books to Read: On My Reading List

Five suggestions from my to-read shelf, run to your local (independent) bookstore today:
Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
Verghese's debut novel is a book club book that I'm supposed to have finished by the middle of May, so I really need to get moving. I know nothing about it beyond the first 30 or so pages I've read, but already I'm intrigued.

1861 by Adam Goodheart
Another book club book (with a to-read date only a day before Cutting for Stone), I'm really excited to read this one. In part because it's been a while since I read a really great history book, but also in part because I remember the creative non-fiction class I took with Professor Goodheart as an undergrad. (I remember thinking at the time how much I preferred fiction and poetry, thinking that I would never try to write a significant amount of non-fiction; file that under Look Where Life Leads You!).

Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli
Of course, Mazzucchelli has been one of the most respected members of the graphic novel community for years after his collaboration on projects like Batman: Year One and City of Glass. But this is his first book that is his alone (as much as any work can be "the author's alone"), and to hook me in, he's set a portion of it in my old stomping grounds, the Finger Lakes of Upstate New York.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Classifying Literature like Shakespeare

I've always been fascinated by literary genres.

Genre writing (and reading) serves as the bastard son to "serious" literature (that's pompously pronounced lit-re-choor, if you're trying to read this aloud).

What would happen instead, if we threw out Fantasy, Mystery, Thriller, Romance, and instead we divided all novels the way we divide Shakespeare's plays: comedy, tragedy, history.

There will be blends, of course. Richard II walks the line of tragedy, and The Merchant of Venice is a black comedy.

Where would your favorite genre books fall?

Watchmen is a tragedy, The Lord of the Rings must be a history through there's a fair amount of comedy, and Patrick Rothfuss' Kingslayer Trilogy is headed towards tragedy (though, with the third book still to be released, and with plenty of comic moments, it could end in comedy territory, but I doubt it).

Friday, May 4, 2012

Rivera and Age

I wrote my farewell to Mariano Rivera over at Pinstripe Alley this morning. The greatest closer of all time twisted his knee, tearing a ligament that will end his season and likely end his career.

Age comes, eventually. The pulse in your wrist is a clock winding down, as though we need more reminders.

But that is why we keep coming back to the game. It grows as we grow old, and the more of the history we have lived, heard of, or read about, the richer the game becomes. That's what makes Derek Jeter's march up the all-time hit list enjoyable- not the number, but the stories revived by each number.

This morning, my heart is breaking for one of the greatest ball players I will ever see. Tonight, there will be a game.

Happy Friday

In honor of First Friday, and my buddy Liam who crashed at our place last night, here's a little Happy Friday music to get things off on the right foot.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

What Every Writer Should Learn from Shakespeare's Denouement

The ending is everything.

This is what I keep coming back to as I try to explain my disappointment in a novel I read recently. It was a very good, very nearly great novel. I don't want to get distracted by that particular book, because what I need to understand first is what matters in an ending.

from here
When we studied early modern tragedies in school, we learned the phrase "denouement" to indicate the final catastrophe.

We begin by setting the scene, meeting the characters. They begin to move around each other in ways that indicate an expanding network of relationships, expanding possibilities. A choice is made: Macbeth kills the king; Romeo and Juliet secretly marry, Faustus signs his contract with Mephistopheles. From that moment of climax the world spins out of control; things fall apart as we feel ourselves careening towards disaster. Finally, the hero attempts to make another choice, one he hopes will right earlier wrongs.

Of course, in the great tragedies, this last gambit fails. In failing, it becomes clear to the protagonist (and to us) how he or she has caused this last calamity. MacDuff announces to MacBeth that he was ripped from the womb. Juliet wakes to find Romeo has poisoned himself. Faustus realizes he has wasted his twenty-four years and tries to repent. That moment, the one that grips your heart in your chest, that is the denouement.

All the great tragic books have a moment like that. Sometimes the structure is different. Humbert Humbert admits to murder in Lolita's second paragraph, while in The Old Man and the Sea Santiago never reflects that his greed in trying to bring back the entire marlin costs him his prize. But, no matter the structure of the narrative, the denouement is there.

And a book like the one I read, deftly written and intricate, that manages only the first four acts (introductions, the expansion of possibilities, the choice and the mounting consequences) to then resolve itself peacefully and civilly in it's final act... I'm afraid that book will always be a disappointment.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Review of Goodbye, Columbus by Philip Roth: Book 16 of 52

I took my tattered paperback copy of Goodbye, Columbus by Philip Roth on a recent bus trip because I knew it was small enough to fit in my back pocket as I walked around Washington, DC. I was late and I wanted something to read, and Goodbye was close at hand.

This is why I keep a needlessly large library on hand; these emergencies arise from time to time, and if I only kept the most literate books or my favorite books or the prettiest books, then in moments like this I'd be S.O.L.

I've never read Roth's first work before, though I've confessed how much I enjoy his prose. A novella and four short stories, Goodbye Columbus has all the hallmarks of the Roth I know: caustic, irreverent protagonists who do far too little to care for the people around them (especially the women); "well adjusted" assimilated families quietly falling apart under the strain; Newark, NJ as a backdrop.

The thing I enjoyed most about Goodbye was the nakedness of the power struggle between the characters. When Neil pushes his girlfriend to buy a diaphragm so they won't have to use condoms, and when she responds by leaving it where her parents are sure to find it, both characters know what they've done and why. They ask each other the precise question we're asking as readers- why and they don't have meaningful answers. I think life is like that, especially when we're young and still testing the limits of mistakes, forgiveness and consequences.

There are no happy endings here, but for each of the protagonists life goes on. For each of them it is broken in some permanent way by defensiveness and feelings of inadequacy, by the exposure of parental authority's weakness, by the conniving and intolerance of people who should know better.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Are Tweets Spam?

from here
As I get the hang of Twitter, social media and all of this, I'm still learning my way around the netiquette of (frankly) everything.

This is the thing that has always scared me off of Facebook and Twitter to date, that even as a member of "the Facebook Generation," none of this is intuitive to me. I dislike frictionless sharing, I don't care what you ate for breakfast, or that you miss your babies (by which, you mean your dogs). I hate abbreviations and text speak (FTW!), and don't want to see a picture of how you look to yourself in the bathroom mirror.

So as I've begun to use Twitter to connect with other people interested in the things I'm interested (I have separate feeds in Hootsuite for baseball, books, friends, and the NYTimes free that gives me my news fix), I'm increasingly interested in what is and isn't acceptable in these forums.

In that vein, I don't know what to make of the tweets that periodically show up with my name attached. If there was a person deciding that my writing is one of their "top stories," I'd be flattered. Knowing that there is not, that this is a machine collecting anything published under hash-tag "whatever," I find I'm annoyed by it.

How annoyed should I be? I don't really know.

I know there are ways to opt out. Is it worth the effort? Are these mentions trolling for traffic from me showing up in my follower's feeds? Or is it just reaching me?

I know from visiting a couple of these sites that have tweeted about my work that my article is not particularly easy to find, even when I am a "top story." On the other hand, all publicity is good publicity, right? And links from outside sites impact where your blog ends up in Google searches, so is this auto-tweet spam just a side effect I should tolerate?