July 31, 2005

Thank you, thank you!

Not only do I start my two-week vacation today, but this is my 100th post on this blog.


Next stop Cape Cahd and all the lobstah and chowdah we can eat.

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July 29, 2005

You say Mulatto, I say Mosquito, We Both Say Libido,

I take back everything I ever said about Paul Anka that wasn't, "This guy swings...hard."

Rock Swings

I know I'm late to the party, but remember that I live in a bunker in an undisclosed location. Thanks to Lou for turning me on to this one.

If you haven't yet heard this, it ain't a joke. Swing arrangements of 80s pop tunes, including Smells Like Teen Spirit, Jump, and my personal fave, Wonderwall.
Okay and Black Hole Sun is pretty great, too.

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July 28, 2005


I have been reading the new Harry Potter book to my kids (although Emma has been reading ahead on her own), and last week finished it so that I could be prepared for things that might cause nightmares in my six year-old.

And I have to say, that (more after the jump, with spoilers)--

For the sake of my kids, who really love these books, I'm less worried about (or impressed with) the death of a major character and how they're going to take it, than I'm disappointed by the way in which Rowling is continuing to narrow the narrative focus of the book in a way which is creating diminishing returns for the reader and is contradicting the overall message of the book, which is that heroes are made, not born.

Also, is it just me, or does this feel like the first half of the next (and last) book, not a stand-alone story of its own which also serves to advance the larger conflict? The story doesn't really end, the book does. And without the closure which (while tedious for me) children really crave.

At this point, the story is down to Harry and how he's going to save the world by killing his opposite, Voldemort. Pretty much every other character is reduced to comic relief or texture, and much of that is provided by echoing business from previous books.

She seems to feel that only Harry is ultimately important enough for the readers to care about, to the extent that other characters in the books seem to have noticed the same fact. Nothing's sadder than a sidekick who knows that they're a sidekick.

Besides which, Rowling has abandoned what I thought was her most daring gambit of the last couple of books, that of making Harry less-tnan-appealing as puberty overtook him. It was pretty brave (I thought) to have your hero acting like a "right prat" and it was the thing that created the most sympathy from someone like me, who remembers exactly that loss of self-control.

But now it's everyone else's fault that he needs to be a dick. He's the only one who knows the truth and instead of keeping it a secret, he does what everyone has told him to do throughout previous books--he tells them and they still don't believe him. This really undermines the credibility of such characters as the reliable Hagrid or McGonnagall.

But worst of all, is what I would call the "Eszterhas Syndrome". Joe Eszterhas is, of course, the screenwriter of such gems as "Basic Instinct", "Showgirls" and "Jagged Edge". The syndrome is represented by "thrillers" whose plot goes along this arc as it unfolds:

1. Oh, she did it.
2. Did she do it?
3. Did she do it?
4. She did it.
5. She did it.
6. Did she do it?
7. Hey! She did it.

In the Potter books it's of course the story of Snape which has been going along these lines through these six books. Harry and his friends are sure that Snape is a bad guy. The professors are convinced that, as much as they dislike him, that he's trying to help defeat Voldemort. And every time Harry thinks he's about to get proof that Snape is actually evil, he turns around and does something almost heroic. Well, that is, up until this book where you find out that Snape really is evil.

This was the place where I was holding out hope that Rowling was going for something a little more interesting. I mean, think of how hard it would be for Harry to have to accept Snape as ally or even hero--but if she had pulled it off it would have been a depiction of real growth and maturity. Instead, she's given Harry permission to continue to hate Snape.

Now, it's possible that Rowling is saving up some kind of reverse on this in book 7 where it turns out that he was just doing Dumbledore's bidding after all, but it's going to be a pretty hard sell for the average six year old. And of course, if it turns out that Dumby isn't really dead, well, that's pretty suck-ass, in terms of copping out on how serious the threat of Voldemort really is.

Unbelievable, that I'm spending so many precious minutes thinking about this book, but I want my kids to have the same kind of complex relationship to literature that I enjoyed as a child and these books are touchstones for their generation. I just wish they were better.

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July 11, 2005

Some love for the "'47ers"

My pal Kim's pet project The 1947 Project which stretches the notion of blogging into new, cool spaces, is getting some love on the LAist today.

Nice job, Kim. When are we going for soup dumplings? I'm hungry.

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July 08, 2005

No more 87th Precinct

Ed McBain has died.

Read tributes on Sarah Weinman's blog.

McBain was a penname for Evan Hunter who published many other types of fiction over more than half a century, including The Blackboard Jungle which was always so much cooler than either Up the Down Staircase or To Sir with Love.

But it was for the 87th Precinct novels that Hunter will be best known. The series was the archetypal police procedural, and it's impossible to imagine Hill Street Blues or NYPD Blue without Steve Carella and Meyer Meyer and the 87th Precinct guys to lead the way.

I had the honor of translating one of the later McBain books called Eight Black Horses into German back when I lived in Berlin and in the weeks I spent tearing the book apart to find the right way to help German readers experience the story the way a native American speaker would---well, it was a great education in how a crime novel gets constructed. If you've never read McBain, do yourself a favor and pick up a few of them. Try some of the classics such as "Like Love" or "Let's Hear it for the Deaf Man" or "Heat" or "Hail, Hail the Gang's All Here".

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McBain Tributes

Thanks to the bug in Moveable Type, I can't seem to make my posts very long.

Read tributes to Ed McBain by some mystery greats like Crider and Gorman on Sarah Weinman's blog.

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July 05, 2005

"I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!"


Michael was kind enough to invite me along to a friend's house for a poker tourney (just Texas Hold 'Em) over the weekend. And it was a fine evening featuring a nice bunch of guys smoking an impossible number of cigars in an undisclosed location (it was far and they have a different area code, beyond this I'm not sure where we were).

And amazingly, I won. Note that much of that fan of bills is ones. Went to Trader Joe's the next day to pick up a few things for the 4th and left nearly the whole bundle there.

It was nice to not be dead money. I played really tight and went all in only once, but it was at the right time.

Thanks, Brad, for a great time!

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July 01, 2005

Sweet Jesus, I Laughed! So will you.

Kottke had the link to these reimagined romance novel covers...

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