Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Lightning Thief

After some prompting from my twelve-year-old daughter, I read the first book of the very successful Percy Jackson series, which is at five volumes and counting.  The best I can say is that it's definitely a book for twelve-year-olds.

Making the obvious comparison to the Harry Potter series, Percy Jackson pales in comparison.  I like the idea of modern-day Greek gods, satyrs, heroes and the like, living in today's world and interacting with humans in the present, but in my opinion there is not enough character and plot development.  The Lightning Thief is a pretty good story, but it's not great literature, whereas I believe Harry Potter is.

Perhaps I'm being too harsh, and should be looking at it through a tween's eyes.  However, I did ask my daughter what she thought about the book, and she's in complete agreement with me.  I was probably worth the read, but I can't see me reading any of the rest of the series.

I'll say two out of five from an adult's perspective, and probably three or four out of five from a pre-teen's point of view.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Where to go if you need a laugh.


I've heard of this site, but never visited there.....before today.

I clicked on a link that took me to a page on the site, and as I looked around I thought, "This can't be real. It's got to be something like The Onion."  But after what I've seen for "Conservative" thought lately, I figured it must be real.  It is pretty funny, though.

Still, perhaps Poe's Law should be expanded to cover sites like this.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Talented Mr. Ripley

Most people will recognize the name from the 1999 film, starring Matt Damon.  However, I am writing about the book the movie was based upon, a psychological thriller published by Patricia Highsmith in 1955.  The Talented Mr. Ripley is the first of five novels written by Highsmith about Ripley's adventures.

Tom Ripley is a con artist of sorts with no career, living in New York City and willing to do anything to spice up his life, even to the point of setting up cons from which he won't even profit, just to relieve his boredom.  Tom is somewhat sophisticated but doesn't have the income to live the lifestyle of the people he socializes with, so he manipulates his acquaintances while he waits for the right thing to come along.

The right thing finally does come along in the appearance of Mr. Greenleaf, a wealthy boat builder whose son, Dickie, is an associate of Ripley.  Dickie has taken his money and monthly stipend and moved to a small coastal Italian village, to paint and live a low-key life, but his father has plans for him to eventually take over the company, which Dickie has no interest in doing.  In desperation, Mr. Greenleaf hires Tom, through a mutual acquaintance, to sail to Italy and try to persuade Dickie to return home.

Tom, desperate to relieve his ennui, gladly takes the offer. Once in Italy, Tom ingratiates himself to Dickie in order to sponge off him.  After a few months of this arrangement, Tom makes an error in judgment regarding Dickie, making Dickie's attitude towards Tom change dramatically.  Sure that Dickie is going to dump him, Tom suddenly decides to kill Dickie while they are on a short boating trip.  Tom scuttles the boat, and realizing how much he resembles Dickie, decides to take on his identity.

What follows is several months of moving across Italy, dodging friends and Dickie's family members so Tom can continue the charade, until one of Dickie's friends finally catches up and is murdered by Tom in order to preserve the hoax. The murder investigation that follows tightens the noose so much that Tom abandons the Dickie masquerade and resumes his Ripley identity.  Eventually, through Tom's machinations, everyone comes to believe that Dickie has perhaps killed his friend and then committed suicide in despair, leaving his estate, through a will Tom forged, completely to Tom.

The book ends with Tom standing on a pier in Greece, paranoid that the police are looking for him everywhere he goes.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Panic Attack

omigod. what’s happening? why is my chest so tight? am I having a heart attack? jesus, I’m sweating. why is my heart pounding so hard? calm down, it’s just anxiety. but what if it’s not? damn, I can’t feel my hands. is my vision getting blurry? god, my heart just skipped. is it still beating? I’m going to pass out. get up! walk around. go outside and get some fresh air. that’s a little better. what if I have a heart attack out here? how long will it take for somebody to find me? breathe deeply. ahhh. I don’t want to go back inside. it’s too hot and close in there. pinch my hands. do I feel anything? maybe a little. is the fog shifting in and out? keep walking, get some circulation going. swing my arms. my throat is dry. need a drink of water. go back inside. drinking fountain. whew! that’s a little better. damn, it’s hot in here. open a window, feel the breeze. sit down. my legs feel funny. are my feet numb? move them around a little. kick one foot with the other to see if I feel anything. there's a hissing sound in my ears. I think I’m going to die. should I have someone call 911? does anybody here know CPR? how long can I live if my heart stops beating? not long enough for the ambulance to get here. calm down! it’s just a panic attack. put your head down for a minute. no, that doesn’t work. it gives me trouble breathing. deep breaths. that’s it. in slowly. hold it for a second. not too long. let it out slowly. jeez. am I getting enough oxygen? can you die from a panic attack? no, if I pass out I’ll automatically breathe, I think. okay, get up and go to the bathroom. get another drink of cold water. sit down and close eyes. chest isn’t so tight. burp. some indigestion. that feels a little better. stomach and chest don’t feel so bad. another sip of water. deep breath. pinch myself. yeah, there’s some feeling there. man, this sucks. all right, I think I’m okay now.

Thank God I don't have these anymore.

Monday, May 10, 2010

To a God Unknown

This lesser-known Steinbeck is one of his earliest works, published in 1933, after taking five years to write.  While not one of his best books, it follows many themes that Steinbeck would use throughout his career: realism, allegory and Monterey County, California.  You might even call To a God Unknown a trial run for Steinbeck's later, greater works.

The story follows Joseph Wayne, a newcomer to Monterey County from New England, who has heard about all the land available for homesteading. After establishing himself there, he convinces his brothers and their families to come to California to claim adjacent land so they can have one large ranch together, instead of trying to scrape a living from the relatively smaller family holdings in Vermont.

There are misgivings when the men find out about the periodic droughts that occasionally plague the area; however, they are quickly forgotten in the first few years of plenty in the valley.  Unfortunately, drought begins shortly after one of the brothers performs an act that seems, to Joseph at least, to precipitate the disaster.  In the end, Joseph provides a sacrifice that he believes brings the rain back.

This novel, like most of Steinbeck's, provides an ending that is a mixed blessing.  As I've stated before, many people find his books depressing, however I take the perspective that frequently the good comes from the bad.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

The Wettest County in the World

This novel, by Matt Bondurant, is a fictionalized account of the lives of his grandfather and two great-uncles during their moonshining days in the twenties and thirties.  As someone who has always been fascinated by this era, I found the book very enjoyable and informative.  Even though the three brothers are technically criminals, it is very hard not to sympathize with them as they deal with poverty, deadly illnesses, drought, road gangs and crooked cops.  The Bondurants make, sell and distribute illegal liquor and deal with their antagonists in their own manner, frequently with violence.  However, they don't go out seeking violence; they only respond to violence with the same.

Bondurant's writing is vivid and clear, although some may not like his style of writing dialogue, much like Cormac McCarthy's.  In my opinion, though, if you can read McCarthy you'll have no problem with Bondurant.