Saturday, May 30, 2009

An ode to NYC

Ah, New York, you muse of novelists and filmmakers... you've done it again, in Jhumpa Lahiri's The Namesake. I'm a little late to the party on this one, I admit, especially since I've taught her short story collection The Interpreter of Maladies. But I have to say that reviews bear some responsibility. I can only see the words "coming of age" so many times before I start thinking I can put off reading this oh-so-important novel. However, Namesake is worth it, and the great thing about modern coming-of-age novels is that they can portray important times of life like high school and college without being treated as un-serious. The hero, Gogol Ganguli, struggles with his name and all it represents: his family's complex history and immigration, relationship to art, adjustment to life in America. It handles the issues of a second-generation child and his interracial dating without ever becoming too symbolic or cliched, which in itself is a true feat. And, since Lahiri is nothing if not a fun descriptive writer, there's also lots of loving portrayal of NYC's urban desert and yummy Indian desserts.

I'm looking forward to renting the movie that was made by Mira Nair starring Kal Penn, late of House and soon of the White House.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Only Arsenio?

I just watched a kind of politicians' wrap-up on the Tonight Show, all the pols that Jay has had on in his seventeen years. And... no Bill Clinton. That's odd. Was that before presidential candidates were really hitting the talk shows? Perhaps Clinton and his sax on Arsenio were really the first of that wave.

I also wonder if Clinton for some reason didn't like Leno, maybe some of his jokes, etc., because I know he's been on Letterman since his presidency. It would have to be very specific, though, because Letterman also did so many Clinton jokes that he ran a 'Clinton Classic' every day in the days leading up to the end of his presidency.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Based on nothing

Or next to nothing... I don't follow American Idol, but I did hear that Queen (visualize the air quotes that I always have around the present-day version of the band) was on the finale, so I YouTubed it. Based on this three minutes, there's simply no comparison between the two finalists. Adam and his eyeliner all the way, man.

Monday, May 11, 2009


A post from the not-so-distant past, when I went to Camden and finally saw Walt Whitman's house, the house he lived in toward the end of his life and died in. It's well set up inside by the Park District, but being rather out of the way and unassuming, I don't know how much foot traffic it draws. It's in a little row of houses -- I didn't take the best photos, as you'd have to step out into traffic to get a good angle. Combined with the Camden Aquarium, it's a nice day.

The house is well set up inside, but no photos are allowed. A fair amount of Whitman's own possessions are scattered about to give the air of authenticity. I particularly recall a pair of his boots. The garden out back is lovely, and if you're a Whitman fan, you will recall that Horace Traubel spends quite a lot of time detailing the social gatherings that would happen in the garden and at this house generally.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Speaking of...

...authors who died, leaving their series unfinished, none was sadder than Kate Ross, an attorney who died after writing only four of her acclaimed Julian Kestrel mysteries.  Kestrel was a sensitive, complicated dandy living in Regency-ish England (I think -- it's been a while), whose obscure origins were as much of a puzzle as the murders and heartbreak constantly dropped in his lap.  They are in the same family as Anne Perry, though not terribly similar; there's a lot of emphasis on emotion and moral dilemma, but less on politics, except for the last one, set in Italy.  Fortunately, Ross did reveal some of Julian's origins in the last one, which makes it a not altogether abrupt close, but it's quite sad to think of all the books she might have written.

Wise man's fear, indeed

Ah, the life of a fantasy novel fan. Finding the good stuff is hard; not running out of it is harder; waiting for the good stuff to come out is the hardest of all. I threatened to beat my good friend to death with a George R. R. Martin novel when I discovered that this doorstopper series he had highly recommended was not done yet. Robert Jordan fans had to deal with the biggest heartbreak of all, the author actually dying before the series is over. Last year, I stumbled across Patrick Rothfuss' acclaimed debut, In the Name of the Wind, the first of a trilogy, a compellingly narrated doorstop about an orphan (yeah, I know) of inhuman brilliance and power (yeah, yeah) and musical talent (kill me now) who enters a magical school (screams of anguish)... Fine. It does not summarize well, but when I first read it, I was blown away, and recommended it to the Martin friend.

Then it did not really stay with me. I wasn't compelled to reread it instantly, and I found myself forgetting large chunks of plot even as I remembered some turns of phrase so bleakly powerful that they were well worth the whole book. But I did recollect that book two had been scheduled to come out sometime around now, so I got the book out and reread it all today. Hm, I thought to myself, not without its problems and stereotypes, but really it was quite good, wasn't it... I merrily skipped over to my computer to find that the second book, The Wise Man's Fear, had disappeared from amazon. Completely.

Furious with amazon and their damn search system, I then googled, found the author's blog, and learned that... the release date was always a load of optimistic crap. The humorous and blunt blog post, which reminds me a little bit of Kevin Smith, goes a long way towards softening the blow. The book was not done as of February, and judging from the author's international signing schedule, it will not speedily issue forth anytime soon. I expect my friend to come beat me to death any day now.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Pearls after swine

My mother traveled to South Korea recently -- she's still there now -- and since she was transferring at the Tokyo airport, asked if I would maybe like a little pair of pearl earrings as an early birthday gift. Which offer I declined with thanks, but as it turned out, she wouldn't have had time to look at any airport shops. When she got off her plane, she was whisked into a quarantine room and had a thermometer shoved in her ear. So it went for every person off every incoming flight from every swine flu-stricken country. As my dad put it, "Japan, they don't mess around."

ETA: No, apparently my dad got it slightly mixed up. Two guys came on the plane in full Hazmat suits and scanned everyone with those infrared heat-seeking cameras to see whose temp was elevated. Even better.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Harold and Kumar

I was thinking about Kal Penn's new White House gig and John Cho's new film coming out (Star Trek) and found this hilarious interview with the two of them being crazy and giving each other a hard time. It's fun.