Thursday, December 30, 2010

Book Review #9

Under the DomeUnder the Dome by Stephen King

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is the first new Stephen King I've read since he completed his Dark Tower series, at which point I thought he was going to retire, and then we he didn't, I sort of retired him on my own. But I needed a page turner to open my winter break with and I remembered that some reviews were heralding this as "vintage" King, so I picked it up.

Let's be totally clear: Stephen King phoned it in for this book. None of the characters feel especially loved or fleshed out and they, along with several of the story threads feel like amalgamates of better, King books. Needful Things and Salem's Lot both come to mind. But to be fair, the situation is driving the book, not the characters. The main thread under the dome is an extreme rendition of the Stanford Prison Experiment: it's not so surprising, but it's very compelling.

What disappointed me most about the book was it's lack of a grand architecture. Stephen King's last book to top 1000 pages was The Stand in 1990. The Stand had the benefit of both a compelling situation and plenty of fascinating heroes and anti-heroes. Plus, it had a place in the over-arching mythology of The Dark Tower series, King's "uber-novel." The Stand is a masterpiece. UTD is a lark.

While it may not live up to the standard set by his past novels, it is King's most compulsive page turner since Wizard and Glass, and his most visceral horror novel since Desperation/The Regulators.

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Friday, December 17, 2010

A Library Dream

I have a reoccurring dream in which I’m at the Copley site of the Boston Public Library browsing books. I rarely go to the library with a book in mind, instead I browse until I think of something I need to read. Meanwhile I’m also watching a beautiful young woman who is doing the same.

Like when I’m shopping for clothes, I always feel the need to run my hands over every book that even briefly catches my attention.

At last I think of one I’d like to read and head slowly towards its shelf. From the opposite direction, so does the beautiful young woman. At last we meet, our fingers touching the spine of the very same book. We smile at each other, but because this is a library, neither of us speaks.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Book Review #8

Little, Big (Trade Paperback)Little, Big by John Crowley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My feelings about this book are deeply conflicted

For the first 260 or so pages I had difficulty reading this book. It had elements I liked: fantasy, mythology, realism, and a little magic (but not so much that it unfairly dominates). But at the same time it was excruciating. Long descriptions of muddled musings, excruciatingly oblique foreshadowing. I planned the biting 2 or perhaps 3 star review I would give, ultimately comparing it to Gormenghast. Like that one, this book broods. A great deal more happens than in Gormenghast, however the mood and attention to atmosphere feels far more important than anything that's happening to the characters, or that constitutes a plot.

The first 200+ pages were a struggle to read. I tried everything. I brought to work. I read an interlude on the T. I put it on my night side table, and then in the bathroom, trying to find the right setting, the right space, and maybe temperature to settle in. But I couldn't find it

I noticed the change around the start of "Book Four: The Wild Wood," though I'm sure it started a little before that. Gradually things started to happen that seemed to matter. Whereas the beginning of the book seems most concerned with the reader's understanding of a bizarrely complex architecture and genealogy [I kept returning to Grady Tripp in Wonder Boys, who writes 1000s of pages of a never ending novel and, for one chapter, writes only of the bloodlines of horses], the center of the book is a story of love and loss, which is simultaneously the same story you've read/experienced before, but with a special newness. There are many other stories interwoven, but for me this was the most important story, in fact, really the only story I cared about it.

And, while it's still excruciating and oblique at times, once the the machinery was set in motion the book moved much faster, and I even came to understand that without those first 200+ pages I would not have had the necessary pieces and momentum for book to ever reach a satisfying conclusion.

When I was a little boy I used to go across the street to where my 2nd grade teacher, Ms. Heemstra, lived with her cat, Radar. She and her cat were both very tolerant of the curiosity of little boys, they even encouraged it. Whenever I went I asked her to show me her cuckoo clock. She would dutifully wind it so that after a minute's wait the bird would pop out. I was very excited, while Radar was disinterested. Over time I came to have an understanding of how the clock worked. I realized that it was "clockwork," some intricate machinery, and not magic which propelled the bird forward for my amusement. But to me it was as good as magic. The older you become, the more you learn, the more things lose this sort of magic. But of course at the same time, other things gain it.

As I read this book I was continuously torn by two conflicting impulses: the desire for more magic and the desire for magic-less clarity. In a lesser a book I'd say this is a major flaw, but I think this conflict forms the heart of, and maybe genius, of Little, Big. In the presence of one, we want the other, but in fact in order for our stories to matter they need to marry both, and I think this book accomplishes this feat.

However, as with Ms. Heemstra's cuckoo-clock I tend to prefer smaller machinery, and I can certainly think of stories (for instance: "Vanishing Acts," by Kelly Link) that make me aware of the same things without requiring over 200 pages of winding.

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Scrabble Mania - part I


Dash: 119, Ori: 212, Gage: 224.

Gage was in it to win it, making double digit point plays on all but one turn. Ori had the highest single play of the game with La/Fax/Ore/Axed for 55 points, however, when Rick played clean/it, he opened up the triple word score to Gage, who was "ice" cold on the way to his win.

Game 2.

The Jew a.k.a. Gage Norris: 222, Dr. King a.k.a. Frederick Dashiell: 114, The Laser a.k.a. Ori Fienberg: 242. The Jew put everyone in check when he played Queen for 48 points, but The Laser made it mate with Vibe/Cape.


Freaknizzle a.k.a. Rick, Razor a.k.a. Ori, Sonic a.k.a. Damian.

Sadly, Freaknizzle had to bow out after his seventh play, doom. Sonic fought valiantly, but a combination of bad letters, and perhaps some anxiety about his impending (hopefully not doom) Math final exam kept him from really getting the ball rolling. The Razor took it with a score of 274 to 111.

Stay Tune For More Highly Competitive Scrabble Match Ups As The Foundation Year Writing Workshops Wind Down For The Year!

Friday, December 3, 2010

An Elegant Dinner

Pan-seared Calves Liver and Fig Balsamic Caramelized Onions, Shiitake Mushroom and Meyer Lemon Carolina Brown Rice, with Lightly Earl Gray Scented Green Beans.

Then: Hershey Kisses Filled with Caramel. Someday I'll learn how to make dessert.