David Foster Wallace Dead at 46

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Writer David Foster Wallace hung himself on Friday at the age of 46. That’s really awful. My heart goes out to his family.

David Foster Wallace
David Foster Wallace

Would it be completely inappropriate to point out that he’s wearing my wool coat in this photo? I’m just saying.

2022-03-17 Update:
The only book I read of his was Broom of the System. I actually read the whole thing. And hated it. And book club hated me for making them read it. They were seriously pissed. I had a copy of Infinite Jest, and ever so often I’d pop it open and try to get something read in in. Then I read that he had abused Mary Karr when they were a couple, so I threw it out. (I generally throw out books, but in this case, why bother donating it?)
Continue ReadingDavid Foster Wallace Dead at 46

Book Review Catch-Up – Spring 2008

Boy, am I behind on recording what I’ve read. I’ve had this post in progress forever trying to summarize some of these books, and I kept tacking new titles onto the end. I finally stole enough free time to get it finished.

The Geographer’s Library
by Jon Fasman
A literary history suspense novel, along the lines of The Davinci Code. it follows two separate threads – one of a rather lazy young reporter at a sleepy small-town paper investigating the death of a college professor from his alma mater, and the other thread the fate of a collection of various alchemical objects put together by a court librarian/philosopher in 10th century Sicily. It takes a rather long time for the two threads to come together, and when they finally did, I was too impatient to care much about what happened.

Locked Rooms (Mary Russell Novels)
by Laurie R. King
I’d forgotten how much I like this series of mystery novels until I picked up the latest. King’s Mary Russell series is a continuation of/homage to Sherlock Holmes, but unlike some I’ve read, this series is well done. Holmes purists tend to sniff at them — but if you think about that for a minute, the idea of there even being Holmes purists to begin with is rather silly. Conan Doyle wasn’t exactly a literary lion, and King’s novels have some weight to them in terms of character voice and plot. The series is based on a Sherlock Holmes that has “retired” from London investigations and fallen in love with the titular Mary Russell, a brilliant young woman half his age but completely his equal.

This particular novel is set in San Francisco, where Holmes and Russell have traveled to wrap up her family’s estate and to stumble into what really happened when her parents met their deaths in a long-ago automobile accident. It’s a nice picture of early San Francisco history during and post the great fire. The mystery comes together decently at the end, but I enjoyed the ride so much I wasn’t all that hung up on whether it did or not.

The Art of Detection
by Laurie R. King
The fifth book in King’s Kate Martinelli series. I haven’t read the first four (somehow I got a bit mixed up when I was buying this) but it didn’t impede my enjoyment of this book. Martinelli’s a San Franciso cop and lesbian mom with a toddler who gets a strange case indeed. A man who enjoys dressing up like victorian detective Sherlock Holmes is killed in an unusual fashion, over what turns out to be an original, lost story of Sherlock Holmes, set in San Francisco. (Yep, the book had some subtle references to the “Locked Rooms” book I read just before this. Not necessary to read both, but I love neat continuity stuff like this.)

Standard Hero Behavior
by John David Anderson
Standard Hero Behavior is a funny teen fantasy novel written by one of Stephanie’s former co-workers. Mason Quayle is a bard in in the small town of Darlington (formerly Highsmith) whose hero father went off 10 years ago with the rest of the town heroes on a mysterious quest, never to return. Now the town is threatened, and only Mason and his friend/sidekick Cowel can save the day – by locating the lost heroes and brining them home to defend the town.

I really like that Anderson wrapped up the novel completely, but there are some tiny signs of where he could go with a sequel. I’ve mentioned before that leaving fantasy fiction novels wide open at the end is one of my pet peeves, this is one satisfying example where that doesn’t happen.

I have to say there was a character in the novel I have concerns about because the character could be interpreted a couple different ways, and I could see where some folks I know might take offense. That’s a question I’ll have to ask Dave next time I run into him, though, about what he was trying to convey.

The Best of MAKE (Make)
by Mark Frauenfelder and Gareth Branwyn
I read this entire book when we were stuck on the plane for six hours on the way to SXSW. Some of the electronics stuff is way over my head, but with some specific instructions and possibly some help from Steph’s dad, those projects aren’t beyond my reach.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight, Volume 1: The Long Way Home
by Joss Whedon, Andy Owens, Georges Jeanty, and Jo Chen
The first volume of the comic book version of Season 8 of the show – it doesn’t go back and recap for new people, so you’ll want to start reading the Omnibus comics from the beginning or pick up the DVDs. Volume 1 is great – if you’re a Buffy fan, you’ll definitely want to own this.

Marvel 1602
by Neil Gaiman and Andy Kubert
Neil Gaiman writes a graphic novel where Marvel’s classic characters (X-Men, Fantastic Four, Peter Parker, Nick Fury, Daredevil) come to life in Elizabethan Age. Nicely done!

Continue ReadingBook Review Catch-Up – Spring 2008

links for 2008-03-14

Continue Readinglinks for 2008-03-14


After complaining that I’m frustrated by my start and stop reading lately, I sat down with our next book club selection, Twilight, and finished it in less that 24 hours. Abiding by the first rule of book club, I won’t discuss the book, but obviously I blazed through it.
(it’s about vampires, and I liked it. Breakin’ rules.)

Continue ReadingTwilight

Recent Reading

It was about this time last year that I got behind in reviewing what I had read recently and gave up and simply posted a list of recent reads. Must be the time of year. I’ve definitely been having trouble getting through any book; I have tons of things half read, and I’m very frustrated by that. I used to read a lot on the weekends, but the last couple years we’ve been so busy that most of my reading is done at night before I go to bed, and I’m irritated by the stop and go effect.

Chicago from the Air
by Marcella Colombo, Gianfranco Peroncini
Crappy book. Very difficult to read, and not easy to get a good idea of what the whole of Chicago looks like from above. Could have been much better done.

Museum of the Missing: A History of Art Theft
by Simon Houpt and Julian Radcliffe
Cool book on major art thefts throughout history, and how the current inflated price of fine art drives recent thefts.

The Shadow of the Wind
by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
“Daniel Sempere, the son of a widowed bookstore owner, is 10 when he discovers a novel, The Shadow of the Wind, by Julián Carax. The novel is rare, the author obscure, and rumors tell of a horribly disfigured man who has been burning every copy he can find of Carax’s novels. The man calls himself Laín Coubert-the name of the devil in one of Carax’s novels. As he grows up, Daniel’s fascination with the mysterious Carax links him to a blind femme fatale with a “porcelain gaze,” Clara Barceló; another fan, a leftist jack-of-all-trades, Fermín Romero de Torres; his best friend’s sister, the delectable Beatriz Aguilar; and, as he begins investigating the life and death of Carax, a cast of characters with secrets to hide.”
I took this on the cruise with me and thoroughly enjoyed it.

The Poe Shadow
by Matthew Pearl
A young lawyer in 1849 Richmond sets out do discover why his hero Edgar Allen Poe died under strange and unfortunate circumstances. His investigation confounds and disappoints his family and friends, and eventually lands him in jail for murder. But his instinctive sense that something about Poe’s death wasn’t quite right leads him on. I enjoyed the book, but there are definitely sections that dragged, and I found myself as exasperated at the hero as his own family at times.

A Perfect Mess: The Hidden Benefits of Disorder–How Crammed Closets, Cluttered Offices, and On-the-Fly Planning Make the World a Better Place
by Eric Abrahamson and David H. Freedman
As noted in the Amazon description — “that organizational efforts tend to close off systems to random, unplanned influences that might lead to breakthroughs.” They have some very valid points, and very entertaining examples; the book was definitely worth reading.

The Mysterious Benedict Society
by Trenton Lee Stewart and Carson Ellis
Young Adult Fiction
“After Reynie Muldoon responds to an advertisement recruiting “gifted children looking for special opportunities,” he finds himself in a world of mystery and adventure. The 11-year-old orphan is one of four children to complete a series of challenging and creative tasks, and he, Kate, Constance, and Sticky become the Mysterious Benedict Society.”
I really enjoyed this kids book, it was very inventive and reminded me a lot of one of my favorite books from childhood – The Westing Game.

Continue ReadingRecent Reading


Louis Menand in the New Yorker, on kerouac…

Kerouac credited the inspiration for the scroll to Cassady–specifically, to a long letter, supposedly around thirteen thousand words, that Cassady wrote over several days (he was on speed) in December, 1950. This is known as the “Joan letter,” because its ostensible subject is a girlfriend of Cassady’s named Joan Anderson. But the letter, or the portion of it that survives (the original is lost, a holy Beat relic), is actually a hyper, funny, uninhibited account of Cassady’s sexual misadventures with a different girlfriend. It has no stylistic pretensions; it’s just a this-happened-and-then-that-happened piece of personal correspondence. Kerouac was knocked out by it. “I thought it ranked among the best things ever written in America,” he wrote to Cassady. It had the vernacular directness and narrative propulsion he was looking for, and it gave him the impulse he needed to tape his scroll together and get a complete draft on paper. He saw that this-happened-and-then-that-happened had literary possibilities, and the scroll was a way of forcing himself to stick to this vision. (A little later, Frank O’Hara made poems using the same theory. “I do this, I do that” is how he described them.) The scroll was therefore a restriction: it was a way of defining form, not a way of avoiding form. In religious terms (and Kerouac was always, deep down, a Catholic and a sufferer), it was a collar, a self-mortification. He did, after he finished the scroll, go back and make changes. But first he had to submit to his discipline.

Nostalgia is part of the appeal of “On the Road” today, but it was also part of its appeal in 1957. For it is not a book about the nineteen-fifties. It’s a book about the nineteen-forties. In 1947, when Kerouac began his travels, there were three million miles of intercity roads in the United States and thirty-eight million registered vehicles. When “On the Road” came out, there was roughly the same amount of highway, but there were thirty million more cars and trucks. And the construction of the federal highway system, which had been planned since 1944, was under way. The interstates changed the phenomenology of driving. Kerouac’s original plan, in 1947, was to hitchhike across the country on Route 6, which begins at the tip of Cape Cod. Today, although there is a sign in Provincetown that reads “Bishop, CA., 3205 miles,” few people would dream of taking that road even as far as Rhode Island. They would get on the inter-state. And they wouldn’t think of getting there fast, either. For although there are about a million more miles of road in the United States today than there were in 1947 (there are also two more states), two hundred million more vehicles are registered to drive on them. There is little romance left in long car rides.

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Book Review Catch-Up

I’m way behind on writing little synopses of the books I’ve finished this year, so I’m consolidating this latest list. Looking back, this happened about this time of year last year, too. Must be a trend. Anyways, here’s what I read since whenever.

Sword of the Guardian: A Legend of Ithyria (Legends of Ithyria)
by Merry Shannon
Cheesy lesbian fantasy fiction novel. Very much so on the cheesy. Not even worth describing the silly plot; except that I picked up because it had a female cross-dressing character in it. I did read the whole thing, however, because the lesbian sex scenes weren’t terrible. (I have my priorities.)

The Secret History of the Pink Carnation
by Lauren Willig
I’ve picked up all three in this series on the remaindered shelves very cheap – and it shows. The premise is quite fun, but the plots are a bit too silly. Set in Regency England and Napoleonic France, they revolve around a “Scarlet Pimpernel” character who is undermining Napoleon’s attempted invasion of England, and having romantic adventures as well. This setting is juxtaposed with a modern-day chick-lit romantic heroine who is reading the manuscripts of the historical story. I may get around to reading the sequels someday, but given the goofiness level, they’re not high on my list.

by Daphne Du Maurier
This was one of our book club selections, and I picked it up to read it, but just didn’t get far. For one thing, I think I read it when I was a kid. And for another it was just a bit too much like Jane Eyre for me – and having read the Thirteenth Tale (which was good) and Heir to the Glimmering World (which wasn’t) lately, I couldn’t get into the “Manor House in the country, young girl adrift upon the world at the whims of unusual families” aspects of it. From the discussion, I should probably have given it a few more pages to let it hook me, but I think my timing was just off. I may go back to it at some future time.

On Beauty
Zadie Smith
One of our bookclub selections; I really dug it. I didn’t realize when reading that it was an homage to E.M. Forster’s Howards End. (Perhaps I should read that? Or at least a review of On Beauty? Hmm.) From Amazon.com: “Howard Belsey is a middle-class white liberal Englishman teaching abroad at Wellington, a thinly disguised version of one of the Ivies. He is a Rembrandt scholar who can’t finish his book and a recent adulterer whose marriage is now on the slippery slope to disaster.”

EZ66 Guide for Travelers
Jerry McClanahan
This is a great resourse to take take with you on your Route 66 trip – specifically for helping you find Route 66 attractions, and the off the beaten path remaining sections of the road, many of which are no longer marked. It has detailed turn-by-turn directions and maps of the route by seasoned traveler McClanahan, who has explored the entire Route many times. Unfortunately, it’s sometimes hard to tell how important or visit-worthy an attraction is from this book, so if you have a short period to take it all in and need to be selective, I’d recommend the following book, too:

Route 66 Adventure Handbook
by Drew Knowles
This is the second book I’d highly recommend taking with you on a Route 66 trip. This one is a bit more readable if you’re just trying to get information about Route 66 attractions and if you’re trying to assess how large, interesting or “not-to-be-missed” a particular attraction is along the way. We flipped back and forth between this book and the EZ guide and were fairly successful at fitting the highlights into our 2 1/2 week trip. To see everything, you’d really need a month.

Hogs on 66 : best feed and hangouts for road trips on Route 66
by Wallis, Michael.
Geared towards Harley riders, but a really handy reference for anyone looking for the best diners and stops along the route. I read this ahead of time and had some idea of some of the excellent places to eat along the way.

Route 66 lost & found : ruins and relics revisited and
Route 66 lost & found : ruins and relics revisited, volume 2
by Olsen, Russell A.
Beautiful photography, but a bit of melancholy to it. The author takes photos of “Then and Now” pictures of stops along Route 66 – recreating the scenes of old postcards and photographs with what the same building looks like today. In most cases, time hasn’t been kind. A great book to read either before or after your trip in preparation.

Route 66: Images of America’s Main Street
William Kaszynski
Like the books above, a great before or after traveling book to read to get a history of America’s Main Street.

Roadside Giants
Brian and Sarah Butko
When I first saw this book, I was worried that it was a book form of my “Big Things” photo galleries, but it’s a very different book than what I would write, and definitely worth owning if you love roadside attractions. They aren’t interested in photographing or logging every “big thing” across the country, just providing a cross-section of the most known, famous or unique ones.

Over the Edge: Death in Grand Canyon
by Thomas M. Myers, Michael P. Ghiglieri
DO NOT read this book while you are at the Grand Canyon. Also, DO NOT read this book when you are leaving the Grand Canyon, but are traveling further west on Route 66 on the Oatman Highway over the Black Mountains through Sitegreaves Pass. Either read the book when you are safely on flat, solid ground, or better yet, before you go to the Canyon in the first place, so you don’t do something stupid and fall off like the many, many people in this book. A key bit of info to take away from the book, from Amazon.com: “The authors show that most of the deaths, whether of tourists, prospectors, or experienced adventurers, occurred when people failed to pay attention to warning signs or did not use common sense; others are attributed to high testosterone levels. The episodes are engrossing, but one becomes sated with the details after a while.”

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
by J.K. Rowling
If you really need me to review this for you, you must be living under a rock of some sort. I loved it, of course.

Everything is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder
David Weinberger
From Amazon.com: “In Everything Is Miscellaneous, David Weinberger charts the new principles of digital order that are remaking business, education, politics, science, and culture. In his rollicking tour of the rise of the miscellaneous, he examines why the Dewey decimal system is stretched to the breaking point, how Rand McNally decides what information not to include in a physical map (and why Google Earth is winning that battle), how Staples stores emulate online shopping to increase sales…” A fun read.

On the Road
by Jack Kerouac
Our next bookclub read, so of course the first rule of bookclub is invoked.

Route 66 Remembered
by Michael Karl Witzel
This is the book I really wish I’d read before they trip, because I would have gotten the most out of it. A nice history of the Route 66 that charts the rise of the road and it’s institutions – gas, food, lodging. The really great part of the book is the personal accounts at the end; real people’s stories of traveling on The Mother Road in it’s very early days when it was a potentially dangerous endeavor, to the heyday when families piled in the car and headed to California to see the sights.

Continue ReadingBook Review Catch-Up

Rejected Openings for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

From theonering.net

One morning, when Harry Potter woke from troubled dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed into a horrible vermin.

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single wizard in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wand.

The sky above Privet Drive was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.

Stately, plump Neville Longbottom came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed. A yellow dressinggown, ungirdled, was sustained gently behind him on the mild morning air. He held the bowl aloft and intoned: Wingardium leviosa!

To Severus Snape she is always the woman. I have seldom heard him mention her under any other name. In his eyes she eclipses and predominates the whole of her sex. It was not that he felt any emotion akin to love for Lily Potter. All emotions, and that one particularly, were abhorrent to his cold, precise but admirably balanced mind … and yet there was but one woman to him, and that woman was the late Lily Potter, of dubious and questionable memory.

There once was a boy named Dudley Dursley, and he almost deserved it.

Dumbledore was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Harry Potter signed it: and Potter’s name was good upon Diagon Alley, for anything he chose to put his hand to. Old Dumbledore was as dead as a door-nail.

Once upon a time there were four little wizards, and their names were Neville, Ron, Hermione, and Harry.

You don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of “Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone;” but that ain’t no matter. That book was made by Ms. J. K. Rowling, and she told the truth, mainly. There was things which she stretched, but mainly she told the truth. That is nothing. I never seen anybody but lied one time or another, without it was Aunt Petunia, or Professor Dumbledore, or maybe Hermione. Aunt Petunia – my Aunt Petunia, she is – and Hermione, and Professor Dumbledore is all told about in that book, which is mostly a true book, with some stretchers, as I said before.

When Mr. Harry Potter of Privet Drive announced that he would shortly be celebrating his seventeenth birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk in Hogwarts.

In a cupboard under the stairs there lived a wizard. Not a nasty, dirty, dark cupboard, filled with threadbare sheets and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, cramped cupboard with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a wizard’s cupboard, and that means comfort.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wizardry, it was the age of Muggles, it was the epoch of Dumbledore, it was the epoch of Voldemort, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Hogwarts, we were all going direct to Azkaban –in short, the period was so far like the present period, that the Daily Prophet insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

Hermione Grainger was not beautiful but young wizards seldom realized it when caught by her brilliance as Ron Weasley was.

Call me Hagrid.

Last night I dreamt I went to Hogwarts again.

Continue ReadingRejected Openings for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Heir to the Glimmering World

Heir to the Glimmering World
Heir to the Glimmering World
I also can’t find enough time to write a synopsis of Heir to the Glimmering World by Cynthia Ozick – a book I picked up in Chicago last July and just finished reading, so again I’m going to cheat and give you the synopsis/review From Publishers Weekly instead:

Ozick’s previous novel, The Puttermesser Papers, revolved around one quirky hero; this time around, Ozick incubates several. Characters, not plot, drive this Depression-era tale, and Ozick eviscerates each one through her narrator, Rose Meadows, a resolute 18-year-old orphan. Virtually abandoned, Rose wanders into a job with the Mitwisser family, German refugees in New York City. Filling gaping holes in their household, she becomes a research assistant to the father, a professor stubbornly engaged in German and Hebrew arcana; a nurse to his oft-deranged, sequestered wife; and nanny to their five children. As she penetrates the fog surrounding their history, Rose limns their roiling inner lives with exasperated perception. Mrs. Mitwisser especially chafes against the family’s precarious, degrading status as “parasites,” erratically supported by the unbalanced millionaire son and heir of an author of popular children’s books who is fascinated by Mr. Mitwisser’s research. With her trademark lyrical prose, gentle humor and vivid imagery, Ozick paints a textured portrait of outsiders rendered powerless, retreating into tightly coiled existences of scholarly rapture, guarded brazenness and even calculated lunacy—all as a means of refuting the bleakness of a harsh, chaotic world. Erudite exposition is packed into the book, so that character study and discourse occasionally grind the plot to a halt. Edifying and evocative, if often daunting, this is a concentrated slice of eccentric life.

The assessment of “grinding the plot to a halt” is dead on – I found this book to be a tough slog. I also had trouble sympathizing with any of the characters; each of them was either mean or sad, and I couldn’t get over my frustration with them.

Continue ReadingHeir to the Glimmering World