Monday, December 18, 2006

Merry Christmas from Neville

Neville likes abandoned buildings. So do I.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

A non-Super-Secret Staircase Tour

For anyone who is interested, I and two other folks will be giving a tour of the Branciforte neighborhood of Santa Cruz on Sunday, December 9th. We will start at 2 p.m. in front of Branciforte Elementary.

Here is the description from the Santa Cruz Free Skool.
The Bad Side of Town, with Ben, Blaize, and Sylvia
What happened to Branciforte Villa, the only villa established in California during the Spanish Colonial period? Where are the footprints and remains of this eighteeth-century settlement, and why don't we know more about it? Join us on a one- to two-hour walking tour of this area of Santa Cruz, and learn with us about the social, archeological, and political history of the Branciforte area.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Book Report

Before I begin, a couple of more spam email subjects:
"re: size your meat!" Uh, should that be "resize your meat"? And if it should be, does it really mean what I wish to god it didn't mean?
"But that language hasn't always served the comm". No, I guess it hasn't. Or whatever.

I like coming up with my own back-cover blurbs for books I dislike. I read some Patricia Cornwell because my mom had some and I was over at her house and borrowed them. I found the main character, medical examiner Kay Scarpetta, repulsive. She is touchy and vain and alcoholic and takes stupid risks and has bad taste in men. I guess all the allegedly great Italian food she fictionally cooks is supposed to make me like her, but I don't. In fact, after reading a few (I like to give an author a fair shot, generally) I told my mom that the series had "The least likeable protaganist since Mein Kampf." (Just so you know, I don't generally lightly toss around Hitler references, except in jest. I am not one of those people who refers to others with the slightest tendency to be nasty as "Nazis." One time, on instant messaging, my boyfriend called me a "grammar Nazi." And I said, "Oh, yeah. Because I have burned six million Jews in my grammar oven." Please.)

When I actively dislike books that other people (a LOT of other people) seem to think are great, I feel like an outcast. I think I used to feel superior in that I preferred to read Middlemarch by George Eliot instead of Craptastic Crapula by Stephen King. Oh, hell, I still feel superior about that. But, lately, I have read two series for "young adults" that were well-reviewed and popular, and have found them to be right down there with Craptastic Crapula in terms of their plots, their writing, their characterization, their, well, just about everything. And I don't feel superior; rather, I am mystified as to why other people like these things. It makes me feel like a freak who belongs to a species other than human.

So, the two series are the (yet-to-be-finished) trilogy by Christopher Paolini (if you haven't seen some "young adult" carrying one of his two books around you either a) don't know any young adults, b) live underwater, or c) are blind, and are thus experiencing this blarg via some sort of your-computer-reads-aloud-to-you technology) and the His Dark Materials trilogy of Philip Pullman.

The first series is written by some home-schooled kid from Montana, and is the most ridiculous amalgamation of The Lord of the Rings, Ursula LeGuin's Wizard of Earthsea trilogy+one, and Anne McCaffrey's perennially-worsening Dragonrider series. Ridiculous because both extant books combine the worst of Tolkien's epic verbosity (Hey! Numbskulls! This is in EPIC! An EPIC, I TELL YOU!) and McCaffrey's poor continuity, and at the same time lack Tolkien's erudition, McCaffrey's inventiveness (in the first books; the later ones appear to be contributions to the Craptastic Crapula series at which so many authors have tried their hand), and LeGuin's character development, moral center, and general awesomeness.

"But, he's just a kid!" you might say. Yes, he's just a kid, and he therefore DESERVES AN EDITOR WHO WILL TELL HIM THAT THE NEXT TIME A "SINGLE TEAR" TRICKLES DOWN SOMEONE'S CHEEK HE OR SHE (THE EDITOR) WILL SET FIRE TO THE TYPESCRIPT. I am not joking; in the second book a single tear trickled down someone's cheek at least six times. I lost count after that. The editor should also get a bullhorn, stand behind our friend Christopher as he works, and shout through it "STEP AWAY FROM THE THESAURUS" at regular intervals. Either Knopf Books sucks, or their editors all died in some kind of plague (maybe hantavirus?). So, they should either be ashamed of themselves, or I should send them a sympathy card and a wreath (how would such a card go? "Dear Knopf, I am sorry to hear about the massive hantavirus-induced editor die-off at your company. It is sad for the families, and for all of your readers who believe that when people cry, they generally cry more than one tear. If it's only worth one tear, then it's not worth crying over; similarly, if a person is so strong as to only let one tear fall, surely that person has the willpower to make NO TEARS FALL AT ALL. Respectfully, A Friend). I fear for the next book. And I wonder how much the upcoming movie version of the first book will make strong and right-thinking men and women want to shed single tears.

Pullman's series is less egregious, in that he actually seems to know both the denotations and connotations of the words he uses, and in that his plot is more nearly original. However, his two main characters are annoying; much as I might have wanted to like them, I was thwarted by the fact that they were conniving, murderous, wise beyond their years (in the worst made-for-TV-movie style), and motivated by mysterious forces. Not mysterious forces in the world of the book, which they are also motivated by, but by ACTUALLY mysterious forces. Like, I have no idea why the hell these kids do more than half of the things they do.

Also, the book is totally anti-Christian. You would think that, since I'm an atheist, I would be all over that like a cheap suit or a bad toupee. But I prefer my anti-Christian literature to have more reason, and less pre-teen sex. Oh, yes, you heard me. The main characters, who are twelve at the end of the trilogy, are referred to as "lovers." And, evidently, their "love" SAVES THE ENTIRE UNIVERSE. Now THAT is hot. My love can't even save a used stick of gum. Maybe I'm just jealous. Or, maybe, I think that if you are going to have three books that are all about, in the end, killing God, you should have something more believable than the idea that pre-teen sex saves the universe. Hell, maybe pre-teen sex regularly saves the universe, and I just don't know it, because I'm ignorant like that.

Anyway, these books won a lot of prizes. And I read all three, because I like to finish what I start (no, I don't. I just didn't have anything else out from the library that I wanted to read instead. And the mysterious forces were sort of soothing, in a way), and I thought they were interesting in some ways, but overall heavy-handed. Like when you are re-reading along in the Narnia series, as a adult, and you can just about swallow the whole Aslan-as-Jesus stuff in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, but you really, really don't want to read The Last Battle again, and not because Narnia gets destroyed, but because since Armageddon is already a metaphor, you don't see the point in having a kid's book make a metaphor of it. Heavy-handed.

Even though they go on and on about how bad it is to teach kids an anti-Christian message, and they call the books "blasphemy", I think that the Catholic Culture website actually has some good points to make about some of the problems with the books, not least of which "The first two volumes of the trilogy--despite their designation as young-adult fare--should also be considered strictly adult fiction, given their high quotient of torture and violence." I should like these books: they bash the Church, they elevate science, God dies, whatever. But the anti-Christian message is both crude and incomplete. There is still a whole bunch of spiritual mumbo-jumbo about the soul and the spirit. Also "dark matter" is the same thing as "angels" but is also (somehow) the same thing that causes consciousness, which allegedly distinguishes "people" (some of the conscious creatures in some of the worlds in Pullman's trilogy aren't human) from animals. I really don't see how spiritualism is somehow all that much better than organized religion. I mentioned I'm an atheist, right? I guess I'm what you would call a Complete and Total Atheist, not a New Age Believe in Oneness or Some Other Mystical Crap but Not in God Per Se Atheist. Therefore, for me, Pullman's replacement of God with some other spiritual stuff is scarcely helpful.

Okay, now I have slipped into a tirade (you may have thought that it happened earlier, but you were wrong. I know my tirades when I see them. The rest was just, like, opinions, man). So, I guess I'm done. I wished I could have liked these books. But they seemed so, so eager to get across a "message" that I really found them tiresome. Especially since I just re-read To Kill a Mockingbird, which actually does get across a message, but is subtle and well-written and just really really great.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Excellence in Titling

I'm interested in urban exploration, though I am too law-abiding to actually do much of the trespassing-on-abandoned-sites-and-taking-groovy-pictures type of exploration, as seen on the Dark Passage or Ars Subterranea sites. You see, I, like Socrates, would rather die than break the law of my land. That's not true. Actually, I'm generally just too chickenshit to do things like train-hop and trespass.

Today I found the best-named urban exploration site ever: Friends of Vast Industrial Concrete Kafkaesque Structures. This cannot be topped, I don't care what anybody else says.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Oh, I guess I should put titles on these post things

I tend to be fairly in love with the varying trends of email spam subject lines. For a long time it was aaaallllll aaabbouuuuuut exxtraaaa letteeeerrs, lord knows why (actual example, because I actually saved some subject lines from that era: "Thiis is whaaaaaaat the poooorn staaaaaaars use". Iiiiiit iiiiis? Whoooo kneeeeeew?). Lately, there has been a trend of "It's me, (name of person that they hope is somehow familiar so that you will open the spam, but that is usually something like "Chrysogen" or "Axella" because the random name generators seem to be either from the 19th century or an alternate-reality England)."

Today I got:
"Re: christmas schistos"
Okay, so, it's getting on towards Christmas. It makes sense to try and fool me with a holiday reference. But SCHISTOS? You know, like Schistosoma mansoni, the parasite that comes from human poop and grows in snails and causes bilharzia and makes it so you can't walk barefoot anywhere near the shore of Lake Victoria in Kenya. Yeah, I think I really want to read THAT email. And I love the "Re:", as though I sent mail with that subject and they are just replying to it. Happy Christmas Schistos, from My Family to Yours!

I also got:
"logos Root"
This one was really funny to me, but only because I have read too much Neal Stephenson. Or, maybe, not enough Neal Stephenson. Which reminds me, I am obviously really behind the times but I just learned from the interweb this week that the "cool" name for one genre of literature I enjoy is "steampunk."

This one is a thing of beauty:
"Burroughs truly feared a word virus, an idea he"
I think the thing I like best about it is that the sentence is incomplete. Guess the word virus got it!

"nitrogen fixer" (I guess I do need some compost. How did they know?)
"Re: incompatibl" (Another "Re:", but this one suggesting I can't spell.)

And, finally:
"Be strong,"
Oh, I'll try. Believe me; I'll try.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Books I have read this month, so far.

Elizabeth George (she's no Dorothy Sayers, but she entertains, and has an actual vocabulary)
  • For the Sake of Elena
  • In the Presence of the Enemy
  • A Great Deliverance (Even though this is one of her earliest, I think that it is one of the best.)
  • Missing Joseph (Also very good; has a lot of interesting stuff about marriage.)
Alice Hoffman (Becky really likes her, and introduced her to me. I got on a roll, because I had a bunch around the house and didn't have time to go to the library for anything else.)
  • The River King
  • Here on Earth
  • Seventh Heaven
  • Second Nature (I liked this one especially)
Some of the essays in The Best American Travel Writing 2001 ed. Paul Theroux. I enjoy the one on Charles Manson's hideout in the Panamint Mountains ("Desert Hideaway" by Ian Frazier), Scott Anderson's "As Long As We Were Together, Nothing Bad Could Happen to Us," and Brad Wetzler's "Is Just Like Amerika" on the "tramping" hobby in the Czech Republic.

I read Melissa Bank's The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing because it was in a bag of books my mom gave me and that I had in my car and I wanted something to read during a break at work. It was surprisingly not super-terrible. I liked the first parts better than the later parts.

I'm reading The Cloister Walk by Kathleen Norris, because I have a weird desire to go here: New Camaldoli Hermitage in Big Sur . Who knows why. Because it's cheap and nobody talks to you?

Oh, and I got some Dorothy Sayers, since I mentioned her. The Five Red Herrings and Murder Must Advertise. I'm reading that now.

I had a funny conversation today at the feed store with a woman who has two dogs: Hamlet and Portia. Hamlet eats Portia's shit, so I made the GEEKIEST JOKE EVER by saying "The quality of feces is not strained." I think that I was just so amazed that I remember anything about Shakespeare that I almost wet myself, and the joke was a kind of personal Depends garment to keep me dry. Or something.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Why does it bug me when people use the phrase "my muse"? I mean, there are nine of them. Why can't someone have a personal one?

Oh, wait. BECAUSE WE ALL HAVE TO SHARE THOSE SAME NINE. So, you don't get to have one of your OWN. Unless you're selfish. Which I am. So, I choose Melpomene. She's MINE. You can't have her!

Monday, September 25, 2006

What I have been reading this month:
Mary Morris, Nothing to Declare: Memoirs of a Woman Traveling Alone
Moon Publications, Northern California Handbook
Tony and Evan Worobiec, Ghosts in the Wilderness: Abandoned America
Jerry Kobalenko, The Horizontal Everest
P.D. James, Devices and Desires
S.J. Perleman, short pieces (duh)
P.G. Wodehouse, Life with Jeeves
Edith Wharton, Old New York: False Dawn (The 'Forties)
Elizabeth George, With Noone as Witness

The Wharton has one of the best descriptions of a sweaty fat man I can imagine ever having been written: "Mr. Raycie was a monumental man. His extent in height, width, and thickness was so nearly the same that whichever way he was turned one had an almost equally broad view of him; and evey inch of that mighty circumference was so exquisitely cared for that to a farmer's eye he might have suggested a great agricultural estate of which not an acre is untilled. Even his baldness, which was in proportion to the rest, looked as if it received a special daily polish; and on a hot day his whole person was like some wonderful example of the costliest irrigation. There was so much of him, and he had so many planes, that it was fascinating to watch each runnel of moisture follow its own particular watershed. Even on his large fresh-looking hands the drops divided, trickling in different ways from the ridges of the fingers; and as for his forehead and temples, and the raised cushion of cheek beneath each of his lower lids, every one of these slopes had its own particular stream, its hollow pools and sudden cataracts; and the sight was never unpleasant, because his whole vast bubbling surface was of such a clean and hearty pink, and the exuding moisture so perceptibly flavoured with expensive eau de Cologne and the best French soap."