• Category Archives cultural ramblings
  • Books, movies, music…

  • Pigbag? Pigbag!

    I remember, mid-eighties or so, whenever I went into an unfamiliar NYC club, there were a few songs I might hear when walking in that would immediately let me know that it was the right kind of place. One song in particular was ubiquitous, but I never knew the name, haven’t heard it in years — I expected to never find what it was. They just played it on the radio: the band was called Pigbag, and the song: “Papa’s Got a Brand New Pigbag.”

    Happy Thanksgiving, everybody! And may all your dreams come true…

  • Some Recent Books

    The Rook by Daniel O’Malley

    This was the first book by the author of Stiletto (my review here), and set in the same story world: a secret British agency, whose supernaturally gifted and specially-trained agents battle supernatural threats, is itself under attack. The protagonist, Myfawny Thomas, is a low-level member of the agency leadership who wakes up in a park in ominous circumstances, but with no memory of who she is. She never does recover her memory, but a letter in her pocket (written by her “old self”) helps her put her life back together and track down who, or what, is threatening her and the agency. Like the sequel, this was another fast-paced thriller, but it seemed darker, more serious and thriller-like, than Stiletto. I think I liked it better.

    The Testaments by Margaret Atwood

    This is the sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale, which depressed me no end when I read it. I found The Testaments to start the same depressing way — the world that’s built here is not a pleasant or happy one — but the book slowly morphs into an action/suspense/thriller. The first half took a while, but I finished the second half in about a day. I’d recommend this to anyone who liked the first book, or who liked the TV series, or Margaret Atwood’s writing.

  • I Heard You Paint Houses

    We saw The Irishman on Saturday night. More than three hours long, but we (with the exception of my bladder) hardly even noticed — when we got out of the theater we were amazed to find that it was midnight. Great movie.

    The story itself was compelling: Frank Sheeran, aged and living in a nursing home, tells his story through many flashbacks, how he went from trucker, to hit man, to being Jimmy Hoffa’s bodyguard/enforcer, and eventually to being Hoffa’s murderer. A true story, or mostly true — it’s based on a biography of Sheeran, a sort of “as told to” kind of thing written just after his death, and though many of the historic events were real, his involvement in them may have been embellished or fabricated. Compelling, but controversial — let’s just call it “historical fiction.”

    This story was supported by some great acting too: Robert DeNiro as Sheeran, Joe Pesci as his mentor Russel Bufalino, Al Pacino as Jimmy Hoffa, and a bunch of really solid supporting actors. (Frank’s daughter Peggy has a role in the movie, and the actress — Lucy Gallina — who played her as a child looked so familiar… I looked her up, but she’s not been in anything I’ve ever seen. It was also kind of unnerving to see, and hear, these characters: they all seemed weirdly familiar to me, since many of them had backgrounds similar to, and reminded me of, the parents of grade-school friends back in Manalapan.)

    Anyway, two thumbs up. Plan your fluids, but go see this.

  • Vacation Reading

    I picked up two more of Iain M. Banks’s “Culture” novels: Consider Phlebas and Player of Games. CP was the first “Culture” novel, and PoG was also one of the earlier ones. Both were reasonably big books, but I basically inhaled the both of them, hardly even breathing (according to Anne) until they were done. That shouldn’t be too surprising, considering that I was staying in a mountain cabin with three readers and a bunch of books, but they were both captivating and really, really good. Strangely, their reviews, and the blurbs on their backs, were, strictly speaking, accurate, but the stories themselves caught me by surprise — I suppose I expected them to be boring or twee, and they were neither.

  • Readings

    I brought two books along on vacation our travels: Jeffery Pomerantz’s little gem Metadata, and Mountains Piled Upon Mountains, a collections of stories, poems and essays about nature in the Appalachians. I finished Metadata yesterday, which was a quick re-read, and started Mountains last night.

    Whoo, what an intense book! I’ve always found Appalachia — people, places, plants and animals — to be deep: primal, spooky and beautiful. These writers obviously feel the same way, and are more than capable of evoking the feeling in their work. I’ve had to read it in little sections…

    Meantime, my sister-in-law just finished the third book of the Cormoran Strike mystery series (by Robert Galbraith, aka J.K. Rowling). There are four books in the series; I read the first three over the past few weeks and Anne has the fourth on Kindle so I may check it out. It may be a while though, since I burned myself out with the first three: the first two were page-turners, but by the third — which was also a lot creepier than the others — I was spotting some plot formulas and other common bits that kind of detracted from the story, and struggled to finish. Still, they were all pretty good books.

  • Readings

    Posted on by Don

    We went down to visit Ben & Candace in Philly on Monday. We took a walk around Bartram’s Garden, grabbed some lunch downtown, and made our traditional trip to Penn Books — they may not be there much more longer, so it was good to get in one last visit. I got a few SF titles, and already finished one: Jeff VanderMeer’s The Strange Bird. This is another story in the “Borne” universe, and I think it’s by far the best story in that universe, though it probably can’t stand on its own – it needs those other stories to make sense. Still, it’s got my recommendation.

    Last night was a poetry reading at the library: a public reading of Leaves of Grass in honor of Walt Whitman’s birthday. Anne read a poem, as did our friends Matt (poet/librarian), and Sarah, and many others. Very fun!

  • Readings: Mr. Shivers

    Another book from the library; I finished this one a week or so ago. This was by Robert Jackson Bennet, the same guy who wrote Foundryside, but it was a very different book: set in an almost post-apocalyptic, Depression/Dustbowl-era America, it’s the tale of strangers who join together to hunt down a killer. It’s full of stories within stories, as they, and the people they meet, tell their tales — very Americana Gothic, with a bit of Cormac McCarthy thrown in.

    There’s an element of fantasy, or the supernatural, thrown in just at the very end, and I think it actually detracts from the story, but not enough to ruin it. I really liked this, it was world-building as historical fiction, and world-building at its best.

  • Playing Catch-up: Reading

    I haven’t posted much lately about what I’m reading. That may be because my recent reading list has not been especially interesting, but there were a few gems in there:

    • Pastoralia, by George Saunders: I got this while we were in Vermont, but I had to put it down for a bit, it was just too intense and disturbing. It’s from about 2000 and is basically a bunch of short stories, one of them more like a novella, that start out in the stressed-out mundane but then take a turn into surrealism or horror. Really good, very intense; not for reading just before bed.
    • Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Phillip K. Dick: Another vacation purchase, but I finished it while we were away. A fast read, and the inspiration for “Blade Runner” (though it was very, and surprisingly different), this was the story of yet another dystopia, and though parts seemed hokey and dated, the story stuck with me.
    • The War of the Gods, by Poul Anderson: Not a gem. I got this at the library and am almost done, and I can’t wait for it to be finished. It’s supposed to be a retelling of some Norse saga, but it manages to be incredibly tedious. The book is also inconsistent: it drags out, for pages on pages, with some things that should have been covered in a paragraph, then cuts some crucial scenes, down to a sentence or two, that would have been been better served by a few pages of elaboration. I’m now down to about 30 pages and will finish, but it’ll be a chore.
    • Foundryside, by Robert Jackson Bennet: I’m just starting with this one, and it seems OK so far though it reads like YA literature. At least it’s not a chore…

  • At The Library

    Posted on by Don

    I’m blogging from the library right now, where some doofus keeps making noise by moving his chair and bumping into the heat vents, another keeps coughing, and there’s a constant chatter from somewhere near the front. Whatever happened to quiet??

    Meantime, my book quest continues. I got a recommendation for local author Carmen Machado, but the library doesn’t have her, so I picked up War of the Gods by Poul Anderson and Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett; neither book is on my “recommended” list, but both authors have books on the list, so I guess that’s close enough… By the way I returned Surface Detail today, mostly unread.

  • Readings

    I’ve been on another sci-fi binge lately, going through the “suggested reading” list I keep on my phone, and getting what books I can from the library (or, failing that, checking out books by the same authors). So far it’s worked out pretty well:

    First on my list was Daniel O’Brian’s Stiletto, which read like a more comic version of China Mieville, or a supernatural detective/spy thriller, or even a “buddy movie” kind of story: a quick, fun, “chewing gum for the brain” kind of read. (“Fast-paced romp” is also a phrase that comes to mind, and I might have even seen it on the book jacket.) It’s a sequel, which I didn’t know, and it seemed a disappointment to reviewers who read the first book; maybe that means I have another, even better book on my radar.

    My next recommendations were books by the author Iain M. Banks. The library did not have any of the specific books recommended to me, but I found a few others (Transition, Look to Windward, and Matter) and really liked them.

    I am now reading his Surface Detail, and unfortunately I don’t like it nearly as much as the others. Some of this may be that I read so many of his books at once that they became too much of a good thing, or maybe it’s just that some of the premises of this book are annoying — the story involves people whose personalities have been posthumously uploaded into a digital afterlife, including punishment in a digital “Hell,” and I have never been able to suspend my disbelief that a copy of someone, no matter who it thinks it is, is the original person: the transporter on Star Trek is a killing machine, and Roko’s Basilisk is a meaningless thought exercise. Surface Detail does seem to have a theme, or motif, of people being punished for the crimes of others, so I still have to see where this all goes.

    I’ve also been doing a bit of nonfiction, including a bit of local history as well as some STEM things (data science, etc), though these have been dryer and less interesting than I expected. All in all though, it’s all been better than the hate-read of H.P. Lovecraft’s collected works I put myself through last month.