Monthly Archives: October 2007

Rob’s Reads: October 2007b

October was unprecedentedly productive in the literary department even with a week of obscene dental annoyance. No doubt it’s attributable to the fact that I’ve lowered my standards of ‘acceptable’ literature slightly to include more modern books. Overall I’d say that this batch was pretty enjoyable if not overwhelmingly informative in all cases.
Oh, also, if you find any of these titles interesting please feel free to let me know and I’ll happily lend you my copy. All I ask is a short written assessment when you’re done to be shared in this venue. (well, and to have the book back of course.)

The Reluctant Fundamentalist [Hamid] – 2007 Booker Prize (Short List) [*****]
In The Reluctant Fundamentalist Hamid follows a Pakistani man who comes to America to get his education and make his fortune in a business-valuation firm. Everything seems to go along quite swimmingly until the 9/11 attacks and our protagonist begins to have some misgivings about his adopted society. While entirely fictional I have to imagine that this storyline has the ring of truth for many immigrants to this country. I can’t recommend this one highly enough for it’s portrayal of a point of view that we don’t see nearly often enough. On a stylistic level, my wife found it a bit difficult to weave her way through though. The book is written as a story within a story wherein the narrator interacts with his audience as the tale unfolds. This can be a trifle unnerving but I found it to be quite endearing.

Citizen Vince
[Walter] – 2006 Edgar Award – Best Novel [*** 1/2]
For Vince, after years as a small-time petty crook working for the mob, it was finally time to go straight. Not that that’s as easy as it might seem, especially when you’re just a baker trying to make donuts for a living. Citizen Vince is a slightly gritty crime novel with a somewhat entertaining twist and a legitimate attempt at a moral. It does little to endear me to the genre but at least was sufficient to make me leave the Edgar Award winners on my reading TODO list.

The Nice and the Good [Murdock] – 1969 Booker Prize (Short List) [***]
This was the last of the 69 Booker Nominees on my TODO list and I think that with one exception I was pretty unexcited about all of them. The Nice and the Good is a unnecessarily prolix morality tale that can be summed up pretty completely by the text of the back cover. Despite the weakness of the theme some of the actual details are relatively entertaining. The novel is rife with sexuality that runs the gamut from homosexual to cuckold to Satan worshiper and while there is a small amount of plot this is a character study. None of them good mind you, merely nice.

God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything [Hitchens] – 2007 National Book Award Nominee [Non-Fiction] [***]
This bit of intellectual argument was the last of eight reads for the month and it almost didn’t make it into the list at all. Hitchen’s thesis is a very common one and one that I tend to agree with in principle but his delivery is so caustic that it tends to lose both halves of his audience. No religious person will be moved by his statements as he begins with such obvious hatred and disdain that nobody can wade through the maze of attacks the first 20 pages represent. By the time he finally settles down into a less vigorous polemic one cannot help but take all he says with a grain of salt. While I want to believe that the Catholic Church was complicit with Hitler’s extermination of the Jews, for example, I find myself unable to take Hitchens’ word for it by the time he gets around to saying it. Grains of salt aside though, in those areas in which I have some independent knowledge (nonsensical nature of the Bible, Christian sexual mutilation of male children, devolution of the church into ‘entertainment’, bizarre origins and beliefs of the Mormon church) I find it hard not to agree with the author almost completely. If even half of what he says is true, we’re all in some deep shit. But then again, mankind generally is.

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Out of the Valley of the Shadow of… something

Boy, that sucked. I have to say that I really recommend that if you’re going to have your wisdom teeth out you should do it when you’re 18. I was totally not impressed with this whole procedure. Dentists and oral surgeons are barbarians and every single one of them should be drug into the street and broken on the rack.

I will say that days one and two after surgery were pretty mild. The procedure itself is amusingly painless of course and even the first day boasts no huge discomfort. They send you home with documentation that claims boldly “most pain and discomfort should subside by day four”. So when day one rolls around and you’re feelin’ pretty good and day four should be the the end of it all you get to feelin’ pretty giddy. Suddenly the recovery room joke of “remind me before we leave to schedule the next four, I think I have some left” doesn’t have quite the same ring of bravery that it did before.

What the literature doesn’t tell you is that day one is supposed to be the easy day. Days three and four, however, amount to hell on earth and the surgeon damn well knows it because when you call the office the nurse’s response is, “Oh yeah, this is day three. You’re going to want to rip the rest of your teeth out with a fork. Just tape your arms to your sides and you’ll be fine.”

So as day four sets, you find yourself yearning for the nirvana of day five. Oh most precious and jubilant day five wherein all the pain subsides! How we love you! Then day five dawns fresh and new and filled with bullshit as you still want to rip your face off. Now it’s clear that someone is stabbing your face with a fork and damn it, they won’t stop. Perhaps that explains why your head is the size and shape of a bowling ball as your skin inflates like an airbag on an 06 Dodge Neon trying to protect the annoyed contents of your skull.

Day six you’ve friggin’ had it. By god I’m taking my iron maiden to that dentist’s office and I’m luring that sadistic bastard out to the car. Day six, eight a.m., calling the doctor’s office… “oh… he’s had a cancellation?” (must be someone who reads this blog)… “oh good!… yes, I can come in at nine. Yes, thank you. See you then.” This man is mine! Something though… not quite right… something different…

An hour later I’m in the doctor’s office admitting somewhat sheepishly, “yeah, I feel kinda silly being here. I don’t really have any pain at this point.” Hrm. Stupid skull betraying me again at the last minute. And to think I dragged the iron maiden out to the car for nothing. Perfectly good weekend shot to hell too. I’ll have you know that Saturday we hosted a euchre party and I laid in bed for the majority of it in a narcotic haze. Worse than that, Sunday was “Swinger’s Night” at our church and my wife had to go by herself. In retrospect that may be for the best though; I probably would have drawn that dusty octogenarian Mrs. Shephardson again.

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Filed under dentistry, personal

Into the Valley of the Shadow of… something

Alright, yesterday I did something that I’ve been avoiding for a VERY long time. I had my Wisdom teeth out. So here’s the story…

When I was a mere 16 years old, Dr. Wysong told me, “You should have those wisdom teeth out. It’ll be much easier on you if you do it before they’re fully ossified.” My mother, bless her, when i said, “I really don’t want to do that” was happy to shrug and say, “OK, Great. Don’t do it.” because it allowed her to not have to worry about it. Eighteen years later, those words “fully ossified” still haunted me. I was pretty sure that by now, they were about as ossified as they were going to get.

It’s not that they were bothering me after all that time except in the sense that my wife was peppering me with semi-constant reminders that I needed to get my wisdom teeth out. Personally, I was perfectly willing to live with them as they were given that the alternative (at least in my mind) was death or permanent brain damage due to the evil chemicals they pump into you while they do these kinds of surgeries. I’ve never been a fan of chemical-induced catatonia as I’ve always felt that my grip on reality was infirm enough that I hardly needed to loosen it through chemistry. So, the years turned into decades until we arrive at the present day.

As it turns out, the procedure itself was unwittingly amusing. Pumped full of enough chemicals I was barely able to maintain a straight face and quipped with the surgeons endlessly. I have no recollection of the actual surgery which I assume is entirely by design. I can only assume that it was gruesomely unpleasant. The last thing I remember is entering a sort of hypnogogic state and then being helped from the chair into the recovery room. Whatever evil crunchings and pullings took place in between leave their mark only in my extremely sore jaws and cheeks. I’m told that in 4-6 weeks I’ll be as good as new. That hardly seems a fair trade for the 10 minutes of giggling that proceeded the operation. The wheel of karma has cheated me on that account it seems.

In any case, that bit of unpleasantness is over with. One only wonders what future modifications my wife has planned for me now.

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Rob’s Reads: October 2007a

Note: One thing I regret about the way I spend my free time is that I fail to adequately document it all. What good, I argue silently with myself, does it do to read a book unless I make some note of it as I do so? Sssooo… to try to rectify this situation, I’m going to try to give my sumuppance of what I’ve passed my eyes over in the first 2 weeks of October. If you’re VERY unlucky, I’ll remember to do it every 2 weeks or so forever.

The Worst Hard Time [Egan] – 2006 Pulitzer Prize for Non-Fiction [*****]
This book is easily the most entertaining bit of non-fiction I’ve read this year. Egan describes in very intimate detail the tribulations of those who lived through the dust bowl. In school, you breeze over this period of history in deference to World War II and only really talk about it at all as an addendum to the Great Depression. I had no clue just how bad circumstances were; one tends to think, “Oh, a little dust” but Egan preserves for us first-hand accounts of 9-foot dust drifts, animals electrocuted because of the static electricity produced by all that moving dust and countless victims of ‘dust pneumonia.’ This is a brilliant rendering of a much neglected period of U.S. history.

Glasshouse [Stross] – 2007 Hugo Nominee [****]
It has easily been 15 years since I last cracked open a ‘modern’ science fiction novel. From my point of view, the genre had completely cracked under the strain and gone utterly and completely commercial with Star Trek clones. I had to admit though that Stross’ Glasshouse surprised me. While many of the concepts were hackneyed (instant transportation using wormholes, easy cloning of objects and people at the molecular scale, etc) Glasshouse did a good job of examining these technologies in a much more realistic light. What happens, for example, when someone introduces a worm into a transportation system that fundamentally alters people as they go from place to place and Jordi Laforge can’t fix the problem in the span of a 1-hour episode? If this book is indicative of the genre then I’m ready to give it another serious look.

After This [McDermott] – 2007 Pulitzer Prize – Fiction Nominee [**]
In After This McDermott renders for the reader the story of a perfectly normal person with a perfectly normal life. She lives for a while then finds a husband. Then she has kids. The kids move away, go to war, fall in love, get pregnant and do utterly and completely unsurprising things. This is fiction for those with weak hearts who dare not risk their lives with real entertainment. The only aspect of this novel that saves it from getting only one star is the fact that I managed to finish without cheating.

Figures in a Landscape [England] – 1969 Booker Prize Short List [*****]
After After This, Figures in a Landscape was like an icy waterfall washing straight down my pant leg. England follows a pair of POWs as they escape from their concentration camp. For eleven days, they plod through the jungle, are nearly burned alive and are endlessly harassed by the faceless but ever-present helicopter pilot. This is true man’s fiction. If you don’t want to go for a long hike with a heavy pack after this book then you should probably check your pulse.

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Random Babbling for 10/11/07

It’s been quite a while since I’ve written down any original thoughts so now seems like a good time to do it.

Tomorrow is my bi-weekly ‘Lunch with Human’ with a co-worker. It’s funny really that the more I get to know people the more I enjoy them. Years ago I loved mathematics because I believed fervently that mathematics was the underpinning of all reality. That you could, if you tried hard enough, predict every event in the universe given a large enough sheet of paper. Then I loved computers because they could do math much more quickly and give you a much bigger ‘sheet of paper’. Over the years though, I’ve come to the sad conclusion that the real world is much more complicated than that and that most of that complexity comes about because of people. I love people with all their unutterable emotions and motivations. It makes me absolutely giddy to unravel a person from their outermost appearances down to the Gordian Knot of their immortal soul. My wife suggested recently that I should go back to school to become a psychologist and I’d jump at the chance if it arose somehow. I can’t guarantee that I’d be able to resist the temptation to put ‘Psychological Vivisectionist’ on my business cards.

After almost two months of geocaching I’ve come to a few random conclusions. Firstly, I’m not sure I’m amused by other people’s caches much any more. After you’ve pulled ten film canisters from trees hanging by christmas tree hooks it tends to get a bit redundant. I wish people would put some effort into these things rather than just randomly hiding things anywhere that comes to mind in the same cliche way. I am, however, much entertained by placing caches of my own though it is a bit nerve-wracking if you allow yourself to conjure up frantic calls to 911 from random unseen onlookers. I’ve yet to find a consistent geocaching partner of any kind. My eldest now lives in mortal fear of mosquitoes and everyone else I’ve gone out now claims disinterest. Time to call Jared again I suppose.

Someone whose blog I read semi-regularly did a mimi about what books she’s read this year which put me of a mind to take a look back at my own logs. I was astounded to realize that I’ve finished at least 3 books every month this year. Usually I get distracted for at least a few months a year and read nothing. Apparently I’m just more amused by my choice of literature as of late. I’m looking forward to the end of year literature wrap-up.

As I was driving for 23 hours last week I listened to some talk radio. Whenever I actually sit and really LISTEN to talk radio, I’m always astounded by just how screwed up we are in this country. But then I hear something that makes me nod my head and say, “yeah, you’re exactly right.” Some Ohio-local disembodied voice was reporting that the evangelicals were threatening to start a third party if Giuliani got the Republican nomination. His response simply, “Good, go build a third party. We’re better off without you.” Without the religious influence, he argued, the Republican party would drift back from the extreme right-wing theocracy it represents into something that much more people could agree on. I for one agree with him. The Republicans have some good points on their side. I don’t like the welfare system as it stands, I think Government is too big and too wasteful, I don’t think we should pull babies halfway out of their mothers and then crush their heads. And the Republicans agree with me on that. Unfortunately, I can’t vote for them because they represent a collection of theocratic drones. If a Republican party sans religion can appeal to someone as liberal as I am then they’d win in a landslide.

Alright,that’s all I have to say about all of that. Must go now as I have people banging on my window wondering what the ‘Word of the Day’ is going to be.

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Another Satisfied Treasure Hunter

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October 8, 2007 · 2:59 pm