The Girl Who Played With Fire

As a sequel, Stieg Larsson’s The Girl Who Played With Fire is as satisfying a follow-up as they get, if not downright superior to the first book, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. Indeed, while I was reading it, I was savoring each page of character development, malicious characters, and odd anti-heroes. This is the kind of book you are sad that it is so good, because you don’t want it to end. You are also sad because you realize towards the end that the author has given you a giant fucking cliff-hanger. And while you are thoroughly satisfied, thirsty and irritated by the thrall Larsson has over you in his fascinating tale, you really, really hope that the late author wrapped up the story in the third book to be released next summer. Anger, fear, aggression. Well-played… for a book.

Just a note about the movie, and there will be a movie. (There is the Swedish Men Who Hate Women -- the original title of the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo -- which ostensibly looks to have gotten it right. I’m guessing there will be an American series when all is said and done.) The absolute crucial (and probably most sought-after role) casting that will make-or-break the film is for Lisbeth Salander. I could try to explain it using a bunch of adjectives, but suffice to say she’s one of my all-time favorite characters and an absolute joy to follow. Kind of like how Harry Potter fans rabidly follow the casting of those films, this one will be for adults. Or at least those without brooms.

The development of Salander is the most intriguing thing about the series. As I’ve mentioned before, the original title of the first novel, actually the current title in his native Sweden, is “Men Who Hate Women”. This is certainly an appropriate descriptor of the book (and sequel), but somewhere along the line, I get a sense that Larsson discovered what a wonderful character he had developed and slowly, perhaps unconsciously, the book(s) became more about her and her interactions with the plot than the plot itself. And we are rewarded for it.

I wrote a bit about The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo previously, but I am now more struck by the emotional denouement of the piece. At once heartrending, appropriate, and realistic, the end could have entirely been left out of the book, and the novel would have been just as complete. Including the last bit about Salander not only develops the character more, almost as an afterthought, but demands more to the story. Contrast to the end of The Girl Who Played With Fire, which is a downright cliffhanger. Larsson knocks us over the head with one, and teases us with another. Both ways left this reader salivating for more.

PS. The third book is not due for US release until May 2010. So I paid the extra to get it now from the UK. Speaks for itself.


The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death: A Novel

I can't quite put my finger on it, but I think there's something about making your hero a self-avowed and proud-of-it slacker that's an instant turn-off for me. Instead of conforming comfortably into Joseph Campbell's hero arc, or partaking in the ridiculous humor of his situations, I found myself reading Charlie Huston's 'The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death: A Novel', brooding, wishing the "hero" would grow up a little, and get exasperated with his bad attitude. Not a good place to start.

Charlie Huston has written better books, more enthralling books. In fact, every book that I've read of his prior to this one -- seven, the three Hank Thompson series and four Joe Pitt books (going to dig into book five eagerly soon!) -- was better. This story seemed a little too cute for me, a little watered down compared to his other pulp noir works, and just a little too mainstream. That sounds a little strange about a book where its main character makes his business cleaning up gruesome crime scenes. In those areas, the book is interesting, engaging, and amusingly gory, true to Charlie-form. And if you take this book by itself, I think it was good, just good, but not really representative of what Charlie can do. Anyone else, I would give this book a B+, but Charlie gets a B-, because as my favorite 'student', I know he can do better.

Angels & Demons

Angels & Demons, the first book written with character Robert Langdon, is not a prequel of The Da Vinci Code; Da Vinci Code is a true sequel to Angels & Demons. And an inferior one at that, both in novel and film. Not that the film Angels & Demons was any great work, but it's source material was much more tailor-made for screen than it's predecessor. Er, successor. Er, something.When it comes to how so many people I have encountered inexplicably either think The Da Vinci Code book is better than Angels & Demons or the same book is beyond me. Perhaps a clue can be found in the order in which the novels are read. I won't say definitively that every person (let's say my sample size is about 10 people at this point -- in other words, statistically irrefutable so don't even try it!!!) falls in this category, but I found that 9 out of 10 preferred whichever of the two books they read first. The only circumstance I can recall where the audience tended to prefer whichever they saw first was between Austin Powers I and II; in that case, the audience didn't like the second as much because it was mostly the same jokes over again.

I can totally understand that case, but it baffles me where the two Dan Brown books are concerned. You have some common elements -- the church, conniving priests, and mysterious symbology that leads our hero Langdon on a time-intensive desperate search. Granted, the books are similar in this regard, but these are common themes that are expected. Langdon is a friggin' symbologist. This is what he does. It's the formula Brown is using. To expect him to do otherwise would be to expect Indiana Jones 5: Courtroom Drama!

And after that, all the similarities subside. There is science-fiction, more murder and mayhem, more danger, more action, and better pacing in Angels and Demons. Ultimately, The Da Vinci Code is a story about finding the truth, whereas Angels & Demons is a thriller about a race-against-time to save the Vatican from a technological time-bomb that reveals to be a power-grab maneuver from multiple parties. So when people (say of the 5 that liked Da Vinci better) say it's "just the same stuff all over again", I wonder (a) did their parents beat the sense out of them and (b) did I leave the iron on this morning? The answer to both is usually "yes, sadly".

Angels & Demons is a worthwhile, fun and riveting read, but I can't say it fared much better with me at the theater. I can understand (as I have a keen understanding) how The Da Vinci Code would fall short as a film -- it's not exactly a thriller book. But all the potential made me somewhat bitter as I slowly became bored with the film version of Angels & Demons. It's not that I have a problem with Tom Hanks' hair (problem solved in this one!) -- but more of the editing and direction. Historically, Ron Howard has been a drama director (Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind, Backdraft, Frost/Nixon), and the only thriller on his list that I can see is Ransom, although I think that's again mostly drama -- you know who the kidnapper is most of the way through. This film doesn't excite, and it should. I mean, who isn't excited about priests getting murdered? Who??

In short, your scoring guide, and only reference you'll ever need, for Angels & Demons is book: A, movie: C. For Da Vinci Code, book: B, movie C.


Unknown Pleasures

The cover to Joy Division's debut album, Unknown Pleasures is at once minimal, striking, and thought-provoking. The image was:
    originally published as a green-white image in 'The Nature of Pulsars' by Jerry Ostriker, Scientific American 224, #1, Jan 1971, page 53. It shows 80 successive pulses of the first pulsar observed, cp1919 stacked on top of one another using the average period of 1.33730 seconds.
From those galactic beginnings, just beats in the distance representing awesome powers, come this amazing debut.

My reaction to listening to Joy Division was akin to the first time I heard Morrissey's voice, but a slow, delayed reaction. Of course I had heard Joy Division's seminal swan song, "Love Will Tear Us Apart", but very little else. I don't know if I can chalk that up to having young ears (again, first time I heard it was in college), or the fact that the song was so unlike Joy Division's other music that I didn't explore their other songs more. Whatever the reason, these songs I had only marginally noticed suddenly became the ones that made my heart thumb nearly 20 years later. It's hard for me to fathom how now anytime I hear Peter Hook's driving, devastating bass line, Sumner's spare and suddenly thickly one-note guitar, Stephen's pounding drums and Ian's compulsive, desperate lungs on "New Dawn Fades", that I could be so drawn in and given pause now, where I would dismiss the song years ago. Unknown Pleasures is just a stunning album filled with that sound, the garage-punk-new-wave-lyrically-tight-somber-jumparound sound. You know, that one. The Joy Division sound. Or if you don't know it, or even if you think you knew it, listen again. You may now be ready for it.

Man on Wire

The aftertaste is as important as the taste itself. I was intrigued by the outrageous concept behind the documentary Man on Wire, the story of the covert wire walking act between the Twin Towers by Philippe Petit. The story and footage of the feat itself were mesmerizing, but its final denouement left me with a shake of the head. I speak of the trivial reenactment of Petit's sexual encounter with a random fan after his famous walk. Given that the story incorporates his relationship with his then girlfriend, who was incredibly supportive and there to help and document much of his experiences, this appears as jarringly out-of-place. It's said and demonstrated the Petit is unconventional and given to very liberal tendencies. And he's French, of course, who would ridicule traditional sexual roles. I don't have any issue with Petit or the way he lives his life.My issue is with the documentarian Marsh, who somehow thought this was necessary to the story, or that it would be good for a laugh. Instead, it comes off as a final unnecessary and out-of-chord note to an otherwise excellent film. When Rotten Tomatoes give a film an across-the-board 100% rating, I guess I expect something near-perfect. To get a positive approval, all you need is a positive recommendation, not an acknowledgment of superiority. In short, I believe this to be a universally liked, not loved, film.

Veronika Decides to Die

I am a sucker for a good title, but unfortunately this sometimes falls under the "you shouldn't judge a book by its cover" rule-of-thumb. Veronika Decides to Die, by celebrated author Paul Coelho, tells the story of the title character who wakes up from an initial suicide attempt with a damaged heart and only a week to live. The trouble with the book is that the author did not in turn decide Veronika would die. The result from an interesting premise is a predictable tale where Veronika discovers that her other asylum mates are real people, that she decides she wants to live, and really I can't type any more about it without boring myself. I'm not the kind of person to try to figure out plots or stories; I enjoy letting the author tell his/her tale and become immersed. So, when I say something is predictable and each new "twist" is pretty much what I anticipated, it will be even more predicable for your average novel sleuth.

But in saying that, I may be missing the point of the novel. Such books are about emotional journeys, not discovering what's going to happen. Fair enough. Unfortunately for me, I could not appreciably connect to the characters in the story, and I found Veronika herself to be, well, petulant. At 24, we mostly are, but I found the character's motivation for attempting suicide to be a product of elitist thinking. Further, the scenario that was set up for an interesting "battle-of-wills" between her and her doctor never really materialized. This may be another prediction, and one that did not play out as staid, but it was also something that I was looking forward to seeing. I didn't get my money's worth.

(For full disclosure, this is the second book I've read of Coehlo, the first been the universally acclaimed bestseller, The Alchemist. That book bored me so thoroughly I nearly did not finish it. Perhaps Paul Coehlo has it in for me. Yes, that's it. He is conspiring to make me look insane. I will consider a reprisal. Perhaps this boring blog will teach him a lesson.)

I feel like it was a good book, but only good. And it deserves a lower grade because I think the author fell short on not just a great title but an interesting premise.

PS. Even Sarah Michell Gellar in the movie version couldn't interest me in watching this. I barely made it through the trailer.

PPS. Ever notice sometimes how your disdain for something will surprise even yourself? I started out intending to write about how this book was pretty good, but in retrospect, I should start a bonfire with it. Surprise hate!


MS Project VBA: Coloring Gantt to match Resource

I had copious amounts of spare time working as a technical writer 14 years ago, but one of the things I'm proud of is that for as much time as I wasted, I also invested in my future. I knew the IT guy at the workplace, and convinced him to install a copy of Visual Basic 5 on my computer, and then picked one of those "learn in 21 days" books. Although I have never really had use for Visual Basic in my travels, the Visual Basic for Applications knowledge -- writing macros for MS Project and MS Excel, for instance, has been invaluable in every job I've had since.

Coding isn't for everyone, but I find it interesting and a challenge. It appeals to the geek in me. Had I had more intererst at an earlier age (or VB existed back then -- I have always thought if anything I was born too soon), I would have probably become a master hacker by this point. I love logic and coding problems, and it's amazing to me how few people in business have the skills to do these things.

As an example of geeking out, on Linked In I received a notice of a discussion about how to automatically have the Gantt chart bar (in MS Project) change color depending on the resource. A scheduler had posted the question (posed by the client) and then asked if there was an easy way to do it.

The short answer is no. The slightly longer answer is to do it with VBA coding or a lengthly formula and field links. But, I couldn't turn away from the computer, even though my bathroom tub cleaning was really on my agenda for this morning, so I spent about a half-hour figuring out how I would do it. My guess is that this will turn out to be a requirements-changing product -- what I mean by that is once the client sees the rainbow of colors on the Gantt, he'll rethink his request. (Business "idea people" often need this reality check.)

Of course, the sad (and my girlfriend says "really attractive") thing is that this whole little coding experience was fun. Really fun. Embrace the geek.

Here's the code I wrote below. To work, cut and paste into a module in MS Project. Not that you'll need it.
    Sub BarColorByResource()

    'This sub will work only if the resource name matches correctly. The units removal section is
    'not needed if every resource is allocated at 100%. If no resources match, default bar color is reset.

    'Color constants (use on Middle color) ------------------------------------------
    'pjColorAutomatic pjNavy pjAqua pjOlive pjBlack pjPurple pjBlue pjRed
    'pjFuchsia pjSilver pjGray pjTeal pjGreen pjYellow pjLime pjWhite pjMaroon

    Dim Tsk As Task
    Dim sResource As String

    'Scroll through all data rows in project
    For Each Tsk In ActiveProject.Tasks

    'Ignore tasks where there is no data (blank lines)
    If Not Tsk Is Nothing Then

    'Remove units brackets
    sResource = Remove_Brackets(Tsk.ResourceNames)

    Select Case sResource

    Case "Matthew Jones" 'Matthew Jones

    EditGoTo ID:=Tsk
    GanttBarFormat MiddleColor:=pjAqua

    Case "John Smith"

    EditGoTo ID:=Tsk
    GanttBarFormat MiddleColor:=pjNavy


    Case Else

    EditGoTo ID:=Tsk
    GanttBarFormat MiddleColor:=pjBlue 'default color restore

    End Select

    End If

    Next Tsk

    End Sub

    Function Remove_Brackets(sTmp)

    'Function will remove multiple instances of bracketed [] text in a string

    iLen = Len(sTmp)

    For i = 1 To iLen

    sTmpChar = Mid(sTmp, i, 1)
    If sTmpChar = "[" Then iLeft = i - 1
    If sTmpChar = "]" Then

    iRight = i
    sTmp = Left(sTmp, iLeft) + Right(sTmp, iLen - iRight)
    i = 1
    iLen = Len(sTmp)

    End If


    Remove_Brackets = sTmp

    End Function


The Manchurian Candidate

The story goes that without John F. Kennedy's personal intervention, at Frank Sinatra's request, the The Manchurian Candidate would have never been financed as a film. The film was pulled from wide distribution -- allegedly at Sinatra's insistence -- following a similar train of events in the real-life assassination of Kennedy. While the background machinizations of Kennedy's end are still speculated on, the fully-revealed plot intricacies of The Manchurian Candidate leave me in silent amazement.John Frankenheimer's political thriller features a brainwashed set of Korean soldiers, one of whom has been so mesmerized he does not even realize he's now a Communist assassin. Lawrence Harvey's performance as the "unlovable" Raymond Shaw is wrenching to watch. His final tragic arc, where you believe is somehow aware of the crushing murders he has just committed though powerless to stop himself, is hard to take. His final solution, enabled by Sinatra's beleagured intelligence officer who was just a little too late, is one of my favorite endings of all time.

I have not seen the "updated" version, because there are some films I don't think need to be updated. The Manchurian Candidate is still an iconic achievement.


Writer's block... in the details

Charlie Huston's post about writing details made me laugh and cry because, well, it's so my achillies hell, too. And that is the little petty details that actually flesh out a scene. I've always been one to skip that details and go back and add them in, because I can't waste time pondering what color the character's t-shirt is -- I need to get to the MEAT of the scene. Yet, sometimes those little things are what you remember most when you read something and resonate. But just like anything else, it doesn't come easy. Makes me feel good to know others just struggle with this stuff:
    September 16th, 2009 — Charlie Huston

    Getting stuck sucks.

    I’m not talking writer’s block here.

    When I imagine writer’s block, I have visions of a vast balloon inflated in the middle of my brain, squeezing all thoughts against the inner surface of my skull until they are flat, two dimensional and useless.

    I’ve never been hit with anything like that.

    (NOTE: yes, that is the sound of me knocking wood in the background.)

    But getting stuck is another matter.

    I get stuck on little things, tiny things, inconsequential things that I should not be stuck on, hook me and keep me frozen.

    That whole dialogue thing I do:

    He snaps his fingers.
    -You know, using a character’s action to set off their line of dialogue.
    She nods.
    -Yeah, so it tips off who’s talking?
    He males horizontal cuts in the air with the edge of his hand.
    -It helps to balance the lack of quotation marks and the bits of narrative a smart writer would use.
    She stirs her index finger next to her ear.
    Yeah, you are crazy for making this any harder than it has to be.


    It’s those little gestures and movements that fuck me up. I use those not only to indicate who is speaking, but also to tip off emotion. My characters generally don’t spend much time expressing their feelings to each other, the reader or even to themselves. Sometimes all the person flipping the pages has to go in is the way a character kicks the ground before they speak.

    And the thing is, I have a ton of those beats in every book. Because my characters may not talk about what they feel, but they are total fucking chatter boxes. And when I’m writing all that dialogue, I have to come up with god knows how many tiny actions and gestures to compliment the words.

    fuck me.

    And let me tell you , there are only so many times in one fucking book that Joe fucking Pitt can light a cigarette, take a drag off a cigarette, flick ashes from a cigarette, crush a cigarette butt under his heel, or stare at the floor, before it becomes utterly fucking repetitive and I want to fucking run screaming.

    So I sit there.

    Full of the knowledge of what the next line, is, knowing exactly where the story is going, fully prepared to write the next five fucking pages, I sit there, hung up on whether Joe should shrug or tug his ear lobe.

    No fucking lie.

    An hour or two can disappear as I work through one stanza of dialogue.

    Ever seen the 1972 TALES FROM THE CRYPT?

    It’s one of those British horror anthologies.

    Best story is called “Blind Alleys.” In which the cruel new director of a home for the blind is taken captive by the residents. While he’s captive, he can hear them doing two things, building something large, and not feeding his viscous German Shepherd. After a few days, the door to his room opens and he finds himself at the mouth of a booby-trapped maze that zig-zags through the corridors. After negotiating the maze, he finds himself faced by closed door, behind which he can hear his growling dog. The door flies open, the dog comes after him, he runs back into the maze, and the lights go out on him. Actually, the lights go out on him when he’s in a very narrow run of the maze where the walls have been studded with razor blades.


    Here’s what it’s like writing dialogue some days.

    It’s like edging down a narrow corridor of razor-studded wall and constantly snagging your hands, legs, elbows, cheeks and ears on the protruding corners of the blades.

    And when it’s at it’s worse, and there’s a deadline behind you, the lights sometimes go out.

    OK, yeah, that’s a little melodramatic.

    But it does suck.

    And it’s not just dialogue.

    Deciding what kind of car a character is driving, what they’re eating, whether they have a limp, if the sky is overcast…


    And don’t get me started on guns.


    Here I am today, this guy I’m writing about has on a frock coat, but what kind of shirt is he wearing under it?

    Fucked if I know.

    And he won’t just turn the fuck around and show me.

    Razor blades.


Beat the Reaper

The story of author Josh Bazell is an interesting contrast to that of Stieg Larsson's; while Stieg died shortly after delivering his manuscripts for what would be a bestselling series, Josh wrote his debut novel to kill time during his medical internship, already having a BA in English from Brown and a MD from Columbia. In short, I felt the Larsson's story made me want to read his book, whereas Bazell's story made me want to roll my eyes at his already achieved levels of success. Really, you went to Brown? You have an MD? You make lots of money? And you can write? Puke!So, my guard up, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the praise heaped on Bazell's book is largely deserved. His style reminded me a lot of Charlie Huston, only Charlie's "Caught Stealing", which this reminded me of, is superior is every way. Beat the Reaper is a solidly entertaining book, but feels like a first effort. More details of the characters should have been put in to flesh them out, and the ending felt truncated. Certainly enough medical insights and gore to keep your average reader glued, this was a good debut that will earn a look at his second, but not enough to expect a great sequel.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (film)

I am a fan, not a fanatic, of the Harry Potter books. I have never read the books more than once. My favorite is still "Goblet of Fire". To a lesser degree, I am a fan, not a fanatic, of the film adaptations of the Harry Potter books. In this case, the best film (by far) of the series has been The Prisoner of Azkaban, a film I have seen many times. Although also a superior book, the film to date has been the only one I felt has captured the essence of the book and improved upon it.

This is not a requirement for a film adaptation. Rowling's books are sprawling works that (after Azkaban, the last "short" book), were typically over 700 pages. Film adaptations are hard enough with short material, but the Potter books also present a situation where material MUST be left out in order to keep the running time under 4 hours. And why must a film be under 4 hours, or 3? It doesn't have to, but the point is to entertain, not catalog events to screen. The film is an adaptation for a larger audience, not just those who demand to see every single scene transposed. I truly feel sorry for one of my Potter fanatic friends who couldn't wait to see her favorite line from the Half-Blood Prince shown on screen. It wasn't. And she felt that overall Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was a let-down for that and continuity errors between it and the book.My policy on seeing a film that is an adaptation from a book is, if I have read the book, I need to allow a minimum of a few months before seeing the film. Never, ever read the material before you go into the theater (Potter fanatics do this, you see), for then you are ticking off your moments. I can't think of a better way for me to ruin my own fun. This all started back when I read High Fidelity, and then a week later went to see the acclaimed film adaptation. Despite the rave reviews, the film was such a faithful adaptation that I was UTTERLY BORED watching the film. I just ticked off the plot points as they happened. In short, reading the book totally ruined the film for me. But I love reading, and I love film, so I had to adapt a buffer strategy.

The stategy served me well with Azkaban -- I had forgotten so much of the end that I was actually surprised when it was revealed who was the stag in the forest, and of course I kind of teared up. Those moments are magical for me, but it would have been ruined had I just been waiting for it to happen.

Which is why I can say that I thought Half-Blood Prince was an entertaining film. No Azkaban, but what is? Now, I think it's brilliant to split the seventh book into two films to cover your adaptive bases (and make twice as much money!), and deserving for the series finale. Which I've read and won't be reading again before I see the films.

Kitchen Remodeling

I don’t think I ever really considered getting a new kitchen until I started to spend more time in it. For the first 35+ years of my life, I would describe myself as a person who “eats to live” rather than “lives to eat”. Gradually, over the last few years, I’ve come to appreciate good food and cooking. I watch “Top Chef” weekly, which I find to be immensely entertaining. I shop at Whole Foods and find myself becoming something of a food snob (i.e., shopping at Giant or Safeway is only for condiments and paper products), know what an heirloom tomato is and love to eat them raw, download and try new recipes, and generally appreciate the act of cooking much more than before.It’s not that I was ever disinterested in cooking, but disinterested in cooking just for myself. Becoming domesticated (i.e., cooking for more than 1 person) is a huge factor; when the girl is away, I find motivation to cook something for myself to dwindle back to frozen food. (The first meal I “cooked” for us was store-cooked chicken and box macaroni and cheese. Seriously. I didn’t know any better, but it makes me laugh to think about it, since my new found snobbery allows me to laugh in horrible embarrassment at my naivete.)There is something to be said for the notion that adults are still in essence kids, just with bigger, more expensive toys. Having purchased a home with an kitchen that is over 30 years old, and acquiring a taste for cooking eventually conspired to make for that high-end expensive new toy: remodeling.(Yes, those are before and after pictures. Yes, that is the same kitchen area.)

I had actually thought about doing it for some time, but it was only when I had gotten to a comfortable place financially, and I was sick of looking at my kitchen that I motivated. Okay, I admit that it was also motivating that I accidentally burned a hole in my linoleum floor and charred my existing cabinets with a flaming wok – we don’t talk about that incident, nor were the paparazzi allows to film the evidence. Suffice to say, I felt it was a Holy Sign, akin to the Burning Bush, one that in no uncertain terms declared that ye should really think about putting in a new kitchen. And as we all know, I never, ever turn my back on imaginary friends.Nor should I turn my back on real friends, which I happen to have in the way of a contractor who does this kind of work. I contacted THE CONTRACTOR (His site is here with more in-progress pictures), who was very excited about the project. I mean, the kitchen was shoddy, and I wanted to put in something nice, classy, and expensive. I don’t mean like diamonds-in-the-counter, but I definitely want quality. Darryl's the kind of guy who looks at a problem and sees a challenge. (Needless to say, I highly recommend his work.) And I wanted a breakfast counter.Also, I wanted to time it so I could be on vacation for at least a week while this was done. In retrospect, probably the wisest decision I could have made, but seemed like a no-brainer to me. (Hardwood floors at Christmas?) So, while we traveled to glorious Michigan (pause for sarcasm, but not really – we had a great time, I just can’t help it being a PSU alum), Darryl and his crack team of specialists crafted a superb product, as you can see.We now have more cabinet space (and closeable cabinets next to the fridge!) than we can fill, even after ripping out the L-shape and turning it essentially into a galleon-type kitchen. The effect is startlingly different, and it feels like there is so much more space. I couldn’t be happier with the product, and I feel now that I have a show-model type kitchen. Which means the pressure is on to step up my cooking skills to match. Which means no more burning woks. I hope. Cheers.

You Suck

I’m going to say it, and I admit that it’s been a while coming, but it’s time I admit two things. One, Christopher Moore is no longer my “favorite author” of all time. This is not to say that you suck --- here’s my original blog from way back professing undying love. His books are funny and engaging, and there are peaks (“Lamb”, “Island of the Sequened Love Nun”) and valleys (“The Stupidest Angel”, “Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove”, “A Dirty Job”), but I just don’t eat up his books the way I used to. I just think we’ve grown apart, for the most part. I'm more into Charlie Huston and Dan Simmons these days. We've had our time, but it's time to say that you're no longer my above-all-else fave.Secondly, Christopher Moore has now written two of my favorite books of all time. For the sake of numbering, in my top ten. (No, I’m not going to list them right now.) I don’t have a criteria for this top ten, probably another reason why I don’t have a top ten, but if I were it would be re-readability: can you read the book more than once and still find it to be a page-turning orgasm of the eyeballs? The sequel to (still the champ) my favorite book of all time (“Bloodsucking Fiends”), You Suck, exceeds my expectations and may be as good if not better than the original. But I won’t unseed the original because the sequel is new, or creates yet another classic character (“Abby Normal”). I have my first love, which I’ve read about ten times now, but this one is impressive because it’s not a cash-in for the fans of the original. It’s tight, it’s fun, it’s dorky, it’s clever. And it rocks.

So, bittersweet, Christopher, you are not perfect, you are not the greatest writer ever (this is more to prove my sanity than crush your imaginary ego), but I love, love, love your bloodsucking stories.



For the second time this year, I teared up in the first ten minutes of a film. At the moment this happened, I seriously wondered if I had reached some age in my life where I was becoming overly susceptible to media emotional manipulation -- I can't recall any two movies where I nearly cried at the beginning before 2009. Yet, here I was again, months after my [fabulous] experience with Star Trek, blubbering this time over the first ten minutes of an animated movive -- Up.Star Trek at least had a lot of history going into it. I knew what was at stake, who the characters were, and the lasting impact of the situation. In Up, the first ten minutes tell the life-story of the main character and his recently deceased wife, mostly without words except for their first couple encounters. And it is done with joy and heartbreaking sadness that makes me well up just thinking about it. The summation of their time together, and the things they never quite got around to doing because life got in the way. There's a small part that addresses their inability to have children, which I don't know if has ever been done so adroitly, directly, in any film much less an animated film. It's striking in its simplicity and grace, and fearlessness to "talk" about topics that are so very unusual for an animated film. The life you lead, moving on, letting go, growing old, lonliness, and long, lasting unashamedly unapologetic love. The adventure.

A film that is ostensibly about a man who floats his house away with balloons to fulfill a long-put-off promise, Up is shocking and surprisingly moving and wonderfully entertaining, fulfilling its own promise of its first ten minutes.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

It is rare in publishing that an author of fiction will have a story that enhances the fascination with his/her books, but Stieg Larsson is such a person. Larsson wrote three interwoven manuscripts as a way to pass the time on his daily work commute, and submitted them all as a package to a publisher in 2004. Months later, the author suffered a myocardial infarction and died at the age of 50. The first book in his crime-thriller trilogy was posthumously published and went on to become an international bestseller. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo was initially titled “Men who hate women,” which was understandably changed to reflect one of its protagonist’s markings. The character of Lisbeth Salander, a skinny, waifish, angry, and hyper-intelligent punk, is a unique creation and destined to be neoclassic heroine of literature, if not cinema (the book as already been adapted to Swedish film, premiering at Cannes this year). All Larsson’s characters are richly drawn, flawed, but most of all real, as they inhabit the task of a middle-aged reporter’s quest to solve a 50-year old mystery.

The simultaneous satisfaction of having two more books with Larsson’s characters to read is tempered with the immediate sadness that there are only two more books. Larsson’s premature death has leant a fascinating layer of real-life tragedy to his series, one that will likely be told hand-in-hand with the praise that this book deserves. This circumstance strikes me as one that will make the series vastly more popular and enduring than without Larsson’s untimely demise.

So, if you are going to leave your mark, leave it well and with dramatic flair.


On the face of it, it’s the mash-up you’ve been waiting for, or not really waiting for, but thought, “why didn’t I think of that”? Breathers, by S.G. Browne, is a romantic comedy for Zombies, but it’s the tragic elements of the story that really buoy the tale to a memorable level.In this world, zombies indeed have brains, but don’t eat people. Their role is to slowly decay, be a burden for their loved ones, and generally be relegated somewhere between slave status and a Jew in Germany circa 1940. They are resented for still being alive, can’t own property, and if college students occasionally dismember one for kicks, no one cares much. In short, it sucks to be a zombie.

Especially for the protagonist, who was reanimated (no one knows how or why some recently deceased reanimate) after a horrific car accident. Crippled and mute, Andy seeks out zombie group therapy classes, where he finds kindred spirits, a gorgeous zombie-girlfriend, and some surprising reanimation of his body parts after eating some special locally bottled “venison”. It doesn’t take much to realize that the venison isn’t exactly that, and Andy struggles with embracing his new love life, his new taste for flesh, and a taste of just having a “normal” life again.

One of Kurt Vonnegut’s rules of fiction is "Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them -- in order that the reader may see what they are made of." S.G. Browne holds very little back, weaving some resonating awful moments in to a story where you are rooting for the zombies to not so much fight back as bite back. I both loved and hated the end, which would have made Kurt proud, and still sticks with me months after reading the book. Good fun. Good read. Surprisingly soulful.