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.