Saturday, June 22, 2013


The Affair,  a Jack Reacher novel by Lee Child, is a prequel that helps answer some of the questions about how Reacher ended up where he is in most of the later books. Child seems to have worked out the story pretty well, and I can only imagine that he started out with some kind of well-thought-out backstory for his character when he begin the franchise, and that backstory has been slowly filling in as he makes his way through the Reacher series. He's had time, in other words, to work the kinks out of this story, so it reads beautifully from beginning to end. I ended up taking this book with me when I thought I'd have a spare moment at lunch, or waiting somewhere, so that I could keep reading it.

Anyone who has read some of the Reacher stories thus far will undoubtedly have some questions about Reacher's earlier days and Lee Child comes through with this one, and then does it again with what the cover teaser calls "exclusive bonus material" which takes the form of a short story titled: Second Son. exclusive? who else is going to have this material? Second Son is also a prequel of sorts, and gives the regular Reacher reader an additional glimpse at the origin story of the ex-military policeman.

This is number 16 in the series so far, and I think that I've probably read a half-dozen or more a few years ago. Only one shows up here on the blog. Its too bad really. One of the reasons I started this blog was to keep track of what I read. The cover art on the Reacher novels (paperbacks, anyway) are so similar, that I don't think I could figure it out without re-reading a few pages. If you're looking for a list in order, take a look at this. the world's strongest library also compared reacher to jack bauer as I did in my other review. You can try here for all of your favorite series, in order. you're welcome

Not the reader type? Jack Reacher is a movie adaptation of the One Shot novel with Tom Cruise as the six-four Reacher. maybe he stood on a box † Not bad, generally, from an entertainment point of view. Not gonna' win any Oscars tho.

Good, clean (sort of) fun that gets your kick-ass and justice-is-sweet nerves jangling. Fun!

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† This is a little aside about Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher. Seems odd because I've read a few of the books, and I think of Reacher as a big dude. And its not that I just think of him that way, its really an integral part of his persona. Reacher is 6-foot 5-inches, and about 250 pounds. Tom Cruise is my height, 5-foot 7-inches, and I know he weighs less than I do, lets say 165, normally, and beefed up for his roll to probably 175-180. My guess is he wanted to make this movie, and is hoping to do some sequels, maybe all of them, but I don't know if he'll get there if he doesn't have the Reacher fans with him. As I said, I think he ended up doing a pretty good job, but you know there are some out there who won't buy him as Reacher at almost a foot shorter, and 70 pounds light. Reacher also has light hair, and blue eyes. Cruise has brown hair and hazel or light brown eyes.

Who do I think would be good? Its a tough one, I can't think of a lot of big, A-list actors
Chris Hemsworth (6'-4"light hair, blue eyes, wrong accent? too young?)
Gerard Butler (6'-2", dark hair, blue eyes, wrong accent?)
Alexander Skarsgård (6'-4 1/2", light brown hair, blue eyes, too slim?)
Armie Hammer (6'-5 1/2" med. brown hair, blue eye, young) his god-damn name is armie 
Josh Duhamel (6'-3 1/2", light brown hair, brown eyes)

All of these guys would have to put on some beef. What do you think?

invisible cities

Italo Calvino is so much fun to read. I've read his Cosmicomics, The Baron in the Trees (Il barone rampante) and his retelling of traditional fables in Italian Folktales.

Invisible Cities (Le città invisibili)* is a series of short stories based on the imagined conversations of Marco Polo and Kublai Khan. Polo has traveled the world in service of discovery and reporting his findings to Khan, the places he's been, what he has seen, and the extent and diversity in Khan's empire, most of which he has never seen. Polo described the cities he has visisted, not as places of a certain physical description, unless only in contrast to what he describes as the true nature of a particular city. The cities Polo describes are like none that appear on earth, or possibly like every city, or maybe only one city.

Calvino's insight into what makes a city is not only a sense of place. Rather it is a sense of what it is to be a city, driven in most cases by the feelings, actions, and thoughts of its inhabitants and visitors. Calvino describes cities as seen through Marco Polo's eyes as wondrous or depraved places, sad, self-involved, silly, or hopelessly lost in trying to be something they are not, or something they were, or want to be. There is a sense that what cities are is driven by how they are perceived, both from within and from without, regardless of time and place, or absolutely shackled to it. Calvino's descriptions of cities are often--and sometimes best--described by isolated incidents, little slices of time, or the shared moments of its people.

Calvino's view is at once micro- and macroscopic. His observations of dozens of make-believe cities sharpens one's knowledge of the real cities we've seen and experienced by giving us new tools with which to examine them. I find that I can learn more about the cities that I've visited just by thinking about them in new ways, and for that I'm grateful to Calvino and looking forward to my upcoming travels even more. In many ways, Invisible Cities is a lot like a travelogue of real places that we'll never see, and yet, see everyday.

Read this Book.

* I didn't see any translator credited, so I'm assuming it was done by the author himself.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

galahad at blandings

Blandings Castle is a funny place. This is my first experience with the comedy of P.G. Wodehouse.

Sir Pelham Grenville Wodehouse, was born on October 15, 1881 in Guildford, Surrey, England, was educated at Dulwich College, and went on to banking for a short while before going into writing full time.  Wodehouse wrote over 100 books before his death, and was knighted only just before he died on Saint Valentine's Day, 1975. Galahad at Blandings was published in the US in 1965, and is number 10 in the Blandings Castle series. The US title was apparently, The Brinkmanship of Galahad Threepwood. *

Wodehouse developed a formula for amusing tales most similar to a television or (I guess) as radio serial. Galahad at Blandings doesn't have a particularly strong plot, but is rather another in the proverbial continuing adventures and misadventures of the Blandings Castle players. But nicley done. I found myself laughing aloud at a number of points throughout the narrative.

Galahad Threepwood is the younger brother of the Earl of Blandings, Clarence.  Galahad resides at Blandings to take advantage of the family wealth and prosperity, and, one gets the impression, to look out for his somewhat distracted older brother. Galahad also takes it upon himself in this adventure to try to help some young lovers patch up their differences, brought about by antics that were clearly stolen outright from Wodehouse to script years of TV comedies like Three's Company and Who's the Boss? and their ilk. Wodehouse may have even inspired shows like Faulty Towers and others. One of the things I loved is that he doesn't work too hard for a laugh, and in many cases, only touched on a joke and then lets his reader fill in the blanks. I love being trusted by a writer to bring something to the party.

Wodehouse's works were also adapted for the big screen, he wrote many songs, musicals, and short stories. Here's an interview with him in the Paris Review. The Wodehouse Society seems like a going concern, fueled by the love folks clearly have for this man.

The Guttenburg Project has a number of P.G. Wodehouse works available on line for free.

What a Kick! I'll keep my eye out for more P.G. Wodehouse.

Read this book.

* I borrowed my copy from my office lending library, and it was clearly purchased in England for £1.95, in or around 1982.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

yellow birds

This is the first book by Kevin Powers, who was stationed in Iraq during the second war there, about 10 years ago. Powers has written about what it was like to be there by creating a story of one man's struggle to fight the war, fulfill his patriotic duty, deal with the fog of war, try not to get killed, and do his best to help make sure he also brought his brothers-in-arms home as well. I don't think its a spoiler to say that not all of these things can be accomplished by one man.

The Yellow Birds is told first-person by a private in the American army, fighting in and around a small valley in Iraq* over the course of about one year. This narrative is interspersed with a second narrative of what it was like to be home afterward, dealing with the stress of trying to normalize, and deal with what he and his compatriots had done during the conflict.

Powers is a poet, and his language sings this story of struggle, friendship, duty, and horror; sings to us so prettily, that we can almost overlook the pain, boredom, fear, and stupidity of war, for small moments, then the very language brings us back, dials us in to the story in a way that seems so visceral, that parts of it seem to come alive from inside us, as readers.

The Yellow Birds is a story of a journey one man has to make outside himself, outside what he knows, to where he doesn't want to go, and from which he doesn't know the way home. That journey still goes on when re returns stateside, and like many soldiers, it continues today. Its a story Powers clearly wants us to see from the inside, and I have no idea what war is like, I have a feeling that Powers has given me a peek.

Read this book.

And then keep it around; your kids will need it when it gets assigned in schools.

* Powers uses the name Al Tafar, Nineveh Province, Iraq.  Nineveh Province is in the northwest, where Mosul is located. I don't think there is such a place as Al Tafar, but on the map I see place called Tal Afar, which is green(ish) and has a small river running through it, about 50 km west of Mosul.

Monday, June 10, 2013

robot love, part ii

Spike Jonze made a short film a few years back, but I've only just heard about it. Its called I'm Here. Its a science-fiction romance story about robots in love. Jonze didn't go too far on the robotics budget, that's for sure. His robotic lovers are human actors with bad Hallowe'en costumes, and what looks like old PC towers on their heads. But what really comes across--shines through the crummy costuming, you could say--is the personalities of the robot characters.

I wrote about robot love a little while ago, after hearing and reading a few things within a short time that all seemed to be focused on this as a future we need to be prepared for. Those stories focused on human-robot relationships rather than the robot-on-robot action in this short film, but the ideas are the same.

Jonze depicts robots at a stage in their development when they've become ubiquitous in society to the point of being ignored, but not to the point of acceptance. The robots in Jonze's portrayal are discriminated against in a heart-breakingly heartless way, by their very insignificance. They are tripped over, stepped on, and broken [accidentally] in their encounters with humans, who don't even turn their heads to acknowledge the damage, never mind apologize. Or help.

Their feelings are portrayed as real, if new, and somewhat adolescent. But that only makes the tale sweet. Tale is the right word, I think. Its a sci fi fairytale of love.

The whole thing is on youtube. Its about 30 minutes long. Check it out.

Friday, June 7, 2013

little birds

What better to follow Henry Miller's depression era prose poem classic of Paris life than with Anaïs Nin's eroticism of the same era. Little Birds is a small collection of erotic short stories that seem to be specifically designed to push the boundaries of what is acceptable subject matter for literature. Maybe even more so that in Henry Miller's work. But what is so sweet about Nin's work is the innocence with which she presents her characters; and they're so varied. Nin revels in the fact that everyone has a secret sexual nature that only needs a little bravery to bring to the fore.

Nin's characters range from young, blossoming lovers, to older, unsatisfied types, to lesbians, to frigid housewives, to pedophiles! Like I said, some of these stories really push the boundaries. I think Nin's point however, was not to write dirty stories, but to write real stories of the innermost thoughts, dreams and passions of real people. She goes out of her way--really out of her way--to focus on characters as different from the average reader as she can, if only to show the breadth and depth of the human experience.

Anaïs Nin's writing is clear, succinct, and matter-of-fact. The stories are unadorned with pale moonlight, soft breezes, bodice ripping, and other such romantic frivolities, and instead focus on the inner landscape of her characters thoughts and feelings. Her themes often stray to awakening and discovery.

In the short preface, Nin admits that she wrote eroticism as a means to pay her bills and support her other writing endeavors, while living in New York. There is no talk of a translator and so I imagine these were written by the author in English. Definitely worth a look, and a great way to follow up Henry Miller.