Friday, September 30, 2011

Rosh Hashanah and Furlough Days Off - Day 2: Screw World Peace! I Want Decent Plumbing!, or: Who The Hell's Been Eating Big Slabs of Pork?!

(Warning: The following post is vastly different from what I usually write, but being that my parents and sister have experienced, and complained about, the exact same thing, this is the next best place to vent.)

When I was vastly overweight, I blocked toilets. There were very few instances in which I actually examined what I was eating. It had cheese, it had some kind of meat, it was either nachos or quesadillas or occasionally fettucine alfredo, or it was deeply unhealthy for me, but I loved it and I wanted more of it. And because of that, what ended up in the can at times seemed bigger than the can, making me take hold of the plunger just in case it wouldn't go down yet again. We have crappy plumbing here in Saugus, but back then, I also contributed to it.

Now, being a much thinner me, my business back there isn't as big. I'm still happily losing weight, so there is some result of that, but it isn't as bad as it once was. And yet, today, what in hell happened?! I didn't even give that much for the demon toilet to be blocked yet again. I flushed what little there had been, but while I was washing my hands, I didn't hear the comforting sound of it fully flushing out. I opened the lid, and the water in the bowl had risen up to a level that first made me freeze and think, "Oh shit. Not again!", before realizing that I probably should reach behind the bowl and cut off the water supply to it.

Now what? Find a cup of some kind that we don't need ever again and start bailing it out? I didn't want to do that because I was planning to get in the shower after I shaved and I didn't want toilet water in the tub. Plus, my first plunging attempt had splashed water on the carpet, and I need to explain this: The previous owners of this house, an elderly couple, had carpet installed in the bathrooms, presumably so they wouldn't slip like they probably would on tile. Folks, this is why tile should be law in bathrooms. Water rests on tile. It doesn't soak into it. You don't need to press toilet paper deep into it in order to soak up spilled water. You simply wipe it up. I used about a quarter of a roll to soak up what had splashed onto the carpet around the toilet. Yes, I am a moron in plunging when the water's that high in the bowl, but I just wanted a shower, and doubly moronic because had I bailed the water out into the tub, I could have just run the bath water on hot for over a minute, shepherded it back to the drain, and continued on with my cleanly intentions. But there I was, using toilet paper that has turned out to be much stronger than the tissues we use. We don't keep tissues on hand in our bathrooms anymore because toilet paper does a lot better work in nose-blowing too.

As I was soaking up the carpet as best I could, I heard a heavenly sound coming from the shut-off toilet. It was a slight draining noise, and the water in the bowl was slowly, slowly going down. As the water reached the halfway point, I realized I could plunge, and with enough thrusts, it could go down faster. I could turn the water supply back on, it would spread into the bowl, I could flush again, and things could go back to normal. Except the carpet for the moment.

So I did exactly that, holding the handle down after I turned the supply back on so the water would go fully down and then come back up, and it all eventually stopped. Water in the bowl where it should be. And I thought about how much I hated this, how we had lived with it for these 7 years (we spent our first year in this valley in an apartment in Valencia with plumbing that never gave us this much trouble, mainly because those overseeing the apartment complex actually gave a damn), how one day your plumbing works fine, and the next, you're hoping that it goes down, even though you put nothing more than a strip of toilet paper in after wiping yourself.

This extended to when I had cleaned up everything around the toilet and started shaving. The last time I shaved a few days ago, the water in the sink was nearly nil. It had collected around the drain, but that was about it. It kept going down as it should. When I shaved today, the water was a quarter of the way up the sink and growing a bit more than that. I wondered if my portly next-door neighbor had been eating pork or something equally greasy and that's what had stopped up the plumbing, because our set of houses (Ours, his, and the two next door to us) have plumbing that's connected. So if someone happens to be flushing weed for whatever reason (I'm just guessing; I know nothing about my neighbors beyond the big guy) or had a bad reaction to Mexican food, we all know about it because it screws up our plumbing.

This experience darkened my mood a bit when I got in the shower, because I just wanted to shave and get in the shower, and enjoy that refreshing, renewed feeling that comes from standing under warm water spraying on you. Eventually, I regained my equilibrium, but then when I got in the shower, I was reminded of the water still in the carpet, stepping on a section that still produced some, and so I soaked up more with more toilet paper. When the day comes that we finally move, and arrive at our new place in Henderson, I'm going to walk to each bathroom and flush each toilet with a wide smile on my face, grateful that I don't have to put up with this crap anymore. That dream is nearly at the top of my list of Henderson dreams. It's a long list.

Besides that, I'm on page 177 of The Opposite of Me, Sarah Pekkanen's first novel (I read her second, Skipping a Beat, and really liked it), and am anticipating her third novel, which will be published next year. If she keeps writing like this, one book a year, and if Barbara O'Neal of The Secret of Everything (Her best novel, and my favorite novel out of the three she's written so far) has another one out next year, I won't have any trouble finding any modern-day reads. I'll be deliriously happy each time.

In the mail, I received Distortions by Ann Beattie, owing to my writerly crush on her after reading in "The New Yorker" an excerpt from her Mrs. Nixon: A Novelist Imagines a Life that'll be out in November. I want to read everything by her, and my order from Daedalus Books ( includes The New Yorker Stories, a collection of every short story she's written for "The New Yorker" from 1974 to 2006. I like her writing because it's about all of us, about our lives, our loves, what we want, what we try to avoid, what shakes up our lives, what makes them whole again. When you find a writer you want to read more of, it's the clearest, happiest courtship you can ever have. You want to explore every part of them. That's the feeling I get with Ann Beattie.

We didn't go out anywhere yesterday, and with some rain coming in later tonight, probably not today either. Definitely tomorrow. Dad's getting antsy, as he doesn't like to be in one place too long. I don't mind it. I've been in the house all week, I've had my books, and it doesn't bother me, particularly because we've been everywhere that there is to go in this valley and in other Southern California cities. There were times we drove to San Diego for Sea World and Legoland. Those are necessary only once. In Henderson, I'll think differently. But here, I have my books, so I'm satisfied.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Rosh Hashanah and Furlough Days Off - Day 1

Since the school district Dad and Meridith work for does not give days off for Rosh Hashanah, as in schools being closed (Apparently not enough of us in this valley), they took today and Friday off. And since Monday and Tuesday are furlough days, meaning that schools are closed and no one's getting paid, in an attempt to save whatever money's left, they'll be home with Mom and I for the next six days. For me, there is the hope of going out to a few interesting places, and the trend of spending money on furlough days, as has been done many other furlough days.

My major desire is to go to IKEA again in Burbank for Swedish meatballs, which doubles as a bonus of getting out of this valley, because in order to do anything different, it can't be done here. I'll push for this over the next day or so.

So far, their time off has given me the opportunity to watch movies in the morning again, since I don't get up early enough when they're at work to do it, and I much prefer reading. Actually, I don't watch movies a great deal anyway, but I'm watching First Monday in October, starring Walter Matthau and Jill Clayburgh, ahead of the Supreme Court's next term on Monday, and I received in the mail yesterday the Ma & Pa Kettle Comedy Collection, containing all 10 Ma & Pa Kettle movies, starring Majorie Main and Percy Kilbride, beginning with The Egg and I, which had them as vastly entertaining supporting players to Fred MacMurray and Claudette Colbert. This set is unique because The Kettles in the Ozarks and The Kettles on Old Macdonald's Farm, the 9th and 10th films in the series, have previously only been available for purchase exclusively on the Turner Classic Movies website, never on the previous sets Universal released. I'm looking forward to possibly watching all 10 films during these different days. Unless of course we go somewhere interesting in the morning hours, in which case I'm in and these can wait.

Naturally, I'm satisfied enough with my books, and my days as they are are just fine, but different perspectives would be nice, different locations. We've been everywhere there is to be in Southern California over these past 8 years, so nothing is truly different, but outside of this valley, it's at least a welcome change.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

This Is Me

This is me. All me. I cannot describe myself better than this reader has described her reaction to a book:

"I just spent the last 40, maybe 50 minutes, crying over a book. I haven’t even finished this book. I started crying about halfway, and it just kept getting more and more emotional and. I don’t mean just, tearing up and feeling sentimental.

I mean snot running down my face and dripping onto my shirt, body-shaking sobs, wails, whines, panicked strangled pleas, headaches, stinging eyes, raw cheeks and a puffy face because even though it is physically hurting me to keep reading, I need to be able to try and see the pages.

I had to, with shaking hands, force myself to put it down, not because I need to go to bed (though I do, badly), but because I do not have the strength now to keep reading. I need to calm down. I don’t want to, but I need to come back to a reality that I seriously do. not. want. to.

And that’s why I fucking love books.

I can’t trust people who don’t react to books this way.

I can’t love someone who doesn’t react to books like this."

Amen! A-holyshitthisissotrue-men! Find the original post here.

My Inspiration is Retiring

I was 8 and 9 when I knew 60 Minutes to be a repository for luxury car commercials every Sunday night. I knew of Morley Safer, Ed Bradley, Lesley Stahl, and a little bit of Andy Rooney, though I didn't watch much of it. When I was 11, I only knew Andy Rooney.

I watched his commentaries in awe. He talked about tools in his workshop at home, of receiving letters, of life in winter, of pens, of various trends that befuddled him, and I was amazed. I could write about all this and talk about all this, with the same attention paid to novels and biographies? I just thought everything he talked about is what happens in daily life and you just live it and move on. I didn't think it could be talked about and written about at length. Not that there's any law against it, but I thought words were mainly reserved for what I thought at the time to be deeper thoughts. And yet here was Andy Rooney, talking about my life, your life, their life.

In that same year of being 11, my family and I want to a large thrift store to look around, one that had long racks of clothing, rows and rows of them. In glass cases, there were video games for sale. And in my favorite part of that thrift store, there were bookshelves bulging with books, threatening to make the shelves explode with the weight of them. And it was within those bookshelves that I found The Most of Andy Rooney, a 761-page compilation of three of his books: A Few Minutes with Andy Rooney, And More by Andy Rooney, and Pieces of My Mind. I don't remember how much it was, I imagine it was probably over $5, but I bought it. I wanted to study Rooney's thoughts, to understand how one goes about writing about the average day-to-day things in life.

That first book, from 1981, begins with a preface by Rooney, stating, "The writing in this book was originally done for television." And it was. "Mr. Rooney Goes to Washington" is made up of interview transcripts that had obviously been broadcast. Same with "Mr. Rooney Goes to Work." But it was page 42, "Mr. Rooney Goes to Dinner" that inspired me the most.

Rooney starts the piece talking about eating, and then says, "There are 400,000 restaurants in the United States and if you ate three meals a day in restaurants for seventy years, you could only eat in 76,000 of them." (This was broadcast on April 20, 1976, by the way)

"Obviously I haven't gone to all 400,000 restauranted in the United States to make this report. Chances are I didn't go to the one you like best or least. I didn't even go to the one I like best. My job may seem good to some of you . . . but I've got a tough boss. Several months ago he gave me an order. "Travel anywhere you want in the United States," he told me. "Eat in a lot of good restaurants on the company . . . and report back to me." I took money, credit cards and a lot of bad advice from friends and set out across the country."

He did. He ate at a "Scandinavian smorgasbord" place called Copenhagen with Walter Cronkite. He visited J.B.I. Industries in Compton, California which specializes(ed?) in making restaurants look like anything. A pirate ship design was on display. $6,000. Then he goes to McDonald's:

"Workmen were finishing a new plastic replica of an old airplane to ship to a McDonald's opening in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. We were curious about how a hamburger would taste eaten in a plastic airplane, so a few weeks later, after it had been installed, we went to Glen Ellyn.

ROONEY (to cashier):
Same price whether I eat it here or in the airplane?
I guess I'll eat it in the airplane."

After reading that piece, I wanted to do what Rooney did. I wanted to write exactly like he did, talking about the previously-mundane happenings in one's life. And I tried. I got out notebook paper a couple days after I finished reading the entire book, and I began writing about the view outside my window, about my neighborhood, the pool, my bedroom, and school. But I couldn't. It didn't gel as well as his words did, and I realized that Rooney taught me about writing style. I couldn't write like him because I wasn't him. I was me. I was 11 years old, in 5th grade, a native Floridian. I hadn't been a journalist during World War II like Rooney, I wasn't interested in woodworking, and I certainly hadn't lived through the winters he talked about. I knew what I liked, what interested me every day, what I was learning in school, and that's what I had to write about if I wanted to write what he wrote about. My words had to include me.

And yesterday, I learned that Rooney, the great man who made me become a writer, is retiring from 60 Minutes this Sunday evening, which will feature a career retrospective interview with Morley Safer, his 1,097th essay, and the announcement of his retirement. I'm getting choked up because he was there for all those weeks of my life since I decided to become a writer. I watched him every week, always in awe of what he talked about, how he was funny, witty, incisive, never ranting angrily at anything. He was a master at quiet, contemplative bemusement. He taught me that you could write about anything in the world, as long as it comes from you first and foremost and embodies everything that you are. I proudly live his writing beliefs every day.

Thank you, my writing teacher.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Desert Soundtrack

My latest project, among the many others already stacked up, is to create a personal soundtrack representative of the desert that I know in and near Las Vegas, the view of that ocean of desert from that mountain ledge next to Hacienda Hotel and Casino near Boulder City, the Mojave Desert from Baker, California on, and in Victorville.

So far, in a Windows Media playlist, I have placed Amazonia by Paul Lawler and Paul Speer (, which has a vast desert feeling; Viva Las Vegas as sung by Shawn Colvin ( It has a slower tempo, more grounded, and is the Las Vegas I know and love); Cherry-Coloured Funk by Cocteau Twins ( For me, it embodies nighttime in Las Vegas); Heaven or Las Vegas by Cocteau Twins ( It's like an introduction to Las Vegas); Serengeti by Jeff Oster ( It reminds me of crossing the California state line into Nevada and approaching Primm with the outlet mall, the three casinos, and the Desperado rollercoaster); and Cluster One by Pink Floyd ( It has the feeling of parking your car somewhere in the desert at night, lying on the hood, looking up at all those stars).

Since the Spa channel is on our XM Radio in the living room every day, full of the ambient music I love, I listen to it to see if any songs feel like the desert, and write down the titles and artists and listen to them more closely online if they're available either on YouTube or through another source. My goal here is to create a soundtrack that's just as much home to me as Henderson will be, that makes me feel even more like I truly belong in this vast wonder of desert living. Does anyone have any suggestions that could make for an effective soundtrack?

An Attempt at Reading United States Reports, Volume 515

Owing to my interest in the Supreme Court, recently revitalized by having read Five Chiefs by John Paul Stevens, which in turn spurred me on to order biographies of Antonin Scalia and Sandra Day O'Connor that I had checked out of the library earlier this year but had not read, and having read The Nine by Jeffrey Toobin and The Brethren by Bob Woodward and Scott Armstrong, I pulled out of a stack near my left-side closet door United States Reports, Volume 515, a result of rooting through the Government Printing Office Bookstore website (, seeing if there were any cheap volumes of Supreme Court decisions. The full official title of 515 is United States Reports, V. 515, Cases Adjudged in the Supreme Court at October Term, 1994, May 30 through September 29, 1995, Together with Opinions of Individual Justices in Chambers, End of Term. 1,369 pages. $19.

The volume nearest to this one that I can find on the website is volume 513, and that goes for $50.40. I bought this one because I was curious about what such a book looks like and it's incredibly thick in hardcover, with a gloomy tan cover, and very official type on the spine with United States Reports in gold lettering, against a red background, with gold bars above and below it, and the same gold bars above and below Oct. Term 1994 and below that, Amendments of Rules, both lines against a black background. When Mom saw it after I took it out of the box it came in, she said it was exactly what her grandfather had in his law office, hundreds of books like this one lined up on shelves. She remembered it well.

Curiosity spurred me on to order this. I didn't want to read for hours the .pdfs available on the Supreme Court website, though I may scroll through them, and wanted one volume that I could read through, seeing what's written here, as well as the writing styles of the justices, particular David Souter in this time, who is my favorite justice, albeit retired now.

There will be occasional entries as I pore over it, things observed, use of footnotes, how much they're used, how each justice seems to approach the case at hand in their words, and the careful use of words to make the law clear.

My Fall TV Season is Over

My fall TV season began with the anticipation of the 5th season premiere of The Big Bang Theory and the 3rd season premiere of The Good Wife, the latter spurred on by a half-hour recap special aired a few weeks beforehand, along with a second-season episode right after which guest-starred Fred Dalton Thompson and which I found entertaining and exactly the kind of writing I like to hear on a TV show, with confidence and sophistication offered in great amounts. This led to buying the first season on DVD at Target for $20, a worthy investment of my time, and though I've not yet seen the third season premiere (I Tivo'd it), I'm sure I will later tonight.

The 5th season premiere of The Big Bang Theory was good, airing the first and second episodes, and it's exactly what I expect of the show, to be a reliable purveyor of comedy every Thursday night, with enough of Sheldon to keep me pleased.

There have also been new additions. Three Mondays ago, CBS reran the first season finale of Hawaii Five-O and I had learned a few things about the show, though not paying a great deal of attention to it beyond Jean Smart playing the governor. And I had learned that she was killed off in the season finale, with Steve McGarrett (Alex O'Loughlin) framed for her murder. I happened to have the rerun on that night and was intrigued with the action, the strongly-written characters, and great use of many locations. I watched the rest of the second-season premiere late last night on Tivo and loved when a henchman of Wo Fat (Mark Dacascos, who my sister saw and said, "That Iron Chef guy must travel a lot") said to Kono (Grace Park), "You wouldn't shoot me. You're a cop." Kono fired at the dirt between his legs and replied, "You see a badge?" I started watching the second episode right after, but will finish it later tonight as well.

And then, around 1:30 a.m., I watched Hart of Dixie (Tivo'd), which debuted on the CW. As it began, I reminded myself that this is Hollywood's view of the Deep South, not representative of what it really is, and was able to enjoy it right from the start. It stars Rachel Bilson as an aspiring cardiothoracic surgeon, who loses the fellowship she had been vying for, advised by the Chief of Surgery at her hospital that in order to be a great surgeon, she has to work on her own heart, and reflect more on herself, knowing people more than she does, which is nearly nil. She arrives in Blue Bell, Alabama, having been left half of a medical practice by an older gentleman who had been at her medical school graduation four years ago and offered her the opportunity to work at that practice, but she refused, knowing full well her path in life. Nevertheless, he kept sending her postcards with the same offer, and after being denied that fellowship, she left Manhattan for Blue Bell.

There were a few groan-worthy bumps in the script with the "sophisticated city girl" looking down on the "hicks," but it's appealing enough, and certain plot elements are intriguing enough to get me to watch again next week, such as Bilson sparring with the other half of the medical practice, played by Tim Matheson. My biggest disappointment is that Nancy Travis left this for Last Man Standing, starring Tim Allen. There was probably more pay for her in that, and co-lead status, but she fit so well here. I just hope CW gives it a good long chance.

I saw Pan Am and liked it enough to try it again next week, though I didn't connect to it as quickly as I did to Hart of Dixie, despite the historical airline storylines. I haven't seen the second episode of 2 Broke Girls, but will later. After all that, though, I think my fall TV season is over. I've got The Big Bang Theory, The Good Wife, and Hawaii Five-O on CBS (and possibly CSI as well, since I liked Ted Danson's debut last week, and I like being reminded of Vegas until I get there as a resident), and Hart of Dixie on CW. That's about all the shows I need. I also have Prime Suspect and Unforgettable on the Tivo, but I think if I had really been interested in them, I would have watched them by now.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Insular Worlds

Late yesterday afternoon, as Dad pulled into a parking space near the deli entrance of Ralphs in Valencia (There's the deli entrance on the right side, and the produce entrance on the left side on the other side of the parking lot), I closed Five Chiefs by John Paul Stevens on a page in which he was talking about the tenure of Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist. And as I walked to the deli entrance behind Dad, I began thinking about my interest in the Supreme Court and realized that everything that interests me are insular worlds.

I've been debating about whether "insular" is the right word. Merriam-Webster's second definition ( is "characteristic of an isolated people; especially: being, having, or reflecting a narrow provincial viewpoint."

Provincial. Ok. Merriam-Webster's definitions of that, under "adjective" (, include "limited in outlook: narrow" and "lacking the polish of urban society: unsophisticated." The second definition, to me, is a subjective term, and the justices of the Supreme Court certainly aren't limited in outlook, based on the experience they bring to their positions and opinions they have formed over decades which inform the votes they cast and the decisions they write, and "characteristic of an isolated people" seems like the wrong kind of definition, being that people throughout the world come to them, including those who populate the courtroom as viewers, and the lawyers that argue the cases, and defendants and plaintiffs seeking judgment, but in a way, they are isolated. There is only this Supreme Court in the United States. And the work of the Court is very much cloistered. Maybe "cloistered" is the better word. Or "secluded." But the words I seek for description are still debatable when applied to my other interests.

After I picked up a basket and Dad and I walked to the deli to wait for potato salad (for Dad) and half a pound of American cheese (for us), I went right back to where the carts are stored and picked up the September issue of Southern California Gaming Guide. On the cover is "Sycuan Casino: Reimagined." I've never been to this casino, only San Manuel Indian Bingo and Casino in these eight years in Southern California, but the article about the changes interested me. In a way, casinos are cloistered, "providing shelter from contact with the outside world," according to another Merriam-Webster definition. The world here is gambling and bingo and buffets and poker and sports betting and everything that makes being over 21 a lot of fun. My fascination with casinos is because of Las Vegas, of course, but I'm always curious to learn how other casinos operate, even if I never go to them.

Tying into casinos is my interest in bingo halls. Now those are not only indeed cloistered, but they're an entirely different culture, a lot of fun, a lot of camaraderie that comes easily, and it's very friendly, because you're playing on the same level as everyone else. It's not like poker. Everyone has an equal chance here. I remember at San Manuel how a couple at the table across from us four let us borrow two of their daubers, before we bought our own from the snack bar, and we handed those daubers back to them when we left, along with the ones we bought, thanked them, and they told us that it was their pleasure. Just like that. If you're not familiar with bingo, anyone there is very helpful. Of course, I say that with the experience of the San Manuel bingo hall. I can't vouch for others, at least until I go to them, which I intend to because there is something to be written extensively about that culture, and I want to write it, whatever it might be.

Some malls are insular, that if you drive away after and go to another mall, you likely won't find the same experience, especially if it isn't a Westfield-owned mall you go to. I'm thinking of the Galleria at Sunset in Henderson, Nevada (my future home), where I've been, and which Mom has told me has a small Henderson library branch there. Now, at any mall, I look around, and I wonder who designed the mall, who built it, who created the artwork, all those anonymous people who should be known more.

I'm also interested in insular experiences, such as being a chaperone for Meridith's Grad Nite in 2007. I remember going with her to Valencia High one morning, hanging around until the bell rang, and then seeking out the teacher in charge of Grad Nite, introducing myself and asking if I could be one of the chaperones for it. I was told I could, and I walked in triumph back to the bus stop in front of Ralphs, waiting to go back home. I had woken up a little after 6 for this, and it had been well worth it. Meridith's Grad Nite for me was better than my own Grad Nite because of such amenities as free cookies and cheese cubes and crackers and drinks for the chaperones, as well as salads or chili or breakfast plates either when you got there or at around 2 in the morning. There was also screenings of Deja Vu and then The Queen playing in the theater on Main Street that now houses Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln again, but used to play a 50th anniversary short film hosted by Steve Martin. In that same theater area, amidst all the mementos and models of attractions in the park, there was also a caricaturist drawing the chaperones as well as Disney characters, though by the time I found out about that free opportunity, the reservations list had already been filled up. I still enjoyed watching the guy drawing Disney characters and the chaperones wearing Mickey ear hats. This was my one and only Grad Nite, so I was a fresh faced newbie, but I noticed the veterans, the chaperones sitting in front of the Plaza Inn, next to heat lamps, conversations afloat, and there was one guy sleeping on a long padded bench in the lobby of that theater, so I chatted with his wife a while.

I've also been in pursuit of really good covered fries, and it seems like an insular pursuit. Not necessarily chili-cheese fries, but something different in fries being covered with cheese. Looking at this Wikipedia entry (, I noticed that there's "pizza fries" in Philadelphia, topped with mozzarella cheese, with pizza sauce on the side. Possibly.

We were at Weinerschnitzel last Saturday, after Mom and Dad picked us up from the movies, and I had "ultimate" chili cheese fries, which were the basic chili-cheese fries with onions sprinkled throughout, though they became too much toward the end, too dominant. When I become a resident of Henderson with easy access to Las Vegas, I don't intend to eat chili-cheese fries or any other kind of covered fries too often to find my ideal combination, but it will be one of my occasional pursuits when I'm there.

Speaking of Las Vegas, the very definition of an insular world there would be the Pinball Hall of Fame on East Tropicana Avenue. You come in, you find your nostalgia, and you play it. There's no frills, no distractions, just the machines that you remember fondly. There's 152 pinball machines, from 1947 to 2009. And besides those, there's 54 arcade machines, including Super Mario Bros., Ms. Pac-Man, and Tetris. I'm not sure if Galaga is also there, but if it is, I'm spending my time right there, ducking and weaving as I always do as I fire, as if the aliens are firing right at me. It's how I play, and it's one of my favorite ways of living in Vegas.

Those are the major examples of my interests in insular worlds, and there are probably more, but I'll bet that those I figure out after having written all this will relate in much the same manner.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Lion King Then and Now

I was 10 years old in 1994 and still new to the awesome concept of double features. I had been to one the previous year, seeing Free Willy with my parents and sister at a 99-cent hole-in-the-wall movie theater in Margate, Florida, the Margate Twin, it was called, according to this article from 1991 ( I remember that the concession stand was such tight space, with the entrance to theater 1 right as you walked in, and theater 2 merely a few feet away. It closed that same year we went, so my family and I must have been a few of the last patrons. We were nearly the only ones in theater 1.

Our intention had been to only see Free Willy, but I wanted to see Heart and Souls as well, which was being shown after, and I somehow convinced my parents, during Free Willy's end credits, to stay for it. The plot, about a man inhabited at various times by his childhood guardian angels, didn't matter. Nor did Robert Downey, Jr. or Charles Grodin, Alfre Woodard or Kyra Sedgwick. In fact, I didn't even know who any of them were, though David Paymer, who played the bus driver, is now one of my favorite judges on The Good Wife (Denis O'Hare, as Judge Charles Abernathy, is the other). I just wanted to sit through another movie. To see two movies in one day sounded like a good deal.

Heart and Souls was fairly decent, and the physical comedy Robert Downey, Jr. employed when he was inhabited by his guardian angels was entertaining, but it mattered nothing compared to the double feature we went to in 1994. I remember explicitly the ad for it from Walt Disney Pictures in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel in July: "Come for Angels in the Outfield, stay for The Lion King." The theater closest to us was the GCC (General Cinema Corporation) Coral Square Cinema 8 in Coral Springs, not far from our condo. And we had to get tickets in advance, because no way there would be empty seats for this. And as we pulled into the parking lot on the evening of the double feature, either one or two Saturdays before Angels in the Outfield was released on July 15, I saw a sign taped to the admissions window that announced that it was sold out. And this wasn't the relatively organized sold-out we know today by way of stadium seating. There was no stadium seating back then. Right up to the screen and all the way to the back, the seats were at the same height. And the theaters seemed bigger as a result, or maybe it was just my sense of perception at that age. But I had been to GCC many, many times during their summer movie program with Mom and then-five-year-old Meridith, usually the first ones to arrive before the theater opened for that business in the morning. They showed Hook and Raggedy Ann & Andy: A Musical Adventure (from 1977), to name the two that I can remember. I also remember, after one particular showing, walking out of the theater and seeing on the marquee (and these were paper marquees, not digital), the logo for In the Line of Fire, which was rated R, and so I couldn't see it, but I was always curious about it, and in later years, it tied in nicely into my interest in the presidents, real and fictional, as it was about a cunning assassin (John Malkovich) going after the president, and the Secret Service agent (Clint Eastwood), who had failed to save JFK, who was chasing him.

The concession stand at GCC was arranged in a circle, and we may have gotten popcorn and soda, but I don't remember. I just wanted to get into the auditorium, and it was very crowded. I think we were seated in the middle, but what mattered most was being there for this double feature. The last time I saw Angels in the Outfield was the first time, and I still remember Danny Glover, Christopher Lloyd, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and that Levitt was an orphan, and there was an adoption at the end, but that was it. I remember vividly the entire theater completely filled, kids and adults all around. And then, the rush.

The women's restroom on the left outside that particular theater, near the video games, and the men's restroom on the right, next to more video games, were completely crowded and there was a huge line while the reels for Angels in the Outfield were rewound and replaced with the reels for The Lion King. Yes, kids. Reels. They were run through projectors which shined light on each frame, which then appeared on the screen in motion, one right after the other. Freaky, huh?

(It says something about the advancements in technology today that I'm only 27 and I can already reminisce like this.)

My biggest excitement, just like the Free Willy/Heart and Souls double feature was that I was going to see a second movie! And it was the evening! And it was an animated Disney film, which, for us Disney fanatics, was pure joy. My favorite sequence of that particular showing was "I Just Can't Wait to be King." The vividness of the animation was so wonderful to see, so cheery, so much fun.

Now it's been 17 years since first seeing The Lion King, and in the ensuing years, I've owned it on VHS, seen it in IMAX, bought the 2-disc Platinum Edition DVD set, and yesterday, I saw it in 3D.

The Lion King 3D is a tribute to two sets of artists: Those who created it, and those who created the 3D effects for it based on what was there. And 3D technology is getting a lot better. Thus far, this is the pinnacle. The 3D for The Lion King brings the movie much closer to your eyes, giving you a much more personal experience. Despite an audience around you, it does feel like you're watching it on your own, that you're surrounded by it. And with it being so close to you, the original animation is much more noticeable. Timon and Pumbaa's paradise oasis is stunning, like you could dive into it yourself and live among the waterfalls and that deep green grass, laying there like they do, staring up at the stars.

When I saw The Lion King in 1994, and on VHS, and in IMAX, and on DVD, I didn't even notice shooting stars in the scene where Simba, much wiser, begins running back to Pride Rock. There they are, two of them, making you see how much these animators cared about making the best film possible. And not only did they do so, but so did the artists who created the 3D effects. The rain that washes over Pride Rock toward the end is so close to your eyes that you feel like you're almost caught up in it. Meridith told me that when she went to see Tangled, the rain effects ended right before they got close to you. These are very close, and they're why I wish Disney had not only released Beauty and the Beast 3D at the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood for a week. That deserved a nationwide release too, and if Disney works it right, puts The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Hercules, and Tarzan in 3D, they may very well hit upon a profit goldmine. Imagine Tarzan tree-surfing in 3D. How about the instances in which Pegasus flies?

As Meridith and I left Edwards Valencia 12, after I met her after her showing of Dolphin Tale 3D, I told her that John Lasseter, the executive producer of this 3D edition, had better be smart and re-release Monsters, Inc. in 3D ahead of the 2013 release of its prequel, Monsters University. Can you imagine the climactic doors sequence in 3D? That screams bloody murder for 3D conversion! They've done it oh so very right with The Lion King, and now it's time for other Disney animation to get the same treatment. I would happily pay to see those in that form. It is the next generation of Disney entertainment, and The Lion King looked a lot better than Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. The animation teams know how to use 3D much better. And based on The Lion King being #1 at the box office for the second weekend, it's time to give the animation division carte blanche on converting past movies into 3D. It works. Now it's time for more.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

It's Not the Jacket; It's the Content.

Very early this morning, a little after 2:30, before I went to bed, I began reading Five Chiefs: A Supreme Court Memoir by retired justice John Paul Stevens, owing to my interest in the Supreme Court (In fact, when the Court convenes on October 3, the first Monday in October as is tradition, it'll be the first time I follow a full term at length, using SCOTUSblog ( for that), and realized that it's not the book jacket I had an issue with when I read The GQ Candidate by Kelli Goff; it was the novel itself.

By the time I got up from a table near the large lobby of Edwards Valencia 12 to wait for Meridith outside the theater that Dolphin Tale 3D was playing at (I saw The Lion King 3D, and more about that tomorrow), I was on page 51 of Five Chiefs. And I had no beef with the book jacket. I slipped it back into center as necessary, and I didn't mind it.

If The GQ Candidate had been that absorbing, I would have not written anything about the book jacket. I was bored with it. The flashbacks to twenty-five years prior were tedious, and I connected not at all to any of the characters. The characters in anything don't even have to be likable for me to connect with them. I enjoy eccentricities, raw charisma, such as Michael Sheen as Castor/Zuse in Tron: Legacy, and entertaining evilness such as Scar in The Lion King. I liked Governor Luke Cooper, black and Jewish and running for the Democratic presidential nomination, and he seemed good-hearted, but very boring.

Stevens had served on the Court from 1975 to last year, and there's a wealth of experience to write about, as he does here, through the five Chief Justices he served, while also giving overviews of the first twelve Chief Justices of the United States before those chapters. He knows greatly of what he writes about, and his is a calm, measured voice, ably giving insight into the inner workings of the Supreme Court, making it accessible for all who are interested, but might not know so much, explaining the process by which cases are chosen to be heard.

No problem with the book jacket here!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Second Thursday at the Mall

Another Thursday at the Valencia Town Center Mall, motivated yet again by Dad having to be at a school, though not his own this time. This time it was at Valencia High for a BPA (Business Professionals of America) meeting that included the students he oversaw as a substitute teacher on Tuesday at Valencia, after his day was done at La Mesa, in a business education ROP (Regional Occupational Program) course.

Mom wanted to go somewhere during the time he was at Valencia High, from 5-7 p.m., and immediately thought of the mall again, most of all for Meridith and I to get tickets for The Lion King 3D (for me) and Dolphin Tale 3D (for her), so that way we wouldn't have to get any on Saturday, in case it was sold out. But 2:35 and 2:50, respectively, in the afternoon? I doubt it. Nevertheless, it's always useful to get them ahead of time, to just walk right in.

No Souplantation this time, and for good reason, since it was $40 for Mom, Meridith and I that time, though it was good. But it also didn't feel like the right time for it again. We walked on past after getting the tickets, toward the mall, and then headed for the food court. Mom wanted to try the veggie dog from Hot Dog on a Stick, just like last time; Meridith decided on the Japanese place next to Hot Dog on a Stick, and I decided on a quesadilla from Cabo Cabana Fresh Baja Grill.

It was a decent, large chicken quesadilla, as would be expected for $7.99, but a quesadilla at least in this part of the valley, is just a quesadilla. It's impossible to find a QUESADILLA in Valencia, one that bursts with great flavor. I was just glad to have a chicken quesadilla again, and really, at the mall here, the food court just does as advertised. Nothing more, nothing less. You'll find mediterranean food, and pizza, and grilled subs, but you just eat and move on to whatever else you need at the mall.

After the food court, we stopped at a key duplication vending machine across from a display window at Forever 21, and while Meridith looked at the key colors available, I marveled at the window of the view inside the machine. Someone came up with this design, someone (or a team, perhaps) created the mechanisms by which this machine operates. I wondered who those people were, how often they create such machines, if there's a steady opportunity to come up with new ones for new business ventures.

It was like the painting of food I saw above the old Arby's stand in the food court. It's what's put up when any space there is unoccupied. And I'm curious enough to e-mail whoever's in charge of the mall to see if they know who did it, if that person has any more paintings. I just want to know who that anomymous artwork belongs to.

It's the same thing with corporate architecture. Who designs the malls? Who builds them? Do they go from mall site to mall site throughout the country? When they're watching TV at night, do they mull over designs in their heads, like how big store space should be, if the mall anchors such as Sears have enough space? These are the things that go through my head at any mall, really. Unless there's a bookstore, or a library branch like the Henderson Galleria has. Mom also told me that they have books for sale out front. Then I'm not thinking of questions like those, but rather hoping for some decent finds, and I can't wait to devour that when I'm there.

At Puzzle Zoo, which stocks dolls and toys and model planes and Star Wars figurines, the guy behind the counter noticed my Beavis & Butthead t-shirt and led me to two boxes toward the back that had Beavis & Butthead bobbleheads in them, newly arrived, timed to the new episodes in October. They were talking bobbleheads and there was one of Cornholio. It's nice to see an important part of the '90s return, and as a fan, I was happy to see new merchandise. Not sure I'd get a bobblehead, but I'd buy figurines of them.

Then we decided to go to Menchie's, which has self-serve frozen yogurt and plenty of toppings, and Dad walked in not even five minutes after we started sampling the different frozen yogurts available, and so we had our concoctions together, mine with chocolate-covered banana frozen yogurt, almond bits, strawberries, bananas, cookie dough bites, cheesecake bites, Heath Bar pieces, and Reese's Cup pieces.

It was yet another peaceful evening at the mall, one of the few places in this valley that can provide the same reliable experience every time, though I suspect only like this on Thursdays. Chances are it'll be a long time before we go to the mall again, if we even go to this mall depending on if the opportunity comes to move soon. But I like that I'll always have those questions in mind as I look around any mall. I always wonder.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

My Southern California Souvenirs

For many entries throughout this blog, I've tried to figure out what Southern California means to me, if anything, going all the way back to when I moved here with my family in August 2003, grabbing every book I could related to the literature and history of Los Angeles to try to extract some meaning that answered so many questions I had, such as the total isolation of the Santa Clarita Valley from Los Angeles; the freeway system; how spread out everything is; how there's a sense of community in certain places, such as Chinatown and Koreatown, but not a sense overall.

I know now that in Los Angeles, people just live. They either love the city or they don't, and they do what they can to make it work for them. I may have been looking for one true meaning, but I had been going about it wrong. There are many meanings, and each member of the population in Los Angeles picks one and goes with it, however the city relates to them. I never got that feeling for myself. In order to keep sane in this valley, only 30 minutes north, but still feeling very far away from that metropolis, I got my associate degree at College of the Canyons, worked at The Signal for two years, and checked out what must have been hundreds of books from the Valencia library. However, to me, those aren't meanings related to where I live. I could have gotten an associate degree basically anywhere. If it hadn't been in the Santa Clarita Valley, it might have been somewhere else. I can find newspapers anywhere else (though I was glad to see that film criticism was not for me after it feeling so much like a hamster wheel in my final year), and libraries anywhere else too. But there was nothing to connect me securely to this valley. The only way that I know any place is worthwhile in some form is the hold it has on its history, and even though there is a historical society within Santa Clarita, this is not a valley that holds on to what it once was, that documents it, that shows it to others and says, "This is what we were long ago. This is how we began." I got that feeling in the times we went to Buena Park, the ghosts of its history lingering heavily over everything. I never got that here.

However, I have been thinking about what I want to take with me from Southern California when we move. Once I'm a resident of Henderson, I'll be swiftly making up for eight years of lost time (Not all of it was lost here, such as discovering the works of Charles Bukowski, and Subways are for Sleeping by Edmund G. Love). But what would I want to take with me to evoke slight memories, to at least remind me of where I had been and what I want for myself there to make life much better?

When I was digging through my permanent collection to figure out what books are my all-time favorites (Part 2 coming soon), I found Chore Whore by Heather H. Howard and This Book Will Save Your Life by A.M. Homes. Both books I first checked out at the Valencia library, both in hardcover, both evocative of different sides of Los Angeles.

Chore Whore is a fictionalized account of Howard's experiences as a personal assistant in Hollywood. I've not been involved in the industry in any capacity, but I do get that feeling of Hollywood, that thickness of separation between the Hollywood world and the rest of the world. I remember a friend once took me along to the 20th Century Fox lot in Century City to interview someone on-camera for the making of an independent film, in the office of producer Ralph Winter who, at the time, had pristine copies of the Fantastic Four comic on a glass coffee table, and would soon produce the films. Winter wasn't there, naturally, since it was nearing 8 p.m., but I remember one of his assistants at her desk, and I spied the proverbial script in a drawer. Whether hers or someone else's, I didn't ask, but I imagine it must have been hers. I get the feeling that everyone in Hollywood must have a script in a drawer, their hoped-for future ticket to fame. I also remember, driving nearer to the Fox lot, this thick atmosphere of desperation. I sensed all the future screenwriters tapping out scripts on their laptop, actors preparing for auditions the next day, people wanting more, more, more, but most of all, more exposure. Howard's book has a lot of that feeling, accurately told. I'm not interested in modern-day Hollywood, but am utterly fascinated with 1930s Hollywood, with the chieftains of the system back then, such as Louis B. Mayer of MGM, which reminds me that I want to read Scott Eyman's biography about him one of these days. Hollywood back then was an assembly line, with scripts being pushed out, produced, and the process constantly repeated, much faster than it is today. The pressure on all hands was enormous. That's what I like to study, though I still would like to remember a bit of what I experienced here with that, as a forever-outsider, and know that just like Las Vegas, you cannot find it anywhere else. Not like that.

This Book Will Save Your Life is the parts of Los Angeles I know, but unlike the ending, there is no such apocalypse waiting to take hold, though L.A. always seems on the verge of one. L.A. is at times odd as it is portrayed in this book, and it is not always a city in which you can feel secure. You need to do what you can do, and hope that it works, hope that the next day builds on what you tried to do and forms some kind of cement. What's most interesting about this is that while Richard, a stock trader, tries to put his life back together, people just appear and form a new universe for him. Just like that. People always just seem to appear in Los Angeles, and I don't mean just in the way of always being there, but there is always some soul, some life that stands out on every intersection, every crevice, every parking lot, every high-rise building. L.A. is not the kind of city where you look at length, where you stare to study. You just keep moving. But it's those moments of spotting something, something glimmering, something that catches your interest, even for a second, that adds to the uniqueness of L.A. In Henderson, I have a good read on the area. I know where the supermarkets are, where those places are that I want to be. In L.A., that same certainty isn't possible. You can't know everything. But you can know some things. That's the feeling I always get when I read This Book Will Save Your Life, and that's why it's coming with me when we move.

My last Southern California souvenir will be the DVD of King of California, starring Michael Douglas as a recently-released patient at a mental hospital, a jazz musician, and Evan Rachel Wood as his 16-year-old daughter, who dropped out of school to spend the past two years making a quiet, relatively stable life for herself. Charlie (Douglas) comes back into Miranda's (Wood) life with the enthusiastic notion of buried treasure. There was an explorer named Father Torres who buried gold somewhere in the Santa Clarita Valley, and Charlie studied all that he could possibly find while in the mental hospital, and wants to find the treasure. He knows it's out there.

King of California represents the Santa Clarita I know so well. It is a valley of logos, with McDonald's, 76, Wendy's, Chuck E. Cheese, and Petco all represented on camera. Besides those, we also have Six Flags Magic Mountain, Walmart, Office Depot, Staples, Target, and the list goes on. But despite the shallowness that frustrates me, it is also a valley that still harbors dreams and the search for them, such as Charlie's. It's there, but you just have to wade through the plastic bullshit to find it. There are more wide open spaces in the Santa Clarita Valley than you can find in Los Angeles proper, most noticeable when you look at the Six Flags part of the valley from the Walmart parking lot on Kelly Johnson Parkway. I also remember that when we moved to Saugus a year after our arrival, the mountainside we saw on the way to our new abode was completely empty. Not one light on it. Now it's covered in houses.

Whenever I watch King of California, I see those moments that I have lived in the Santa Clarita Valley, of that one Saturday afternoon in our Valencia apartment, sunlight filtering in through dusty blinds, discovering Charles Bukowski, and amazed that someone could write this raw with simple words. Bukowski always made sure that his writing could be read by the working man, because he was one of them, a mail carrier, and it's said that many who've never read poetry sparked to his.

I remember when Mom and Dad were in Vegas and Meridith and I stopped by this long housing development, full of houses nearly built the same, with differently-designed balconies and porches, and the peace I felt there. I wanted to have one of those porches, one of those balconies. I wanted a house like that. It was odd to me how there was this peaceful architecture and yet the only scenery around were the houses facing each other from across the street. But that's Santa Clarita. They build where there's enough space. Aesthetics need not apply.

I remember when I used to go to bed at 5 in the morning, and in the hours before, I'd stand on the patio, hearing that silence, amazed that an entire valley seemed to shut down. Only the occasional train whistle could be heard, cargo being transported. And I am reminded of those quiet moments in this valley, where things seem possible in life. I'm never sure what they are, but they always seem to be more than we currently are, like we could actually engage ourselves in different parts of this valley, but then it pushes back. It does not want that. It prefers to remain monolithic, styles set only by those who sell cars (Auto Row) or run College of the Canyons or have such a say in the business of this valley that for Valencia, they can come up with a marketing plan that includes rebranding Valencia as "Awesometown." I'm sadly serious. They have tried to make that catch on. But it's like American Idol, during the audition episodes, when a contestant claims that they have the greatest voice, that they are the one America has been waiting for, and then they begin singing, and even though you're not at the audition yourself, you cringe as if you're one of the auditioner's sane family members. That's exactly what calling Valencia "Awesometown" is.

King of California was filmed in parts of Southern California that aren't in the Santa Clarita Valley, but the Costco featured here is the one in this valley. Think about this: Treasure buried under a Costco? It's fiction, of course, but it is possible. Mildly. Even so, the dream is there, a dream that should be more widespread, a dream of anything, anything to make this valley more interesting. But at least in King of California, I have those moments of interesting happenings. They flash through my memory. They never happened often, but they were there. They're what got me through these eight years. And what better record to have of vanished time?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Book Jacket On or Off? I'm Going to Try Off.

A few weeks ago, Meridith borrowed my hardcover copy of Toast by Nigel Slater and removed the book jacket because she found it easier to read without it, without having to keep readjusting it to fit the book.

I actually haven't read a hardcover book in a while because I prefer paperback since it's lighter. And throughout the years, I just read hardcover books and adjusted the book jacket as necessary. The words were more important. But there have been some books lately that I've wanted to read right away, not waiting until the paperback edition, such as The GQ Candidate by Keli Goff, which I ordered a few days ago and am reading it right now.

Every time I open it up, though, there's the book jacket, slipping little by little and then I have to push it back to fit evenly with the covers. Three times today, and it got increasingly annoying. So, thinking of what Meridith did with Toast, I decided to try something new, and took off the book jacket, putting it in my room for now. Once I'm done reading, and before I put it in the Goodwill donation box (because though I like it so far, it won't have a spot in my permanent collection), I'll put the book jacket back on. And this is much nicer. I open the book and there's nothing to readjust. My only focus is the story. There's many other hardcover books to come, including Life Itself by Roger Ebert, so this will work perfectly for each.


Starlight by Ann Beattie. Read. This is what I aspire to in my future presidential history books:

This is coming out in November as this. I've pre-ordered it on Amazon:

Recurring Dream

This morning, I had the same dream I've had for the past few months, though some details change in each incarnation.

I was on a college campus, which this time had an arcade and a McDonald's, not a big one, but the logo was noticeable enough and though the ordering area was small, there was still enough going on in the back to show that this was a McDonald's important to the company, important enough to keep supplying it as if it was a location in the real world.

The other times I've had this dream, I've been on the roof of one of the buildings of the campus, I've climbed up a wide, glistening, marble staircase, I've walked through crowds of people, and I think I once caught a glimpse of a few theme park rides. My imagination goes anywhere.

This time, I was at this McDonald's, and it was already 11 a.m. with the rest-of-the-day menu on the display boards, but a few Egg McMuffins were still available, so I got two. And then I began thinking about the math class that was coming, the one in which the teacher had told me the previous session would be important to attend. A test? More notetaking for formulas that mattered nothing to me? I wasn't sure, but I also wondered if it would really matter if I was there. Was there a good grade to pursue this time? Probably not. Just another lecture to sit through.

The time for the beginning of the class came and went as I walked through the campus, going into the arcade, looking closely at what the claw machines had as prizes, seeing that the basketball game (where you throw basketballs into the hoop) was still there, and then walking out, walking a long way. To where, I don't know, but I determined that I didn't need to be in that math class today. It didn't affect me, and why should I spend my time not doing what I wanted to do?

This was not the only class I've ever skipped in these dreams. There was an English class, a science class, and probably a few others. And I'm never sure what it means. Is it related to some part of myself that I'm ignoring that I don't know that I'm ignoring? Is skipping these classes my way of reclaiming myself? I thought I've already done that with rediscovering my passion for reading, and considering what book I want to write next, and filling my life with what I love, including ambient music. I'm not sure what it could mean.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

I Want This on My Headstone

While watching the pilot of 30 Rock on Comedy Central yesterday, its first day in syndication, I found what I want on my headstone after 230 years cause my body and mind to say, "That's it. We're leaving." (I was hoping for 231 years, but I'm not going to push it.)

It comes from Jenna's (Jane Krakowski) first scene, as "Pam, The Overly-Confident, Morbidly-Obese Woman", after the musical number is taped. She finishes the number, looks down and says, "This fat suit smells like corn chips."

Silver Sliver

After giving over the past few days to season one episodes of The Good Wife on DVD, watching King of California and Julie & Julia again, and getting excited over the new fall TV season (Starting with Up All Night, which debuted last week after the season finale of America's Got Talent, and extended to the season premiere of Two and a Half Men last night (Ashton Kutcher was pretty good), and the series premiere of 2 Broke Girls (Funny enough that I'll watch it again next week, but am still tentative about it), and there were the new seasons of Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune that started last night, and 30 Rock and The Big Bang Theory went into syndication, and I'm still impatiently waiting for the season premieres of The Big Bang Theory (Thursday) and The Good Wife (Sunday)), I continued reading Skipping a Beat by Sarah Pekkanen this afternoon, leaping from page 37 to 212. I think I'll hold off on part 2 of my all-time favorite books, because Dad and Meridith aren't getting home until later than usual (Dad has an ROP (Regional Occupation Program) class to cover after work at a high school in the same area from 4 to 7), which means dinner will be later, and I want to finish reading this one because Life Itself by Roger Ebert and The GQ Candidate by Kelli Goff came in the mail today.

I'm not really invested in the story of Julia facing her new husband, Michael, new because his heart stopped while he was at a board meeting at his company, DrinkUp, and he was dead for 4 minutes, 8 seconds, and after recovering, wants to give to various charities all the money he ever earned, starting with $100 million dollars that he announces to reporters that he'll give away. They both come from West Virginia, Michael from a family that ignored him, Julia from a family that seemed happy enough, running a general store, until her father got so deep into gambling that he ruined all their lives and Julia vowed not to live with that fear of not having anything, of worrying about finances every single day, and so when Michael's flavored water company DrinkUp goes public and nets 70 million dollars right away, she has nothing to worry about, and even ignores their drifting apart as their marriage goes on, including the affair Michael had with a public relations manager he hired.

I'm more into Isabelle, Julia's best friend, who reveals to Julia at a bar that she gave up a daughter, Beth, for adoption when she was 18, and always thinks about her, wondering who she is, what she's doing, and she knew she gave her up to a loving husband and wife, but wants to know, more than the cards sent every year inform her. So she writes a letter to Beth, explaining everything, including a note to her adoptive parents to give Beth the letter when they feel it's the right time.

Then Isabelle tells Julia excitedly that Beth called her and wants her to come to Seattle, and while I understand the luxurious life Julia has established with Michael and all the clothes and jewelry and maids and private chefs that come with it, spurred on by her fear of never having anything ever again, I relate more to Isabelle. It's not that Julia is an airhead type; she has a good catering business going that she has a real knack for, but I think it's because Isabelle strikes me as more straightforward. This is what she did in her life, she regrets it, and she wants to make it better. In fact, Isabelle decides to contact Beth because of Michael, and says to Julia:

"When everything happened with Michael, the first person I thought of was Beth. What if I get really sick or die? Or what if she does? What if I miss the chance to tell her I love her because I was too afraid?"

"You could still write the letter," I said after a moment. "It isn't too late. You can tell her you were scared to write before, if you want to. Just tell her the truth. It doesn't have to be perfect."

Isabelle squeezed my hand. "I think I have to."

This is the part that endeared me to Isabelle, because she's so honest about what she needs to do, realizing that there needs to be major changes:

"Anyway, after I visit Beth . . . I don't know, but I feel like something has been missing for a while now. I don't know if I can do this anymore."

"Do what?" I asked, taking out some socks and standing up to toss them back in her drawer.

"This!" Isabelle spread out her arms, like a little kid who was pretending to fly. "My life! I'm thirty-four, and what do I have to show for it? I spend the money my grandfather made--not even the money, I just spend the interest on his money--and I dabble in charity work. I play tennis and go to parties and shop and travel. I'm busy every day of the week and it's not enough. I'm bored, Julia. I'm bored out of my fucking mind, and I have been for a while. I didn't think my life would turn out like this. I don't even know how it happened. I've just been drifting along, and suddenly almost half my life is gone.

"I don't know what I'll do when I get back. Maybe I'll get involved in a charity--really involved; not just show up at a benefit in a pretty dress and write a check--or hell, maybe I'll adopt a child and bring all of this full circle. You've got a job you love, and you've got a good man who adores you. And he does adore you now, Julia, no matter what happened before."

But that's not even why I decided to profile all of this. On page 164, I smiled at finding a rare moment in which the same letters sit side-by-side in two words, and two letters switch places, creating an entirely different word:

"At my core, I was still a girl without money, a person who worried she didn't fit in, someone who walked around with a silver sliver of fear buried deep inside her, like a bit of shrapnel even the most skilled surgeon would never be able to remove."

Silver sliver. What's even more fun is if you dart your eyes between the words really fast, you can see the "i" and the "l" switch places. I love that kind of moment in books.

Monday, September 19, 2011

My All-Time Favorite Book? Nope! My All-Time Favorite Books! That's Better.

The lovely and wonderful Lola over at "Women: We Shall Overcome" ( has posed a question I've never thought about: What is your all-time favorite book? (

Impossible, you say! How can I, a voracious reader since I was two, not choose even one book to sit atop all the other books I love and crow and crow about being my favorite?

When I was 14, and began writing movie reviews for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel's Teentime pages (It's no longer published, but used to be in the back of their weekend Showtime section every Friday), I used to make top-10 lists at year's end to determine what I had liked best, as a good little aspiring critic does. When I was a member of the Online Film Critics Society, receiving awards screeners of films that were being pushed for Oscar consideration, the ballot I received asked for your favorite movie, actor, actress and other categories to be ranked, with the top choices getting the highest number of points, and the lesser choices getting lower numbers of points.

I ended my association with film criticism entirely after I finished writing my first book, What If They Lived?, co-written with Phil Hall. I loved that after all the years I had been reviewing movies, it had led to this incredible opportunity, which I surely wouldn't have gotten otherwise. When Phil had offered it to me, and I was considering it, and initially didn't want to do it, my mom told me I had to do it because it would not come again like this, just being handed to me.

At that point, I wasn't enjoying writing movie reviews anymore. When I had started, I had the notion that I could do this full-time. Getting paid to watch movies and write about them? It was my goal. But before the book came along, the experience had become a hamster wheel for me. I knew how Hollywood worked: The movies Hollywood wished it hadn't made were dumped in January; the summer was for big and loud butt-scratcher movies; the fall and winter were given over to those movies that the various studios felt deserved Oscar glory and dammit if they weren't going to go all out to try to make that happen.

This wasn't for me anymore. Couple that with watching the screeners that came in through the Online Film Critics Society, determing through those what I liked the most and what I would vote for, and I was exhausted. I realized that I still loved movies, but not to that extent. I would be happy if I never wrote another movie review again, if I removed myself from that grind, and therefore ceased being a member of the Online Film Critics Society. And I am!

It's been three years since I left the Online Film Critics Society, left film criticism entirely, and all those rankings attached to it. The books you will read about are my all-time favorites. There is no rank for them, and it hews to my way of living life: No one is above me and no one is below me.

I begin with The Complete Polysyllabic Spree by Nick Hornby, a compilation of three short books of his book reviews: The Polysllabic Spree, Housekeeping vs. The Dirt, and Shakespeare Wrote for Money. Hornby's book reviews first appeared in the McSweeney's publication, The Believer, but they're not your typical book reviews. They are pure love about books, about the frustrations inherent in bad books, about the excitement of finding books you so desperately want to read that your entire being tingles, and just living the reading life, which, for Hornby, includes his beloved football.

The Complete Polysyllabic Spree was published in 2006 by Viking, then in paperback in 2007 by Penguin Books, both in the U.K. There is no American edition of this, just the three volumes published by McSweeney's. I ordered this from a U.K. bookshop, and am happy to have all of Hornby's writings in one book, to reference, to revel in, to smile in recognition at his love of books, which is also my love. Reading is living, and Hornby embodies that.

I want to quote large passages from Hornby's introduction, which says everything true that there is to say about reading, especially in that if you don't like a book that you're reading, you don't have to finish it:

"One of the problems, it seems to me, is that we have got it into our heads that books should be hard work, and that unless they're hard work, they're not doing us any good. I recently had conversations with two friends, both of whom were reading a very long political biography that had appeared in many of 2005's 'Books of the Year' lists. They were struggling. Both of these people are parents - they each, coincidentally, have three children - and both have demanding full-time jobs. And each night, in the few minutes they allowed themselves to read before sleep, they ploughed gamely through a few paragraphs about the (very) early years of a major twentieth-century world figure. At the rate of progress they were describing, it would take them many, many months before they finished the book, possibly even decades. (One of them told me that he'd put it down for a couple of weeks, and on picking it up again was extremely excited to see that the bookmark was much deeper into the book than he'd dared hope. He then realized that one of his kids had dropped it, and put the bookmark back in the wrong place. He was crushed.) The truth is, of course, that neither of them will ever finish it - or at least, not in this phase of their lives. In the process, though, they will have reinforced a learned association of books with struggle.

I am not trying to say that the book itself was the cause of this anguish. I can imagine other people racing through it, and I can certainly imagine these two people racing through books that others might find equally daunting. It seems clear to me, though, that the combination of that book with these readers at this stage in their lives is not a happy one. If reading books is to survive as a leisure activity - and there are statistics which show that this is by no means assured - then we have to promote the joys of reading, rather than the (dubious) benefits. I would never attempt to dissuade anyone from reading a book. But please, if you're reading a book that's killing you, put it down and read something else, just as you would reach for the remote if you weren't enjoying a TV programme. Your failure to enjoy a highly rated novel doesn't mean you're dim - you may find that Graham Greene is more to your taste, or Stephen Hawking, or Iris Murdoch or Ian Rankin. Dickens, Stephen King, whoever. It doesn't matter. All I know is that you can get very little from a book that is making you weep with the effort of reading it. You won't remember it, and you'll learn nothing from it, and you'll be less likely to choose a book over Big Brother next time you have a choice.

'If reading is a workout for the mind, then Britain must be buzzing with intellectual energy,' said one sarcastic columnist in the Guardian. 'Train stations have shops packed with enough words to keep even the most muscular brain engaged for weeks. Indeed, the carriages are full of people exercising their intellects the full length of their journeys. Yet somehow, the fact that millions daily devour thousands of words from Hello, the Sun, The Da Vinci Code, Nuts and so on does not inspire the hope that the average cerebellum is in excellent health. It's not just that you read, it's what you read that counts.' This sort of thing - and it's a regrettably common sneer in our broadsheet newspapers - must drive school librarians, publishers and literacy campaigners nuts. In Britain, more than twelve million adults have a reading age of thirteen or under, and yet some clever-dick journalist still insists of telling us that unless we're reading something proper, then we might as well not bother at all.

But what's proper? Whose books will make us more intelligent? Not mine, that's for sure. But has Ian McEwan got the right stuff? Julian Barnes? Jane Austen, Zadie Smith, E.M. Forster? Hardy or Dickens? Those Dickens readers who famously waited on the dockside in New York for news of Little Nell - were they hoping to be educated? Dickens is Literary now, of course, because the books are old. But his work has survived not because he makes you think, but because he makes you feel, and he makes you laugh, and you need to know what is going to happen to his characters. I have on my desk here a James Lee Burke novel, a thriller in the Dave Robicheaux series, which sports on its covers ringing endorsements from the Literary Review, the Guardian and the Independent on Sunday, so there's a possibility that somebody who writes for a broadsheet might approve . . . Any chance of this giving my grey matter a work-out? How much of a stretch is it for a nuclear physicist to read a book on nuclear physics? How much cleverer will we be if we read Of Mice and Men, Steinbeck's beautiful, simple novella? Or Tobias Wolff's brilliant This Boy's Life, or Lucky Jim or To Kill a Mockingbird? Enormous intelligence has gone into the creation of all of these books, just as it has into the creation of the iPod, but the intelligence is not transferable. It's there to serve a purpose.

But there it is. It's set in stone, apparently: books must be hard work, otherwise they're a waste of time. And so we grind our way through serious, and sometimes seriously dull novels, or enormous biographies of political figures, and every time we do so, books come to seem a little more like a duty, and Pop Idol starts to look a little more attractive. Please, please, put it down.

And please, please stop patronizing those who are reading a book - The Da Vinci Code, maybe - because they are enjoying it. For a start, none of us knows what kind of an effort this represents for the individual reader. It could be his or her first full-length adult novel; it might be the book that finally reveals the purpose and joy of reading to someone who has hitherto been mystified by the attraction books exert on others. And anyway, reading for enjoyment is what we should all be doing. I don't mean we should all be reading chick lit or thrillers (although if that's what you want to read, it's fine by me, because here's something else no one will ever tell you: if you don't read the classics, or the novel that won this year's Booker Prize, then nothing bad will happen to you; more importantly, nothing good will happen to you if you do); I simply mean that turning pages should not be like walking through thick mud. The whole purpose of books is that we read them, and if you find you can't, it might not be your inadequacy that's to blame. 'Good' books can be pretty awful sometimes."

And now I've got an overwhelming urge to re-read this one.

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro is another of my all-time favorite books. I saw the movie first, starring Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson, in our condo in Pembroke Pines, Florida back in early 2002. I think it was one of the only times I watched a movie on Turner Classic Movies while it was airing.

I was impressed with the detail of the time period, the 1930s, nearing the time of World War II, and the cloistered life of Stevens the butler in the somewhat gloomy, haunting Darlington Hall, in the employ of Lord Darlington, who strives to achieve an understanding between the French, British and Germans in order to prevent war, but is misled on many fronts and is naive in his understanding of diplomacy. Plus, Anthony Hopkins can be so many different people, and this was in 1993, two years after Hannibal Lecter.

In August 2006 (I'm only so exacting because of what followed after), my family and I went on a trip to San Francisco. Driving. Normally, every time we go on a trip, it's because Dad has something to do at the destination, a conference, a meeting, related to business education. This seemed to be the rare time when that wasn't true.

Before we left Santa Clarita for San Francisco, I had been to the library, found the hardcover edition of The Remains of the Day, and decided it was finally time to read it, after five years of just adoring the movie. It was hard to read anything on 70 miles of winding mountain road that make up part of the Pacific Coast Highway, and the worst thing was that at the start of it, when Dad was trying to find a way to turn around, and stopped somewhere to ask about it, he was told he couldn't. We were on that road and we could only follow it all the way to its end, to San Francisco.

I had a migraine by the time we got to the motel, but I had read most of The Remains of the Day and was utterly impressed by the detail put forth in such formal language, as is the way of Stevens. And not once did I think about Anthony Hopkins as Stevens or Emma Thompson as Miss Kenton, the housekeeper. Images from movies do not remain in my mind when I read the source material, and this book stood very well on its own. It's no wonder that director James Ivory found something so extraordinary in it to make a movie from it. Some changes benefited the movie, such as the new owner of Darlington Hall, Mr. Faraday, now being Congressman Lewis, retired from politics, and played by Christopher Reeve, which gave him more screen time, as the gray-haired Lewis, as well as the young man that came to Darlington Hall as part of President Roosevelt's Brain Trust.

Came October of that same year, and we went to Palm Springs, to Hotel Zoso, for a business education conference Dad had there. Otherwise, we would have never gone to Palm Springs.

I fell hard for the downtown area, which we happened to be near on a Thursday night as well, so we saw the street fair they have with various vendors, artists, food carts, and there was such a vibrancy there, like this was all that was needed in the world, this intimacy in close spaces. And even just to walk it without the street fair there, in the daytime, was pure pleasure. I felt at home walking those sidewalks, sensing a community amidst those storefronts. There was still a feeling of detachment, as would be expected with the wealthy people who live there, but it wasn't as pervasive as it is in Santa Clarita.

While Dad was at his conference, and Mom, Meridith and I walked those downtown streets, we happened upon a bookstore crammed with books. And the owner, who had few teeth, looked like he lived there and he immediately, temporarily, became a hero of mine, because I would love that, to always be among all those books.

In the back, there were stacks of paperbacks, floor-to-ceiling, sections for Stephen King, John Grisham, Dean Koontz. And I walked those floors, near those wooden bookshelves, looking at all those titles that were just waiting again to be read.

Near a glass case with a few rare books inside, I found what I had been hoping for: The Remains of the Day, in a paperback edition from Vintage International. This one was mine. And I still have the original receipt from October 9, 2006, from that bookstore. It was $5.95, with $0.46 tax, and so it came out to $6.41. It's a very simple receipt, no logo of the store, a strip of paper torn off from the role after printing. No perforation. I think the bookstore was called G.W. Books. It closed a few years ago, and I wish it hadn't happened, but perhaps the rent in the downtown area had gone up. That guy couldn't afford it. I hope he's still around, somewhere, still with his books, still reading a lot, as he was reading when we had walked in.

I read The Remains of the Day at least once a year, and with this edition, and that receipt, I always remember him, a lone literary explorer.

I found Subways are for Sleeping by Edmund G. Love, who wrote for Harper's Magazine, while searching for Subwayland: Adventures in the World Beneath New York by Randy Kennedy, inspired by a journalism 101 class at College of the Canyons in October 2004, in which one of the assignments had been to listen to a radio news program, such as NPR or another station, and write down what had been reported and the stories that had been told. I got up early one morning for "Morning Edition" on NPR, and heard a story by Robert Smith, who had spent the night in the New York City subway system, taking in all the sights and sounds at those hours, including a guitarist who preferred to play in the subway at night because all the stage is his. Only his.

That story inspired me to seek out more about the world of the New York City subway system, with no desire to visit. Just read. I couldn't find Subwayland in the County of Los Angeles library catalog, but I did find Subways are for Sleeping and it sparked in me what I like to do when I randomly come across a book: I put it on hold and look to read it. I love doing that because it could be one book that affects me greatly. And this one did.

Love writes about the homeless population in New York City, and the resourcefulness of a few figures there, such as Henry Shelby, who picks up various odd jobs along the way, and keeps a tight hold on the money he makes, only spending money for a small hotel room when he hasn't spent a great deal in two or three days, preferring to sleep on the subway. There's old radio shows available for download online, and this particular story, in 1956, was turned into an episode of the CBS Radio Workshop ("The theater of the mind," as the narrator intoned). I downloaded it and have listened to it often. But that stemmed from my association with this book, which began after I checked it out.

I wasn't a sociable type at College of the Canyons. I only wanted to take my courses, do what was necessary, and in between, I'd find what amused me, what interested me, and I'd go with it. I remember being acquaintances with a few of my classmates, but nothing further. I don't remember any of them. I do remember the small arcade with two pinball machines in the student center building where the cafeteria was too. And I remember the cafeteria, the booth I always chose in the back to spread out my math homework, and promptly ignored all the problems facing me. I pulled out Subways are for Sleeping and I read about Shelby, and Charlie, and Father Dutch, awed by these great feats of living, how these people survived on the streets of New York City, what their days were like.

In his decision to write about this particular New York City population, Love writes:

"A few years ago I was caught up in a whirlwind of my own. When it all ended, I found myself walking the streets. I needed more than just a job. I needed to reassess life. Something, somewhere, had gone wrong. I may have listened wrong. I may have thought wrong. Or, I could have been right and the world wrong. It seemed to me, at the time, that the reassessment was more important than the material side of things. I had to think. I had to have time to think. So I drifted. I remember a long series of days and weeks during which I slept on the sofas in the apartments of friends. I recall that during one whole winter month I went down to the Hospital for Special Surgery every afternoon at two o'clock to call on a girl who was confined there. I hardly knew her, but the hospital was warm and I was cold. This may sound hard-boiled, but by that time I'd found out that necessity takes precedence over nicety. I bought a tablet and a pencil and sat on a bench in Grand Central, trying to write and think there.

I say all this because I want it understood that I did not drop into this world of which I write simply to study it. I was there because I couldn't seem to escape it. My rehabilitation, if it can be called that, was a long drawn-out process because it involved a complete change in my thinking as well as a simple economic readjustment. In some ways, it is still going forward. I worked intermittently at a wide variety of jobs. I did not stay in New York, but I did return to the city two or three times. I met a lot of people and I learned a lot of things. More than once I had a stranger suggest to me a place to eat, or a place to sleep, or a place to keep warm. I learned a hundred ways to pick up a dollar or two. I consider this knowledge important, but I learned something even more valuable. I learned a lot about human beings."

I was seized by Love's writing. It was exactly how I wanted to write. Just tell the story. If you're involved, express how you were involved, but do it in the service of the story. And the stories of these people were absorbing, a world I never knew, and god willing will never know, but it became a world I wanted to understand, to see what might have happened that brought these people squarely to the streets of New York, and how they lived, what they were hoping for, what they were striving to do that would let them live how they wanted to live again.

I checked out this book constantly from the Valencia library, alternating between the one that came from the Norwalk branch and the one from the Hawthorne branch. The Hawthorne branch copy had a green cover, the pages likely fitted into a new cardboard cover after the old cover probably distintegrated from age. The Norwalk branch cover is an understated aqua color, with little tree and leaf branches drawn on in black. Likely the same process as the Hawthorne branch copy.

This book got me through my two years at College of the Canyons, 2004-2006. I would often ignore my math homework and other homework on campus in favor of reading it again. I have fond memories of that back table in the cafeteria because of this book, because of the peace afforded me. There were times when the cafeteria was completely empty and it was just me. And I loved it, especially on Friday afternoons when the campus was also empty, when everyone had other places to be, better places, and it felt as if I owned the campus.

There came a day in May 2008 when I decided that I could not live without this book, particularly the Norwalk branch copy. I had checked it out so many times (The Hawthorne branch copy only came to me twice) that I felt it was mine. I had developed such a kinship with this book. And on the last Sunday of that month, I walked into the Valencia library, knowing exactly what I had to do in order to keep my book: I declared it lost. I told the librarian at the desk that when my family and I were traveling back from Las Vegas and had stopped at the state line toward California at the convenience store/travel center there, the book had dropped out of the car and I didn't even notice, and when we got home, I couldn't find it at all and determined that that's where it was, and there was no chance of going back to get it, so all I could do was pay the necessary fines.

And I was prepared to do so because I had the money with me. On the library card pocket on the inside cover, the price was $3.75, but surely it had gone up since then, since the last time a person had checked out this book, with a due date of October 28, 1978. It probably was checked out many times after that, but by then, they were likely using due date cards and then there came the self-checkout system, but I don't think this book ever saw that because this wasn't a book people had sought out. All the pages were still intact when I first got it, still are. A bit of yellowing from age, but it had been well-protected by the books on either side of it.

The charge for "Lost Material," as stated on the receipt I got, was $29, plus a $5 processing fee. I paid it. It was worth it. Every time I read this book, I know what my future can be in writing. I know that I subscribe to Love's style of writing: Keep it simple, keep it straight, and just tell the story. And by that, I know that I am home.

One genre I've never read at length has been science fiction. I should get into it more for pure imagination, but it's never attracted me. I think of the playwright Sam Shepard, one of my heroes, who so easily intertwines reality and surrealism. You read his works and when you get to those surreal moments, it's no big deal. It's part of the lives of those he writes about, it's part of the landscape. Few writers can do that successfully and Shepard is one.

But give me a sci-fi tale set at Walt Disney World and I'm in. That's what Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom by Cory Doctorow is, especially the Walt Disney World the guests never see after they leave the park, and in this case, it's "ad-hocs" who keep the attractions running, with little new technological touches, but nothing that does harm to Walt Disney's original vision, except for a new group that's taken over the Hall of Presidents, replacing the audio-animatronics with direct-to-brain interfaces that let guests feel that they're the presidents, and the "ad-hocs" do not like this at all.

I discovered Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom on DailyLit (, back when I was reading full-length books on there. There's the option of receiving a page of a book a day by e-mail, and clicking a link that sends you the next installment if you want more. The title alone got me curious, but then I kept clicking that link, wanting more and more and more, wanting to know what would happen to Jules, his girlfriend Lil, and Keep-a-Movin' Dan, and especially the fate of the Magic Kingdom. This was, to me, accessible sci-fi, for amateurs like me. But it was brilliant, so rich in what this world was, in a far different Walt Disney World than I ever knew, but one that I would have loved to visit as well.

Eventually, I bought it in paperback. I actually haven't read it again since I bought it, but I know that when I do, I'll be right back in that world, utterly fascinated with what Doctorow has created, in awe of such a complex, imaginative mind.

I have other all-time favorites, but I can see that this entry is quite long, and the evening is coming. The new seasons of Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune begin tonight, and there's the season premiere of Two and a Half Men (I'm curious), as well as the series premiere of 2 Broke Girls (Looks funny from the clips I saw), and I'm also curious about the second season premiere of Hawaii Five-O, after watching the first season finale with Governor Jameson (Jean Smart) being killed off, though I had not seen an episode before that. But I did learn a bit about the leeway Jameson gave the Five-O team from what I read, and I want to see what the new governor does with the team, and how it goes with McGarrett, framed for the murder of Jameson.

Plus, I've got the penultimate and final episodes of the second season of The Good Wife Tivo'd from last night, and I really want to see those. And yes, I'm also curious about The Comedy Central Roast of Charlie Sheen. Really weird how contrite he's become in such a relatively short amount of time, after the entertaining craziness from before.

Thanks to Lola (truly, because I've enjoyed thinking about why these particular books are my all-time favorites), I will write another installment in the coming days, and and it will include three Charles Bukowski books, a later Steinbeck, Harlan Ellison as a film critic, and truly one of the best, Alan Bennett writing about a bibliophile queen, my childhood experiences with Robinson Crusoe, and a book of letters by one of my heroes.