Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Obit watch: January 30, 2015.

Friday, January 30th, 2015

Colleen McCullough, author (“The Thorn Birds”). A/V Club.

Rod McKuen, poet. A/V Club.

Obit watch: January 26, 2015.

Monday, January 26th, 2015

Alice K. Turner, fiction editor of Playboy.

I know the joke: “I just read it for the articles”. But as fiction editor, Ms. Turner was hugely influential:

Ms. Turner helped keep literary short fiction on life support in the late 20th century, when few other publishers would or could. And writers like Terry Bisson, Ursula K. Le Guin, Joyce Carol Oates, Bob Shacochis, Robert Silverberg, Dan Simmons, John Updike and David Foster Wallace were not shy about having their words abut illustrations of naked women.

I was tied up most of the weekend, so for the record:

Joe Franklin
.

Edgar Froese, founding member of Tangerine Dream. How about a little musical interlude?

And Ernie Banks. Related.

You know, I have a good feeling about the Cubs this year. I think they’re going to do the memory of Mr. Banks proud. As a matter of fact, I think there’s a good chance they will win the World Series this year.

Obit watch: January 22, 2015.

Thursday, January 22nd, 2015

John Bayley, literary critic and husband of Iris Murdoch. Bayley wrote Elegy for Iris about his life with Murdoch and her decline from Alzheimer’s disease.

Alan J. Hirschfield, former president of Columbia Pictures.

Hirschfield was the studio president during the David Begelman affair, and is one of the central figures in David McClintick’s excellent book Indecent Exposure.

TMQ Watch: January 20, 2015.

Wednesday, January 21st, 2015

We’re grumpy. Apparently, this is a day ending in “Y”. Let’s just jump right into this week’s TMQ

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Obit watch: January 12, 2015.

Monday, January 12th, 2015

Robert Stone, noted novelist (“Dog Soldiers”, “A Flag For Sunrise”).

Anita Ekberg.

Enough said.

Obit watch: January 9, 2015.

Friday, January 9th, 2015

Jethro Pugh, former player for the Dallas Cowboys.

No. 75 became a fixture in the Cowboys’ defensive line, playing for 14 seasons, from 1965-78. Only three players had a longer run with the Cowboys than Pugh. The defensive tackle finished with 95.5 sacks for his career and led the team in that statistic for five consecutive seasons (’68-72) before it became an official category.

And yes, he did play in the Ice Bowl.

I missed this one, so I’ll direct you over to Lawrence for Lee Israel.

“a pernicious confirmation of the values of a morally bankrupt middle class.”

Friday, January 2nd, 2015

Confession: I have not read all of this yet, but I am linking it here. I think some people will be interested in it.

New Yorker discussion of Michael Moorcock, “The Anti-Tolkien”. The title of this post is a direct quote from Moorcock, as is this:

“I think of myself as a bad writer with big ideas, but I’d rather be that than a big writer with bad ideas.”

Christmas thoughts.

Wednesday, December 24th, 2014

Before I went to sleep last night, I spent some time with an old friend: Robert Ruark.

He wrote memorably and well about Christmas. I like something he said, in one of the “Old Man and the Boy” essays, about the smell of Christmas:

The old-fashioned Christmas smell was predominantly that of crushed evergreens against the constant resiny scent of a snapping fire. One was a cool, smell, the other hot, but both joined forces in delightful companionship. This aromatic back drop was overlaid by the heady odors that drifted from the kitchen, the sage which went into the turkey stuffing predominating.
The whole was tinctured with spices and by alcohol, because brandies and wines were lavishly used in the preparation of sauces and in building the fruit cakes. There was, as well, an infusion of tropical scent, as the infrequent Christmas citrus fruits the opulent golden oranges added an oily sharpness to the mixture. This was counterbalanced by the clean, cidery bite of the hard, white-fleshed, scarlet apples. Bright Christmas candies the clover-shaped and heart-shaped sugary ones you never saw at any other time of the year and the striped hard ones with the soft centers helped the greasy Brazil nuts along, as did the winy aroma of the great clusters of raisins, sugary-sticky to the touch. The spices that went into the eggnog or the hot Tom and Jerrys stood off the warm friendship of the rum that gave character to the cream.

It’s almost like being there. Ruark had been dead for several years when I was a boy, but I remember similar Christmas smells; maybe not as many, or as strong, but I do remember them from my childhood. I never really got the taste for raisins, but we always had the Christmas Hershey’s Kisses; somehow, I remember them tasting better than they do now.

These days, people buy chemicals in a bottle and call that the smell of Christmas.

Maybe it isn’t all bad: today, the Old Man probably would have lived another ten or twenty years. I wonder if the Old Man would have thought it was worth the trade, though.

(The quote above is from a not-terribly-well OCRed version of The Old Man’s Boy Grows Older at archive.org. Here’s another one for you, if you’ll hold still for it, though it doesn’t have much to do with Christmas:

Perhaps I am not very clear here, but what I am getting at is that my teen-age group possessed, legally, all the death-dealing, injury-wielding weapons that are now owned clandestinely by the “bad” kids. There was a certain pride in being trusted. My cousins and friends and I used to go off on a Saturday picnic into the local wilds with enough armament to conquer the county rifles, shotguns, knives, scout axes and were not regarded as a serious menace to the community. Or to each other.

)

Like an oncoming train.

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2014

Christmas is coming. But you don’t have a lot of time to shop and get physical objects delivered.

What to do? What. To. Do.

Well, if the object of gift giving has a Kindle or something like it, ebooks make fine gifts. And they can be delivered, even on Christmas morning.

I just finished, and enthusiastically recommend, Brian Krebs’ Spam Nation: The Inside Story of Organized Cybercrime-from Global Epidemic to Your Front Door. It isn’t quite the general book about spam I was expecting. His Krebsness is mostly writing about the Russian pharmacy spam gangs and their internecine warfare. There’s a lot of good stuff in Spam Nation; I’d recommend it for anyone in your life who has a interest in computers, computer security, or spam.

Another book that I really enjoyed this year is Amy Alkon’s Good Manners for Nice People Who Sometimes Say F*ck, an etiquette guide for the modern age. Much of her advice is based on the latest developments in cognitive science, too, so it isn’t just a list of arbitrary rules. Also enthusiastically recommended, for just about everyone. (With the possible exception of very small children. But if you have a late pre-teen or teenager on your list, I think they could get a lot out of this.)

Merry Christmas to me! (Part 2)

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2014

I like Joe R. Lansdale.

I like free stuff.

Joe’s Bullets and Fire is available for free on the Kindle.

(Hattip: Mike the Musicologist. Stuff from Joel’s Classical Shop makes swell gifts this time of year. And remember, the Twelve Days of Christmas begin on December 25th, and don’t end until January 6th. So you’ve got plenty of shopping days left!)

Merry Christmas to me!

Monday, December 22nd, 2014

I’m actually starting to get into the spirit of the season, believe it or not.

Part of the reason is that I got an early sort-of-but-not-really “Christmas present” over the weekend, which will be blogged in due time.

And then there’s this, which I think is really cool:

…mathematicians have made the first substantial progress in 76 years on the reverse question: How far apart can consecutive primes be? The average spacing between primes approaches infinity as you travel up the number line, but in any finite list of numbers, the biggest prime gap could be much larger than the average. No one has been able to establish how large these gaps can be.

Besides the fact that I have an amateur interest in prime numbers, this is also a famous Paul Erdős problem.

Even cooler: one of the guys who solved this problem, Terence Tao, has a direct connection to Erdős:

In 1985, Tao, then a 10-year-old prodigy, met Erdős at a math event. “He treated me as an equal,” recalled Tao, who in 2006 won a Fields Medal, widely seen as the highest honor in mathematics. “He talked very serious mathematics to me.” This is the first Erdős prize problem Tao has been able to solve, he said. “So that’s kind of cool.”

(Someone on my Christmas list is getting this as part of their present; I’ll let you know how that goes over.)

Random notes: December 9, 2014.

Tuesday, December 9th, 2014

I’ve emailed the two candidates in my Austin council district and the two that are running for mayor, inquiring about their positions on Art Acevedo. So far, I have not received an answer from any of them.

As a Libertarian, I am generally opposed to foreign military intervention, absent a direct threat to the United States. I am not convinced that it is our job to impose democracy on foreign countries.

However, if we are going to overthrow a totalitarian regime and bring about democracy, can we start here?

Obit watch: Ernest Brace. He was a civilian pilot working for the CIA in Vietnam; in 1965 he was captured by the enemy and spent nearly eight years in North Vietnamese prisons. John McCain was in the cell next to him.

I sent this to Weer’d for the “Gun Death” files, but it seems worthy of note here: Japanese “Black Widow”.

According to the police and news media reports, Mr. Kakehi was just one of six outwardly healthy elderly men who died abruptly over the last eight years after marrying or starting romantic relationships with Ms. Kakehi.

Anyone want to guess what she didn’t use to (allegedly) kill these men? Anyone? Bueller?

Also among the dead: Nathaniel Branden, “writer Ayn Rand’s former devotee, lover and intellectual heir”. I know this is a few days old, but I’ve been waiting for an obituary to be published in a reputable source that I’m willing to link to. (Edited to add: NYT obit.)

Jonathan Yardley has retired from the WP. His last piece was published this past weekend.

I wanted to make note of his retirement here because I liked Yardley’s writing very much. In particular, he was responsible for one of my favorite things ever done by a book critic: “Second Reading”, where he went back and reconsidered books he’d previously read. And he wasn’t a snob: he’d go back and re-read a classic like “Gatsby”, but he also covered Hunter S. Thompson, John D. MacDonald, Josephine Tey, and Charles Willeford. There is a very good book, Second Reading, that collects about half of these columns; the other half are available in various places on the web, or you can search the WP website. (I think the Post’s tagging of Yardley’s columns is a bit inconsistent, though.)

God bless you, Mr. Yardley. May you enjoy your retirement. And if you’re reading this and happen to find someone whose work you enjoy as much as MacDonald’s, would you drop me a line?