Saturday, December 19, 2009

Manhood for Amateurs by Michael Chabon [audiobook]


This is a collection of riffs on different topics that circle around boyhood, fatherhood, and the bridge that ties the two. Chabon, who grew up with a good but distant father, now has four boys of his own and, as the title suggests, doesn’t always feel like he knows exactly what he’s doing. I’m not a father myself, but it’s easy to enjoy and relate to many of Chabon’s observations, and his honesty (both the honesty with which he writes and the honesty with which he deals with his kids) is admirable. Chabon’s refreshingly modern version of manhood calls into question the traditional ideas of masculinity (his mother pokes fun at him for carrying a man purse) as well as the traditional roles of the father (he’s not much of a handyman and prefers drawing superheroes with his kids to throwing the football with them). And he and his wife (who has written to much acclaim on the topic of motherhood) work as a team of equals as they tackle the dilemmas of parenthood (should they have their boys circumcised? how do they answer questions about drugs?). But the best part of the book is the exuberance with which Chabon embraces the concepts of childhood (imagination, superheroes) while at the same time lamenting the things that have changed since his own childhood (why did they have to go and add so many strange colors to Legos? what ever happened to kids being able to explore the neighborhood freely and alone?). This book would be a great gift for a young father, but it has enough insight and witty observation on the changing landscape of American suburbia to be relatable for anyone. Chabon’s writing, as always, is top notch, and he balances humor, serious criticism and poignancy very well.

If there were anything to criticize here, it would be that I found the author's reading voice slightly irritating at first. But the content is great.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Independent People by Halldor Laxness


Laxness, an Icelandic author, won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1955 for his ability to create epic tales. This is certainly one of them. It’s the story of Bjartur, an Icelandic sheep farmer who is set like a mountain in his ways. He stubbornly bears the loss of family members, attacks on his sheep, political corruption and the changing world around him, set on his goal to live independently and build his home and farm, Summerhouse.
“Yes, it was a good man indeed who could stand immovable as a rock in these times, when everything around him, including money and views of life, was afloat and swirling in perpetual change; when the strongest boundary walls between men and things in time and place were being washed away; when the impossible was becoming possible and even the wishes of those who had never dared to make a wish were being fulfilled.”

The most interesting conflict though, better than Bjartur’s conflict with the world, is his stubborn feud with his equally strong-willed daughter, Asta Solilja. The pig-headed way in which Bjartur disowns his daughter and refuses to make amends makes you hate him, but in the end, as he is weighted down by debt and loneliness and finally begins to admit regrets, it’s hard not to feel for Bjartur. For his entire life, he has been principled to a fault, but principled nonetheless. It is then, as he looks over Summerhouse, ruined by poor financing and poor construction, that he writes:
“For what are riches and houses and power
If in that house blooms no lovely flower?”

Independent People is a book that at times feels like it is being endured, much as Bjartur endurs the harsh northern winters. While there are moments of action, sharp conflict and shocking surprise, much of the novel is concerned with the various diseases that infect the sheep, descriptions of the weather and landscape, the politics of socialism and the poems that Bjartur enjoys writing and reciting. It’s rewarding in the end, but is a slog to get through. It has been compared to Tolstoy. The story at times also reminded me of Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, though I would be quicker to recommend that book. As frustrating as it is at times, by recommending Independent People to someone, I’d worry that they might return and throw the book at me.

Friday, December 4, 2009

So my 3rd cousin takes some rad photos...


A few months ago, I got an email from a guy named Dan Dion. I'd never met him before and had no idea who he was, but apparently, we were related. Another cousin of mine had been doing some great genealogy work and had contacted him, giving him my email address since we both live in the Bay Area. Dan is my 3rd cousin.

Turns out, Dan is also a fantastic photographer. He's been the house photographer at the Fillmore for 15 years, along with the Warfield, Shoreline Amphitheater and Cobb's Comedy Club, among other venues.

Last night, I attended the opening of a photo exhibition: Dan Dion's Rock, Jazz, and Furthur: Photos from The Fillmore Auditorium 1994-2009. I got to meet Dan and take in his collection of historic photographs of amazing musicians, both backstage portraits and performance photos. Really cool stuff. It includes photos of some of my personal favorite musicians (Petty, Tweedy, Nick Cave) and quite a few legends (Cash, BB King, John Lee Hooker, Radiohead). I think my favorite shot was one just to the left of the entrance, of a David Byrne show. Dan captured the whole stage, the band, what looks like a dancer in an S&M outfit to the side, and about 15 rows of the crowd including, in the lower left, the mostly-exposed butt of a crowd surfer wiping out. Looks like a great show.

If you have a chance, you should swing by the gallery. The show runs through the end of January.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Tennessee Biodiesel


Gifts are important because they tell people what you think of them.

I got this hat from my client. Apparently, they get lots of schwag and thought of me when they got this one. I think I like that.

Oakland, How I Love Thee


I saw this on the bus. Fantastic. I think Oakland should use it as their official logo. Put it on shirts and stuff.

Actually, maybe I'll just use this photo as a standard reply to emails I don't want to receive.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Oakland

This video captures the vibe of what makes Oakland so cool. Sent to me via Kelly.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Holiday Party

I'm on the holiday party committee at work. Not a Christmas party, a holiday party. We have to come up with themes. One of the themes I was pushing for was "Fiasco," but that seemed too vague. So I suggested a disability-themed holiday party. At the door, everyone would draw a piece of paper from a hat. Their paper would have a disability they have to pretend they have for the party. Some examples:

Rickets
Partial Paralysis of the left leg
Cleft palette
Limited use of right arm
No opposable thumbs
Midgetism
Dwarfism (must research how this is different from midgetism)
Two left feet
Blonde
Beat by father and/or uncle
Raised by wolves
Deaf in right ear
Tourette’s in Spanish (you yell bad words, but only in Spanish)
Castrated
I.Q. of a Doberman (they are smart dogs)
No Liver
Social Narcolepsy
Retrograde Amnesia
Shortness of Breath
Racist
Bionic Fist
Not circumcised
Mad as Hell
Cervical cancer

Everyone else would have to guess what their disability is.

This was not the theme selected for our holiday party.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan


This is the story of a moment in time, a few hours really, and its consequences. The story takes place on the wedding night of a young couple, Florence and Edward. They are staying at a small hotel on Chesil Beach, and when the time comes to consummate the marriage, well, let’s just say there is a misunderstanding. This is prudish, pre-sexual-revolution Britain, the incident is blown out of proportion, and the fears and frustrations of Edward and Florence, the same fears and frustrations of any young couple just married, manifest themselves in a pointless and stubborn argument.

I have mixed feelings about this book. Most of it, the part that leads up to and surrounds the incident itself, I found quite boring. McEwan’s writing is solid, but the Victorian sensibility of it all just isn’t my thing. But the last part of the book, when Edward is looking back on the incident many years later and thinking about how that one small moment had such a large impact on his life—that part’s really moving and relatable and masterfully executed. And it made the rest of the book worth it.

On Chesil Beach is the first McEwan I’ve read, but from what I’ve heard, it deals with a favorite topic of his—how small events, even the ones that don’t feel like events at the time, can change everything. It’s little more than a short story, really, which is the perfect length for it. If the upfront required much more investment, I’m not sure I would recommend this book. But as it is, I found it to be a quick and powerful read.

Bonsai!

Today we went to Berkeley Horticulture and got a half pound of red worms for the compost bin. Introducing them to the worm bin was about as satisfying as buying a bunch of pet birds and watching them fly away. But they're supposed to turn the scraps that we throw in there into rich plant food. We'll see how that goes.


We also picked up a couple of bonsai trees. Terri got hers in a pot, all nice-looking and everything. I decided to be wild and crazy and got the tree by itself, an English boxwood, then got a pot, some little grassy stuff and some pumice. I made a little treescape. I want to get a miniature Japanese to watch over my tree. Despite my penchant for naming everything, I'm not sure I should name the tree. Maybe I'll just name the place. New Delaware. Maybe something.

Also of note, yesterday I tried out my new hedge trimmers and almost cut my finger off. I won't recount how, exactly, as it's rather embarrassing. I'll just say that the back stairs, door and kitchen floor were all spattered with blood and I had to run back out to the hardware store and buy a new extension cord.

Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer by Novella Carpenter [audiobook read by Karen White]


Ever since I listened to this book, I’ve been asking my wife if we can get some chickens (or perhaps a goat, since I’m not sure how the bulldogs would do with chickens, or vice versa). The answer is a consistent and resolute “Absolutely not,” but this book makes it seem like a fantastic experiment.

Novella Carpenter moved with her husband to Oakland from Seattle, and rented a home in a not-so-nice part of the city, an area nicknamed Ghost Town for its empty lots and abandoned buildings. Next to her apartment was one of these vacant lots, in which she planted some vegetables. This was the beginning of an obsession that would eventually lead her to rooting through the dumpsters of Chinatown, salvaging food scraps to take home to her pigs.

Carpenter’s farm, in addition to producing crops, was at various times home to chickens, ducks, turkeys, rabbit, pigs, goats and bees. With the exception of the bees (she’d kept bees in Seattle), all of these experiences were new to her. There’s a lot of trial and error and experimentation both in raising the animals and figuring out how to slaughter them. And that’s where the book gets really interesting. Carpenter’s obsession wasn’t just with raising the animals, but with understanding the whole process.

While most of us eat animals, we also mostly take them for granted. Carpenter didn’t want to do this. She didn’t want to raise the animals and then sell them to a butcher or auction them off. So in addition to the trials of raising livestock in downtown Oakland, we get a vivid, unsettling, but ultimately very honest description of how these animals become food.

Carpenter has a witty, light-hearted but heartfelt voice, and Karen White’s read of the book fits the attitude well. I’ve recommended this book to several people. I even sent an email to the Slate Political Gabfest (they’re sponsored by audible, and their promotion was what got me hooked on audio books in the first place) recommending Farm City, and they read my recommendation on their podcast. Here’s the link to the podcast. My moment of fame came on the November 5, 2009 Gabfest at about the 18:00 mark.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Boogie Woogie Piano Festival at Yoshi's

The other day, I was driving home and heard a radio promo for the Boogie Woogie Piano Festival at Yoshi's, a jazz club in Oakland. Since I'm learning a bunch of boogie woogie on the piano, I thought it would be good to go. Fun time. Some great piano, including the amazing 96-year-old Pinetop Perkins who, according to Wikipedia is one of the two oldest touring delta blues musicians, member of the Blues Hall of Fame and recipient of Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.

Apparently, in the first show that night, Pinetop kept wandering out on stage before he was up. During our show, they had to go back to the dressing room and get him. He walked out assisted by a cane in one hand and a guy supporting him under his other arm. They sat him at the piano, adjusted his mic, and his giant hands just started playing.

Mitch Woods, who organized the event and played the role of MC and opening performer, said that when he picked Pinetop up at the airport, he asked him what his secret to his longevity was. "I like it here," Pinetop said.

I hope I'm able to play piano when I'm 96. Here's a short clip of Pinewood in action.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Wish I Were Invited


I googled "party pics." This is by far the best party that has ever taken place.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Trampoline Evolution

When I was young, we had a trampoline in our back yard. We used to jump up and pick leaves off the tree branches above. Naturally, the leaves to pick got higher and higher, and toward the end of the summer it felt like we were flying. It was a lot of fun.

This trampolining puts that to shame:

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Shop Class as SoulCraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work by Matthew B. Crawford [audiobook, read by Max Bloomquist]



People don’t do things with their hands anymore. That’s the central lament of this book. We don’t make things. Instead of fixing things, we throw them out. We don’t even have the knowledge of how things work to fix them if we wanted to. The trades are devalued in schools, seen as lesser career paths compared to office jobs. As such, we have a culture divorced from the physical things around us.

But what Crawford argues, convincingly, I think, is that the job of physical laborers, of craftsman, have an inherent value to society and to the craftsman that cannot be found in an office. A craftsman draws on experience that goes beyond routinized labor, and in the end he is judged by the physical evidence of his work—does it work? There is value in doing things with our hands, in the act of creation, in the act of physical problem solving. In interacting with our physical world. Perhaps because of our hyper-digitized world, you see a rise in the craft arts, in home improvement, in gardening—in hobbies involving our hands.

Crawford recounts many of his own experiences as an electrician and a mechanic at a motorcycle shop. In prose that at often is rather poetic, he conveys the frustration, education, humility, pride and spirituality that all can come through an act of physical creation or solving a problem that involves physical and mental challenges.

Where Crawford strays into more dubious territory is when he begins to make generalized value judgments about office work. He compares the relationships of office managers to the relationships of mechanics in a shop, with the office managers using a kind of two-faced code compared to the mechanics’ straight-talk. And he compares the definitive success or failure of a craftsman—he can see the results of his work at job’s end—to the more nebulous results of an office worker—often a project is ongoing, success is more abstract and less defined, and as a part of a team it’s often difficult to suss out one’s personal contribution. While I would agree that a sense of accomplishment might be harder to come by in an office environment, Crawford makes too many generalizations based on his minimal office experience and, in the end, comes across as condescending.

That said, the broader premise of the book is important and well said. As for the audiobook, however, I wasn’t a fan of Bloomquist’s read. He overemphasized too many words and made it feel a little forced.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

No One Belongs Here More Than You by Miranda July



Miranda July’s voice is wholly unique, in both her film work and this collection of short stories. And it comes off as genuine her, rather than consciously weird. The stories in this collection are hit and miss for me, though more hit (and the misses are still interesting to read). By the end, the weird sexual situations were a little less unsettling, and the quirkiness of her voice had lost some of its intrigue. But overall, a great read, with a lot of charm. And while many people focus on the quirkiness of her voice, I was blown away more by how many great lines are in these stories. My favorite stories were “The Shared Patio,” “The Swim Team,” “The Sister,” and “Something That Needs Nothing.” I look forward to reading her next book.

A Couple Photos I Wish I'd Taken



And one that I did:

The Hole

Another post on sweet-juniper about an abandoned neighborhood, this one in my hometown of Cincinnati. Eerie.

The Given Day by Dennis Lehane [audiobook read by Michael Boatman]


Dennis Lehane is best known for his crime thrillers (Mystic River, Gone Baby Gone), so this, an ambitious historic novel, is a departure for him. Clocking in at just under 24 hours (over 700 pages for the book), it’s ambitious undertaking for the reader as well. But the time is well spent, one of my favorite books in recent memory.

The story takes place mostly in Boston near the end of World War I, a time that, for those who lived it, must have seemed like the end of the world. There is the Spanish flu epidemic, the May Day riots, rampant racism, a molasses flood, terrorist bombings, and a strike by the Boston police department that led to days of rioting that nearly destroyed the city.

Through these tumultuous times, we follow Danny Coughlin, a cop from a family of dedicated police officers, who struggles with his dual role as the dutiful son of an officer and the leader of the officer’s union. Crossing paths with Coughlin is Luther Laurence, a black man from Tulsa who fled to Boston after a deadly shootout. Throw into that mix several real-life historical characters (Babe Ruth, Governor Calvin Coolidge, John Hoover and Eugene O’Neill among others), and you have a sprawling, historically fascinating, multi-layered story with well-drawn, conflicted characters. On top of that is Lehane’s talent for suspense, which keeps it from ever getting dull.

The audiobook is performed by Michael Boatman, who deftly voices the narration as well as the dozens of characters, many with accents. A consistently solid performance.

Free: The Future of a Radical Price by Chris Anderson


Anderson, editor of Wired, examines the nature of “free.” The history of free, Anderson explains, has been mostly one of marketing gimmickry—“buy one, get one free,” “free sample,” “free delivery,” etc.—where the “free” is built into the cost of the item or is in exchange for a further commitment, either contractual or implied.

But the key to today’s free, as we see online with Google or Youtube, is that whereas the material economy is an economy of scarcity, today’s economy is one of abundance. Said differently, physical products will always be scarce—they must be produced, there will always be a finite number of them, and no matter the efficiencies, there will always be some cost of production. An economy of abundance, on the other hand, might have upfront production costs, but mass production thereafter is costless and fluid. It doesn’t cost any more to make 100 copies of an mp3 than it does to make one. There are as many available as there is demand. And according to the law of supply and demand, an infinite supply dictates a price of zero. An economy of abundance will always push prices toward free.

Furthermore, the “Internet generation” expects free, demands it even. The debate around music piracy and the misguided efforts of the record industry to litigate otherwise aside, the question of the future is not if free but how free? As in, what is the model going to be that will allow us to monetize free?

Anderson gives some potential examples: there is of course ad-supported free content, where advertisers subsidize the content in exchange for eyeballs; there is the tiered free, where a few users pay for an expanded or pro version of something while others use the scaled-down version for free (think Flickr or Quicktime); and there is the use of free to promote something that makes money (giving away a free book to support a career as a consultant). And there are other models.

But, as Anderson admits, the free model hasn’t really been figured out yet, Youtube as case in point. And that’s where Anderson’s book is open to criticism. It’s a fantastic overview of the idea of free, and a thought-provoking discussion starter. But unless someone figures out how to reliably monetize free, it will never be the force that Anderson predicts. It will never become more than an amateur economy, or a promotional device. To get free to work on its own, someone will need to solve the paradox of profiting from it.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

blip.fm



Started a station on blip.fm, which lets you play dj and share your station with friends (or like-minded strangers). Quite fun. And yet another way to find new tunage.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

This is just to say

This is Just to Say
I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
saving
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

-william carlos williams


-----------

This is Just to Say
I have stolen
the car
that was in
the driveway

and which
you were probably
keeping
to sell

when you were older
and needed money
to send your children
to college


-----------

This is just to say
I have taken
the cat--
the one you
call Snowball

and which
you apparently loved
more
than me

Forgive me
we'll be better off
without that mangy
flea circus around



-----------

This is just to say
I have crashed
the plane
that was carrying
your son to San Diego
for medical school.

Forgive me—
he was a bright boy,
handsome and vibrant

but you should see
the crater;
it is something to behold


-----------

This is just to say
I have crushed
your nuts
so gently resting
under my stiletto.

Forgive me—
they were hard to resist
with their scurrilous hair

and goosy flesh.
Funny a source of such pleasure
could make you cry so

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Spicy Pony Head

The Sound of Young America

Rejected: Tales of the Failed, Dumped and Canceled by John Friedman


John Friedman runs a show in New York called The Rejection Show, which celebrates the all-too-common experience of not succeeding. This book is a collection of some material from that show, various writers, comedians, actors and cartoonists reflecting on their favorite rejections.

Overall, the material in all over the place. Some of it, honestly, should have been rejected. Other pieces have moments of laugh-out-loud humor. Neil Pollack’s short story, “Brother Elk,” is a pretty solid short story. And both the collection of rejected headlines from The Onion and rejected jokes from Saturday Night Live’s “Weekend Update” both have some hilarious lines. But in general, the bigger the bomb, the better the comedy. And that goes to Kevin McDonald’s recounting of a show his comedy troupe did at El Macombo rock club. It ends with the audience hurling homophobic insults (their act followed a gay men’s choir) and two of the performers getting into a fistfight on stage.

I recently heard an interview with John Friedman, and perhaps better than anything in this book were some of his insights on what it means to fail and, in this case, what it means to celebrate failure. By looking at his failures as something to be collected, as positives in that regard, he gave himself the freedom he needed to really take some creative risks.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Sub

A small German submarine came into our pond.
I don’t know how it got in there. It must have come in through one of the drainage pipes. How it navigated the creek is a mystery, but there it was. About the size and shape of a baseball bat.
It surfaced maybe a yard from shore. At first I thought it was a turtle, but then the hatch opened and several tiny German sailors appeared, barking orders.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Monday, September 14, 2009

How old are you?

I ever tell you my Kerouac story?
You met Kerouac?
I punched him out.
What?
Asshole was trying to steal my girl.
You punched him?
Out cold.
How old are you?
What do you mean how old am I? How old do you think I am?
Not old enough to have known Kerouac.
Looks can be deceiving, my friend. Looks can be deceiving.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Feral Houses



Sweet Juniper has a fascinating collection of abandoned houses, reclaimed by nature in Detroit. Beautiful and sad at once.

Light in the East Bay

A nice big, full, double rainbow to the south, viewed from our living room.


Sunsets are usually beautiful in the bay. Sometimes equally as spectacular are the hills. Windows of all the houses sparkle, and sometimes the light can get so bright and orange that it looks like everything's on fire.



Last Saturday night, the fog rolled in low and Cal's stadium looked like a spaceship was landing during the game. There was also a full moon, which made for some a creepy atmosphere everywhere.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Inglorious Basterds by Quentin Tarantino



In Quentin Tarantino’s revisionist history of World War II, he shows that while the Allied Forces were unable to exact a revenge on the Nazis that matched their crimes, it is well within his power as writer and director to do so now. He imagines a brutal revenge fueled by a wrath that the Allied Forces could or would not muster. As with all of Tarantino’s films, Basterds is a meditation on violence, particularly violence in cinema. And while the violence is graphic, what is more unsettling is the nagging suspicion that he selected the Nazis as antagonists primarily to make such brutality “acceptable.” In fact, the more brutal the fate of each Nazi, the more we self-consciously cheer. But the violence issue aside, the film is masterfully crafted. Several of the scenes are among the most riveting in recent memory, and the whole film has that other Tarantino trademark—it is incredibly entertaining.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

"Big Cities" by The Young Offenders

Great song, great guys. And the directorial debut of my buddy, Jon.

Neil Debuts "Heart of Gold"

One of my favorite Neil songs. Love the bit at the beginning with him trying to find the right harp.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Sunday

Went up to Joaquin-Miller Park with Meghan and Brian on Sunday.

Then we went and tried out mattresses, which isn't very hard work at all.

Saturday's Work


I waited for an hour for a truck at U-Haul. That's not as bad as the poor people waiting in line when I left, pictured here.



Job #1 was to dig up this lemon tree from our neighbor Heather's yard and transplant it to ours. Hoping he holds on, because he looks nice there.

Job #2 was to hoist our couch up over the balcony, because it wouldn't fit up our stairs.



Walter was doing some work of his own.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Let The Right One In


Creepy, vampire movie set in Stockholm, Sweeden. A young, awkward boy, the brunt of constant bullying by his classmates, finds a new friend in the girl who moves in next door. The only minor setback is that she's a reluctant but very real bloodsucker.

We watched a version that was dubbed in english, which was pretty annoying, but overall a freaky good movie. Well made.

Friday, July 24, 2009

How We Learn by Jonah Lehrer


This is a study of how we make decisions. Through interesting case studies and backed with a good deal of scientific and psychological research, and layman’s neurophysiology, Lehrer explains how different parts of our brain function when we’re presented with choices.

Using examples as varied as Tom Brady searching for an open receiver, focus group participants ranking spreadable jams, pilots landing malfunctioning airliners and professional poker players sniffing out bluffs, Lehrer explains how making the right decision involves a struggle between our rational and logical brains. The misconception is that using logical problem-solving always leads to better decisions. But Lehrer argues that depending on the type of decision, the number of factors involved, and the level of our experience, relying on our “emotional brain” is often more accurate. This is because we condition our brain and the dopamine levels in it to predict certain outcomes—in other words, we train our instincts to “sense” the right decision and can react much faster than our logical brain could.

Many people have rightly compared this book to Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink. Both are about decision-making, but How We Decide is better supported and seems a little clearer in its thesis. Overall, a very enjoyable listen. David Colacci, who I recently listened to reading Wonderboys, does an excellent job here as well.

Sidetracked by Henning Mankel


This book starts with two seemingly unrelated but equally gruesome incidents. In one, Swedish inspector Kurt Wallander is called out to a farm to investigate a complaint of a trespasser in the crop fields. There, he finds a young, obviously frightened girl. But before he can talk to her, she douses herself in gasoline and lights herself on fire. Not far from there, a retired politician walks down to the beach from his home before turning in for bed. There, he is hatcheted in the back by what appears to him to be a dwarf.

This is the fifth book in Mankel’s series about a Swedish detective Kurt Wallander. I haven’t read any of the others, but it was easy to get a sense of Wallander’s character and I actually liked the allusions to the other stories without much explanation.

I don’t read a lot of crime fiction, but a friend recommended this book, and it held up well to James Patterson and other similar books that I have read. It’s fast-paced, smartly written and has plenty of twists and turns. Mankel deftly balances what he reveals and what he keeps a mystery, inserting just enough of the scenes where the crimes are committed to keep it suspenseful but not give too much away. It’s also not a perfectly plotted crime novel—it’s messy, with mistakes and dead ends, which gives it a more realistic feel. And Mankel adds pieces of dialogue and side plots about personal life to make him seem well-rounded without bogging down in it. Overall, a pretty enjoyable summer read.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Public Enemies by Michael Mann




When I saw Heat, another Michael Mann film, in the theater back in college, I was by myself and it was probably one of the best movie-going experiences I can remember. The theater was mostly empty, and the gunshots seemed to ricochet off the stadium seats around me. This time, I was in Chicago, where much of Public Enemies takes place, and again I was alone.

Is it fair to compare Public Enemies to Heat? They're both Michael Mann films about bank robbers, and they both make the case for the good in the bad guys and the bad in the good guys and how relationships are affected when men become obsessed with what they do.

So there, I guess I am comparing. But Heat, with its extra thirty minutes, is able to develop the characters much more fully. We get to see the home lives of the three main characters. In Public Enemies the relationships are a little more flat. Johnny Depp, who plays John Dillinger, and Christian Bale who plays Melvin Purvis, the FBI agent chasing him, both do a great job, as usual. But Dillinger's relationship with his girl isn't fully developed, and we don't know what Purvis is like at home. As such, this movie relies more on the shootouts and bank robberies to pull us through. And while nobody shoots bank robberies as well as Mann, and while I walked out of the theater thinking, "Man, I should get a tommy gun," I didn't care as much for the characters as I did in Heat.

As the plot goes, there are some good moments, most carried by Depp's ability show his inner conflict. My favorite was, toward the end, when he walks into the police department's "John Dillinger Unit" while all the cops are sitting around the radio listening to the Cubs-Yankees game. He strolls casually around the office, examining all the photos of him and the evidence from his case on the walls, realizing that of his gang, he's the last one left. Then, at the height of his bravado, he asks what the score of the game is. Aside from these moments, there are few surprises. After all, it's a true story and the end was known 80 years ago.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Move

It's been a long but very good five days. We have maybe 75% of our stuff unpacked. Some of it is set up temporarily until we get into the upstairs when the former owners move out in a few weeks.

Here are some pics of the move.

Dude, enjoying a last few moments at the old place.


Leaving the old house.


The new place.

The Dude and Walter christening the back yard.

The yard is pretty much a blank slate. I've been thinking about what I can do with it (without tripling the water bill).

The front yard, on the other hand, is fully landscaped. All I need to do there is get the automatic drip system working.

Inside before.


Inside after (kind of).


I love our charming little broom closet. Reminds me of Grandma's house.

We've been getting the hang of the narrow driveway. The real fun was when I pulled the moving van up it without thinking, then had to back it out. I only scraped the wall once.


Most of our rooms look like a tornado hit.


The kitchen is almost completely unpacked and set up.


Making the first meal in the new house.


Lots of new stuff, but we can still keep some of our routines.