Thursday, September 28, 2006

A Belated Hiatus Announcement, And This Just In: Sony Hates Books and Wants to See Them All Die. Or Do They?

I kind of went into an unannounced blog hiatus this week -- next week will be better. I've been writing this week, had a productive session yesterday, and I hope to get a bit more done today. I can feel the end of this damn thing (the novel) approaching and I'm eager to type 'The End' so I can start again at the beginning and rewrite for another 7 years. Just kidding. Anyway. Speaking of books, I saw this article linked to on Drudge and thought I'd share it.

This is the Sony Portable Reader System, also known as the PRS-500. This is supposed to be Sony's answer to those who complained that reading books on their Personal Digital Assistant was too uncomfortable to do for any length of time. No one likes eyestrain. From some British newspaper:
"Unlike other e-books, the screen has no flicker or back light, allowing the reader to spend as much time reading as they want without the fear of eyestrain.

"The 6-inch screen can be taken for a monochrome liquid-crystal display at first glance, but on closer inspection looks like no other electronic display. It's behind a thin pane of glass, but unlike an LCD it shows no "depth" - it pretty much looks like a light grey piece of paper with dark gray text."

For me, the matter of eyestrain was always the key reason not to bother with these so-called "e-books". Reading a name and number or even a short news article off of a PDA was fine. Attempting to read a chapter of a novel on a PDA, however, had me squinting in no time, and wishing for the ole reliable Luddite version. But the other night, while reading a mass-market paperback edition of the 1,000-plus page Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, my hand was beginning to feel the strain of keeping that stack of paper cracked open for more than half an hour. A machine that's "the size of a paperback book, but only a third of an inch thick," which is how the article describes the PRS-500, sounds like a device I could try and read a book on.

Now comes the part where I ask a silly question whose answer is undoubtedly a quick and annoyed 'no'. Here goes: Is this the beginning of the end for the printed word? For proof that we shouldn't sell our stock in Barnes & Noble quite yet, this too from the article: "Like paper, the display is readable from any angle, but it doesn't look as good as the real thing, chiefly because the contrast doesn't compare well. The background isn't white and the letters aren't black. The letters show some jaggedness, even though the resolution is a very respectable 800 by 600 pixels." See? As cool as it is, it's still not as good as looking at a regular piece of paper with words printed in ink on it. The machines are winning, sure, but they haven't won yet.

Now don't get me wrong. Like Napoleon's brother Kip, I too love technology, but in the back of my mind I fear that one of the greatest glories of publishing a book, namely holding the damn thing in one's own hand, will one day become a bloodless non-event involving the completely anticlimactic downloading of a file onto an insertable drive. This artistic need to make a physical object is part of the reason that literary journals who publish exclusively online don't quite hold the same allure to querying authors that journals who publish a 3-dimensional object do. And though the evolution away from books and towards this technology may not begin with this particular device, I suspect it'll happen sooner or later. Already people are getting used to not seeing actual paper money as often as they once did, content to hand out a card with a black stripe on the back instead. So, too, will go books. Hopefully, I'll finish mine before then.

Anywho! Like I said, next week will feature many a blog posting, but today I push away from the computer to write middling to bad fiction with naught but pen and paper. See ya next week.

Thursday, September 21, 2006


I know I have a habit of getting too excited about a movie based solely on its trailer (for instance my breathless anticipation for the upcoming Prestige), but I think you can tell quite a lot about a movie based on its trailer, even, to some extent, a good hint as to its quality. For instance, after watching the trailer for the upcoming Steven Zaillian film All The King's Men, I get the distinct impression that it's going to be a terrible movie. In a big, star-studded Oscar-bait movie like this, the studio will invariably trot out a few of the best lines or moments from the film for the trailer to entice folks to head out and see the thing when it comes out. And when the movie's best face is so clearly sub-par, as is the case with All the King's Men, inferences can safely be made. (And that it has Jude Law in it makes it that much easier to figure out.)

Of the trailers I've seen in my life, the trailer for Alien and Pearl Harbor are, in my mind, the best ever cut. Well, today I saw another trailer to add to the list. It's a little grainy and it's hosted on a foreign language site at the moment, but it is stunning. The trailer (technically a "promo reel") is for Zach Snyder's upcoming adaptation of Frank Miller's graphic novel, 300. It retells the legendary story of the 300 Spartans who fought back an attack by the Persians even though they were outnumbered to the tune of several thousand. I think the actual number is so enormous as to strain credulity. As Rodriguez did with Sin City, Snyder's focus with this movie is to bring the spirit and look of Frank Miller's graphic novel to life as faithfully as possible, and I think this is really the only way to go with most graphic novels. The results speak for themselves. Anyway, take a look at the trailer here, and be doubly glad Snyder's also the one in charge of adapting Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' Watchmen.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

C'mon. Let's Just Give Him a Third Term. Seriously.

Take a moment out of your day to remember the halcyon days of the Nineties. Back when we had a President who knew how to talk, didn't make us embarrassed to be Americans, didn't launch full-scale invasions of Middle Eastern countries for no reason, and didn't need his Vice President to tell him what to do and how to do it, and whose worst sin while in office was, well, you remember. Anyway, click here for Clinton's recent appearance on The Daily Show.

Monday, September 18, 2006

The Saga of the Stolen Car is Over. Well, Almost Over.

I got my car back today from the body shop.

I walked up to Prestige Collision a little after noon today, and noticed my car parked out front. I also noticed that all of the hubcaps were off. I stepped up to the car, looked in the backseat and saw all four hubcaps piled up in back. I went inside and said to the older lady in the front office, "I'm here to pick up the Crown Victoria. I'm not sure it's done though. The hubcaps are all off." "Oh, are they?" she said, and then the stooped-shouldered old lady walked down a hallway out of sight. I sat down. (Beside me was an H2 driver who'd had the right side of his rear bumper knocked slightly askew. You can imagine how my heart bled for this guy.) After ten minutes of worrying whether they were going to try and send me home to put the hubcaps on myself because they knew I was holding out on them with the hubcap key they'd been harrassing me about since I dropped it off, I conquered my fear of the ultra-germy waiting room magazine and picked up a copy of Time. The one about Hillary running for President (she actually might not, so says Time). Twenty minutes later the old lady said my car was ready and I wrote her a check.

I walked out to the car and noticed they'd put the hubcaps on while I'd been waiting. I inspected further and found that the backing that went on the back of the driver's side mirror hadn't been replaced. I walked back into the office and the foreman of the place, Jamie, came back out to the car with me to look. "I remember you saying that when we did the initial estimate," he said, and said he'd have to order the part. While he was looking for the official car color listed on the side of the door, I noticed that the hubcaps that had previously been stacked in the backseat had left brown circular grease stains on the upholstery. I pointed this out to Jamie, too. He seemed surprised at the mess they'd made and called over the employee who'd set the hubcaps there in the first place and spoke to him quietly. Another employee came out to clean it up and Jamie told me to come back Wednesday so they could pop on the mirror backing and that'd be it.

I got in the car, started her up and saw the gas gauge pointing at the big 'E'. It had been pointing just south of 'F' when they stole it. Sons of bitches drove the thing until it was almost out of gas and then wrecked it. After I let that sink in for a moment, I looked in the rearview mirror and saw what looked like the remnants of decals stuck to the mirror itself. It looked a bit like a scorch mark. I rubbed at it with a napkin and nothing happened. I scraped at it with my thumbnail and nothing happened. I went back in and told Jamie. He came out with me to see what the hell I was talking about, looked at it, and said he'd order that part, too.

I drove to the Kroger gas station after that and filled my tank back up with the gas that the whoresons had depleted with their joyriding. I think my car actually rides a little better now, but that might just be because something's loose down there and is readying itself to fall off. I don't know; like an axle or something. It doesn't quite feel like my car. But even with all of that, I'm very glad to have my ole Crown Vick back at home. But I can't help but wonder if they'll be back and steal it again. Though on the face of it, the prospect sounds outlandish: a ten-year old Crown Vick so enticing to local car thieves they'd steal it twice. But then again I thought the very notion of stealing it in the first place was outlandish. And really: what's to stop them from doing it again? The security our apartment complex's gates provide us is completely illusory. If they want it, they can get it again. I guess what I need is a low-cost security device that's not the Club.

Anyway. That was a bit of my day. More tomorrow.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Aren't Cell Phones Great? Don't They Just Bring Out the Best in People?

I just watched this YouTube clip on Andrew Sullivan's blog a couple minutes ago, and I thought I'd share it with the likes of you. It's a college professor finding a novel way to deal with the nuisance of in-class cell phone use. It's a fun clip. Take a look at it here. I like how the professor keeps right on teaching afterwards -- you can tell he's having a hard time keeping his train of thought going after getting worked up, but he makes it work. I liked the clip so much I watched it twice. And on that note, have a super-fabulous weekend.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Herein The Inanity Reader Shall Find Mention of "Akeelah and the Bee", "The Prestige", and an Overlong Discussion of "Master and Commander"

We watched Akeelah and the Bee this evening. It was good.

Anyway, I'm currently reading Christopher Priest's The Prestige, and I am enjoying the hell out of it. I can already see from the trailer for the film version a little of how the Nolan brothers deviated from the source material in their adaptation (for example, the magicians Angier and Borden were never friends in the novel). I'm just a few pages from what I think is the novel's major revelation. Priest's been building towards it for a while and I'm excited to get back to it and finish the damn thing. I'm even more eager to see the movie now. When I finish it, I'll say more about it.

I just finished reading the first of Patrick O'Brian's Jack Aubrey/Stephen Maturin novels, Master and Commander, and though I think quite a bit of the actual descriptions of sea battles and maneuvering went right the hell over my head (O'Brian is famous for depicting life at sea during the Napoleonic Wars with excruciating authenticity), what I was able to absorb I enjoyed immensely. I read the novel because I loved the film adaptation Peter Weir did a couple years back, and I wanted to see what O'Brian's legion of rabid fans have been so passionate about since 1970, the year Master and Commander was published.

Well, first off, his legion of fans must know a hell of a lot more about sailing a sloop or a frigate or a snow or whatever sort of floating vessel various British sailors were steering around back in the first decade of the 1800's, because, seriously, without an annotated edition of Master and Commander, the purely nautical sections are nearly inpenetrable. There's quite a bit you can glean through context, but if a reader wants to know exactly what's happening during the the nautical scenes, as in for example when two ships are trying to get an advantage over the other in open water, you're more than likely out of luck. But no one will ever accuse O'Brian of writing down to his audience. He moves at a fast clip and if you don't keep up, he either figures you'll set the book aside and read something more your speed, or you'll catch up later.

But, even to a layperson unknowledgeable with regard to nautical terminology, the book has a lot to reccomend it. The characters of Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin are so finely drawn as to make me believe O'Brian lifted them from some obscure but exhaustive historical record of the time. Their relationship is the heart of twenty novels, (referred to as the Aubrey/Maturin Cycle), and the way their friendship begins is counterintuitive but kind of perfect -- by the end of the first page (they meet during a parlor concert of Locatelli's C major quartet), they detest one another. They get to be friends, of course, but in this first book they aren't yet quite the best buds they eventually get to be. I thought one of the more interesting aspects of their friendship was how they related with one another onboad Aubrey's ship, the Sophie. Captains are God onboard their ships (or in this case a sloop, a distinction O'Brian devotes quite a lot of ink to in the novel), and deferred to in all things, but Maturin, the ship's surgeon, is treated by both Aubrey and the men onboard with nearly the same level of regard. It's a little like reading the best history book about old-time naval warfare you'll ever read, only the private conversations so often left out are all included word for word. Just good stuff. Another thing I like about it is that we get to follow a character, Captain Jack Aubrey, whose fortunes are on the rise and who is, on occasion, very very happy about his life. He loves his job and his enthusiasm is infectious. I like a good depressing literary novel as much as the next guy, and not to say all literary fiction is necessarily down in the mouth, but it is nice to read some literature that's not so preoccupied with angst and dissatisfaction.

And I watched the film again over the past couple days. Still excellent and I'd say it's moved up into my top ten films of all time. Weir got it exactly right in every regard.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Silent Hill, Brick, and The Sentinel. Oh, Movies. I Wish I Knew How to Quit You.

I rented four movies this past weekend and I've seen three of them. Here are the reviews.

1) Silent Hill. It would be very easy to dismiss this movie out of hand because it's a) based on a video game, and b) makes not a lick of sense throughout, but there are some ideas in this movie, some intense moments and nightmarish bits of imagery, that occasionally make this movie if not terrifying, then at least approaching the level of Kinda Scary, which isn't too bad. But when the scares are effective, which usually happens when one of the film's creepy crawlies come staggering or skittering out of the darkness towards the film's heroine (Radha Mitchell, AKA Poor Man's Charlize Theron), the intensity of the scares isn't at all amplified by story or character; these frightening moments are effective only because the imagery exploits our lizard brain's fear of Other, and this is lazy. To attain scares, the filmmakers relied in nearly every instance on excellent character design (which I suspected they lifted entirely from the Konami game), and an impressive sound design. The usual tools best used to make a moment in a movie frightening, like, you know, deft and suspenseful storytelling, were all left unused here. When the bad man in the black iron pyramid helmet and the 1-ton scythe appears, he is terrifying, but he also comes right the hell out of nowhere. Also: only about 50% of this movie makes sense. Not a reccomend, but there are worse ways to spend a couple hours.

2) Brick. I enjoyed the hell out of this movie. A film noir of the hardboiled, Raymond Chandler school, Brick is set in the milieu of a southern California high school. Everyone talks in a slangy Hardboiled-ese shorthand that can be kind of hard to follow at times, but the script's brilliant, the acting's good, the dialogue's fantastic, and the set design and direction and cinematography are all top notch. The characters and the sets and the dialogue are all very stylized -- Brick seems more like a depiction of high school kids as they wish to be rather than anything at all like they really are -- but the whole conceit works like gangbusters.

3) The Sentinel. This was a suck movie. It's obvious that everyone involved in the making of this film, from the studio execs down to the extras running away from the sounds of gunfire in the mall scene, were all deathly afraid of doing anything that seemed that might seem too original, so every frame has a palpable "been there, done that" feel to it. I felt like the director mist have looked through the viewfinder hanging around his neck trying to find his shot, and anytime he found a frame that looked like he'd seen it in another movie, it was okay, but if it looked in any way different or interesting, it wouldn't do. Not for his movie. But, even with all of this going against it, I am somewhat ashamed to admit, I was into this movie. I wanted to see what would happen next. I wasn't completely disappointed until the end came and I realized the whole thing had culminated with a tremendous fizzling sound. The Sentinel very much wanted to be the Michael Douglas version of In the Line of Fire, but fails and fails pretty hard. Actually I think I ought to just watch that movie so I can wash the taste of The Sentinel out of my mouth. Also of note: 1) Michael Douglas looks a lot like a old man trying to show he's still a leading man in a bunch of shots, which made me kind of sad. 2) Disappointingly, Kiefer decided to be lazy during last year's summer break and took a paycheck movie that wouldn't require him to do anything but play Jack Bauer some more. He even gets to do some Bauerian angry shouting. 3) If her dramatic work in The Sentinel is any indication of Eva Longoria's acting talent, (and I suspect it is), then her career is on a fast track to J-Lotown. Except without a U-Turn or Out of Sight to give her any street cred whatsoever. Has anyone watched her on Desperate Housewives? Man, she's terrible.

We still have Akeelah and the Bee to watch, and from what I hear that's supposed to be good.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Now You, Too, Can Relive the Events of September 11th, 2001 in Real Time!

Hope everyone had a good weekend.

I went to this morning, as I always do, and noticed that to commemorate the five-year anniversary of 9/11, they were offering their network's coverage of the attacks in real time streaming video. You can find it here (it's under the "Watch Video" section). The video, which is divided into two parts, starts two minutes after the first plane hits the north tower and goes till about an hour after both towers have collapsed. Like most people who were either at work on the east coast, or asleep on the west coast, I didn't watch this event as it unfolded. I was in the "asleep on the west coast" group. By the time Peggy and I got up and started to catch up with the calamity, everything the terrorists had planned for that morning had either been finished or foiled. So I watched the CNN coverage of the attacks for the first time today and it's compelling viewing.

One of the most striking things about the footage is how unwilling the newscasters are to say that the plane strikes were intentional, even after the second plane hit the south tower. The plot that Kaleid Sheik Mohammed, Osama bin Laden and Mohammed Atta carried out that morning was so outside our comprehension we couldn't take it all in. Hijacking planes, we got. We understood it. Bad guys land the plane, plane sits on the tarmac, hijackers make demands, SWAT guys rush the plane and America waits to see how bad it went. But to hijack more than one plane, and then send them and their hapless passengers into skyscrapers? Where had we been? When had the bad guys stopped being just bad and become unfathomably ruthless? We couldn't really comprehend the enormity of such a malignant intelligence at work in our nation's cities. It might as well have been an alien attack. The on-air-anchor for New York's NBC affiliate was wondering aloud about a navigation system glitch so bad that it could send two planes into the same set of buildings.

Frightening as the world seemed after I woke up in Glendale, California, watching the video from that morning I can see how shit-your-drawers terrifying the world would have seemed to those awake and watching elsewhere shortly before ten in the morning EST. It was then that a viewer tuning in would have seen both towers burning while hearing the first reports of an explosion at the Pentagon. As the minutes ticked by that morning, it was impossible to know how or when the attack would end, something it's easy to forget looking back five years later. A litany of dire news items, delivered one right after the other: reported explosions at the Capitol building, emergency evacuations of the White House, the State Department, the United Nations building, the Sears Tower, reporters in Washington talking about a jet plane circling ominously overhead, an explosion in a field outside of Pittsburgh, the second tower collapses and the city's suddenly encased in dust. It was enough to inspire a nation into shutting down their higher brain functions, locking their doors and hiding out in their basements for a few months. Maybe it's a credit to us that we didn't succumb to that feeling. At least not for long.

Anyway. The dirge-like news that's been preceding this five-year mark will now finally end, and I'm glad for that. More tomorrow.

Friday, September 08, 2006

A Friday Post Filled to Bursting with Inanities. Atwood, Cleland, Huffington, Ruby Falls, Decatur Book Festival. It's All Here.

Well, Blogger's not too hyped about my posting up a lot of photos, so I'm just going to post up one, and then a link to the rest of the online photo album. (Click here for the many photos.) The photo to the left shows Peggy writing a nice word on one of the signposts along our painting of a literal "Road to Recovery" (subtlety was of no interest to most of these business school students), and me moving from one side of the room to the other, probably to get a ruler or something. We are very nearly done here. What you see in the first photo after you click on the photo album link is what the murals looked like when we returned to work on Wednesday morning. The photos trace our progress from the walls of blue tape that confronted us at 9ish yesterday morning to the finished product at 4 that afternoon. Anyway, the photos tell the story, so I won't blather on any further.

Afterwards, Peggy and I drove home, changed, and then headed back to school to see a lecture given by novelist Margaret Atwood. She'd written a new take on an old story sort of novel called The Penelopiad, which told parts of The Oddysey from Odysseus's wife's point of view. At the lectern on-stage, standing in front of a packed house at Emory's Glenn Memorial Hall (a big church used for school functions like convocations and the like), she read a speech from a veritable sheaf of paper that ranged from the story of mad Madea to Conan the Conquerer to Tolkein, which I enjoyed. (Atwood is also a well-respected science-fiction writer). At times my attention drifted to my left elbow which had begun to throb (Peggy said it was from trying to keep my balance on the ladder that day), but overall she was impressive. Peggy liked it even more than I. Afterwards she signed books.

Back on Tuesday I talked about all the things I'd done on my eventful weekend and put off writing about them for some undetermined time later in the week. Well the mural thing happened so my schedule was wrecked. So here it is Friday and my plan is to talk about all of that stuff and nevermind how long the post gets. I will aim for brevity -- it is the weekend after all, and I know readership falls off when there's no work to be procrastinated from. So let's get into it.

Ruby Falls. On Sunday Peggy and I decided to take a drive. We didn't know where, just some damn place that wasn't this apartment. So we opted for Tennessee. We hadn't driven very far up 75 when we passed yet another outlet mall with yet another remaindered bookstore in it. I could see it from the freeway. The exit for the outlet mall was still handily accessible so, remembering my success at the last remaindered bookstore, I suggested we turn in and we did. Peggy looked through some other stores while I scanned every single title in the fiction section for books of interest. I found 4. Don DeLillo's Libra (about Lee Harvey Oswald), Donna Tartt's The Secret History, Alex Garland's The Coma (he wrote The Beach which I thought was readable), and a thriller that, according to a blurb, Stephen King thought was great. I read the author's bio and it turns out he used to be a production assistant on music videos in Los Angeles. I guess working in music videos is another well-trod path to published novelist. Hope remains. Then we went into an Enormously Fat and Freakishly Tall store and bought an overpriced pair of pants at a decidedly un-outlet store price. I was shocked and awed by the fit of some of the pants I tried on. One pair was designed for someone whose crotch comes down to their knees. When I sat down in them, the crotch tent created came up above the top of my gut.

Anyway, we got back on the road and noticed some signs that proclaimed that Ruby Falls was some miles ahead. I'd seen signs for Ruby Falls painted on barn roofs on what seemed like every road trip I'd taken with my family when I was younger, though no one had ever felt particularly tempted to visit it. Even though I've always imagined Ruby Falls to be an incedible rush of water falling down the face of a mountain comprised partially of rubies and emeralds, I knew even then that it would be underwhelming and that Dollywood was the obviously superior family excursion choice. But as perpetually bored adults with nothing to do and nowhere specific to go, Peggy and I agreed to go there and get it over with.

We exited off the freeway, drove a little ways around Lookout Mountain and came across the a large house-like structure made of rough-hewn wood and stone. This was where both Ruby Falls and the equally mythic Rock City were housed. We arrived at 6PM or so and worried we'd come too late on a Sunday night. But the place was packed. We went inside and asked the woman at the ticket booth about whether we should visit the Rock City or the Ruby Falls. Misunderstanding us, she gave us a look that was both apologetic but also a little wary and told us no-sense-of-time-havin' crazies that there was no way we could do both tonight. Ruby Falls it was.

We stepped over into the line to the elevator which runs from 8 in the morning till 9 at night. Ahead of us were some white guys speaking a different language. Peggy identified them as Germans, though their accent made them too hard for her to understand. After a bit we got into the elevator and descended through the mountain to the beginning of the path towards the falls. In my experience with show caves like this (meaning a cave that's designed for tourists, not Descent-style spelunkers), is that the tour guide is always a local teenaged boy who believes that his mastery of the tour, achieved over many grueling weeks of tour-giving, is an indication of a more general and far-reaching competence. This delusion makes them cocky. As a result, "tours" are given in a monotone designed to make the victim of said tour feel as though they and the others in their group are serving as stand-ins for the tour guide's own ill-regarded parents. No eye contact is made, no smiles -- false or otherwise -- are bothered with, and every movement the guide makes is with a mind towards economy and conservation of energy. Why expend energy on the likes of us, after all? All of this, I think, stems from their being teenagers. And yes, I hate them, but in my defense, I hated them way back when I was one.

The boredom that haunted the eyes of our guide was foreshadowing for what lay ahead. We were told beforehand that the entire ordeal was going to take one hour or so to endure start to finish. What they didn't tell us was that 56 minutes of that hour would be taken up with our walking through a cramped and and cheesily-lit cave passage with massive dust-bunnies fluttering in the passage above us. Periodically, "survivors", or, as described to us by our guide, those that had seen the falls and were nearly finished with their Ruby Falls ordeal, would squeeze past, 20 or more at a time. I inhaled a variety of body odors. Along the way cave features that were only slightly more peculiar than those around it had been named for something they vaguely resembled. Like "Bacon", and "Angel Wing" and "Turtle" and "Elephant Foot", etc. The Germans helped break up the monotony because every so often Peggy would decipher something they'd said and whisper it to me. "They're talking about German schools versus American schools," she said once. Anyway, once we came to the falls themselves, the guide's flashlight led us into a darkened chamber. Once the whole group was safely in, the rules were quickly outlined and then the light and sound show began. There, high above us, streaming out of a modest gap in the ceiling, illuminated by a light that changed colors to the music, was the waterfall. Straight ahead: a roundish pool of water into which the falls emptied. Soaring but totally forgettable music accompanied our slow shambling movement closer and closer to the pool of water. A little path around the backside of the falls was open to those "survivors" interested in the full Ruby Falls experience, so Peggy and I took that 30-second tour. Not much different than the front side of it. The trek back to the entrance was even more boring and interminable and claustrophobic than the trek in had been because all any of us wanted to do after seeing the falls was to get the hell out of there.

Once we got out, we walked up to an observation point built above the main structure and looked out on Knoxville by twilight. The Germans were next to us, taking pictures of one another making the peace sign and, after a moment or two, Peggy turned to them and asked, in German, if they wanted their picture taken together. With bewildered expressions they said, "It's OK," nodded and started to move towards the stairs. I told her that they were probably going over in their minds the conversation they'd had while they were in the cave, wondering if they'd said anything they wouldn't have if they were speaking English.

Though neither of us was particularly impressed with the place, we had gone and done something that wasn't seeing yet another movie or going to yet another bookstore, so Ruby Falls' uniqueness had made up for how unimpressive/rundown the whole thing was. And also, without being too corny/sappy, enduring it with Peggy made it fun in a this-is-so-bad-its-kinda-fun sort of way. Anyway, that was Ruby Falls.

Onto the Decatur Book Festival. (I told you this could be long). Decatur's been touting this thing for months and months, and rightly so. This is Atlanta's long-overdue annual book festival. (All we need now is a worthwhile big city independent bookstore). Big names attended, like Michael Connelly, the writer of police procedurals, Diana Gabaldon, writer of 1,000-page time-traveling romance novels, Edward P. Jomes, author of Pulitzer Prize-winning The Known World, and Arianna Huffington, writer of... books. We gathered in the auditorium of Agnes Scott College and listened as Arianna talked about "being fearless", as this was the subject of her new book, called, appropriately enough, Fearlessness. Because it was the kickoff event for the Decatur Book Festival, Arianna promised to keep to the subject of her book and away from politics, which, incidentally, was the only thing I was interested in hearing about from her. Oh well. I'll write beriefly about one interesting thing not related to what she actually said.

Max Cleland, the former Georgia senator who is also a double amputee from his service in Vietnam, was in attendance, though his own introduction was not as managed as I think he might have liked. The lights dimmed a little as though to let us know the show was about to start (it wouldn't start for another 10 minutes), and then some functionaries came out and started to mess with the wheelchair lift in front of the stage, lowering the ramp to it. Then down the aisle came Cleland, then onto the lift. The formerly boisterous audience fell silent and watched the lift slowly slowly raise the senator and his wheelchair up to the stage. He had his head bowed the whole time, and when he got to stage, his attendant wheeled him quickly into the wings. Peggy felt uncomfortable because she thought the inadvertant lowering of the lights prior to Cleland's arrival had made a kind of show of his ascent on the wheelchair lift -- the silence had been that of a roomful of gawkers staring at a cripple. But I thought the silence was more respectful than a gaping dumbstruck-ness. The room was jam-packed with loyal Georgia Democrats who not only respect and admire Cleland, but feel bad about the way he was ousted from office. (His opponent equated Cleland with Osama bin Laden in a campaign ad, not to mention Ann Coulter made fun of the way he lost those legs prior to his losing his seat). Later, after Arianna came to the lectern, she then re-introduced Cleland, doggedly sticking to script and telling us about her "surprise guest".

The following day was the Book Festival itself. All of Decatur was teeming with the nerdly bookish types, ambling from tent to tent looking for books or authors of interest. The pickins were surprisingly slim. The vast majority of the festival's outdoor tents were filled with self-published authors, by which I mean cranks and hacks and the generally talentless who had either circumvented the entire legitimate publishing route entirely, or had tried to query agents and editors, got only rejection, and decided that a vanity press was the only outlet for their worthy writing. The dazzling variety of this menagerie of the desperate or merely weird was fascinating and, at the same time, very depressing. Without irony, a massive black woman signed copies of her self-published how-to book entitled Resumes for Children. An old man slouching in a folding chair glared from beneath dark and unkempt eyebrows at the book-nerd masses -- he was trying to unload copies of his book of natural cures and doing badly at it. There were also a lot of novelists and mystery writers on hand trying to look cheerful even though 100% of the festival's attendees were passing them by. That there are so many whose life's ambition is to publish a book that lots of people read, and that their failure to do so seems so inevitable felt like just another in a series of wake-up calls. I tried not to take their failures too much to heart -- I cheered back up after a while. I promise that if I ever self-publish, I will not attempt to rope strangers into buying a novel that all queried agents and editors have turned their nose up at. If I self-publish it'll be to have a professionally-bound but generally amateurish-looking copy of my novel for my own bookshelves and then call it done and move on.

Anyway, I think that covers everything. Have a good weekend everybody. See you back here on Monday.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Making Art with Business School Students

I sketched a mural today.

Peggy's starting up her second year of business school this week, and she and a group of various MBA students were assigned to paint a mural on one of the dorm floors at an Atlanta halfway house. She and her group agreed on an idea yesterday -- a literal "road to recovery" -- and Peggy asked me to come in today and help them draw it onto an institutional yellow cinder block wall.

No one had seen the space we were supposed to paint on, so when I saw it today I was taken aback. One, it was twice as wide as what I'd envisioned. Two, we were supposed to paint not only the wall in front of us, but another wall just as large on the other side of this one. So, stated simply, our actual project was the project I'd envisioned, cubed. And since we were all booted out of the facility at 4PM, we had just two and a half hours to sketch our mural on both walls. So we got to work. Because a road stretching out to the horizon with a couple uplifting highway signs and encouraging billboards is really just straight lines and geometric shapes subjected to the laws of perspective, the sketching didn't require much in the way of artistic ability, so once we figured out the perspective, it was just a matter of getting the lines right.

I'm worried that we saved too much work for tomorrow, however, because tomorrow's painting day, and though we can also come back on Friday to finish it off, no one wants to do that, so no matter what this group is going to have those walls painted with something by tomorrow. I don't know much about paint, acrylic or otherwise, or the rules of color, so we'll all be flying blind. We'll see. I'll post up a picture of the finished product when I can, but I'll let you know how it went tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

A Brief Post Regarding Franzen's New Book

For any and all Jonathan Franzen fans out there, I got two links for you regarding his new memoir which came out today called The Discomfort Zone. The first is his Fresh Air interview with Terry Gross. The second is the Michiko Kakutani takedown of said memoir in the New York Times. (You may have to sign up with the Times to read the review, but it's free if you're interested.) It's fascinating what Franzen's done with this memoir. He seems almost determined to make people dislike him by relating stories from his youth (and even from today), designed to inspire feelings of ridicule at best and outright antipathy at worst. Kakutani thinks he's being intolerably self-absorbed in this memoir but from what I've read of it he's just being masochistically honest. I'm excited to read it.

One-Year Anniversary of The Inanities. Also: Idiocracy and The Illusionist.

Hi everybody! Happy September. I hope everyone had a good Labor Day weekend. Mine was well-spent and unusually eventful. I saw Arianna Huffington speak, attended the Decatur Book Festival, saw two movies, drove to Tennessee, ate bad food, and bought cheap cheap books. For me, that's pretty damn good for a holiday weekend. But before I get into any of that, a bit of blog business.

One thing I neglected to mention on Thursday's post was that it marked the one-year anniversary of the launch of this blog. It was way back on August 31st, 2005 that I decided I would litter the internet with my own scattering of useless thoughts and uninformed opinion. You can read that goofy post of yesteryear here. You can read the first real post here. I have to admit that, in the beginning, my motivation to blog stemmed from something a literary agent blogger had written. She said that anyone who wanted to publish something these days needed their own blog. The gist of her posting was that if you queried a literary agent and they googled your name and found no blog or a web presence of any kind, you were sunk. I took it to heart then, but now, of course, I see that's not the case. Hardly any author I've read keeps their own blog, and certainly not with any frequency, but I guess I didn't think too hard about that then; someone whom I thought was in a position to know had written it, so I thought it must be true. And because it had the added bonus of being something I could do to help get my fiction published that didn't actually involve writing fiction, I was all for it. And here we are a year later.

I'm having an inordinately tough time trying to figure out a way to pithily sum up a year's worth of blogging and can't find a way to do it that doesn't make me sound like I'm obliviously self-involved, suffering from delusions of grandeur, or not in posession of a sense of perspective, so I'll leave off with the retrospective. I do want to say, briefly, thank you to everyone who reads this thing, (See! Already it sounds like an Oscar acceptance speech), and finds time to post the comments. I do greatly enjoy the comments. And also it's good practice for writing. Writing complete sentences and coherent thoughts isn't always easy, so doing a little bit every day can only help. Anyway. Here's to the next year. May it be an improvement over this one.

Onwards. Like I said, I saw two movies over the weekend. On Saturday, after getting my fill of the Decatur Book Festival, Peggy and I went to see a film that was listed on both Moviefone's website and voice recording as "Untitled Mike Judge Comedy". The film's actual title is Idiocracy and Sony, the studio releasing it, has unceremoniously dumped it on American theaters without marketing of any kind. They didn't even cut a trailer for it. Which was surprising to me because the film's pretty damn funny. There were a lot of little laughs, some big laughs, and no small amount of social commentary. I was impressed with the finished product and can't quite figure out what Sony has against Mike Judge that they would treat him so disrespectfully. Hasn't Office Space earned the studio a hundred million dollars or so on DVD by now? Shouldn't they have accorded him at least a baseline level of courtesy and told the people who wanted to see Judge's follow-up to Office Space by airing a commercial or two? If you cut a trailer for Idiocracy and have the announcer say, "From the director of Office Space", you get at least a $20 million dollar opening, don't you?

But then again, maybe the suits at Sony know something I don't. For example: Peggy and I were two of the five people in the theater during the screening. Ten minutes in, the two older ladies behind us filed out, and then about 20 or so minutes from the end of the movie, the older guy in front of us walked off and never came back. Then again, they weren't really the kind of folks who would have found Office Space terribly funny. The old ladies didn't like the cursing, I think, and the old man, I don't know. He was laughing pretty loud every now and again.

I've been talking about Idiocracy to everyone in my family mostly because it's a premise that's pretty fun to describe. Here's the plot: Private Joe Bowers (Luke Wilson) is a bored, unmotivated records librarian for the US Army. As part of a military experiment (whose aims are somewhat fuzzy -- something about freezing soldiers to use them in later wars), Joe is frozen for what's supposed to be one year. Joe is promptly forgotten about and he wakes 500 years in the future to find America has gotten very very very dumb. This leads us to the real premise of Idiocracy, which is thus: the people least-equipped mentally to have children, seem to have a lot of them without too much hard thinkin'. The people best-equipped mentally to have children, either hold off until it's too late or end up not having them at all. If this trend continues, the movie supposes, 500 years from now the mean human IQ would be somewhere hovering about 60,70. Probably less. So when Joe appears in this tard-filled landscape and tries to communicate with the people of the future, his speech is almost unintelligible to them because speech has degenerated into a language of slang, profanity and grunting -- heavy on the grunting. When Joe speaks, people want to beat him up because they think he sounds "faggy". Commercialism is so rampant that a sports drink has become the predominant beverage everywhere. So much so that when Joe says he wants water, the idiots screw up their faces and say, "What? Like from the toilet?" Essentially, the world has gone to shit and looks like an exaggerated version of the world we live in now and the results are pretty hilarious. There are lots of jokes and though some of them work better than others, Judge's social commentary is pretty hilarious throughout. Comparisons with "Futurama" are apt here, but Judge's take on the future is a little angrier than "Futurama's" was, and the humor is a little broader. I didn't laugh Talladega Nights hard, but I laughed quite a bit, and for at least the last 20 minutes, the only person around to be annoyed by it was my wife. I think this one's worth catching before Sony yanks it out of theaters after the "two weekends in theaters" clause in Mike Judge's contract goes into effect.

And then yesterday I saw The Illusionist. I think this movie's a kind of warm-up for the other movie about turn of the century magicians called The Prestige that's coming out next month. (And judging by the trailer, The Prestige looks good as hell.) The Illusionist is a quiet film, languidly paced, and interesting throughout, but not particularly suspenseful. Edward Norton plays the illusionist of the title, a man named Eisenheim with a mysterious past. In flashback we are shown the unmysterious part. As a teenager, Norton's character was in love with a princess. He and the princess couldn't be together because he was a commoner and she was, you know, a princess. So about 15 years later, the boy returns to Vienna, all growed up and working as a magician by the name of Eisenheim. Shortly thereafter, who should show up to one of his shows but the princess herself (Jessica Beal), on the arm to the heir to the Austrian empire, (Rufus Sewell). The central love triangle is thus established. But much of the movie concerns itself with the Chief Inspector Uhl (Paul Giamatti), a likeable though corrupt high-level policeman who does the Crown Prince's dirty work for him, however reluctantly. When the Crown Prince decides Eisenheim should vacate Vienna, Giamatti gets the assignment, which puts himself and Eisenheim at loggerheads. These scenes between Giamatti and Norton are some of the more interesting in the film, as both characters are conflicted -- as people they like one another, but in their respective positions they are forced into an adversarial relationship.

[Possible Spoilers Below]. There isn't much to dislike about the movie; there weren't any glaring mistakes or subtle errors in approach by the filmmakers. But I did have one problem with the movie and it is this: there are many illusions done in the film, and I won't give away any of the secrets here, but I have to say I don't think the filmmakers were dedicated enough to making the primary illusion in The Illusionist convincing. I think the director telegraphed the falsity of it too strenuously and when we know the "what" and the "why" of the illusion at the onset, all that's left is the "how" and there's not a whole lot of suspense in that. All of this abstract talk will make perfect sense when you see the film.

Overall, a quality film, though it might go over better as a Saturday night rental than as an $18 visit to the local cinema.

Anyway, I have decent material for this week's blogs, so I'll save the Huffington talk, the book festival and Ruby Falls for later posts. I'm out.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Johnny Williams Scored a Theme for Sunday Night Football, and You Can Listen to It Here

Happy Friday er'rybody. Just a quick post today. Over on a link is up to the new John Williams theme for ABC's "Sunday Night Football". For reasons unknown to me, the execs at ABC decided to move "Monday Night Football" to ESPN and make "Sunday Night Football" their big primetime TV sports event. As a result they've plunked down some sweet Network cash for a new John Williams score. To take a listen to the score, click here. I like it, but not as much as his "Meet the Press" theme music. Most Sunday mornings, Russert's show doesn't live up to that music.

Anyway, Peggy and I are off to see Arianna Huffington speak at Agnes Scott College tonight. I'll let you know how it went. Have a good weekend.