Monday, June 14, 2021

Monday, Monday

Has been a rather strange week. Very hot for June. I had dental surgery and had a bad reaction to the antibiotics. I have also had periods of dizziness. I think I may have that issue with ear crystals again. Or a sinus infection. I hate to try and fix it alone because you have to do things with your head hanging off of the bed and I am always afraid I will do damage. Or fall on my head. 

It seems somewhat better today. 

On the plus side I got out quite a bit to restaurants and my son's house so I was never alone for a whole day. Kevin finished eighth grade and will be playing tennis every day this summer. And taking driver's ed. Gulp. As an incoming freshman, he reads three books over the summer: ANIMAL FARM, INTO THIN AIR and THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHTTIME. He had choices on the second two.



I am really in the doldrums on finding a good book for me right now although three await me at the library. On TV, LUPIN is back and I have been watching SWEET TOOTH. Finished HACKS, which I liked a lot. I rewatched Alda's THE FOUR SEASONS and found it horrible. I remember liking it at the time but now it was unconvincing that these people would be friends or married. It was just so dull. The only interesting character was Sandy Dennis' because she was not such a generic forty-something.

I finished my story for Lawrence Block's anthology on stories with games in them. He accepted it and now I have to find something else to write. If my head stops spinning that is. 

What about you? 


Friday, June 11, 2021

FFB: THE NEW BIOGRAPHICAL DICTIONARY OF FILM, David Thomson


Ed Gorman's review from the archives.



I like to read while I eat. Lately I've been working my way through David Thomson's enormous Biographical Dictionary of Film at lunch time. Thomson is the most interesting and entertaining film critic since Pauline Kael--and every bit as frustrating. When I disagree with him, I want to all him up and read him his rights--before violating every one of them.

Today I read his take on Edmond O'Brien. Thomson notes going in that movie stars aren't supposed to sweat. That makes them too much like everybody in the audience. Part of movie stardom is inaccessibility, fantasy. But what a clever hook because beefy O'Brien sweated all the time, especially in his most memorable movie DOA. He was also fat, frequently out of breath, devoutly neurotic and often frightened. He was, in other words, pretty much like the people in the darkness watching him on the big screen. An Everyman of sorts.

In the course of his entry on O'Brien, Thomson makes clear that he enjoys the odd-ball actors and actresses far more than he does the stars. Thus he finds Warren Oates vastly more compelling than Robert Redford and Jeff Goldblum more intriguing than Paul Newman.

When I was a kid I rarely wondered about the lives of the stars. But I was always curious about character actors such as Elisha Cook, Jr. and J. Carrol Nash. There was a vitality to their performances that the stars were rarely capable of matching. And in the case of Cook, there was a melancholy and weariness that I recognized even then as being much like my own.

Same with the women. The ones I was always excited about were the second- and third-leads. They were the ones I got crushes on. They were often as pretty as the leading ladies, sometimes even prettier. And they frequently had more interesting roles, the bitch, the tart, the victim.

Barry Gifford once remarked that when you see a musical with all those young gorgeous girl dancers you have to wonder what became of them. The majority probably became housewives; more than a few probably took to the streets as parts became harder and harder to come by; and a lucky handful became the wives of powerful Hollywood men.

I've been watching a lot of silent films of TCM and the same impulse grabs me then, too. Who were they? What happened to them? Did they know they'd become immortal? A full century later I sit in our family room and watch them as--most likely anyway--another century from now people will still be watching them. This is probably heresy of sorts but to me film immortality is far more imposing than literary immortality.

 

Wednesday, June 09, 2021

Short Story Wednesday: "Here We Are in Paradise" Tony Earley

 


This is the title story from the first collection from Tony Earley. Most of the stories appeared in  literary journals. The couple in this story is the most ordinary of mid-twentieth century couples. The writing is plain, which well suits this couple. 

The story begins with Vernon Jackson purchasing a flock of ducks to place on the pond on the land he has bought. His wife would prefer he puts a house there but instead it's a mobile home. He has no reason to think ducks something his wife wants and in fact, he seems to know little about her despite their long marriage. She is sick now and he thinks they can sit outside at night and watch their ducks, wings cut so they can't escape. 

The story traces their meeting at a softball game where Vernon is the star pitcher. Pitching seems to be his one skill and it is enough to attract the young woman. But he has never bothered to get to know his wife, which she realizes late in their marriage. Yet, he treats her well, if without much thought, and it is hard to think ill of him. 

It is hard not to think that many marriages were like this one. They are no children and this was a further impediment to closeness since they can't seem to talk about it. There is no doubt Vernon loves his wife and little doubt she does not love him but is stuck in a marriage that just happened to her.

I have read countless stories like this over the years. All of Earley's stories could be novels and yet I think he says all that he wants to say in under 8000 words. I also read his novel JIM, THE BOY, which was excellent. 

Kevin TIpple

Jerry House 

TracyK 

Richard Robinson 

Rich Horton

Monday, June 07, 2021

Still Here

 







Although there were some men at the protest against gun violence on Saturday at noon, it was mostly women. And the approving beeps from passing cars were mostly from Black Americans or women.  Anyway, nice to see a racially mixed crowd supporting it.

Finally getting around to BERLIN BABYLON, which looks great although I do find it tiring to read on my TV. But the dubbed version was wretched. Couldn't they use people with German accents at least?Also still watching THE HANDMAID's TALE and IN TREATMENT. MARE OF EASTTOWN ended very well. I am tempted to rewatch it because it would have been a better show if watched more quickly than once a week. So many characters.

Also watched BELLS ARE RINGING on Criterion this week. Lovely little movie from 1960. Also watched MIDNIGHT RUN, which I remembered as funnier than it was.  

I have about given up on my book club book THE OVERSTORY. I am very sympathetic to its aims but it is too long for me and the characters too similar. I am also reading a book about the making of the film GIANT. Not sure I will stay with that either. It is not a movie I have much feeling for. 

Just seems to be one of those periods when I drift from book to book and don't finish a lot of them. 

Went for a walk at Cranbrook Gardens. It was gorgeous. Cranbrook has been a place where a lot of famous architects and designers have spent time. It is also a splendid school for the very wealthy. There is an art museum, a planetarium, a science building and lots of gardens and trails. It costs $35,000 a year for a sixth grader.

About 2o% of people in a upscale grocery story yesterday were not wearing masks. I guess we will find out if we are being to hasty in our retreat. It is more difficult to wear masks in 90 weather for sure. 

What are you all up to?

 

 





Friday, June 04, 2021

FFB: THE PORTABLE DOROTHY PARKER

 (from the archives)



Reviewed by Quinn Cummings

Quinn Cummings is the author of Notes from the Underwire: Adventures From My Awkward and Lovely Life.


The Portable Dorothy Parker

I don't know why short stories have withered as an art form. Really, they couldn't be more modern. All the pleasure of eavesdropping on the table behind you, only with a good editor. In the modern arena where we're all gladiators competing to see who has the shortest attention span and the most to do, what could be better than a beginning,a middle and an end in the time it takes the plumber to snake the bathroom drain?

And if you're going to read short stories, you're going to want to read Dorothy Parker. Even if you don't think you know Dorothy Parker, I'll bet you do. Men don't make passes...

If you just thought, ...at girls who wear glasses, you know a little Dorothy Parker. If you're a bookish type (And we know you are; you're reading this) you probably know she wrote for The New Yorker and the Constant Reader, was the Clever Girl in Manhattan in the 20's and 30's, was the Hermione Granger at the Algonquin Round Table.

Some of her stories are funny. Some are snorting-into-your-sleeve funny; my mother gave me "The Waltz" to read when I was eleven and I can't think of a better gateway drug to Ms. Parker. "From the Diary of a New York Lady" gleefully exposes the stupidity and lack of self-awareness of a society dame, some primordial Paris Hilton. But while I've never turned down Dorothy in high humor, the stories which have stayed with me were her more serious stories, which inevitably circle around how people, knowingly and unknowingly, hurt one another. Her serious short stories have the precision of Flaubert and the scrupulous attention to detail of an autopsy. I don't wish people pain, so I'm not pleased Ms. Parker had a well-documented difficult romantic life. Having said that, there have been times in my dating life where I thought back to some moment or sentence from a story of hers and thought, "Oh. That's what she was talking about" and felt oddly mollified if not exactly happy. Her stories are clear and bright, very much of their era but also timeless. They are excellent company which fits in your purse.


Wednesday, June 02, 2021

Short Story Wednesday: "The Little Stranger" Gene Wolfe

 


I have a friend who always cites Gene Wolfe as his favorite writer and I have been meaning to read a story by him for years. "The Little Stranger" is the story of an elderly woman, living alone, who hears her house moaning most nights. No one can locate the source of the problem. She writes about it to a now-dead friend and in fact, it is through her letters to him that we follow the story. 

(This is a story hard to describe without giving things away) But I will try. The woman decides that if she were to add a small house to her property, the moaning might disappear. (You can never follow her logic in this tale) When a caravan breaks down outside her house, she strikes a deal with the family that if they build the house for her, they can stay on her land until they fix their caravan (good deal for her!)

The question is: is she a witch? The people in the caravan never come out ahead in their bargaining. But it's not clear that she does any real harm, even when  two children named Hank and Greta turn up. I enjoyed this story but it would not make me cite Wolfe as my favorite writer. It is a bit too circuitous and vague for my taste. 

Kevin Tipple

Jerry House 

TracyK 

George Kelley 

Matt Paust 

Richard Robinson 

Todd Mason

First Wednesday Book Review: KLARA AND THE SUN, Kazuo Ishiguro




I am blaming myself for not enjoying this book more. And I am greatly in the minority Although it is a glum book that is not the reason why. I am not sure what the reason is because I am a great fan of NEVER LET ME GO and REMAINS OF THE DAY. 

It shares a lot of DNA with NLMG. They are both set in the future and deal with the sacrifices some make for others. In this case, Klara is an AF. Artificial friends are mostly purchased for teenagers, to help them through those early difficult years 12-15. Klara is an especially intuitive AF and is purchased for a girl who suffers from an unnamed illness. Her mother is dubious about Klara at first but comes to rely on her advice and help. Klara turned out to be the character I most understood in the book. The humans were far more opaque. Of course, the story is told from her point of view, which always makes a character more sympathetic. 

Klara doesn't see the world quite as we do nor does she understand a lot of what she sees. She invests the sun, for instance, with mystical powers. 

Do you ever go back and reread a book that you didn't much care for at first and find your opinion changed? This has happened with books I read in high school and college. Books that were forced on me.  

For more First Wednesday book reviews, see Barrie Summy.