29 April 2014

Columbine by Dave Cullen

Columbine was riveting.  I don’t think I’ve ever felt that about a nonfiction before.  I had a hard time putting Columbine down.

Somehow, Dave Cullen made the book compelling, despite the fact that we all knew how it was going to end.  Indeed, he made the smart choice of depicting the actual attack on Columbine High School in the first third of the book; the rest was taken up with the lead-up, the aftermath, and, above all, the search for the reason why.

I was a freshman in high school when the events of Columbine took place.  I remember the security at our school increasing significantly over the course of a week.  I remember “zero tolerance” policies springing up.  I don’t remember the media coverage that Cullen depicts; I don’t remember ever hearing the theories about motive.  In my mind it had always been a crazy act committed by crazy students.  Strange that my na├»ve perceptions ended up being so close to the truth.

Columbine did an excellent job humanizing all the players in the event, from the victims and families to the investigators to, most surprisingly, the killers themselves.  Cullen was able to synthesize a lot of material that was released years after the murders and paint a fairly compelling picture of the two: Eric Harris, a young psychopath, and Dylan Klebold, a young depressive.

I struggled with depression myself in high school, so I definitely had empathy for Dylan Klebold.  It was disturbing to read as Cullen laid out the path that the killers followed on the road to mass murder.  At every step, I wanted the killers to turn away and find another route.  But of course, this wasn’t fiction, and the ending was already written.

The stories of the victims - and the survivors - received no less attention.  Cullen was especially careful to highlight the story of Dave Sanders, the only teacher to die in the attack, and his widow, struggling with her own unique pain in the aftermath.  

I picked up Columbine after seeing it mentioned on Janet Reid’s blog in a four-year-old post I somehow got linked to.  I doubt I would have found it otherwise; it’s not something I have given much thought to over the years.  I’m glad I did, though.  It was a rewarding read and a great book.

Apparently there is a paperback version with an afterword about forgiveness, which I will have to see if I can find some time; I read the hard cover.


Books: Finished The Death Cure, and I am a few pages short of finishing Why Buildings Fall Down.  About to start on The Covenant of Primus (yes, I am a huge Transformers nerd) and then The Kill Order, a prequel to The Maze Runner.

Bottles: Shared a bottle of Saxum 2008 James Berry Vineyard again!  AMAZING!  Also Dashe 2012 Late Harvest Zinfandel.

Writing: Nearing the 20% completion mark of the digital edit.

Guitar: Today should see the start of a new project.  Maybe the acoustic version of "Everything is Awesome" from the LEGO Movie soundtrack?  That would be fun.

25 April 2014

Graffito Malbec 2011

Graffito’s Malbec came to me from my wine club membership at The Cellar Rat.  I fell in love with Argentine malbec early on in my wine life, an infatuation that lasted the first year or so, and then I burned out on it.  Too many of them were too similar, and as I was getting progressively more and more disappointed with Argentine Malbec, I was becoming more and more enamored of Washington Syrahs and Napa Cabernets.

Then Graffito came along and reminded me why I love Malbec.

It’s a deep plum color, with great body to it.  The nose was mild and had traces of cedar and subtle spice, a far cry from the cloying fruit of the Malbecs I had become tired of.

The taste was still fruity, but it wasn’t overwhelming.  The fruit was secondary to the refined tannins and sharp acidity.  It had excellent balance and surprising complexity.  I wonder what the wine will be like in five years, or ten?  If I can find more bottles I will pick them up and see.  They are very reasonably priced, too - about $15 a bottle.

I’m going to have to take a second look at Malbec, staying away from the mass-produced ones and seeking out smaller producers like Graffito.  It’s been a long time, but I’m glad I rediscovered my old friend.


Books: Almost done with Why Buildings Fall Down.  Also reading The Death Cure.

Bottles: Continuum 2011, Papillon 2008 in magnum, Bodegas Ordonez Tineta Avante Ribera del Duero Tempranillo 2011, Nisia Verdejo 2012.

Writing: 70 pages in to the entering the edits on computer, and also finding better ideas even as I do so.  I think the first half of the edit is going to go a little slower as I was a little more hesitant to make big changes.  I was a lot more hack-and-slash with the second half and I think it's stronger for it.  But once I finish, I both halves should be in good shape.

Guitar: "Comfortably Numb" from PULSE.  Still.  It's a big project.

17 April 2014

Paddle Your Own Canoe by Nick Offerman

A bit of background: I actually had no idea this book existed until I won it at a White Elephant gift exchange this past Christmas.

I have enjoyed Nick Offerman’s work on Parks and Recreation ever since the series began airing - indeed, he might be my favorite character.  He is quite simply one of the most quotable characters I have ever encountered, and Offerman’s delivery is perfect.  I even have a Swanson Pyramid of Greatness above my desk at work to help me achieve maximum success.

Even so, I hadn’t caught very much of Offerman’s work in any other series or films.  I recall seeing him here and there, but none of the roles were as remarkable as Ron Swanson.

I went in to Paddle Your Own Canoe expecting a fair dose of Swanson-ness in it, and I was not disappointed.  It seems the writers of Parks and Recreation must have borrowed some of Offerman’s traits in writing his character.  However, he reveals much more depth in his book.

Part memoir and part comedy, I suppose, Paddle was a fun read, though not necessarily engrossing.  That’s okay - I very rarely get engrossed in non-fiction.  Though it was not engrossing, it was definitely engaging, and I laughed aloud in many parts.

One of the most delightful elements of Paddle is Offerman’s vernacular - he has a unique voice, well beyond that employed by Ron Swanson (though similar in delivery), and his ways of turning phrases continued to surprise and please me.  He’s led an interesting life, full of ups and downs, lessons learned, battles won and lost, and he seemed unafraid of sharing that with his readers.

He’s particularly enthusiastic about his wife, actress Megan Mullally (most famous for Will and Grace, but most famous to me for playing Tammy 2, Ron Swanson’s second (and third)  ex-wife, on Parks and Recreation).  He waxes both poetic and, at times, slightly vulgar about her, which is somehow endearing.  Clearly he’s still crazy about her.

So what is the book about?  I’m not so sure, really.  I don’t know that it presented a central thesis - certainly not one I could understand.  It seemed to be more a collection of Mr. Offerman’s musings on the good life.  He has a lot to offer in that department - the feeling of accomplishment that comes from creating things with your own hands, the splendor of nature, the value of family.  He’s surprisingly down-to-earth, as well, which becomes much less surprising after learning that he was raised in the Midwest.

I enjoyed Paddle Your Own Canoe.  As memoirs go, it was enlightening and entertaining; and as comedy goes, it’s a riot.


Books: Still on Why Buildings Fall Down.  Getting close to finishing.  Nothing else is in from the library yet; I'm waiting on Love Letters to the Dead, The Death Cure, The Silkworm, and Red Planet. No idea when those will happen.  I will probably go through some more Echoes of All Our Conversations while waiting, will which actually be good.

Bottles: I pick up two more tonight.  In addition, I get to do a tasting with Anne Dashe of Dashe Cellars!

Writing: Chapter three of typing in my edits.  Had an epiphany about a scene that had been troubling me.  I think it will work MUCH better now.

Guitar: "Comfortably Numb" still.

13 April 2014

Dashe Late Harvest Zinfandel 2007 - Revisited

This was my last bottle of Dashe’s 2007 Late Harvest Zinfandel, my favorite dessert wine.  You can see my previous reflections on it here.

Age has done it well - it was even more concentrated and inky, with potent berries shining through ever more strongly.  What was most striking to me was the cork, actually - it looked like some of the sugars had crystallized on the bottom, and the whole thing was almost black.  Truly an amazing wine.


Books: Still reading Why Buildings Fall Down.

Bottles: None lately.

Writing: Editing madness!

Guitar: "Comfortably Numb" madness!

08 April 2014

The Maze Runner by James Dashner

I came across mention of The Maze Runner in a reference from Veronica Roth’s blog, and thought it was worth checking out.

It’s another dystopian young adult novel, and a little research revealed it’s being adapted into a movie for release this year, so I’m glad I came across it now - I like to read the book before seeing the movie.

I thought it was a good book - full of suspense, a mystery to be solved, a great cast of characters - but it was not great.

One of the things I found lacking in the book was answers.  Mystery is central to the book - who are these kids, and how did they get into the Glade - but answers were, so often, too slow in coming.  I was reminded of Buster’s description of his mother, Lucille, in the brilliant Arrested Development: “It’s like she gets off on being withholding.”  That’s how I kind of felt about the plot and the author.

The world was beautifully realized, and yet at a certain point I got angry at it.  I was tired of not knowing.

Part of that was useful for character development - after all, they didn’t know where they were anymore than I did - but it dragged out too long for me.

Another problem I had with it was the protagonist, Thomas.  It seemed to me that most of the choices he faced were decided not by conviction but necessity.  Only once - maybe twice - did he make a choice where I felt like I truly got to understand who he was.  Every other time, the choice he made was simply the only viable option.  If the only alternative is death, that’s not really much of a choice, is it?

It felt like the story was on rails for the whole second half, with events proceeding the only way they possibly could.  No other outcome seemed possible.

The Maze Runner also lacked the strong moral grounding that I find so compelling in dystopian young adult.  It was certainly there, but because we didn’t know what was truly happening in the world - and because our heroes choices were so forced - I felt like there was little room, or cause, to examine the moral underpinnings of those choices.  Yes, what was happening was terrible, but without really knowing why - without the protagonist knowing why - there’s no time to question what was going on, and whether Thomas’s actions were good or bad.

Lastly, and perhaps most disappointingly, I felt like The Maze Runner was tragically lacking in subtext.  One of my professors once told me the best scenes are those which aren’t really about what they’re about.  Hmm...that notion is much harder to write than it is to say aloud.

Despite all this, I liked The Maze Runner, but I liked it in the way I liked Dan Brown’s Inferno - kind of a cheap thrill.  I liked the characters and the world, and I’d be willing to visit again, but they didn't haunt me in the way that a really good read does.  Even so, I've already requested the sequel from the library.


Books: Time flies, I guess.  Since writing this review I have in fact already read the sequel, The Scorch Trials, and am now reading Why Buildings Fall Down.  Kansas City has apparently had two famous architectural collapses - Kemper Arena and the Hyatt.  Who knew?  Maybe even more will be revealed.  I'm not very far in the book yet.

Bottles: Graffito Malbec and Casa Silva Carmenere.  Very interesting wines.

Writing: Working on a complete rewrite of the new Chapter One (formerly Chapter Two) after giving the former Chapter One the axe as it was a ridiculous info dump that I added because I was worried readers wouldn't get what was going on.  So now the old Chapter One has become the new Chapter One all over again.

Guitar: Still working "Comfortably Numb."

04 April 2014

1983 Chateau Margaux

Oh. My. God. 

So, 360 Bistro allows corkage, and there was a small group dining a few tables away from us who brought four (!) bottles of first-growth Bordeaux of various vintages to their dinner.  They were kind enough to share tastes with Justin, 360 Bistro’s Sommelier.  Justin was, in turn, kind enough to share a taste with me and my friends.  We had enjoyed conversation about our wine passions while tasting Tor’s Beckstoffer To Kalon.

The Margaux had been open for several hours.  Justin poured it into the glass through a cheese cloth, it had so much sediment - though I told him, point blank, “I will drink anything that comes out of that bottle.”

It smelled like a farm.  The most delicious farm ever.  So much oak, so much earth.  It was like stepping into a French vineyard.  At least, my dream version of a French vineyard.  I’ve never been, but I hope to make it some day.

I sniffed, and sniffed, and sniffed.  We passed the glass around, drinking in the nose.  It was hard to take that sip - I didn’t want the wine to be gone - but I did.

I didn’t want to swallow, just keep it on my tongue forever.

Licorice, tobacco, earth - so many flavors I couldn’t track them all.  And yet, there was fruit, lurking in the shadows.  It made me think of figs - forceful, robust, but juicy and a little bit sweet, too.

It transported me.  We took turns taking the smallest sips we could, until it was all gone.

This was my first-ever sample of first growth Bordeaux, as well as my first taste of a wine that was older than I am - I was born in 1984.

To paraphrase Tolkien:

The world is changed.
I feel it in the water.
I feel it in the earth.
I smell it in the air.

Spoken by Galadriel in the films, though taken from something Treebeard said in the book of The Return of the King.  It’s the first thing that came to mind after I tasted the wine.

I rarely post pictures of myself, but here you can see how happy I am, with the bottle.

Yes, I do look demented.  That's how amazing it was.


Books: Finished Dave Cullen's Columbine and starting on The Scorch Trials.

Bottles: Graffito, an Argentine malbec.

Writing: Finished the paper edit!  Time to get typing!

Guitar: More "Comfortably Numb."