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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!