I just finished re-reading Heinlein's masterpiece. A long time ago, in a distant galaxy ... no, that's not the truth; it...moreI Grok, You Grok, We All Grok
I just finished re-reading Heinlein's masterpiece. A long time ago, in a distant galaxy ... no, that's not the truth; it was probably about 40 years ago (who can remember exact dates that long forgotten) & in LA (although to some that is a distant galaxy) that I first read "Stranger in a Strange Land." Like other sci-fi buffs of my generation I had read several of Heinlein's earlier works - "The Puppet Masters," Starship Troopers," "Farmer in the Sky" and many others. None of them had prepared me for the story about the man from Mars.His Stranger was less science fiction than it was a treatise exploring the contradictions of Western/Eastern society contained within the context of a fable about belief systems. Heinlein had hit a home run. His controversial novel tapped into an emerging consciousness, already beginning to question long held assumptions:sexual, political, legal; Stranger skewered them all. His paean to sexual freedom & rejection of prevailing attitudes toward money & property resonated like a clarion call for action to this wave of young people just beginning to shuck off the yokes of the paternalistic, stifling 50's.
Just what did Heinlein do? He "grokked" that the times, they were a changing & he was going to let everyone know exactly what that change was all about. To do that he had to introduce a new word, almost a new concept - "grok." I remember thinking years ago that grok simply meant to understand; re-reading this decades later I've grasped that "grok" extends far beyond the simplicity of understanding. "Grok" literally defies definition, embracing the concept of all-knowing, actualizing the essence of the experience, person, animal, place or thing. Using the conventions he had perfected over the years, Heinlein introduced us to this man from Mars who came to "grok" what we were all about & in his grokking, allowed all of us, a glimpse of what that might be.(less)
There's nothing quite like looking behind the curtain to see who is really pulling the levers. And there is nothing so enjoyable as catching glimpses...moreThere's nothing quite like looking behind the curtain to see who is really pulling the levers. And there is nothing so enjoyable as catching glimpses of the powerful with their public masks pulled from their faces revealing snarls where one once thought smiles hung. As I was reading Game Change, aside from laughing out loud to myself, I kept muttering, "God, I wonder if these people can be such schmucks?" One side of my mind shouted yes, while the other wondered how these two journalists could have possibly captured the quotes contained in this narrative. Regardless, well worth reading. (less)
One of my all time favorite albums is Patti Smith's "Horses." It contains a version of Van Morrison's "Gloria" that I saw her perform in 197...moreNot Horses
One of my all time favorite albums is Patti Smith's "Horses." It contains a version of Van Morrison's "Gloria" that I saw her perform in 1976 at the Boarding House in San Francisco. It never sounded so good nor so profane. She transformed it from a rock paean of testosterone driven angst to a sacrilegious punk-bop screed ending with the defiantly shattering, life defining final chorus: "Jesus died for somebody's sins, but not mine." Her sound ushered in the punk movement, justly crowning her the Queen of Punk.
So, when I was given "Just Kids" to read while recuperating from cancer I expected to read a memoir voiced by that same spit-fire who lit my fuse so many years ago. Oh my, was I in for a surprise. Gone was the jagged, rasping amped-up four beat pulsing verbals, replaced by a measured, almost nostalgic muse who recounts in the most gentle tones the evolution of her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe & their joint ascent to the ranks of poet/rock icons. I was as blown away by her memoir as I was by the first time I saw her slithering across the tables in the Boarding House. She has metamorphosized from snake/chanteuse to reflective poet - once again shaping & mirroring the life cycle of her generation. (less)
Bury My Heart, published in 1970, during the height of the Viet Nam War & civil rights movement, galvanized a nation, making it a...moreUnforgivable Sins
Bury My Heart, published in 1970, during the height of the Viet Nam War & civil rights movement, galvanized a nation, making it acutely aware of the gross injustices perpetrated against the Indian People in the 19th century. The timing was such that it underscored our nation's history of abusing it's non-white people, not to mention, the true legitimate citizens of this continent. I had known of this book for many years & had always assumed that it was written by either a Sioux, Cheyenne, Apache, Navajo or a representative of any of the many tribes that once wandered the landscape of our country. I was greatly surprised & impressed when I learned that Dee Brown was no more Indian than myself. Brown transcended any biases that may have hampered his investigation, writing an eloquent, yet sparsely stated recounting of how the US government and its agents consistently lied, swindled, stole & murdered an indigenous people.
The history of our nation will forever be stained by our actions committed against all of the Indian peoples. The blood shed, promises broken & dreams shattered will haunt us for eons - unforgivable sins, committed by a nation obsessed by manifest destiny, blind to the consequences of our transgressions.(less)
After reading "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" I was reluctant to read the sequel. Why? I did not want to be disappointed....moreLarsson Does Not Disappoint
After reading "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" I was reluctant to read the sequel. Why? I did not want to be disappointed. Well, safe to say now, I had nothing to worry about. While tone & texture of follow up is very different, Larsson continues to deliver quirky characters who capture our imaginations. And then Salander, our ballsy female protagonist emerges as the most unlikely anti-hero we've met in quite some time. A thoroughly enjoyable read.(less)
Oh my goodness, how come this Gospel never made it into the Bibles tucked into every hotel drawer in this country. I swear, if I'd b...moreMy Favorite Gospel
Oh my goodness, how come this Gospel never made it into the Bibles tucked into every hotel drawer in this country. I swear, if I'd been exposed to this introduction to Christ as a child I might have converted. I mean this Christ is one righteous dude. He truly earns my respect. What do you mean, he's a fictional character. Well, just as believable as the other Christ. And from Moore's magic pen, a whole lot more fun. And as for Biff? Well, he's welcome at my place whenever he wants to visit. A fun romp!(less)
Death does not take a holiday in The Book Thief. Instead, he takes center stage as the narrator of this riveting fable like tale. Thou...moreThe Soul Catcher
Death does not take a holiday in The Book Thief. Instead, he takes center stage as the narrator of this riveting fable like tale. Though the story unfolds in Nazi Germany amidst the persecution of the Jews & the brainwashing of the German populace, this story could really occur in any totalitarian state that triumphs evil as the national anthem. Here, as our protagonists struggle to survive, we come to meet & marvel at a cast of characters who break our hearts because they have so much soul. Our main character, a young girl given up by her mother to an older German couple, copes by stealing books.The entire family adds an additional burden to their already overwhelming challenges by sheltering a Jew hiding from the Germans. They take him into their impoverished home, hiding him in a corner of their minuscule basement, and in doing so, expose themselves to the deadly retribution of the Nazi dictatorship. And all the while, Death is speaking to us directly, sharing asides about the plot, almost acting as a plot spoiler, removing the mystery about the fate of some of our beloved characters. He talks to us about the weight of souls, some so heavy. others so light. Almost in a lament he shares how busy he is during this time of terrible calamity. This is not a vengeful death, not a demonic force that gleefully rejoices in his appointed tasks. No, he does so with almost a reluctant sense of obligation as he swoops in & carries away soul after soul at just the right time. By the novel's end we see him not as some dark angel carrying out a painful duty, but indeed, as God's messenger, catching souls as they drift off, freed from their human mooring. And in that same athletic stretch The Book Thief catches our own souls, holding them aloft for us to wonder in awe.(less)
It doesn't take long for Zafon to expose his readers to one of the key motifs of his stunning first novel. Three paragraphs in,...moreThe Library of Secrets
It doesn't take long for Zafon to expose his readers to one of the key motifs of his stunning first novel. Three paragraphs in, our protagonist, a 10 year old, wise beyond his years, listens intently to his father: "Daniel, you mustn't tell anyone what you're about to see today ...Not even your friend Tomas. No one." And so we begin on a journey of secrets. This particular journey happens to begin in a secret library (only known to the traders of rare books) & concerns a book that Daniel finds hidden deep in the bowels of this magical place - a book hidden so that it could protect a secret, shield a man & in doing so creates a series of inter-locking secrets, all begging to be unraveled.
Young Daniel has no way of knowing that finding this unique novel, falling in love with it & its mysterious author, will plunge him into a quest that will consume him, his family & nearly, everyone he touches. And, of course, we readers are swept away on this magical trek through a shrouded, almost always dank, grimy & overcast Barcelona. Like Daniel, with the turn of every page we too seek any clue that might shine a light on this enigmatic Chinese puzzle.
Set in Franco's Spain, against a backdrop of corruption, sabotage, intrigue, blinding loyalty, love without redemption, betrayal & youthful, budding lust, we are sucked into its vortex, rising & falling in the swirl of action, wondering always about the fate of the decent Daniel, his family & friends. We wonder & wander till the final sentence. (less)
Lately, I’ve been reading a lot of Presidential biographies. Over the last couple of years I’ve read about many of our m...moreRedemption of a Political Hack
Lately, I’ve been reading a lot of Presidential biographies. Over the last couple of years I’ve read about many of our more important ones (though by all means, not all). I’ve spent time exploring the lives of: Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Monroe, Jackson, Lincoln, Grant, Harding, both Roosevelts , Johnson, Clinton, Obama & now, Truman. Of all these men, considered within the context of their times, none seemed so ill-suited for the job as Mr. Truman. Well, of course there was Harding, but his lack of readiness for the nation’s highest office, goes without saying. No, when we think of the time when Truman ascended to the Presidency & the critical decisions required from that office, on the surface, it was patently apparent that this was the wrong guy for the job. Yes, he was a real “nice guy” that everyone in the Senate liked (that’s pretty much what got him on the ticket), but in the same breath, it was widely acknowledged that he lacked the intellectual prowess (especially measured up against FDR’s instinctual & political brilliance) & political cojones necessary to survive, much less lead our nation out of World War II & into an uncharted world, where the domestic & international hurdles were daunting at best. After all, this was the prototypical politician who wended his way through the political process not as an independent champion of the people but as cog in the powerful, much maligned, often corrupt Pendergast machine out of Kansas City. Except for the political offices he occupied, his life had been marked by total failure. He was a ruined farmer & nearly bankrupt businessman who was constantly in debt up to his eyeballs. So, the big question on everyone’s lips is quite simple – how did this political hack, a man equipped with only a high school education, end up as one of the most respected, admired & successful Presidents the United States has ever seen. Today, Truman is a man that both Democrats & Republicans hail as one of the great ones. How can that be? That is what makes McCullough’s highly detailed biography such a rich read. There is no doubt that McCullough holds Truman in the highest of esteem. One cannot assume that same perspective from all Presidential biographers. While Caro’s tomes on Johnson are exquisitely wrought, there is the sense, that he really does not like the man. Ellis’ searing analysis of Jefferson provides us with an interior view of a President not often accessible, but again, one is struck by his disdain for the man. Nothing could be further from the truth as McCullough recounts in nearly a 1,000 pages how this man became who he was destined to be in spite of everything else. McCullough does not skimp or attempt to hide Truman’s many flaws. Nor does he brush aside the real & troubling relationships he had with the bosses of the Pendergast machine & how that Kansas City political operation made his political career possible. Rather, the remarkable saga he puts forth is how Truman rose above all of the obstacles in his life to meet the greatest challenges of his generation, head-on. While turmoil may have brewed within Truman’s gut, McCullough demonstrates time & again that Truman possessed those rare intrinsic qualities that allowed him to make the tough decisions that ended up, defining his Presidency. He may have begun his political life as a hack, but he ended as a model for what could be accomplished from his office. At the very end of the biography, McCullough relates a quote from Eric Sevareid that aptly sums it up: “I am not sure he was right about the atomic bomb, or even Korea. But remembering him reminds people what a man in that office ought to be like. It’s character, just character. He stands like a rock in memory now.” (less)
Growing up in East LA. around the age of 8 or 9 I was a skinny, emaciated asthmatic child who nonetheless reveled in running around wit...moreReal Adventures
Growing up in East LA. around the age of 8 or 9 I was a skinny, emaciated asthmatic child who nonetheless reveled in running around with nothing on but a pair of cut-off jeans. I'd holler & swoop up & down the apartment stairs pretending I was an explorer hacking my way through some dense tropical forest (I normally engaged in these romps after an afternoon of watching Tarzan flicks) .In the evening after watching more adventure movies I'd curl up with something like Sir Conan Doyle's "The Lost World." Ah, that was the life for me. All I needed to do was grow a bit, put on a few pounds & rid myself of my dreaded asthma.
Fifty years later & not having hacked away at anything more challenging than a blackberry bush I have at least come close to the real thing after reading "The Lost City of Z." Romping across the pages are real live explorers who descend deep into the primeval foliage, sometimes emerging barely alive, at other times, not emerging at all. Grann tells a series of grand stories depicting the tragic follies of one explorer after another attempting to follow the footsteps of the extraordinary explorer himself - Percy Fawcett. Even the author gets hooked & packs himself off to the jungle to see if can pick up the scent of this now legendary myth-like man.
Skillfully crafted together, sliding up & down the chronology of events, Grann kept me riveted, wondering what the turn of any page might deliver. Not a false note abounds as this stunning tale races to its riveting conclusion.(less)
In Yu's phantasmagorical, somewhat allegorical tale, his main character, Yu himself, spends a lot of time in boxes. Yu actually spends ti...moreLife in a Box
In Yu's phantasmagorical, somewhat allegorical tale, his main character, Yu himself, spends a lot of time in boxes. Yu actually spends time in his novel talking about how often he says box. He shares with the reader that his use of the word "box" is not because he lacks the literary talent to use different words or synonyms that pack a punchier punch; no, he repeats the word box almost like a litany because of the word's direct simplicity. He uses it to define a limited space. He underscores it to convey the limited sense of reality within a narrative that strives to create a universe without limits. It is this paradox that drives Yu & his readers down a path of self-exploration and discovery within a universe that is not what it seems.
On the surface one can view his work as as a slightly melancholy, science fantasy that moves at warp speed against a backdrop of scientific gibberish that sounds intelligent without having any way of knowing if it is or not. Populated with characters that may or may not exist except for their emotional attachment to Wu, the reader is left to wonder whether or not the story's arc will crash, burn or rise, phoenix-like from the ashes. And perhaps, somewhere within that confusion, lies the brilliance of his novel.
For what Yu does is to create a space within his box/our box that allows you to experience this time travel as a metaphor for our own inner fascination & fixation upon wanting to change what has passed, knowing full well, all along, that we cannot & that the exercise is & always will be, totally futile. (less)
Hemingway is one of those authors that when you think about, you go, yeah, I’ve read a bunch of his stuff. But for me, when I actu...moreA Romantic Interlude
Hemingway is one of those authors that when you think about, you go, yeah, I’ve read a bunch of his stuff. But for me, when I actually thought about it that was not the case. His influence as an iconic writer made it seem that way. I mean how could you not read a slew of his writings when what he wrote, when he wrote it came to define each of those definitive generations. In fact, before reading A Farewell to Arms over this last week I was certain that I had read it prior. I was wrong. This was my first time. The truth of it is, is that until I finished Farewell to Arms I’d only read two slim (though critically important) novels – The Sun Also Rises & The Old Man and the Sea. And those I had read years & years ago. I probably read The Sun Also Rises after college, while hitchhiking thru Spain (how appropriate). And The Old Man and the Sea is classic high school fare, so that’s most likely when I read that novella. Yet, for some reason, his writing & stories seem so close. They’re like yesterday. You can reach out & grab one of his many writings from that virtual library you carry around inside your head. And then you do that. You reach inside & pull one of those volumes down from the shelf & you pick a comfortable place to sit & read. You choose a couch or chair that is soft, yet firm, not making your bottom sweaty, so that you can sit for extended periods of time & read & not feel like you have to move. And you let yourself fall into the rhythm of his words & the flow of his sentences which seem all so simple. And you’re going to yourself, well damn, I could write like this; he’s just stringing these plain words & simple sentences into telling a relatively straightforward story. What’s so difficult? And you read on. And the protagonist is at first difficult to like. You’ve known men like him before that you really didn’t like. And yet, you suspend belief for a little while because after all this book was written right after WWI, nearly 85 years ago, and maybe that’s the way authors set up their main characters back then. After all this is a romance birthed from the ashes of a brutal war that none of the characters believed in. It’s one of those love stories only possible where there is enormous strife & struggle & sadness, mingled with moments of valor against slippages of raw cowardice. And then & then, before you know it you’re totally entranced by the narrative. Forget for the moment that the characters, especially the women, are almost stereotypically, one dimensional creatures, not possible in the real world; set aside your doubts about the implausibility of some of the pivotal dramatic scenes; forget all these things, because it is the sensation of the movement thru the action that mesmerizes, that captures you. It is the essence of the reading experiences he creates thru his common words & declarative sentences & simple paragraphs that he grips you by your viscera as he takes you along his own personal journey, which he is kind enough to share. And at the end, as you flip the final page, close the book up, clothe it once more in its dust jacket & slide it back into its resting place on your book shelf you are happy that you got to go along for the ride.
Prior to reading "Armageddon's Children" a few year's back I had neither read anythi...moreElves & Demons & Faeries & Goblins & Ghosts, Oh My
Prior to reading "Armageddon's Children" a few year's back I had neither read anything by Terry Brooks nor for that fact, had I ever heard about him. Also, for the most part, except for reading books like "The Road" or "The Stand" , I've had little experience with post apocalyptic, fantasy based literature. To my sincerest delight I do believe I've discovered a genre that I know will provide me with hours of blissful contentment. That is of course, if the body of literature holds up to the standards created by Mr. Brooks. Let's face it - this stuff is pure escapist fun. There are real good guys/gals who embody all of those positive attributes we assign to our heroes. Sure, his protagonists doubt themselves, feel conflicted & worry endlessly whether or not they can find their inner mettle to tackle the gargantuan challenges confronting them. But (and you already know the answer) they do. They battle terrible one & two dimensional antagonists that are literally, the scum of the earth. Little if any nuance applies here. They are evil & mean & nasty & deserve to be snuffed out.
Brooks then places these characters in a world that is falling apart - poisoned, diseased, on its last legs - our planet sways to & fro like a punch drunk boxer trying to stay off of the canvas. And within this decimated landscape, populated by these larger than life characters, Brooks sets a plot in place that gives your fingers blisters from turning the pages so quickly.
Finds a comfortable spot, pour yourself a beverage, then sit back & dive in to a world, the likes of which, you've seen before.(less)
My Dad started taking me to Dodger games when I was about seven. The Dodgers had not yet moved to Chavez Ravine & I thrilled to the Do...moreThe Greatest
My Dad started taking me to Dodger games when I was about seven. The Dodgers had not yet moved to Chavez Ravine & I thrilled to the Dodgers those first few seasons at the Coliseum, home of the LA Rams & USC Trojans. The Coliseum was not designed for baseball. Dimensions were all wrong.You could lift a home run over the left field fence a mere 241 feet away. To compensate for the short distance the Dodgers installed an unusually high fence that inspired the catcall: "Hit it to the moon." The Dodgers happened to have a left fielder at the time named Wally Moon who became famous for hitting homers over that tall fence. When he came up to bat the crowd would roar: "Hit it to the moon, Moon." And every now & then he would oblige .It was there, at the LA Coliseum that I was first introduced to Sandy Koufax. No formal invitation - c'mon I was a seven year old kid. No, that is where I have my first memory of seeing Sandy Koufax pitch a ball game. Now, the thing is, that may or may not have happened. Because as Leavy writes in her endearing biography Koufax inspired mythical recollections. Famous players like Ernie Banks remember with crystal clarity at bats that never occurred. Hitters who succumbed to Koufax during his perfect game remember going down swinging when they actually saw the ball go whoosh, whoosh, whoosh. So, please forgive me, nearly 53 years later, if my memory is a bit shaky & chooses to enshrine Mr. Koufax in a witnessed game I may never have attended. And that is one of the beauties of this marvelous book. It reignites all of those old memories - true & imagined. She delivers Koufax to us, entirely intact, firmly fleshed out, the ball player we all loved, admired & respected. He was truly the greatest left handed pitcher ever to grace a ball field. He did it with class, grace & humility. As does Ms. Leavy - a tribute shared with clear-eyed wonderment; really, just another adoring fan, kneeling before a baseball deity. (less)