A gentle exploration on the darkest tendencies of adolescent behavior. In her first novel, Eleanor Henderson piles on topics from teenage pregnancy, f...moreA gentle exploration on the darkest tendencies of adolescent behavior. In her first novel, Eleanor Henderson piles on topics from teenage pregnancy, fetal alcohol syndrome, drug overdoses, parental abandonment, AIDS, vegetarianism, counter-culture transition from hippies to punks and the influences of Hinduism on the origin of straight edge. While, at times, the issues overwhelm the narrative and some mistakes made by characters seem designed for an after school special sermon, Henderson's empathy curbs her moralism and the shifting perspectives prevent anyone from being too easily glorified or demonized. The ending feels a little forced, and some characters seem abandoned for ease rather than a significant purpose; but the genuine feeling of a specific, turbulent, time bot teenage development and NYC history made up for any shortcomings. (less)
As I write this in my parent's basement, my father is resting in a small wooden container on the sink of the master bedroom's bathroom. To be specific...moreAs I write this in my parent's basement, my father is resting in a small wooden container on the sink of the master bedroom's bathroom. To be specific, the ashes that used to make up the 30% of non-water material that was the body which my housed my father's personality is in that box. Sometimes, I'll lay my hand on the box and say something like "Love ya Dad," "Miss you," or "Sorry I still haven't gotten my shit together. Not your fault, you were amazing." A few times I've opened it up, and looked at his remains. It's nearly impossible for me to think of them as him. They can't hold me, hug me, make me laugh, make me cry, scream "Goddammit!" at me for something stupid, or drunkenly tell me that the only thing he wants in this world is to make my Mother happy. They just sit there, a reminder of the man he once was, but certainly not him. I kept thinking about those ashes though as I read Mary Roach's STIFF.
I initially learned about STIFF through SIX FEET UNDER, a show I would sometimes watch with my Dad. A young girl of some relation to Nate, the series' central protagonist, gives him a copy. Inside the book, an important piece of information is contained. I forget exactly what was in it (a photo suggesting some sort of family secret?); but I remembered wanting to read the book. About a decade later, and after finishing two other Roach books first, I finally got around to it. One of the most compelling aspects of the macabre vignettes is the sort of distanced perspective Roach is able take. She begins the book by explaining her own conviction that, once dead, the body is no longer the person it was. If a spirit exists, it has left the building and entered whichever after life hypothesis turns out to be right.* If consciousness is just an evolutionary side effect of our complex brains, once the neurochemical processes end, whoever the person was ends with it. Either way that ship ain't sailing no more. Again, those ashes are not my Dad.
So why not strip down that ship and use the spare parts for the good of the living? Roach offers a spectrum of uses ranging from the obviously good (organ donation) to the obviously not so good (using ground up 'abortus' as a pill for bad skin). In between is a strange world of moral conundrums, ghastly experiments, stoic scientists, composted corpses, and a grassy hillside slope of lazy sunbathers in various stages of rot. For me, one of the most difficult questions was the use of child bodies in the quest for a better crash test dummy.
Roach explains that while we see the lifeless, obviously non-human, dummies in ads and media reports, the dummies themselves(?) are calibrated in controlled experiments by actual corpses, or rather pieces of corpses. The dead bodies provide a base line of what living bodies can handle, the data is calculated into the dummies' computers, and then all is put together to make safer cars and save lives. Predictably, very few parents who lose children tragically young, donate the child's body to science. Totally understandable. However, due to this lack of small bodies to calibrate small dummies, cars have not been maximally safety tested for children so more children in care accidents die tragically young. Now I don't have a child, but even knowing that fact, and believing that the body is not the person and the person is long gone, I don't think I could donate my hypothetical dead child to science to save the lives of other children. Do what ever with my body, I don't care I'm dead. But, the thought of more trauma to the small body of a lost child is something I don't think I could live with.
Don't worry though, that trip into the horrendous is actually pretty short. STIFF is mostly full of gallows humor and arresting anecdotes of grisly science. It made me hunger (word choice?) to read her new book, GUTS. First though, I'm going to go apologize to my Dad for drinking some of his Maker's Mark the other night. Not because I drank it, he won't miss it, but because I missed the chance to that I didn't come over and drink it with him.
*The correct answer is Mormon, if South Park is to be trusted.
**Useless fun fact: David Talbot, founder of Salon.com, gets a special thanks at the end of this book, and his sister Mary Talbot wrote one of the last books I read: The Entertainer, about their father. (I warned you it was useless.) (less)
A few years ago, while slightly inebriated, I somewhat infuriated a friend by staunchly stating that ghosts are as much of a fairy tale as Snow White...more A few years ago, while slightly inebriated, I somewhat infuriated a friend by staunchly stating that ghosts are as much of a fairy tale as Snow White. Had I been sober I never would have made that statement, as I find elements of Snow White believable. He then told me he had a personal anecdote to prove ghosts were real. He explained that he was once part of a Columbus art collective known as FIREXIT, which held its meetings and shows in a spooky, old, abandoned downtown firehouse. You know, the type of place a ghost would normally frequent. Especially a cultured ghost who enjoys modern college art in a run-down retro setting. Whatever its predilections, this ethereal entity especially enjoyed eavesdropping on the meetings. It was courteous enough to never interrupt a show. The details of the haunting are quite simple: the beat banshee would throw a necklace against the wall from behind a closed door, perhaps when it disagreed with the direction an upcoming show was taking. The closed door opened to a storage room and was the only entrance to the room, other than a small window, in the upper corner of the third story room. The first time they assumed the necklace fell. The building was a bit drafty after all. The second time they assumed the same, though whispers of a haunting began. Taking skeptical precautions, they were sure to set the necklace somewhere there was no possible way it could be disturbed, other than by an incorporeal being from another realm momentarily materializing in order to throw the necklace at the door of course. And yet, the necklace was launched at the door again. And again. And again. To be fair to my friend, his version was much more convincing than my summation of it. It is much more difficult to take the story seriously when two of your jackass buddies used to howl with laughter while recounting how they, for the sixth-plus time, climbed onto the roof of a spooky firehouse, from which they could access an otherwise unreachable window, take a beaded necklace, crawl back through the window, toss the necklace at the door, close the window, and then hide on the roof until it was safe to leave. A few times I actually had to pick them up a few blocks from the building myself (when they would hide their cars at work to ensure they were not suspected). As I drove them home they would cackle like teenage witches at their ingenious prank of the ghoully jewelry. I never really got why it was so funny. That is, I didn't until the night my friend told his ghost story. Mary Roach's SPOOK is full of such anecdotal "proof" of the after life, all of which she easily debunks. Almost too easily. While she attempts to pick tough nuts to crack (and leaves a few unsolved mysteries to appease Mulderesque readers who want to believe), the nutcracker of skeptical rationality demolishes them easily. Perhaps, just as many notable psychics refuse to take the JREF's million dollar challenge*, those with more believable tales to tell also had more to lose if the ghost stories became just stories. Roach's humanity and humor sustained interest long after the hope/fear of challenging my own(non)beliefs ebbed. She approaches her subjects with an anthropological respect, and never condescends or questions their intelligence. Roach portrays each believer as having strong emotional, cultural, intellectual, and experiential reasons behind the unreasonable beliefs. As much as I was eager to part ways with SPOOK two-thirds of the way in, I'm anticipating rejoining Roach on her literary journeys exploring: space (PACKING FOR MARS), sex (BONK), and the one denomination of after life I do believe in: the morgue (STIFF).
Late in the summer of '99 I was dumped by my first girlfriend in a cabin somewhere in the mountains of Montana. Earlier that spring, RUSHMORE hit loc...more Late in the summer of '99 I was dumped by my first girlfriend in a cabin somewhere in the mountains of Montana. Earlier that spring, RUSHMORE hit local screens. I fell in love with it. Actually love is too weak a word for what I felt, I was in lurve with RUSHMORE. I ended up seeing the film five times during its run, and bought the soundtrack the day it was available. Between RUSHMORE and the cabin in Montana: MATRIX, EXISTENZ, ELECTION, THE WINSLOW BOY, SOUTH PARK, LIMBO, AMERICAN PIE, EYES WIDE SHUT, similarly made a lasting impression on me. Additionally, even though the anticipation was inversely proportionate to the quality of the film, I can't deny that the excitement of THE PHANTOM MENACE was a large thread woven into my cinematic tapestry of '99. All this is to say that B.C. (Before Cabin) I had that tapestry hanging on the wall, and was enraptured by its beauty. A.D. (After Dumped) I ripped that tapestry down and wrapped myself up in it. I had no friends or family to turn to, so while sitting in that cabin, dumped, far away from the nearest theater, I listened to the RUSHMORE soundtrack on repeat. The movies were there for me when no one else could be. When I got home the cinema, the only God I've ever truly believed in, came through for me. She rewarded my life long devotion with THREE KINGS, AMERICAN BEAUTY, FIGHT CLUB,COOKIE'S FORTUNE, THE INSIDER, BRINGING OUT THE DEAD, BEING JOHN MALKOVICH, THE LIMEY, THE STRAIGHT STORY, RUN LOLA RUN, SLEEPY HOLLOW, PRINCESS MONONOKE THE IRON GIANT, TALENTED MR. RIPLEY, CRADLE WILL ROCK, TOPSY TURVY, TOY STORY 2, and MAGNOLIA. While I can now look at each of these films with a more critical eye, at the time, I embraced them all as great, most as transcendent, and a few as revolutionary. In REBELS ON THE BACKLOT, Sharon Waxman captures the dizzying sense of enthusiasm I felt at the dusk of the 20th century. The century of cinema. Her exploration of 90's auteurs was like reading a biography of my best friend, to the point of wincing at the revealed flaws because I KNOW the meaning and reasons of those flaws. While it is certainly not deserving of the four stars I'm giving it, the perspective and memories it engendered made it feel intimately personal. And, just as I was far too forgiving of some of the aforementioned A.D. films' flaws, I can't help but extend the same courtesy to REBELS ON THE BACKLOT. (I won't even get started on how seminal to my cinephilia Tarantino was. That's an even longer, more personal narrative than this has been.)(less)
Intriguing, though ultimately disappointing, post-colonial prequel to JANE EYRE. While Rhys adds depth to the mysterious Bertha Rochester, the lack of...moreIntriguing, though ultimately disappointing, post-colonial prequel to JANE EYRE. While Rhys adds depth to the mysterious Bertha Rochester, the lack of a compelling narrative independent from Bronte's masterpiece makes this work more of a footnote to EYRE than a true companion piece. (less)
I had to read this during the Social Studies portion of a Life Skills class I was subbing for. Each letter introduces a short poem on some glorifying...moreI had to read this during the Social Studies portion of a Life Skills class I was subbing for. Each letter introduces a short poem on some glorifying Ohio factoid: A is for astronauts because a lot of astronauts are from Ohio, P is for presidents for the same reason, J is for Johnny Appleseed because he, like, was totally in Ohio once! The art is uninspired, as are the poems, and the expository side captions lack focus and are written like summaries of a half remembered Encyclopedia entry. I also can't help but take a little issue with its repeating theme of Christopher Columbus and his crew on the (S is for)Santa Maria as brave and noble explorers. This white-washed historical tactic becomes laughable when the "T is for Techumseh" entry tries to have its treaty and break it too by attempting to paint both Techumseh and his enemy, William Henry Harrison, as Ohioan folk heroes. F is for F this book.(less)