02 October 2012

The Somnambulist by Jonathan Barnes

I read The Somnambulist by Jonathan Barnes at the recommendation of my friends, and I have to say it was an enjoyable read.  It was very much in the vein of a Sherlock Holmes adventure, and yet had a sort of tongue-in-cheek sensibility which was thoroughly modern.

My reading of the book was spread out over several weeks - quite a long time for me - because it was interrupted by a week of "reading deprivation," which was a requirement of my progress through The Artist's Way, a 10-week program with the goal of improving one's creativity.

Anyway, the interruption made the read a bit disjointed, but I think I remember it well enough to share some thoughts...

First of all, I thought the characters were very interesting, both familiar and new at the same time.  Since I've been doing a lot of reading of Sherlock Holmes lately, it's hard not to draw comparisons.  Edward Moon, the protagonist of The Somnambulist, is certainly cut from the same cloth as Holmes; his companion, the titular Somnambulist, on the other hand, is quite different from Watson: he is mute, mysterious, and perhaps most importantly, we never view the story through his eyes as we do Watson's.

The antagonist of the story - who must of course be unnamed, to avoid spoilers - was a rather interesting character, and provides one of the great surprises of the story, as well as (for me) one of its largest laughs, when Edward Moon fails to quiver in fear at his foe.

The vision of London that Barnes presented in his book, on the other hand, is quite different from Doyle's; it's much seedier, and yet also more intimate, treating the city as another character in a way that Doyle never did (at least in the books I've read).  Indeed, London as an entity is at the very heart of the story.

I guess I'm kind of rambling.  I find it hard to put my thoughts together on the story, other than to say that I liked it.  I'm running on not-a-lot of sleep right now and that might be making me sound stupid, too.

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Books: Reading Gathering Blue, which finally came from the library.

Bottles: Drinking a Spanish red whose name I can't remember right now.  It's from Rioja, and sad to say I am not enjoying it very much, but maybe it will be better tonight.

Writing: Still entrenched in the fourth draft, but feeling better in many respects on its direction, especially the second half.

Guitar: Doing the Christopher Parkening method to study classical technique, plus taking a look at "Wearing the Inside Out."

31 August 2012

Altos de Tamaron 2009

I'd had the bottle of Altos de Tamaron 2009 Ribera del Duero for nearly a year, and finally got around to opening it.  It was an exceptionally rewarding bottle.  My enjoyment of Spanish wines is great and growing greater still, but that said, I so rarely grab a bottle when at the store simply because I am not as familiar with them, and with a limited amount of money for bottles, one tends to go with what one is certain to enjoy.

The Ribera del Duero is perhaps my favorite Spanish appellation right now, and the Altos was a fine example of it.  It was a deep maroon color, with a heavier body than I was expecting that gave the wine a sense of heft and dignity.

The nose was mild but spicy, quite enticing.  The taste was powerfully fruity and flowed smoothly into a mellow oak flavor, finishing crisply.  Upon reflection the finish of the wine was perhaps not as good as it could have been, seeming a little bit swift; but it was enjoyable while it lasted.

I shared the bottle with a friend who also found the wine very enjoyable.  It's an affordable bottle that I will no doubt look for again soon.

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Books: Waiting for Gathering Blue from the library; meanwhile, I'm reading The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.

Bottles: The above.

Writing: Today I finished Chapter 9 of the fourth draft.  I'm not progressing as quickly as I'd like, but I am in fact progressing at a fair pace, so as usual I think I set expectations for myself too high.  Either way I'm going to keep at it and hopefully get a bit quicker as I get further along.

Guitar: Finishing up "On an Island," looking at "Dogs" once more now that I'm a bit better at playing.

06 August 2012

Slouching Towards Adulthood: Observations from the Not-So-Empty Nest by Sally Koslow

I noticed this book in an issue of Scientific American a while back, and the book finally came up in my reading list.  The book is written by a mother of two "adultescents" - children aged 21-34 (or something like that - can't remember the exact age) and examines the all-too-frequent phenomena of people of that generation (which also includes me) having trouble finding and keeping jobs, establishing permanent relationships, being forced or choosing to move back home with their parents, and more.

Having graduated from college in 2006, and going to film school from 2007-2008, I finished school right in the middle of the largest recession in recent memory, as did many others my age, so one of the things I found of most value in the book was simply the many stories like mine of finishing school only to find that there were no opportunities.  It was sad, but reassuring, to read other stories like mine.

Koslow, a journalist for many years, did a great job delving into the psychology of adultescents, examining them in a light that was critical and yet neither condescending nor judgmental.  She was quick to point out their virtues, yet also quite willing to point out their flaws.  Her basic premise seemed to me to be that a confluence of factors - senses of entitlement, a poor job market, a youth that valued self-esteem over realism, parental enablers - has led many adultescents to spend many of their post-graduation years finding themselves, traveling the world when they can't find jobs at home, and constantly giving up what they have in the search of something better and more fulfilling, whether it be in a job or in a relationship.

Sad though it is, I think Koslow's observations were, while not universal, certainly accurate.  I recognized traits of myself, as well as others, in the stories she told, as well as traits of my parents in her description of Baby-Boomers, all of whom desperately wanted their children to have better lives than they did, but many of whom instilled a strange sense of easy money and unlimited self-worth in their children rather than work ethic and regular, ordinary life skills.

Slouching Toward Adulthood was a great read.  It was insightful, but even more so, it was a comfort: to know that my problems weren't unique helped me a great deal in feeling that I wasn't such a failure, and gave me hope that the future isn't so bleak yet.

---

Books: The above.  Next comes The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and also Volume 2 of Echoes of All Our Conversations.

Bottles: Several bottles consumed at a wine tasting: Toad Hollow 2010 Unoaked Chardonnay from Mendocino; De Loach 2010 Chardonnay Russian River Valley; Dashe Cellars 2006 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon; and Chappellet 2008 Napa Cabernet Sauvignon.

Writing: The next rewrite begins!

Guitar: Looking at "On an Island."

29 July 2012

Lois Lowry's The Giver

In truth, I had never heard of Lois Lowry or The Giver until a few weeks ago when a friend of mine mentioned it as being a book that has a unique view of dystopia to share.  As Into the Shining Sun also deals with a veiled dystopian future, The Giver was uniquely suitable reading.

What I found most interesting about The Giver is how the story manages to start off weaving a tale that seems utopian and idyllic, and only gradually reveals the more sinister problems of the world.  The narration, told from the point of view of an 11-year-old (later a 12-year-old) boy, was easy to follow and engrossing.  Lowry managed to infuse Jonas with a rich depth of character, while at the same time leaving him open enough for a reader to imprint themselves easily on to him.  I am always impressed when an author manages to so successfully capture the spirit of childhood, and it's all the more impressive capturing the spirit of the childhood of the opposite gender.

Philosophically, I found the book quite enjoyable as well.  The tension between uniqueness and sameness is one all people feel, especially as children wanting to fit in.  To take that tension to a societal level was, I think, an excellent way to explore the point.

I really enjoyed The Giver and look forward to reading the other two (soon to be three) books in the trilogy (soon to be quartet).  Meanwhile, I continue onward with my reading list!

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Books: Reading "Slouching Toward Adulthood," and after that another volume of "Echoes from All Our Conversations," and then "A Feast of Crows."  Which is exciting.

Bottles: Nothing lately, but next weekend opening several bottles for a tasting, trying to teach some of my friends to love wine.

Writing: Two-thirds done re-reading ITSS, so should be right on schedule for starting the rewrite.  Whether I finish it in the time I want is another matter.

Guitar: "Bouree," "On an Island," and some exercises.

25 July 2012

Esk Valley Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2010

I got this bottle as part of my wine club membership at The Cellar Rat.  I've been in love with New Zealand wines for a while, and this has got to be one of my favorites so far.

I have never seen a wine so delicately pale, it was not much darker than water, but it was a beautiful color.

The nose was overwhelmingly peachy, sweet and fruity and crisp.  Upon first taste I was surprised - I had been expecting something rather tart, but it was in fact buttery, the acidity taking a back seat to the mellow fruitiness of peaches.  There were hints of citrus and herb, too, a surprising strength to it.  The finish, a taste of peach, lingered on the mid-palate for a long, long time.

One of my new favorites!

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Books: Reading A Storm of Swords right now.  Going to read The Giver afterwards.

Bottles: The above.  Also been trying some other things, some not as tasty.

Writing: Re-reading ITSS in preparation of starting my fourth draft.

Guitar: Started "On an Island."  Finishing "Bouree."  Also still working up speed on "On the Turning Away."

06 July 2012

La Gareta Cabernet Franc 2009 - Colli Berici, Italy


This is the first pure Cabernet Franc I have tried.  It was interesting to see the difference between it and Cabernet Sauvignon, although I don’t know if my wine vocabulary is developed enough to quantify it.
The wine had a beautiful plum color in the glass, with a medium body.  Its nose had a strong scent of walnut tree, an unusual scent I’ve encountered only once before, in a bottle of Opus One.  Its taste revealed plenty of walnut, too, but also a smokiness that made me feel it might go well with barbecue.
It was smooth and round on the tongue, but the finish was rather too strong and bitter for my taste.  Perhaps a bit more age would have mellowed it out.
All in all, it was a fun experience.  I received a single bottle from my wine club membership at The Cellar Rat, so I don’t know how likely I am to get more of it, nor do I know the exact price, though I suspect it’s in the $10-$15 range.

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Books: Just finished reading A Game of Thrones.  Probably not going to review it - I feel there's not much to say at this point that hasn't been said, but hopefully after I've finished the other four available, I might have something worth saying.

Bottles: The above, plus a few sort of unmemorable bottles.

Writing: Just having a little fun right now, thinking about new stories and new ideas.  Work resumes 1 August!

Guitar: Doing some practice on my slide, trying to get a little better at "High Hopes."


01 July 2012

The Wind Through the Keyhole by Stephen King

It's been a while, and while I've been reading quite a bit, it has mostly been things I either didn't feel up to reviewing or had already read so many times as to make it kind of hard to review.  Foremost was the time I took to re-read all seven Harry Potter books when I got the eBook versions from Pottermore...which is also quite fun.

I did, however, finally finish Stephen King's The Wind Through the Keyhole, an interquel of sorts set in the world of The Dark Tower, taking place between the fourth and fifth books.  Though it took me a while to get back into a Mid-World frame of mind, once I got there I remembered why I loved The Dark Tower so much.

Wind is a tale-within-a-tale-within-a tale: a brief story of Roland and his ka-tet, on the way to the Calla, who have to hole up for a while to wait out a storm; and the story Roland tells them, of a time when he and Jamie deCurry went in hunt of a skin-man (shapeshifter); and the tale that the younger Roland of the story tells to a little boy whose path he crosses, the titular The Wind Through the Keyhole - which, it transpires, was a tale Roland's mother told him in his long-forgotten youth.

I must admit that, at first, I found reading the novel kind of hard - after all, the Tower series had been finished, I'd made my way through it and gotten my reward, heartbreaking though the ending was.  To delve back into that world, and at a mid-point as well, seemed unnecessary and in a way, cruel.  As I got further in, though, and let down my guard, it was, strangely, much easier to place myself back in that past, as the book so clearly intends you to do, to imagine it taking place between Wizard and Glass and Wolves of the Calla.

As I read, I could not help but find myself reflecting that the entire novel seemed as much a narrative as a meditation on narrative - stories within stories, and the power that stories hold over us, and over the world, are at the heart of the novel.  Even within the three main tales, characters within those tales tell stories of their own, or else recall them, or wonder if they are true.

What was most interesting to me, though, came at the very end of the story, where Roland receives a letter.  Though not a story in and of itself, the letter's impact was quite profound, and really turned the whole story on its head, and made me rethink what much of the book might have been about.

The Wind Through the Keyhole ended up being a fantastic read.  I almost feel guilty that it took me so long to get back into it.  But I'm glad I did.

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Books: Finished The Wind Through the Keyhole.  Going to read A Game of Thrones next.

Bottles: Joined a wine club, and experiencing many different budget bottles, but none have stood out to me yet.

Guitar: Working on lots of stuff right now, plus reviewing.  "On the Turning Away" is the main project right now.

Writing: Finished my third draft of Into the Shining Sun toward the end of May, and letting it rest a little.  Had an idea for a sort of comedic murder mystery that might be fun to write next.

02 May 2012

Inside Scientology by Janet Reitman

I recently finished reading Janet Reitman's Inside Scientology.  I have to say, it was not nearly what I expected, but I say that in a good way.

There is a lot of press, not to mention a lot of depiction in fiction, of the Church of Scientology.  Not knowing any personally, at least that I'm aware of, I suppose I was curious what the deal was with them - beyond what has been shown in television.

Inside Scientology happened to be reviewed in something or another that I was reading, and so it wound its way onto the list of books to check out from the library, and now it finally got read.  I have to say I could not have been more pleased with the choice.  It is hard to imagine a more fair, unbiased look than the one presented by Janet Reitman.

In a story as sensationalized as that of the Church - from Tom Cruise's couch-jumping antics to the episode of South Park which lampooned the Operating Thetan III, or OT3, documents - it was nice to get an unbiased presentation of the facts, meticulously researched, and told without judgment, frequently in the words of current or former church members.

Most valuable to me, perhaps, were the final few chapters, where Reitman focused not on the powerful and widely-known members of the Church, but rather on its ordinary lay-people.  This was what I truly wanted to know: what it was like for the ordinary member of the Church.  Turns out it's not so different than anyone else, which is comforting.  The monolithic organization that the Church of Scientology is presented as can be quite frightening.  It's good to know that there are regular people populating it, too.

In a perhaps ironic pairing, the other book that came from the library was The Last Testament: A Memoir by God (with David Javerbaum).  I look forward to delving into that as well.  I could use some lighter fare.

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Books: Finished the above; working on The Last Testament.

Bottles: Tried Rio Real Reserva 2008, a Portugese wine.  Not the best, but drinkable.

Writing: 60% done with rewrite.  Hoping to finish by 17 May!

Guitar: Working on "On the Turning Away," plus some pentatonic exercises to build my speed, and a neat lick from the Foo Fighters' "The Pretender."

08 April 2012

The Magicians & The Magician King by Lev Grossman

I read Lev Grossman's The Magicians and The Magician King in a whirlwind four (maybe five - can't remember) days.  Both were in the order of 400 pages.  It felt good to get lost in a book (or in this case books) again.

Full disclosure: having read both books so close together, I am reviewing them together, therefore there will be spoilers.  I doubt anyone actually reads this blog, but just in case, you have been warned.

People have compared Grossman's books to lots of things, and quite fairly, too: Harry Potter and Narnia being the most often cited examples, but I've also seen it compared to Wizard of Oz.  Strangely, though, nothing I've read has compared it to what it most made me thing of: Stephen King's The Dark Tower series.

A strange comparison, I admit.  After all, The Magicians starts out with disaffected, undiagnosed-bipolar Brooklyn teenager Quentin Coldwater being admitted to a school for magic.  It follows his education - like Harry Potter.  Follows him out of school, to a life of alcoholism and tedious hedonism in Manhattan, where he succeeds to thoroughly mess himself up before finally getting drawn into the magical world of Fillory - a world depicted in several novels for children, which he loved growing up and still did as an adult.  A world with so many parallels to Narnia as to seem, on the surface, like the most derivative fan-fiction.

And yet, it is not derivative.  What sets it apart from what came before is the same thing that sets apart The Dark Tower: its unforgiving realness, its thesis that even in fantasy good people are going to do bad things; that sometimes people don't learn from their mistakes; that douchebags and assholes sometimes get rewarded while nice people die; and that the power to have anything you want so often goes hand-in-hand with never finding happiness.

The Magician King follows this up with Quentin and friends as rulers of Fillory, but they have to, once more, undertake a Quest.  This time around, the narrative jumps around quite a bit, interweaving the story of Quentin's adventure with the past of his friend and fellow ruler, Julia - a girl he knew back in Brooklyn, before he went off to Brakebills (the magical school).  Julia had been tested, too, but didn't make it, and spent the next several years in a sort of personal hell, tormented by the memory of what might have been and an awareness that just beneath the surface of the mundane world lay another one, filled with wonder.

As Quentin learned in The Magicians, living in that world can have a terrible price, and Julia pays it full measure.

Perhaps the central thesis of both novels can be best summed up in the words of Ember, the ram-god of Fillory, an Aslan-like figure of imperturbable godliness.  Quentin, having completed his quest, complains that the hero gets the reward.  But Ember replies "The hero pays the price."

That's a sentiment with echoes of Tolkien as well.  Frodo tells Sam at the Gray Havens that sometimes one person has to give something up so that others can keep it.

I don't know if The Magician King was the end of Quentin's story.  I kind of hope it wasn't.  But if it was, I'm okay with that.  It was a satisfying, bittersweet ending, and it's okay to have those.  Much as I love books that end happily, it's okay when things don't.  That's real life.  And, as Quentin gradually learns, real life has its own magic, too, if only we can find it.

One thing, though.  In The Magicians, students at Brakebills are assigned a Discipline, a magical speciality.  Quentin's is left "undecided," since the faculty can't quite figure out what to make of him.  He makes sparks, which his teacher finds fascinating, but has no idea what to do with.  It's something frequently mentioned throughout both books: characters wonder what Quentin's Discipline is, but we haven't found out yet.  I really want to know.  Maybe there'll be a third book after all!

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Books: Just finished the above.  Don't know what's next.  I have a few Wine Spectators to catch up on first.

Bottles: Nothing lately.

Writing: About 20% done I think, maybe more, maybe less, but I'm plugging away at it and feeling good about it.

Guitar: Same exercises as last time.  Feeling more competent about "Shine On."

04 April 2012

Hope: A Tragedy by Shalom Auslander

Hope: A Tragedy was...well...I suppose, in the end, it was a tragedy.  I'd read a review of the book which led me to believe its sense of dark humor might be right up my alley...but, alas, it was not.

That's not to say it was a badly written book.  The characters were interesting, well-fleshed-out, and real.  I just didn't like them.  Any of them.  Perhaps that was the point.  But I also didn't like the plot that much.

In fact, to be honest, I didn't really like much about the book at all.  It seemed to move from one depressing episode to another, all the while exploring the ineptitude and inaction of the main character who was imminently capable of dealing with his problems, but simply didn't.

I really wanted to like the book.  I tried.  I made it all the way through it.  But in the end, when things were beginning to look up and I thought, "Hey, this wasn't so bad," it turns out I had forgotten the title of the book.  Or rather its subtitle: A Tragedy.

I don't know what made me expect a happy ending.  Or at least a satisfying one.  But I got neither.  Instead I was left with the futility of life.

I read Hope: A Tragedy because I felt the need for a break from reading Gravity's Rainbow.  Well, it did not help.  I didn't particularly like Hope: A Tragedy, and it turns out I don't really like Gravity's Rainbow either.  But the latter is 800 pages long.  At page 150 I've decided I'm not going to waste valuable reading time on something I really, really don't like.

So, onward to new horizons, and new books!

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Books: Going to start on Lev Grossman's The Magicians tomorrow, I think.  Hopefully it will be good!  I can't take a third book in a row that I don't like!

Bottles: Nothing lately.

Writing: 3 chapters done so far.  I feel like I'm picking up steam.

Guitar: Going further on the Carcassi in E; also looking at a riff from Foo Fighters' "Let it Die."

01 April 2012

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green


There are certain books that are so good, so engrossing, that you just can’t put them down until you’ve reached the end.  Harry Potter was like that.  The Hunger Games, too.  And, most recently, The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green.  While at first it might seem strange that all of the books I listed are classified as “Young Adult,” I don’t necessarily think that means I’m simply a sap for “Young Adult” books.  Rather, I think it more likely that “Young Adult” books are able to get across truths which can reach both our hearts and our minds with equal urgency, without burdening themselves with the prose and, for lack of a better word, intellectualism that “Adult” books tend to contain.

So, anyway, The Fault in Our Stars.  Wow.  I went into the book with high expectations, having read review after review full of glowing praise, and I have to say it did not disappoint.  That praise was well-deserved.

The Fault in Our Stars tells the story of Hazel Lancaster, a 16-year-old girl suffering from terminal (though currently stable) cancer, and the boy she falls in love with, Augustus Waters, a cancer survivor.

As far as protagonists go, Hazel has the most unique voice I have heard since the film Juno.  Her wit and humor shine throughout the novel, in spite of and perhaps because of the harsh reality she is facing.  One of my favorite passages:

“I guess I had been looking toward the Encouragement above the TV, a drawing of an angel with the caption Without Pain, How Could We Know Joy?  (This is an old argument in the field of Thinking About Suffering, and its stupidity and lack of sophistication could be plumbed for centuries, but suffice it to say that the existence of broccoli does not in any way affect the taste of chocolate.)”

Like Hazel herself, the story is full of equal parts humor and heartbreak, of triumph and tragedy.  But most amazing of all is how real it all is.  I have been thoroughly absorbed before, I have read characters and felt I knew them as a dear, close friend before, but even so, it remains one of the great miracles of literature each and every time it happens.  And it happened for me with this book.

The issues it explored were also especially resonant to me given my own current endeavors in writing.  Dealing with death and loss, from the point of view both of those going and those left behind - this is at the core of Into the Shining Sun, though it takes a different angle in approaching it.  Even so, I found it invaluable.

One of the passages led to a particularly insightful observation for me.  In Chapter Twelve, one of the characters goes on a rant about the permissiveness afforded to sick people, especially the terminally ill, and says that people do it out of pity.   That line really got me thinking; and as I thought about it I realized that I consider it more a sign that seeing someone struggle to live reminds us of the preciousness of life and the imperative to be kind to each other.

Thinking so much about death - both with Fault and with my own book - has reminded me of the wonder of each day, the miracle of life, cheesy though it may sound.  The grass has seemed a little greener, the sun a little brighter, since I read the book and have been reminded to take joy in every day.  For that, if for nothing else, I am grateful.

I got The Fault in Our Stars from the library; immediately after finishing it I purchased the eBook in iBooks.  I plan to get a hard copy next time I am at the book store.  It’s a book I truly don’t mind owning two of.

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Books: Working on Gravity's Rainbow, which is super dense and taking a long time, so took a break from it to read Hope: A Tragedy.  Thankfully not dense but taking longer than I want it to; I keep getting distracted.

Bottles: Some good Cotes-du-Rhone table wine recently.

Writing: Slowly working on the rewrite.  Got to be more proactive in doing at least one chapter every two days.

Guitar: Got a new Carcassi study, and a new exotic scale to practice.  Still working on "Shine On".

24 March 2012

Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error by Kathryn Schulz


I was introduced to Being Wrong after watching a video of a presentation Kathryn Schulz gave at a TED convention.  The premise of the book intrigued me and I added it to the list, and it finally came up.

It was a fascinating book, exploring not only how and why people go wrong, but more importantly, what happens when we do - both the negative and the positive.

Schultz’s basic premise is that being wrong, though it can be uncomfortable, sometimes even catastrophic, can also give us opportunities for learning and growth.  This is something that I felt I could appreciate, as I’ve always done my best to admit when I’ve made mistakes - though, granted, I’m sure I’m just as blind as the next guy when it comes to realizing I’m wrong.  Even so, I do my best - as we all do, I guess.

Schulz covered a range of biases that explained the why and how of people going wrong - the whole gamut, from confirmation bias to the effect of peer and community pressure on beliefs.

Some of the most touching stories she related included a woman who mistakenly identified a man who raped her - and thus sent an innocent man away to jail for several years.  He was eventually exonerated, and she even extended an olive branch to him and made peace with him - until he ended up committing a murder.  Though she was wrong about him raping her, he did end up being a killer.

Though it was a grim example, it was also uplifting, showing how the woman’s experiences shaped her and allowed her to grow.

I think that Being Wrong is a book that everyone should read.  It forced me to reconsider many of my beliefs about wrongness and rightness, and I hope it does the same for many others.

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Books: Currently reading Gravity's Rainbow.  Wow, talk about dense.

Bottles: Had a glass of Kim Crawford Pinot Noir a few nights ago which was pretty good.

Writing: Slowly making my way through the rewrite.

Guitar: Out of town right now, so...no.

17 March 2012

Turley Duarte Zinfandel 1999


I bought my bottle of Turley Duarte 1999 when I went to Aureole in Las Vegas, a restaurant with a wine list that won a Grand Award from Wine Spectator.  Their wine collection was quite impressive, housed in a 44-foot-tall glass tower, and their “wine angels” used wire harnesses to get the wine from its alcoves in the tower.

The wine was a pure blood red - or it may have simply been the lighting, as it was a little strange where I was sitting - with a heady scent of honey and oak.  I frequently find honey notes in Zinfandels I taste; I don’t know if it’s me or the Zinfandels, but either way, it was good.

The wine was mellow, with a taste of pure fruit, a veritable explosion of it.  Age made it delightfully smooth and balanced.  It had no bite that younger Zinfandels often had- just a pure power, cutting through my palate and absorbing me.

It was deliciously complex, but in the end it distilled down to a lingering note of honeyed oak on the finish.

It was a beautiful bottle, which I shared with three friends over a cheese plate and desserts.

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Books: Just finished The Fault in Our Stars by John Green.  It was amazing!  Up next: Gravity's Rainbow.

Bottles: Having some Chateau Lamothe de Haux Bordeaux-Blanc with salmon tonight.

Writing: Well, notes finished but no real progress on the rewrite yet.  I have made a promise myself to make a real start on Monday.  I got sidetracked by my spring frenzy of cleaning.

Guitar: Still working on "Shine On."  Solos are down pretty good; working on fills and rhythms now.

15 March 2012

Francesco Rinaldi & Figli 2006 “Le Brunate” Barolo d’Alba


I drank Francesco Rinaldi & Figli 2006 “Le Brunate” Barolo d’Alba with a multi-course dinner at d.vino in Las Vegas, Nevada, where I went first through a bread course, then a cheese course, entree, and ended with desert.  I was with a group of nine, and we managed to polish off three bottles.  It was probably my best Italian wine experience to date.

The Le Brunate had a purplish-ruby color in the glass, and a medium body - far lighter than I had been anticipating, but then, I think it was one of my first Barolos so my expectations weren’t exactly well-founded.

The nose was full of heavenly fruit, layered atop smooth oak scents.

The taste was super-smooth, with potent but balanced tannins.  The fruit was juicy and slightly tart, and a hint of licorice tied the wine together.

The chef prepared a pair of five-cheese platters for us, with some overlap between the two, so we ended up with, if memory serves, 8 cheeses to try.  Grana Padano was particularly nice with the wine, as was the Chimay and the Ubriaco del Piave.

It was a wonderful wine experience.

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Books: Just got a huge pile of them, consisting of The Fault in Our Stars, The Magicians, The Magician King, and Gravity's Rainbow.  I also read an old Babylon 5 book which was, shall we say, of a bit less quality than the other B5 books I have read.

Bottles: Nothing new lately.

Writing: Finally finished arranging my notes - 19 pages of them!  Given that the novel itself is 159 pages, that's kind of a lot!

Guitar: Working on "Shine On" and also experimenting with variations on the pentatonic scale.  Looking at starting "On an Island" next lesson.

13 March 2012

Entwined Lives: Twins and What They Tell Us About Human Behavior by Nancy L Segal


Entwined Lives was the third book I read in the interregnum between drafts of Into the Shining Sun, and it was by far the most scientifically-minded one of the three, focusing primarily on the insights that twin studies provide.  However, that is not to say it was without emotional content as well.  It even featured an entire chapter on twin loss, as well as a chapter that explored what happens when one twin is injured and the other is fine.

One of the most fascinating subjects was the biological variability that occurs in gestation of identical twins.  Depending on when the embryo split, there are four different sub-types of twins, depending on whether they have separate or fused placentae and whether or not they have separate chorions and amnions.

Another thing the book clarified to me were how identical twins’ personalities tend to play out; the genetic components of their personalities are quite strong, and differences between them tend to be quantitative: there is not a “leader” and “follower,” there is a “more frequent leader” and a “less frequent leader.”  Their identical genes also lead to similarities in their thinking; they are able to easily understand each other’s viewpoint.  This especially will have impact on Into the Shining Sun, and will help shape the relationship between Adam and Shawn as I revise the novel.

The chapter on loss was also especially useful.  One of the quotes from it really changed how I was thinking about Shawn’s death:

“In 1985, I lost then and forever my idea of my own immortality.  There was this form that looked so much like me, that moved like me, had mannerisms like me.  It was a tremendous impression that burned into my brain forever, I’ll never forget it.” - Jim Wilson, 6 years after the death of his identical twin brother, Bill.

All in all, Entwined Lives was a valuable read and I’m glad I found it.

---

Books: Getting a few new ones from the library today, but meanwhile about halfway caught up with my periodicals.

Bottles: Drank some Spanish table wine last week.  It was okay but nothing special.  Can't remember the name.

Writing: Organizing my notes as we speak.

Guitar: Still working on "Shine On."

07 March 2012

The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power by Jeff Sharlet


I don’t remember how I came to add The Family to my reading list, but I finally got around to it, and I’m glad I did.

As the title says, the book revolves around an examination of a group called “The Family,” a fundamentalist group that prides itself on its invisibility, despite being an organizing force behind a wide range of events both historical and current, including the National Prayer Breakfast.

Organized in 1935 by Abram Vereide to oppose the new deal, labor unions, and the threat of socialism, the organization that would come to be called The Family formed a sort of nexus of fundamentalism, training its members that “Jesus plus nothing” is all that was required to change the world.  This informed their worldview as the organization revved up to combat communism during the Cold War, and later transformed itself from an elite organization to one that has embraced the populist front, joining the fight against abortion and homosexuality.

It’s far from an expose, though, and Sharlet is, wisely, careful to avoid choosing sides.  He takes great pains, while illuminating the fundamentalist mythologizing of American history that there is an equally ubiquitous secular mythologizing of that same history.  Likewise, he outlines the current battles over the separation of church and state and uses the recent battles to give us perspective, explaining how Jefferson’s “wall of separation” was only applied judicially in the twentieth century, and that prior to that Christian values had a great deal of synonymity with American jurisprudence.  He also points out that when the Pledge of Allegiance was introduced, it lacked the phrase “under God” for several revisions; whether it is good or bad that it was introduced in 1954, the fact remains it was introduced.

Sharlet takes great pains to avoid making value judgments about the Family’s goals, only seeking to explain them.  He is careful to explain that the Family is, despite how it may seem, a more-or-less apolitical entity, counting members of both the Republican and Democratic parties amongst its ranks.  However, he also includes a quote by Julius Nyere, the first president of Tanzania, as he defended his country’s political system: “The United States is also a one-party state.  But with typical American extravagance, they have two of them.”

Perhaps Sharlet’s most insightful analysis is that Fundamentalism arises out of that age-old problem that all religion confronts: the problem of human suffering.  In his last chapter, he writes:

“Evangelism and fundamentalism arise in response to the dilemma of suffering, a problem all religious beliefs must try to reconcile; they try to eliminate it by offering certainty, by creating and perpetuating a story about how the world is supposed to be.”

This was a distillation of something I have long felt to be at the heart of much of religion, expressed eloquently.  He posits that, rather than accepting things (and saying that the suffering will be rewarded in the afterlife), the Family functions by ignoring that suffering, and accepting that it is simply how things are supposed to be.  However, what is most damning about the Family - in my opinion at least - is the unrepentant role they have taken in causing that suffering in the pursuit of American Empire.  Sharlet avoids ever directly pointing that finger, but I have no problem doing so.

The Family was a fascinating, though at times terrifying, read.  It examined many often-overlooked aspects of the Christian Right, and it managed to overcome my inherent prejudices and allowed me to examine their point of view.  While I don’t necessarily agree with them, I am glad for the glimpse of understanding that I’ve been given.

---

Books: Nothing right now; catching up on issues of Wine Spectator and Scientific American.

Bottles: Tried a new Argentinian wine last night, can't remember the name.  It was a Malbec from 2008 and it was pretty good.

Writing: Finished re-read.  I'm pretty happy with it for the most part, but I see some areas that definitely need improvement.

Guitar: Still working on "Shine On."  Several exercises as well.

04 March 2012

Indivisible by Two: Lives of Extraordinary Twins by Nancy L Segal


Indivisible by Two was another book I picked up to further my research into the relationships of siblings and especially twins.  It focused on stories of twins (as well as one set of triplets and one set of quadruplets) who experienced unique life events.  Stories ranged from twins raised apart, to twins who were similar yet different (for example, identical twin girls, one of whom was transgender and became a male), to a twin who lost her sister in the World Trade Center attacks, to a twin surrogating for her infertile sister.  That’s just scratching the surface.

I don’t suppose I have too much to say on the book; it was at its heart a scientific, though quite riveting and emotional, book about twins.  However, I thought it would be fun to share some of the insights I gained.

-Since identical twins are able to see “themselves” in their twin, they can observe their twin’s behavior and its effects, and learn from their twin’s mistakes without making the same choices themselves.

-Twins are much more observant of the differences between themselves than the average person, perhaps as a result of their own desire to differentiate themselves and establish their individuality.

-Our genes affect more than I had ever believed possible, including the most minor of mannerisms.  For example, one pair of twins that were raised apart for 30 or so years, not knowing they were twins, met and discovered they both held their drinks in the same peculiar way, with the pinky finger underneath the drink.

That was just a bit of what I gleaned from the book.  It was an illuminating read and I am looking forward to reading Nancy Segal’s other book on twins, Entwined Lives, next.

---

Books: Finished Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error.  Going to catch up on some of my periodicals.

Bottles: Enjoyed some of Orin Swift's 2009 The Prisoner, as well as some Domaine Pichot Vouvray last night at a friend's housewarming party.  Both have been reviewed elsewhere...I think.

Writing: About 75% done with my reread.  On the whole I can see the second half is in much worse shape than the first half - which is a reversal of how I felt last time, if memory serves...

Guitar: Shine On!

28 February 2012

The Sibling Effect: What the Bonds Among Brothers and Sisters Reveal About Us by Jeffrey Kluger


The Sibling Effect was a book I picked up based purely on its title, as I thought it would be useful research for Into the Shining Sun.  Though it ended up having only a few segments about identical twins, it had a wealth of valuable insights on siblings in general, ones I found useful not only for ITSS but also for life in general.

Some things that the book discussed I was aware of already, either from my own observations or from things I’ve heard from family; others, especially the research being done on only children, came as something of a surprise to me, as it was so contrary to the prevailing prejudices about only children - the stereotype of the spoiled only child is a very strong cultural myth, one which I have on occasion subscribed to.  The Sibling Effect presented a large body of evidence that shows that there are plenty of benefits to being an only child, and that most of the stereotype is, in fact, invalid.

The Sibling Effect was a great read, both enjoyable and informative, and very useful for my writing.

---

Books: Nearly done with Being Wrong, after which I will take a break from books to catch up on my periodicals.

Bottles: Had a nice bottle of Turley Duarte 1999 at Aureole in Las Vegas, which was exquisite.

Writing: Half-done with my re-read.

Guitar: Working on the second and third guitar solos in "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" right now, plus many different exercises.

20 February 2012

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline


Oh.  My.  God.  This book was one of the most fun reads I have ever had.  It was, as the reviews state and I agree wholeheartedly with, a TOTAL NERDGASM.

Its amazing plot flew from pop culture reference to pop culture reference, touching music, movies, books, and most especially video games.  It took what could have been the ultimate act of fan-fiction and infused it with originality, heart, and enough loving satire that it transcended it and became something wholly original and unique: the product of an author lovingly devoted to what he was writing about.

More than that, though, it was an exciting vision of the future.  Perhaps the most unique thing, to me, was his vision of habitation in the year 2044: that most people lived in “Stacks,” trailers stacked tens of units high on the outskirts of the former major urban areas.  That was just the most unique, to me, though; the entire vision was both absorbing and alarming, enviable and pitiable.  That the world could become so horrible that people simply escaped into the ultimate virtual reality is understandable, and perhaps pricks our own consciences about where our planet is headed in real life.

I just cannot reiterate how much I enjoyed Ready Player One.  It’s probably the best book I’ve read in the last year, maybe longer.  I can’t wait to read it again.

---

Books: Reading Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error.  It's pretty cool.

Bottles: Had three (!) bottles of Francesco Rinaldi & Figli 2006 "Le Brunate" Barolo d'Alba at a restaurant called d.vino in Las Vegas.  It was great.  Also had a bottles of 2007 Ramey Claret.  Also divine.

Writing: Working through my re-read.

Guitar: Being in Las Vegas, I haven't gotten to practice much.

17 February 2012

Bodegas Leda Vina Viejas 2003


Bodegas Leda had been at the top of my list of Spanish wines to look out for, since it has consistently been reviewed as offering superior quality at excellent prices, and the bottle I had at Columbia Restaurant in Orlando, Florida - the 2003 Vina Viejas - did not disappoint.

The wine was dark, inky, turning nearly to black once you took it out of direct light.  The nose had a profound scent of almond, and yet it was utterly smooth and alluring.  The potent fruitiness on the tasting was in perfect harmony with bold but mellow tannins, while the hint of almond was consistent throughout.

I’ve not had much chance to explore the wines of Spain - it has never been high on my list of go-to wines, and I’ve encountered great Spanish wines more through serendipity through anything else.  I hope to explore more in the future, and I certainly expect to find more of similar quality to Bodegas Leda.

---

Books: Finished Entwined Lives and started on Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error.

Bottles: Just got half a case of 2009 Dashe Late Harvest Zinfandel, which I am eager to begin drinking.

Writing: Starting now on the revisions since I finished Entwined Lives.

Guitar: Not had a chance to practice much and I leave for a week in Vegas tonight, so there still won't be much time.

14 February 2012

Naia 2006


I encountered Naia 2006 rather by accident, at Columbia Restaurant in Orlando, Florida.  It was recommended to me by the sommelier after my first choice of Albarino was unavailable.

It’s made from the Verdejo grape.  Verdejo is not a grape I usually seek out, and while this wine may have been a good expression of it, the fact remains it’s not my favorite.

The wine had a surprisingly meaty nose, one which I rarely encounter in white wines.  Atop the meatiness with the strong scent of peach.  Its deep golden color was nearly as rich as a Sauternes.

The taste revealed a big punch of acidity, which overwhelmed the fruit for me, and afterwards it highlighted sharp mineral notes before ending on a crisp, dry finish.

As I’ve gotten further away from the initial drink and have had time to think about it, I suppose my biggest problem with the Naia was that it was too heavy, in many dimensions: acidity, minerality, dryness, body, even the color seemed too much.  It felt to me like the wine was trying be too many things at once.

---

Books: Finished The Family, nearly done with Entwined Lives.  After that, Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error.

Bottles: Going to Vegas soon, where I will surely experience some new and exciting wines!

Writing: Well, enjoying writing a few chapters here and there on a short story that is purely for my own amusement, and looking forward to reading the second draft of ITSS and then getting started on the third.

Guitar: Been working so much lately I can't quite remember what I'm supposed to be practicing.  Thankfully I wrote it down.

08 February 2012

Domaine Bruno Clair “Les Vaudenelles” 2006 Marsannay, Revisited


I have had several bottles of Bruno Clair’s “Les Vaudenelles,” but the one I drank recently had been cellaring since I bought it, and the added age took the wine to a whole new level.

The wine had always possessed a light ruby color, but it seemed to me to possess extra clarity this time around, and displayed a light but lush body in the glass.

The nose had taken on new aspects - I detected chocolate this time around, but above all the fruit had become much more developed, with dark, red berry scents.

The mouthfeel was exceedingly smooth, and the taste was an explosion of fruit with a great backbone of smooth tannins - not drying or overly harsh, but mellow, perfectly in harmony with the fruit.  As before, the wine’s finish lingered seemingly forever, but this time I found myself detecting hints of licorice and plum.  The oak was very much in the background throughout, having softened considerably from my last tasting.  I was glad I bought enough bottles of this wine to enjoy it at several points in its lifetime; I still have one bottle left, now more cherished than ever.  This was a wonderful bottle and an amazing experience.

---

Books: Still working on The Family, but also read Indivisible by Two: Lives of Extraordinary Twins by Nancy L. Segal.  It was a brisk read and really insightful and will prove invaluable in my next rewrite.

Bottles: Been at work all week so probably no new bottles until my trip to Las Vegas.

Guitar: No chance, really; too much work.

Writing: As I said above, doing research still; 1 of two books I wanted to get read have now been read.  I expect to get the other one read by Monday or Tuesday at the latest and then I will start on my reread of my book, making notes before I start the rewrite.  My planned date of completion for the draft is the end of March, which would be a nice birthday present for myself I guess.

06 February 2012

Out of Oz by Gregory Maguire


Well, after finding A Lion Among Men somewhat dissatisfying, I was greatly relieved when I was quite satisfied by its follow-up, and the last book in The Wicked Years, Out of Oz.  My apologies if anyone actually reads this blog and gets spoiled.  I assume no one does and therefore I can write what I want.  Imaginary reader, be warned!
Out of Oz manages to bring together the threads Maguire had woven throughout Son of a Witch and A Lion Among Men and, to a lesser extent, Wicked (though Wicked was rather more closed-ended than the others).  It was a relief to finally revisit the characters I had gotten to know in the prior novels and watch as their struggles intersected, split apart, entwined and changed.
The story of the end of the war, and of the return of Ozma, so long looked for, was almost the backdrop to the story of Rain, the daughter of Liir and Candle, born green but bewitched into a disguise, learning how to live her life.  We saw her go from an almost non-responsive young girl to a young woman (at least, I hope she was officially a woman, otherwise her romance with Tip has a slight creepiness to it) that was, at last, engaged with the world.
In the end, Rain’s actions, and those of her friends and family, changed Oz - whether for the better or worse, we aren’t told.  The story goes on even though our glimpse into Oz has been occluded.
It is in the books final chapters that, I believe, what Maguire wants us to take away comes through most clearly, which was refreshing after the difficulty I had finding meaning in A Lion Among Men:
“It’s more convenient to have a hero waiting in the wings than to endure a blowhard standing in the spotlight... Also easier on your moral comfort, for one thing, to keep waiting for redemption of one sort or another rather than work it out for yourself.  Since its time hasn’t arrived yet...  People need something to be missing.  They need to crave something they don’t have.” - the Lion
Strange that Maguire should put those words into the mouth of a character who was previously so lacking in convictions.  But, as true as those words were in Oz, they are even truer in our world.
I am glad I stuck through to finish Out of Oz; there were times when I became rather annoyed with The Wicked Years.  I suppose, like those people in Oz, I kept waiting for that hero in the wings, since I didn’t want to endure the blowhards that the novels followed.  But in the end, it is watching those blowhards find the heroes in themselves that was the most rewarding.

---

Books: Reading The Family by Jeff Sharlett right now.

Bottles: Borsao Garnacha table wine from Spain.  Not bad.

Writing: Well, haven't quite caught up on my research reading which I intend to finish before I start in on the third draft, as I feel it will offer many of the insights I need.

Guitar: Working on the new exercises and making a dedicated effort to play my lap steel more.  That said, crazy hours at work this week.

01 February 2012

Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris


My first David Sedaris read was his Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk, so I kind of knew what I was getting into: the sardonic style, the subtle and often ridiculous humor.  I got all that and more in Dress, which contained not malign fairy-tales but rather essays about Sedaris’s own life.
The book jumped all over his life, telling stories of his youth, his adulthood, and, most especially, his family.  One particular favorite part of mine was when he related something his sister told him, which he promised never to write about...and then of course wrote about.
Hilarious as the essays were, Sedaris’s humor does have a certain underlying darkness to it: so many of the stories turned out with, if not a bad ending, certainly an unpleasant one.  As someone who has always been something of a sap for happy endings, I found my expectations repeatedly dashed, as lessons failed to be learned, hugs failed to be given, words went unsaid.  But then, that’s what makes it funny.
I first became aware of David Sedaris after reading a review of one of his books (it might have even been this one) which mentioned he was brother of Amy Sedaris, an actress and comedienne who I enjoy immensely.  Though his style is different, he shares her keen wit.  I’ve heard he and Amy actually read the audio versions of his books together, something I would very much like to check out.

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Books: Reading The Family by Jeff Sharlett.

Bottles: Tried a new table wine, it's okay, it's a $10 bottle of Cotes-du-Rhone.

Guitar: Got my guitar back, yea!  But no new tremolo bridge yet - they have to order one.  I have a bunch of new exercises to work on.

Writing: It is about to begin!

30 January 2012

The Shadow over Innsmouth


The Shadow Over Innsmouth was a return to form for me after reading Lovecraft’s The White Ship, an ethereal, almost dreamy story.  Shadow, on the other hand, sits squarely within the parameters of most of Lovecraft’s work, showcasing the horror of what lurks just beyond normal human experience.
Set in the fictional town of Innsmouth, it tells the story of an unnamed narrator, a young man (who Lovecraft named Robert Olmstead in his notes, apparently) taking a vacation around New England to visit his familial roots.
Drawn by a sort of macabre fasciation, he passes through the town of Innsmouth on his way to Arkham, where he discovers that the inhabitants have, for several generations, been engaged in a pact with sea-dwelling creatures who, again, go unnamed, though later works would refer to them as the Deep Ones.  These humanoid fish-frog creatures have been providing the townspeople of Innsmouth plentiful fish and gold, in exchange for breeding with them, producing hybrid creatures that start their lives as human before eventually taking to the ocean and gaining immortality as they transform fully into Deep Ones.
Shadow was far more action-oriented than the prior works of Lovecraft I have read, featuring an exceptional chase scene as the narrator attempts to escape Innsmouth, which contained some of the most tense of Lovecraft’s narrative I have yet to see.
It was the ending, though, which was perhaps most striking, as the narrator realized his own links to Innsmouth, and the choice that lay before him.

---

Books: Finished Believer Beware and started on The Family.

Bottles: Chappellet 2008; Orin Swift Papillon 2006; Orin Swift The Prisoner 2009.  All in the course of a trip to Memphis, TN.  It was divine.

Writing: Working on a fun little short story that will never see the light of day but pleases me to write.

Guitar: Getting my guitar back from the shop today, with a new tremolo bridge!  Yea!

25 January 2012

Opus One 1999


It's taken me a while to get to a place where I felt able to write about what was truly an amazing bottle of wine: Opus One 1999.

Opus One has always hovered at the margins of my awareness of Napa wine, both alluring for its pedigree (Mondavi and Rothschild) and exciting for its unattainable prices (around $200 at retail most times I've seen it).  And yet, in Louisville I finally bit the bullet and bought a bottle at The Oakroom in Louisville, Kentucky.

After decanting, I finally got the wine, which was a deep blood red.  The nose was amazingly potent - tart fruits, an almost metallic minerality, and then, almost overwhelmingly, the aroma of black walnuts.  The scent was so strong it reminded me of playing beneath the one in my grandma's back yard when I was younger.

The first taste was of cool, bracing fruit, but it then transformed, passing through dry, minerally, slaty, and then on to a final taste of almond and oak.  A clean, herbal finish lingered afterward.

The Opus One followed two other bottles, one of white and one of red, shared among 12 people and several courses of meal, too involving to take notes on everything, but I made an exception for the Opus One.  It was an amazing bottle to share and enjoy.

---

Books: Nearly finished with Believer Beware.

Bottles: Had a bottle of 2008 Chappellet Napa Cabernet last night which was delightful.

Writing: Having fun with a silly short story that is sort of purely for my own amusement and that of my friends.

Guitar: Guitar in shop while I'm in Memphis, though I did play around on my lap steel some in the few days I had at home.

23 January 2012

A Lion Among Men by Gregory Maguire


A Lion Among Men is the third book in Gregory Maguire’s Wicked Years, a re-imagining of the land of Oz first illuminated by L. Frank Baum.  Picking up the story - sort of - where Son of a Witch left off, Lion tells the story of - who else? - the Cowardly Lion, named Brrr by Maguire.
Like Son of a Witch and Wicked before it, I found myself immersed in the story - the world and the characters are compelling, thoroughly absorbing and enjoyable - and yet, this being the third book in the series, I have learned to be somewhat reserved.  Maguire enjoys setting up mysteries and teasing the reader - and I have no problem with that - but the answers are often frustratingly unforthcoming.  Not only that, but it seems with each new book I have to say goodbye to characters I had come to know and meet new ones, only to have those taken away at the end of the story as well.
Perhaps I’m simply expecting the books to be something they’re not; perhaps my mind simply wants the Wicked Years to be more like The Wheel of Time, where characters come and go but always come back again.
I also found Lion somewhat muddier as regards to what the author wanted us to take away from the book, even more-so than Son of a Witch.  I enjoyed the book, and it certainly got me thinking, but unlike Wicked I didn’t come away feeling that my perspectives had truly been challenged or changed.
All that said, I still enjoyed the book, and I look forward to Out of Oz, the next book in the Wicked Years.

---

Books: Reading Believer, Beware, a collection of essays on religion.

Bottles: Oh my, enjoyed two nice bottles in Orlando: Naia 2006 and Bodegas Leda Vina Veijas 2003.

Writing: Toying around with some fun short stories.

Guitar: Been travelling a lot, so the guitar is in the shop for a new tremolo bridge.

05 January 2012

The White Ship by HP Lovecraft


The White Ship by HP Lovecraft
Delving further into Lovecraft’s work, I read his short story “The White Ship”.  It was a stark contrast from the previous two stories I read - “The Call of Cthulhu” and “The Colour Out of Space” - and conveyed an ethereal, dream-like story.
It followed the voyage of a man named Basil Elton through a series of dreamy harbors, past mysterious shores, and eventually to the utter edge of the world, all while aboard The White Ship, captained by a figure known only as the bearded man.
The language of the story bordered on the poetic; it brought to my mind the Elven poems of Tolkien (though perhaps simply because I’m also currently engaged in my annual reading of The Lord of the Rings); he passes misty shores, majestic cities and immense rivers.  The names Lovecraft invokes for the locations - Thalarian, City of a Thousand Wonders; Xura, the Land of Pleasures Unattained; Sona-Nyl, the Land of Fancy - are wildly different from R’lyeh where dead Cthulhu lies dreaming, or Yuggoth where the Mi-Go dwell.  The names in “The White Ship” seem, like the White Ship itself, to float out of a pleasant dream, rather than a nightmare.
I suppose, in a way, it’s difficult to quantify “The White Ship.”  It almost seems like some sort of psychedelic trip - indeed, I imagine it would be quite impressive to read while listening to Dark Side of the Moon.  Actually, everything is good when read while listening to Dark Side of the Moon.  Even so.
Either way, it was a nice reprieve from the grim stories that came before it, and which will no doubt come after it, as I journey through Lovecraft’s works.

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Books: Finished  A Lion Among Men, reading Out of Oz right now, then Ready Player One.

Bottles: Tried a bottle of Bl├╝feld Riesling.  Not bad, but not spectacular.

Writing: Still on hiatus.

Guitar: "A Pocketful of Stones," and soon to be starting a new bar chord exercise, which I sorely need.

02 January 2012

Savigny-les-Beaune Les Montchenevoy Patrick Javillier-Guyot 2002

I enjoyed a bottle of Savigny-les-Beaune Les Montchenevoy Patrick Javillier-Guyot 2002 at a very good restaurant called The Oakroom in Louisville, Kentucky.  It was the first of three bottles that evening, and the only white.

I have a soft spot for white Burgundy, and I thoroughly enjoyed this bottle.  It had a heady nose of honey and surprising notes of mint.  On the tongue, it displayed the buttery feel I have come to know and love from good white Burgundies, with smooth fruits that evolved through sweet and spice into a lingering finish with a strong note of cinnamon.

I shared the bottle with quite a few people, as it turns out - there were 12 of us - os we all got rather less than a full glass, but it was an enjoyable bottle, and I was glad to share it.  It complemented the cheese plate we had quite well, though I was sadly unable to make individual notes on the cheeses.

The dinner was so absorbing that I forgot to record the second bottle - though if memory serves it was a Washington Syrah - but I definitely recorded the last bottle of the evening, 1999 Opus One.  My tasting of that will follow soon.

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Books: Read A Lion Among Men, reading Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim.

Bottles: Bought some recently but haven't drank it.  One prize is a bottle of K Vintners Ovide-en-Cerise 2009.

Writing: Still on break from Into the Shining Sun and getting some great feedback from the people who read the draft.

Guitar: Started looking at "A Pocketful of Stones."