Sunday, January 17, 2010

Bookmarks -- Water for Elephants

Water for Elephants is a fascinating and exciting novel by Sara Gruen about a 93 (maybe) year old man coming to terms with his age, his forgetful family, and the adventure of a lifetime.

The novel moves back and forth in time between the protagonist's unhappy life in an assisted living facility and his adventure as a circus veterinarian. In the former, he waits none too patiently for his son to pick him up for a trip to the circus as he deals with the various indignities of being where only one person seems to really care about him and where his body and mind are not always in sync. In the latter, we see him drop out of school with graduation only an exam away, join a circus at the height of the Depression, and fall in love with a star performer. Along the way readers are treated to a few sides of history otherwise neglected and a portrait of the elderly that is tender and painful, but always honest, and not overly sentimental. If you feel sadness or exuberance or fear or triumph while reading this book, note that the writer has truly earned those feelings.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Bookmarks -- The Girl With the Long Green Heart

Found this book a few weeks ago browsing Half Price Books, and as a fan of Lawrence Block, I had to have it. Most of what I have read by Block have been mysteries from one of his series characters. I was particularly interested to read something written long before I had become a fan.

The Girl With The Long Green Heart is a fairly standard thriller, and I had much of it figured out before the protagonist, Johnny Hayden. Hayden is a ex-con hoping he can stay straight and work hard enough to buy and manage a rundown roadhouse. He's had a stint in San Quentin and doesn't plan to take any chances going back. That is until a former partner comes to town and offers him a chance to pull a grift that should make him the kind of money he'd need years to save.

I found myself rooting for Johnny, partly because he believes that he's found the woman who is the last piece of his dream, and partly because the guy getting shafted is such a despicable human being. The book may read slow for a few people, because there are plenty of details of the scam (and other sorts of grifts) that may seem tedious. However, I found the intricacies fascinating. Add a few dashes of lust, greed and anger -- emotions that oil the gears of the scam -- and you've got a pretty good story.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Music Notes -- If On A Winter's Night...

One might be tempted to call Sting's If On A Winter's Night... an agnostic's Christmas album, and that isn't far off. However, the project is more of a celebration, in general, of the season of Winter itself, with a few Christmas themed songs as part of the mix. Songs from the Labyrinth drew mostly from the songs of John Dowland, this disc is contains a variety of places and settings for its material, though most of them appear to be ancient. It is listed as a pop album, but it is really more classical.

I enjoyed the two songs based on the metaphor of Christ as a rose, "There is No Rose of Such Virtue" and "Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming," as well as the two opening songs "Gabriel's Message" and "Soul Cake." The opening tunes were catchy and set the theme of the project nicely. I also like Sting's own "The Hounds of Winter." But my favorite tune is "The Burning Babe," a poem by mystic Robert Southwell set to music by Chris Wood. In a stirring anthem, Sting sings of a vision of the baby Jesus who also came to die. Despite the unusual images and theme, this is also one of the most accessible songs on the album.

Sting writes some interesting liner notes for If On A Winter's Night.... Much of these revolve around the recording itself, but he also provides some background on many of the tunes. He also is sure to distance himself from some of the traditions surrounding a few of the songs He may not have needed to do the latter. The songs, like all good music, speak for themselves just fine.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Something to talk about?

I have come to believe that there is something about the mental makeup of most wide receivers that just needs adjustment. I have come to believe it is the most selfish position in the game, and that Americans have helped to create a lot of little Frankenstein's monsters by putting up with their antics, behaviors that for me, are no longer even interesting, and have long hurt not only the game, but sports itself.

I have also found that one of the dumbest arguments in sports -- and it gets bandied about a great deal lately -- is that people like Chad Johnson and Terrell Owens give us something to talk about. I wonder if oncologists says that about cancer: "Sure, it is terrible, but it gives us something to do." Sheesh!

Please note that I refuse to call Mr. Johnson by the name he gave himself. If he needs a nickname, it should be Johnson. And the man-boy Parcells called "The Player" will not have me call him by his initials. Doing so merely helps to legitimize their status as "important" to football. They are not.

But back to the idea these mortals give us something to talk about, which is what I wanted to comment on. I wonder why this argument gets made so frequently, especially by sports "authorities," writers and talk jocks who should know the game better than to rely on such a stupid statement. They all have many things to talk about without giving credence to the idea that these people are interesting. These athletes are only interesting because we continue to pay attention to them. They are like the disturbed little boy on the playground who does idiotic stunts like eat crickets or drops his pants because he wants attention. We outgrow such people and hopefully someone gets them professional help. In the NFL, we give them millions of dollars and all the television time they want.

Rarely do we find players at the wide receiver position that are not convinced that if only the ball came to them every freakin' down that the team would win every game. It isn't a new phenomenon. In fact, I've heard more than a few old quarterbacks say in interviews that so-and-so receiver always believed he was open, no matter how well covered. We see today that if a receiver runs a bad route, the quarterback is to blame, at least as far as the receiver and those in the booth are concerned. (I'm looking at you Roy Williams.)

I'm certainly not saying these guys aren't good athletes. Some of them are great. Some, like Randy Moss, would be truly great if they played for the whole game every game. But being good at what they do isn't really the issue. But maybe it is part of the problem.

In Texas, if you are a good football player, you can do pretty much anything you want. In many places, these guys can do minimally in school and play loose with the law -- as long as they continue to perform on the field. So it should surprise no one that in the most selfish position in the game, we let these mere men do as they please and give them attention, not for their play, but for what some idiots think is what we need to talk about that.

Should a teacher, a fireman, or even an NFL kicker act like these guys, and I bet you won't have a bunch of pundits saying how good it is that they gave everyone something to talk about. If sports is to have any importance beyond mere theatrics, then it is time to give these guys a few more cold shoulders.