Saturday, September 20, 2014

Falconer


Falconer is a 1977 novel by John Cheever, better known for his short stories. This is a story of each of us: of our wrongdoings, our punishments, and of how we cope with life.

from the back of the book:
Stunning and brutally powerful, Falconer tells the story of a man named Farragut, his crime and punishment, and his struggle to remain a man in a universe bent on beating him back into childhood. Only John Cheever could deliver these grand themes with the irony, unforced eloquence, and exhilarating humor that make Falconer such a triumphant work of the moral imagination.
Music is mentioned several times. People sing pieces of blues and bluegrass tunes a few times. There's mention of the main character hearing a piano being played, "the dreariest of the Chopin preludes -that prelude they use in murder films before the shot is fired...".

Favorite quotes:
"There is nothing on earth as cruel as a rotten marriage."
For Farragut the word "mother" evoked the image of a woman pumping gas, curtsying at the Assemblies and banging a lectern with her gavel. This confused him and he would blame his confusion on the fine arts, on Degas. There is a Degas painting of a woman with a bowl of chrysanthemums that had come to represent to Farragut the great serenity of "mother." The world kept urging him to match his own mother, a famous arsonist, snob, gas pumper and wing shot, against the image of the stranger with her autumnal and bitter-smelling flowers. Why had the universe encouraged this gap? Why had he been encouraged to cultivate so broad a border of sorrow?
I got to thinking about what works of art bring my mother to mind and what works of art evoke for me the concept of "mother". I can't think of a single famous painting that does either of these things for me. When I think of my mother, all kinds of images spring up of times when I was little (in the kitchen, in the backyard, on camping trips), times my kids were little (with her playing with them in the floor or her backyard or going with us to parks or museums), and -more painfully- these later years that were so hard for her. I don't have a painting that represents "mother" for me. There's too much packed into the word for that.

And another quote that struck me:
Farragut could see waves breaking on a white beach and the streets of a village and the trees of a forest, but why did they all stay in one room, quarreling, when they could walk to a store or eat a picnic in the woods or go for a swim in the sea? They were free to do all of this. Why did they stay indoors? Why didn't they hear the sea calling to them as Farragut heard it calling, imagine the clearness of the brine as it fanned out over the beautiful pebbles?
And this one:
He had never, that he remembered, been carried before.
Reading a book with other people, I can find out how certain parts strike others. Reading alone, I wonder if it's just me or if everyone reads a quote as I do.

It is on Time's list of "the 100 best English-language novels published since 1923," where they describe it as "A story of suffering and redemption, told in Cheever’s fullest register." Kirkus Reviews calls it "a statement of the human condition, a parable of salvation."

Friday, September 19, 2014

The Sculpture Garden at the Memphis Botanic Garden


The Sculpture Garden at the Memphis Botanic Garden was added in 1968 and has been recently renovated. You encounter this area as you leave the Visitor Center and enter the grounds.




The area is visible from the cafe patio, too. There are sculptures throughout the larger garden, but this small dedicated area is striking.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Maskerade


Maskerade is #18 in the Terry Pratchett Discworld series. This one features the witches. I started by reading these in publication order, but I've given that up. Now I buy them when I see them and read them in whatever order they come to me. This one is laugh-out-loud funny. I want to read it aloud to somebody, but nobody seems to want that. They just don't know what they're missing! The Younger Son loves this series, and I pass these along to him once I'm done.

Pratchett announced in late 2007 that he was suffering from early onset Alzheimers. The 40th Discworld book was published last year, so he seems to be doing better than had been expected at the time of the diagnosis. For this and other blessings we rejoice.

from the back of the book:
The Ghost in the bone-white mask who haunts the Ankh-Morpork Opera House was always considered a benign presence -some would even say lucky- until he started killing people. The sudden rash of bizarre backstage deaths now threatens to mar the operatic debut of country girl Perdita X. (nee Agnes) Nitt, she of the ample body and ampler voice.

Perdita's expected to hide in the chorus and sing arias out loud while a more petitely presentable soprano mouths the notes. But at least it's an escape from scheming Nanny Ogg and old Granny Weatherwax back home, who want her to join their witchy ranks. Once Granny sets her mind on something, however, it's difficult -and often hazardous- to dissuade her. And no opera-prowling phantom fiend is going to keep a pair of determined hags down on the farm after they've seen Ankh-Morpork.

Selected quotes:
Of course, Granny Weatherwax made a great play of her independence and self-reliance. But the point about that kind of stuff was that you needed someone around to be proudly independent and self-reliant at. People who didn't need people needed people around to know that they were the kind of people who didn't need people. It was like hermits. There was no point freezing your nadgers off on top of some mountain while communing with the Infinite unless you could rely on a lot of impressionable young women to come along occasionally and say "Gosh."
You needed at least three witches for a coven. Two witches was just an argument.
And since the IQ of a mob is the IQ of its stupidest member divided by the number of mobsters, it was never very clear to anyone what had happened.
I've read the following Discworld books:

1) The Color of Magic
2) The Light Fantastic
3) Equal Rites
4) Mort
5) Sourcery
6) Wyrd Sisters
7) Pyramids
8) Guards! Guards!
21) Jingo
33) Going Postal

SF Signal gives it 4 1/2 out of 5 stars, calls it "almost non-stop funny" and says, "Pratchett is in fine form". SF Site has a positive review. SFF Book Review closes with this:
Discworld is a feel-good place, even though bad things happen there as much as anywhere (if not more). Make a note for reading slumps or bad times or terrible weather. Because I know where I’ll be when either of these happen. RATING: 8/10 Excellent!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Sea Isle Park


I've been trying to walk more, and this neighborhood park made a lovely change of pace. There's a fitness area:


There is a natural area and bird accommodations:


I walked along the tree trail:


There are a couple of picnic tables:


There are many benches:



It was a good place both for a bit of exercise and some relaxation.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Serendipity Tea Room


The Daughter and I used to take my mother to the Serendipity Tea Room every so often. We even invited my sister and her daughter sometimes. It's a delightful little place located inside an antique mall in Bartlett, TN (a Memphis suburb). They seat you at a table and bring menus. The tea is bagged tea but is served in little vintage pots. They bring sweet little heart-shaped biscuits and spread to enjoy with your tea until your food comes:


I had the chicken salad and lemon tea:


and The Daughter had the pasta salad and Earl Grey. You can see the menu here. It was a wonderful meal, a nice atmosphere, and there were fond memories of times we'd been before. We don't go often, but we always enjoy it, the service is always welcoming, and the food is consistently good. A delight!

Just one little issue: They do add the gratuity to the check, even if there's just one person or two dining. It's labeled "gr" in a cursive scribble. I had to ask what it was the first time we went. At that time we were told they had trouble with people "running us to death and then not leaving a tip." I never forgot that. It seemed an odd thing to tell us. And we've never noticed any of the sweet little elderly servers being "run to death" or noticed any particularly demanding diners, for that matter. That first time I had already placed a generous tip on the table, but I picked it back up when their policy was explained to me. I would leave a bigger tip than they assess, but I'm not leaving more if they are going to add it to the tab. Just call me stubborn on this subject; but it's my understanding that the amount of a gratuity is to be determined by the one being served, not by the server. If they add it to the bill, it's a service charge in lieu of tip.

The Urban Spoon gives it a score of 78%. Yelp gives it 2 out of 5 stars. Go Memphis has a positive review.

Please join Bleubeard and Elizabeth's T(ea) Party, where most folks are of an artistic bent, and where our host is in the middle of an abstract series.



Monday, September 15, 2014

Kassie Jones

Kassie Jones:



by Furry Lewis (1893-1981), who died 33 years ago yesterday.


lyrics:
I woke up this mornin', four o'clock.
Mister Casey told his fireman, get his boiler hot.
Put on your water, put on your coal.
Put your head out of the window, see my drivers roll.
See my driver roll.
Put your head out of the window, see my driver roll.

Lord, some people say that Mister Casey couldn't run.
Let me just tell you what Mister Casey done.
He left Memphis, it was quarter to nine.
Got to Newport News, it was dinnertime.
It was dinnertime.
Got to Newport News, it was dinnertime.

I've sold my gin, I've sold it straight.
Police run me to my woman's gate.
She comes to the door, she nod her head.
She made me welcome to the foldin' bed.
To the foldin' bed.
Made me welcome to the foldin' bed.

Lord, the people said to Casey "You're runnin' over time."
"You'll have another loser with the one-o-nine."
Casey said, "This ain't in mind.
I'll run it in close just to make my time."
Said to all the passengers, "Better keep yourself hid
Naturally gonna shake it like Chainey did."
Like Chainey did.
Naturally gonna shake it like Chainey did.

Mister Casey run his engine within a mile of the place.
Number four stared him in the face.
The depot told Casey, "Well, you must leave town."
"Believe to my soul I'm Alabama bound."
"Alabama bound."
"Believe to my soul I'm Alabama bound."

Missus Casey said she dreamt a dream,
The night she bought her sewin' machine.
The needle got broke, she could not sew.
She loved Mister Casey, 'cause she told me so.
Told me so.
Loved Mister Casey, 'cause she told me so.

There was a woman name Miss Alice Fry.
Said, "I'm gonna ride with Mister Casey 'fore I die.
I ain't good looking but I take my time.
A rambling woman with a rambling mind.
Got a rambling mind."

Casey looked at his water, water was low.
Looked at his watch, his watch was slow.

On the road again.
Natural born Eastman on the road again.

Lord, there's people tell by the throttle moan,
The man at the fire's Mister Casey Jones.
Mister Casey Jones.

Mister Casey said, before he died,
One more road that he wants to ride.
People tells Casey, "Which road is he?"
"The Southern Pacific and the Santa Fe.
Santa Fe."

This mornin' I heard someone was dyin'.
Missus Casey's children on the doorstep cryin'.
Mama, mama, I can't keep from cryin',
Papa got killed on the Southern line.
On the Southern line.
Papa got killed on the Southern line.

"Mama, mama, how can it be?
Killed my father and you weren't the first to grieve?"
"Children, children want you to hold your breath.
Draw another pension from your father's death.
From your father's death."

On the road again.
I'm a natural born Eastman on the road again.

Tuesday mornin', it looked like rain.
Around the curve came a passenger train.
Under the boiler lay Mister Casey Jones.
Good old engineer, but he's dead and gone.
Dead and gone.

On the road again.
I'm a natural born Eastman on the road again.

I left Memphis to spread the news.
Memphis women don't wear no shoes.
Had it written in the back of my shirt,
Natural born Eastmen don't have to work.
Don't have to work.
I'm a natural born Eastman, don't have to work.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Olive Kitteridge


Olive Kitteridge is a 2008 book by Elizabeth Strout, an interconnected series of short stories. It won the Pulitzer Prize, and is described at that site as "a collection of 13 short stories set in small-town Maine that packs a cumulative emotional wallop, bound together by polished prose and by Olive, the title character, blunt, flawed and fascinating." This was an engrossing, sometimes painful, read and dealt with perceptions in relationships. You are not the person others think you are, but sometimes you are more the person others think you are than not. Some truths are hard to hear. I will definitely read more by this author.

from the back of the book:
At times stern, at other times patient, at times perceptive, at other times in sad denial, Olive Kitteridge, a retired schoolteacher, deplores the changes in her little town of Crosby, Maine, and in the world at large, but she doesn’t always recognize the changes in those around her: a lounge musician haunted by a past romance; a former student who has lost the will to live; Olive’s own adult child, who feels tyrannized by her irrational sensitivities; and her husband, Henry, who finds his loyalty to his marriage both a blessing and a curse.

As the townspeople grapple with their problems, mild and dire, Olive is brought to a deeper understanding of herself and her life –sometimes painfully, but always with ruthless honesty. Olive Kitteridge offers profound insights into the human condition –its conflicts, its tragedies and joys, and the endurance it requires.
quotes that struck me:
...that must be the way of life, to get something figured out when it was too late.
...
Olive's private view is that life depends on what she thinks of as "big bursts" and "little bursts." Big bursts are things like marriage or children, intimacies that keep you afloat, but these big bursts hold dangerous unseen currents. Which is why you need the little bursts as well: a friendly clerk at Bradlee's, let's say, or the waitress at Dunkin' Donuts who knows how you like your coffee. Tricky business, really.
...
But after a certain point in a marriage, you stopped having a certain kind of fight, olive thought, because when the years behind you were more than the years in front of you, things were different.
...
In the dark of the car, his wife, Jane, sat with her nice black coat buttoned up all the way -the coat they'd bought together last year, going through all these stores. Hard work; they'd get thirsty and end up having a sundae at the place on Water Street, the sullen young waitress always giving them their senior discount even though they never asked; they had joked about that -how the girl had no idea, as she plunked down their mugs of coffee, that her own arm would someday be sprinkled with age spots, or that coffee had to be planned since blood pressure medicine made you widdle so much, that life picked up speed, and then most of it was gone -made you breathless, really.
...
They had fun together these days, they really did. It was as if marriage had been a long, complicated meal, and now there was this lovely dessert.
...
She didn't like to be alone. Even more, she didn't like being with people.
...
Had they known at these moments to be quietly joyful? Most likely not. People mostly did not know enough when they were living life that they were living it. But she had that memory now, of something healthy and pure.
...
Dying. Not Dying. Either way, it tires you out.
The New York Times says, "The pleasure in reading “Olive Kitteridge” comes from an intense identification with complicated, not always admirable, characters." Kirkus Reviews calls it "A perfectly balanced portrait of the human condition, encompassing plenty of anger, cruelty and loss without ever losing sight of the equally powerful presences of tenderness, shared pursuits and lifelong loyalty." Lit Lovers has excerpts from several reviews and provides a discussion guide.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

RED 2

RED 2 is a 2013 sequel to RED. Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, Mary-Louise Parker, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Lee Byung-hun, Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, and David Thewlis star. A mindless action film with lots of explosions is all this is, but if you liked the first one you'll like this. We liked the first one. If you didn't, move along, nothing to see here.

trailer:


Slant Magazine gives it 1 out of 4 stars and says, "Red 2 essentially weaponizes middle-aged malaise" and calls it "bland". The Atlantic bemoans the trend of aging action stars and says, "I can't be the only film-goer made nervous by the prospect of Die Hard With a Pension." Empire Online gives it 3 out of 5 stars and closes by describing it as "A fun, frothy return for Frank and his creaky commandos." Vulture warns, "It’s funnier than its predecessor, but also less human". Rotten Tomatoes has a critics score of 42% and an audience score of 64%.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Rendez-vous

Rendez-vous is a 1985 French film. André Téchiné directs. It won Best Director at Cannes. It stars Juliette Binoche, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Lambert Wilson, Wadeck Stanczak (in one of his first films), Dominique Lavanant, and Anne Wiazemsky (whose 1st film was Bresson's Au Hasard Balthazar). Imdb describes it as "A provocative erotic drama, stylishly rendered" and a "compelling investigation into the intersection of sexual and artistic passion". There is full female nudity, just fyi. Implied male nudity, but everything's not on full display.

I watched it free online at Hulu with commercials. trailer:



Rotten Tomatoes doesn't have enough critic reviews for a score yet, but the audience score is 58%. Reviews are not easy to find, or weren't for me.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Reamde


Reamde is a 2011 novel by Neal Stephenson. I bought it because I thought it was a science fiction novel. After all, it was shelved in the science fiction section and the author does write science fiction. It's not SF, though. It's a techno-thriller. It's a riveting read. The book is 1042 pages long, but don't let that scare you off. It's a real page-turner, with steady pacing. The numerous characters and plot threads are somehow easy to keep track of. I highly recommend this one.

from the dust jacket:
Neal Stephenson, author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Anathem, returns to the terrain of his groundbreaking novels Snow Crash, The Diamond Age, and Cryptonomicon to deliver a high-intensity, high-stakes, action-packed adventure thriller in which a tech entrepreneur gets caught in the very real crossfire of his own online war game.

In 1972, Richard Forthrast, the black sheep of an Iowa farming clan, fled to the mountains of British Columbia to avoid the draft. A skilled hunting guide, he eventually amassed a fortune by smuggling marijuana across the border between Canada and Idaho. As the years passed, Richard went straight and returned to the States after the U.S. government granted amnesty to draft dodgers. He parlayed his wealth into an empire and developed a remote resort in which he lives. He also created T'Rain, a multibillion-dollar, massively multiplayer online role-playing game with millions of fans around the world.

But T'Rain's success has also made it a target. Hackers have struck gold by unleashing REAMDE, a virus that encrypts all of a player's electronic files and holds them for ransom. They have also unwittingly triggered a deadly war beyond the boundaries of the game's virtual universe -and Richard is at ground zero.

Racing around the globe from the Pacific Northwest to China to the wilds of northern Idaho and points in between, Reamde is a swift-paced thriller that traverses worlds virtual and real. Filled with unexpected twists and turns in which unforgettable villains and unlikely heroes face off in a battle for survival, it is a brilliant refraction of the twenty-first century, from the global war on terror to social media, computer hackers to mobsters, entrepreneurs to religious fundamentalists. Above all, Reamde is an enthralling human story -an entertaining and epic page-turner from the extraordinary Neal Stephenson.
The Guardian calls it "a joyride". The Washington Post says,
In less masterful hands, this pile-up of implausible coincidences, madcap romance, technological mayhem and nail-biting suspense might have been a train wreck, but Stephenson pulls it off. “Reamde” has one of the most satisfyingly over-the-top endings of anything I’ve read in years.
Salon bemoans that "“Reamde” is a thriller whose basic plot is almost embarrassingly simple" and seems to wish it was a harder read, but says, "I thoroughly enjoyed “Reamde.” I couldn’t put it down — which, for a thriller, has got to be the highest praise. Despite its 1,000-plus pages, “Reamde” moves right along."

Kirkus Reviews concludes it's "An intriguing yarn—most geeky, and full of satisfying mayhem." BoingBoing calls it "a powerful, magnificent book that is worth the sizable forests that will have to be demolished to commit it to paper, and the sizable lump that it will represent in your bag or briefcase while you finish it." Strange Horizons says, "Reamde is clever without being obnoxious, fun without being campy, funny without being stupid, scary without being alarmist, poignant without being sentimental, and exciting without being mind-numbing. What more could one want from a blockbuster?"