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Friday, December 26, 2008

No explanation needed.

Best of 2008: Books

Sharp Teeth by Toby Barlow is a terrific read, a 300-page epic poem about werewolves living in Los Angeles. Against all odds, it's emotionally engaging as well as viscerally thrilling, and deserved much of the hype it received. Every so often, a book comes along that is genuinely daring in regards to form, and this is one such; when the dare pays off, as it does here, something unique can be created. The jarring, staccato lines of verse are a perfect fit for the story of wolf-people who might, after all, be expected to have somewhat limited attention spans.

I also loved Absent by Betool Khadairi, an Iraqi woman writing (in French, I believe) about life in Baghdad in the 1990s, in between the two American invasions. The story is obviously "political" in the sense that you can't write about life in an invaded/sanctioned country without incorporating elements of this into the milieu; but the book isn't out to make political statements in the conventional sense. It's more concerned with the narrator, a teenage girl who is growing up in these difficult situations and is concerned with relationships, with boys and her parents and how she looks and what she's going to do with her life. With the same concerns as the rest of us, in other words, but in an especially poignant setting.

I also loved Delirium by Laura Restropo, a Colombian writer whose ornate, long-winded sentences perfectly matched the subject matter of her book: a young man finds his fiancee in a state of near-catatonia following her return from a visit to her home town. He spends much of the book trying to figure out what has happened to her, and so do we, as Restropo doles out the story, and the history of several key characters, a little at a time. This was the first book I had read by this author, who apparently is much repected throughout Latin America, and I'll be looking for more.

The Egyptologist by Arthur Phillips came out a few years ago and it's a shame I didn't get to it sooner. It's a big, funny, sinister, mysterious, multilayered book about archaeologists digging in Egypt in the early part of the 20th century, and it's fantastic. Phillips pulls off the trick of having several different narrators involved, either speaking directly or through their journals and letters, and it gradually dawns on you that not all of these people are entirely trustworthy. Or maybe none of them are... By the time you figure out what's going really going on, you're in so deep there's no turning back. Did I mention it's funny as hell? Besides, it's about Egypt, which for me--as I think for many people--holds an enormous appeal. Tombs and sarcophogi and heiroglyphics and all that. Great stuff, great book.

Finally, Watch Me Disappear by Jill Dawson was a very powerful evocation of childhood, of the unreliability of memory, and of the difficulty we have facing up to unsavory events in the past. A British scientist living in the US returns to England for a family gathering, only to be confronted by something that happened to her as a child, when one of her friends was apparently abducted and killed. The body was never found. Dawson avoids all the easy expectations in this book as she writes about something that, sadly, has become so common that we barely even spare a thought for the missing children when they show up on milk cartons or wherever. It's a heavy book, and an emotionally intense one; not a lot of laughs here. But she's a great writer, and like her earlier book Wild Boy, this is deserves a far wider readership than it has gotten.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Best of 2008, part one (Tunes)

Here's a fairly random sampling of The Best of 2008, in the form of:

Music. The Black Angels are still my new favorite band, with new album Directions to See a Ghost only marginally inferior to their 2006 effort, Passover. Droning guitars, occasional organs and other keyboards, thudding bass and percussion, gauzy stoner vocals. Love it. Love it. They manage to edge out The Black Keys for Best Discovery of 2008 honors, even though the BK and their guttural, fuzz-heavy, blues-from-the-swamp sound is, more or less, what I tried to invent for myself during 20-odd years of guitar noodling. (Especially true on their earlier records Rubber Factory and Thickfreakness.) Honorable mentions include Bettye LaVette's Scene of the Crime CD--her best yet; Brightblack Morning Light's Motion to Rejoin, which features ultra-stoner, ultra-mellow but layered sonic soundscapes; Crooked Still, a Massachusetts-based country/bluegrass band whose third album, Still Crooked, is pleasantly morbid and grim (imagine The Handsome Family with an ethereal female singer and acoustic instruments); Sasquatch, a power trio that channels Alice in Chains but with better guitar playing; and Funkier Than a Mosquito's Tweeter, a compilation of Ike and Tina Turner from their late-70s rocking heyday. I never knew Ike could play guitar like that, but he could--and Tina could sure holler. This is nothing like the soul music I've always associated with Tina; this is rock & roll, sure as Janis is. Meanwhile, Senegal's Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba came out with Segu Blue, the best African music I've heard in quite a while, featuring bouncy kora playing, multilayered vocals and propelling basslines. And let's not forget Junior Kimbrough, inspiration for the above-mentioned Black Keys, whose record Most Things Don't Work Out is a standout. But really, any of his collections of swamp-boogie-trance-groove music hit the spot just fine.

Please note: not all these records came out in 2008. Some did; others I just didn;t discover till recently.

Coming soon: 2008's best books, movies and, like, experiences, man.

One last dystopia

...is The Army of the Republic, which came out in September and features the best blurb I have ever written: "Read it now, while it's still fiction." Yes, I can be clever.

Seriously, though, this is a pretty great book by a guy named Stuart Archer Cohen, who lives "up in Alaska, there" and posits a USA maybe 10 or 15 years into the future, when the corporations have taken over everything (more than they already have), a private army named Whitehall works for the government (more than Blackwater already does) and natural resources like water and forests are being carved up for the private sector (more than than they already are). Cohen raises some interesting questions about how far one should go to resist such developments, and what the difference is between a revolutionary and a terrorist, and to what extent violence is justified in acquiring/defending freedom. It's all wrapped up in lively thriller-esque plot, too, which makes it go down mighty easy. He doesn't have the "high lit" cache of Crace or Thomson but I like his book a lot better. It has both the big picture and a lively plot. Imagine!

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Dystopia Tour

Okay, I'll admit it: novels about horrible future societies/lack thereof have always grabbed me. Whether Farenheit 451 Italic(Ray Bradbury) or The Sheep Look Up (John Brunner) or A Boy and His Dog (Harlan Ellison), I've always been a sucker for the "Here's the way the world is going to shit" school of storytelling. All the above-mentioned books are science fiction novels in the traditional sense; but I've also always enjoyed it when "literary" writers try their hand at it, and end up with Brave New World or 1984 or We by Eugene Zamiatin (1929, and arguably the foreunner of them all, though HG Wells's Things to Come predates it by a good 20 years).

Which brings us to these past few years, and this sudden raft of dystopia novels by "respectable" lit-fiction writers. There is of course The Road by Cormac McCarthy, which well and truly rocks, and also Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood, The Pesthouse by Jim Crace, Jamestown by Matthew Sharpe, Divided Kingdom by Rupert Thomson. They're all men except for Atwood (who tried a different riff on the future-disaster idea with The Handmaid's Tale, years ago) and everybody is white; but Crace and Thomson are Brits, and Atwood's Canadian, while MacCarthy and Sharpe are Americans. So the interest continues to cross national lines, at least, even if it continues to apparently mainly interest men, and white men at that. (If you'd like to write your thesis about this, please feel free.)

So anyway. I'm in the middle of reading all these books, and what have I learned?

I've learned that McCarthy leaves everyone else in the dust. At least, everybody I've read. The Road is relentless in its grimness, it laconic linguistic power, and its mood. It's like reading the blueprint of a story, with all the embellishment burned away. (Appropriate image, that, given that the landscape itself is utterly incinerated.) There are two characters, a man and his son, and a few others who come and go. Everything is horrible to being with, and gets worse. It's a great book, in its totality of pessimism. He also writes like the Dickens, which keeps things from getting dull.

On the other hand we have The Pesthouse. Jim Crace wrote a couple great books, Being Dead and Quarantine--which is problematic in itself, but for other reasons--but he really falls down on the job here. For me, one of the joys of dystopian fiction is the way it frees you up to explore the big picture, the oh-shit-I-can't-believe-it's-come-to-this-ness of things. Unfortunately, apart from a few suggestions, Crace really doesn't take you very far. Essentially the story follows--like The Road--a road, as characters walk from west to east, hit the shoreline, and turn around. Then they head back. The story never strays very far from the road, which maybe helps the forward momentum (of which there isn't a great deal) but it also means that the big-picture view is pretty much forgotten. There's an interesting bit with a religious cult, which is for me the most interesting part of the book, but that's about it.

Currently I'm reading Divided Kingdom, a story in which the UK has been broken into four quarters corresponding to the four humours of ancient medicine--sanguine, phlegmatic, choleric and melancholy. The population has been forcibly relocated to live in these quarters. In my world, that's what I call an ass-kicking premise. Then in the course of the story, the main character contrives to visit all these different quarters, and see what's been developing in each of them, which turns out to be... hmm, somewhat underwhelming. I mean it's sort of cool, and it's just the kind of big-picture stuff that Crace's book lacks altogether. But it feels like a lot less than it could be. I mean, given the premise, he really could have taken it to extremes. But apart from a few cases (the melacholics' Museum of Tears, for example), he doesn't do it much.

So anyway, that's where I am now, about 20 pages out from the end. After this I'll read Jamestown, which seems a wackier book than any of these others, and give a full report. Somewhere in the hazy distance lies Oryx and Crake, but I'm not a huge Atwood fan so that may take a while. And after that I guess I'll read some different stuff. But you want to know something, none of these high-profile books can hold a candle to We.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

If this is Sunday, I must have a new favorite band.

...They're called The Black Angels and they rock. In a droning, dreamy, effects-laden kind of way. Take a look:



And/or download a song from download.com:

http://music.download.com/theblackangels/3600-8702_32-100834699.html?tag=MDL_listing_song_artist

And party on, Garth.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Uzee's speech

Below is a speech by Uzma Aslam Khan, which she wrote for the Day of Resistance rally here in Honolulu last week. I thought it was a pretty good speech and deserved to be more widely heard, so here it is. You can also find it and her other writings at uzmaaslamkhan.blogspot.com .

"In 1977, native American writer Leslie Marmon Silko wrote a book called CEREMONY. This is a quote from the book, in which a World War II veteran is reflecting on why he cannot explain the war to an elder of his tribe:

"‘In the old ways of warfare, you couldn’t kill another human being in battle without knowing it, without seeing the result. But the old man would not have believed white warfare – killing across great distances without knowing who or how many had died. It was all too alien to comprehend, the mortars and big guns; and even if he could have taken the old man to see the target areas, even if he could have led him through the craters of torn earth to show him the dead, the old man would not have believed anything so monstrous.’

"Killing across great distances without knowing who or how many had died. Silko was speaking about a war sixty years ago. Now we have become so used to this kind of warfare that killing across great distances without knowing who or how many have died is perfectly ordinary. Neither US presidential candidate has indicated anything other than a complete endorsement of continuing with such killing. One of them may want an end to the war in Iraq, but he has said repeatedly that he believes in shifting the war to Pakistan ‘to get Al Qaida’, as if Al Qaida rests on the shoulders of 160 million Pakistanis. It does not. And if 160 million Pakistanis fail to find and hand over the bogey man Al Qaida, he has threatened repeatedly to take ‘direct action,’ including direct military action. When this action is taken – it is not a question of if this action is taken but when – whether by McCain or Obama, it will be yet more killing across great distances without you knowing who or how many have died.

"I would like you to know the cost of this war to Pakistan so far.

"Since 2001, the Bush administration has regularly been launching missile strikes across the Afghan border and into Pakistan. This particular year, this election year, the US strikes in Pakistan have increased alarmingly. There was one just yesterday. Eleven people died. As with all the other strikes, this one was ostensibly to take out a Taliban leader, but the leader got away, while innocent people died. The American missile strike in Pakistan last month killed 23 innocent men, women, and children. Between August 23 and October 10, at least eleven missile strikes killed more than a hundred people. This is according to Fox News, by the way. So if Fox can acknowledge it, the numbers must be even higher. This is in addition to the thirteen people killed on January 29. The twelve people killed on February 28. The eighteen people killed on March 17. The twelve killed on May 14. The eleven killed on June 10. And the numerous faceless, uncounted others killed this year, because as I’m sure you know, this is only a very partial list.

"Aside from the bombing of villages and the killing of innocent civilians, there are other ways in which this war is ruining the lives of ordinary people you are not meant to see. It is estimated that around 5,000 Pakistanis suspected of being 'terrorists' have been illegally detained in military torture cells both inside and outside the country. Any one in Pakistan will tell you that most of those who've disappeared have nothing to do with Al Qaida. They are being held either for no reason other than as evidence of 'peformance' for the US Empire, or because they threaten the internal interests of Pakistan’s rulers.­ Most of those who’ve been illegally detained come from poor, rural areas that are rich in natural resources, particularly in minerals and natural gas. Among those who’ve gone missing are journalists, poets, political activists and their families, and students and their families. Only 200 have been taken to court. None are proven terrorists. A few are released: all tell horrific stories of torture.

"What happens when you routinely see US drones flying over your home and watch entire villages being bombed and your families killed and your siblings kidnapped and tortured?

"Well, when I left Pakistan a few months ago, I knew peace-loving folks who didn’t even know any Taliban but who were beginning to gradually and grudgingly suppport them. That is in the cities. In the rural areas, more and more young angry men and women are taking up arms. Many of them had never even held a gun till the US ‘war on terror’ began. As one Pakistani recently put it. "This is the biggest gift of George Bush to al-Qaida." A country that as a child I knew as ethnically and intellectually dynamic, spirited and for the most part, peace-loving, now has a suicide-bombing just about every day, resulting in more deaths in Pakistan this year than in Afghanistan or Iraq. There were no suicide bombings in Pakistan till this war began.

"If we want change, shifting the war to Pakistan is not going to accomplish it. Peaceful, democratic, secular, tolerant societies never grew from intimidation, missile strikes, kidnappings, torture. Change will only come when the United States acknowledges who and how many Iraqis, Afghans and Pakistanis it has killed since this war began and commits itself to engaging with our countries as partners not targets."

Monday, October 27, 2008

Pats move to 5-2

Even without Tom Brady, the New England Patriots moved to 5-2 yesterday with a squeaky win over the Rams. Woo-hoo! Interim quarterback Matt Cassell is doing okay, third-string running backs are doing their best, the defense is bending without breaking. Next week come the hard-luck Colts, so let's see what happens. But seven weeks after Brady went down for the season, the team is rising to the challenge better than I had expected.

For what it's worth, I had predicted a 10-6 season and a first round exit in the playoffs. That could still happen but, this assessment now seems a little harsh. Given the relatively easy schedule down the road, 11-5 or even 12-4 seems possible.

Of course, this season, everything is going bonkers, so who knows. My original picks for Super Bowl XLIII (after Brady got hurt) were Dallas and Pittsburgh, which is looking increasingly unlikely, at least insofar as Dallas goes. Pittsburgh, hmm, maybe...

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Remakes and Retreads


I've been watching a lot of old sci-fi movies lately. (Actually, that's not strictly true. I watch a lot of old sci-fi movies more or less all the time.) For a while now time I've been watching reakes of old classics from the '50s--The Thing From Another World (1951) remade as The Thing (1982), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) remade in 1978 and 1993 and 2007, It! The Terror From Beyond Space (1958) remade as Alien (1979), Earth Vs the Flying Saucers (1956) remade as Independence Day (1996), and The Fly (1958) remade in 1986. There are plenty of others--The Blob, attack of the 50 Foot Woman, Cat People, War of the Worlds, and on and on.

Now they've redone one of the absolute landmarks, The Day the Earth Stood Still, from 1951. It's due out in December and stars--agggghhh!--Keanue Reeves, of all people.

I'm not opposed to remakes on principle--astute readers will notice that, for my first three books, remakes are pretty much what I did. But when watching the new movies, a number of ideas come to mind. Apart from obvious improvements in technology and technique, it's interesting to see how the conception of characters has advanced. For example, the role of women in most of the 1950s versions was laughable, and non-whites was nonexistent. Women were, in general, wives and secretaries and not much else; blacks and other minorities were absent. In the remakes, you would think, things would have gotten somewhat more interesting. Right?...


Well, for non-whites, the answer is yes, at least some of the time. Alien featured a black ship's engineer, Independence Day has Will Smith as a fighter pilot who saves humanity, The Thing features a couple of black characters who are as integral to the plot as anyone else. The outlook for women, though, is more problematic. Yes, Ripley in Alien is the classic icon of a powerful woman who overcomes odds, keeps a cool head, uses her brains to outwit a threat that kills everyone else. Fine. But Independence Day features three women, one of whom is a stripper who stands by her man, while another fails to stand by her man and dies, and the third has left her man but returns to him (and so doesn't die). The men, meanwhile, solve the mystery of the alien ships, figure out their weakness, destroy them and save humanity, while the girls look on. It's a lot like the 1950s.



1982's Cat People is, if anything, even worse than the original, in which the central female character dies because she can't control her animal nature; in the newer version, Nastassia Kinski is tied up and ravished, then locked in a cage as a panther and patted on the head by the guy who put her there. Ouch. The remake of The Thing eliminated women from the story altogether (there was a fairly interesting character in the 1951 version), and Spielberg's War of the Worlds did virtually the same (women are onscreen for something like 6 minutes of a 110-minute film).

I haven't seen the 2007 version of Body Snatchers yet (called The Invasion), but I'm curious to see what they've done with it. The 1978 version had a couple of reasonably interesting and thoughtful women characters, although Donald Sutherland was pretty much the center of the movie. The new version stars Nicole Kidman, who's been trying to be taken seriously as an actress ever since The Hours. So let's see what this one looks like.


And Keanu? As Klaatu? We'll see. The earth standing still indeed...

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Susan Nathan


Last night I heard a talk given by Susan Nathan, author of The Other Side of Israel. Nathan is an Israeli Jew who, upon growing increasingly concerned about the treatment of Israeli citizens of Arab descent, moved from Tel Aviv to a small Palestinian-Israeli village called Tamra in 2003. (I say "village" but it's got 30,000 people crammed into a tiny allocation of land.) There she lives, as an Arab citizen of Israel lives; it's not an easy life. I won't try to paraphrase her talk, because I think her book should speak for itself. I will say, however, that conditions are appalling. You can read about it on Amazon, here:

http://www.amazon.com/Other-Side-Israel-Journey-Across/dp/0385514565/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1224795846&sr=8-1

Nathan was an ardent Zionist originally from Britain, who lived for a time in apartheid South Africa before moving to Israel. (In South Africa she was a member of the ANC, Mandela's party, and served jail time for her activism.) She's not someone who had an ax to grind or who set out to prove something about the country, which, I believe, makes her ultimate disillusionment with it that much more powerful. She was a true believer, until she got there and experienced what was happening.

Last night's talk was, predictably, interrupted by a loud, angry outburst, as an elderly couple stormed out in the middle of the lecture, hollering about "one-sided bias" and "hate speech." I guess hate speech, in this case, is defined as questioning the policies of the Israeli government towards its own minorities. But given that Nathan has lived in Israel for years, while the people who noisily interrupted the presentation last night were residents of a quite comfortable Hawaiian island, I think I will accept Nathan's observations over theirs.

She did have some good news, hinting that social pressure is building within Israel itself, from both Jewish groups and Palestinian ones, to try to redress what she calls the "second-class citizenship" of the Arabs. We'll see what happens.

IN ENTIRELY UNRELATED NEWS, today is my nephew and godson Paul's birthday. Happy birthday, Paul!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Ayatollah Begs to Differ...


...is the name of the book I'm currently reading. I first heard about it on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (hooray!) and it's pretty great. It's written Hooman Majd, an Iranian who grew up in the States but who has retained ties with Iran and visits often. This book is, more or less, his attempt to de-mystify the country for the many Americans (and other Westerners) who view the place, and its president, with feelings of alarm, if not horror.

And there's plenty to be horrified about, but there's also plenty to appreciate. Iran (as Persia) is a culture that goes back a couple thousand years, has its own aesthetics and traditions, a lively social life, and a government which, although not a democracy in the western sense, nonetheless contains elements of representative democracy. This is all interesting. It also contains plenty of dissenters, atheists, opium smokers, free love advocates and diehard true believers. These groups are not mutually exclusive.

Majd doesn't try to whitewash Ahmadenijad's silly denial of the Holocaust, nor does he defend his threats to destroy Israel. On the other hand, he makes the point over and over that these comments carry far more weight in the west than with Iranians, who are mainly concerned with economic issues. Most Iranians, he points out, learn little European history in school (about as much as the average American learns about Iranian history, heh heh) and so cares little about WWII or the events surrounding it, except insofar as those events somehow led to the creation of Israel and the displacement of Palestinians. So barking about israel gets Ahmadenijad points on the street, while denying the Holocaust doesn't particularly resonate (but annoys the west, which he enjoys doing). Nuclear power, meanwhile, is seen by most Iranians as an example of haq, which can be translated loosely as "rights." Given that the west, and the States in particular, has literally thousands of nuclear warheads--and Israel has a couple hundred, too--it strikes Iranians as hypocritical that they are being pressured, under threat of sanctions and war, to drop their program.

Whatever your thoughts on Iran may be--good, bad or indifferent--this is an interesting and engaging book to pick up. Majd's style is anecdotal and conversational; he's not out to belabor his points or pile on the statistics, and he is just as likely to make snide remarks about government ministers or religious zeal as he is to take a stand that some would describe as "apologist." Given that Iran is very likely the next country that we will bomb (if you take it, as I do, that Pakistan is already being bombed), it seems like the least we can do is learn something about these people before we proceed with killing them.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

New book finished

Okay, so that's my excuse for not posting anything new, exciting, or even marginally intriguing for the past oh month or so. Been busy beavering away at the new book, which I have recently (tentatively) finished and sent off to mein uber-agent, Scott. So we will see what he has to say, and then think about it a while, and go from there. In the meantime I will try to be a better human by posting more blog entries.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Remember "sovereignty"?

Ah, those were the days.

Please read this essay by an American Muslim of Pakistani origin. For those of you who haven't been keeping up, the Pakistani army was recently issued orders to fire upon American soldiers who cross into Pakistan. This followed many raids, bombings, missile strikes etc inside Pakistan's territory, which resulted in the deaths of hundreds of Pakistani civilians. One of the latest killed something like 50 villagers, none of whom were, um, terrorists.

This little bit of brilliance puts it all in perspective.

http://crossingthecrescent.com/?p=117

On the other hand, who cares? It's just more "collateral damage" in the "war on terror"...

Sunday, August 17, 2008

My favorite place on Earth


The island of Maui is made of two ancient volcanies that rose up out of the sea and more or less melted into one another. The bigger of these volcanoes is Haleakala, which means "House of the sun." It is, without question, the most breathtaking place I've ever walked through. I thought this in 1995, when Uzee and I first hiked there, and I thought this again last month, when we revisted the place.

These pictures are laughable in their attempt to convey Haleakala's scale and sheer otherworldly weirdness. This is the only volcano crater I've ever been in, and the colors, the erosion and the size of it all--it's I think twelve miles down to the bottom--are just staggering.

When I die, I would like my ashes scattered here.

Yes, I still exist.

Hello. On the off chance that you visited this blog sometime in the past five weeks--sorry, I haven't been around much. No excuses, except that I've relocated to Hawaii for the time being, and that pretty much monopolized my attention. The good news is that I'm somewhat settled in now, so maybe I can maintain this blog somewhat more regularly. Maybe...

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Some heartening news

Sea turtles are coming back to Hawaii.

In 1995, Uzee and I went to Maui for a week, snorkeled 3 or 4 days and saw tons of fish, squid, coral... but no turtles. I had seen them the previous year in the Caribbean, but the word was that they had largely disappeared from Hawaii due to hunting. In the '80s, they were still being served at restaurants (ugh) and were severely overhunted and depleted. But then they were put on the protected species list, though by the mid-'90s, as I say, I still wasn't seeing any.


Cut to 2008, and Uzee and I have been back in Maui for a week, snorkeling almost every day, and have seen sea turtles on three separate occasions. In fact I've seen turtles more often than not, which is a rather boggling concept to try to comprehend. This morning I went out at about 8am and saw no fewer than four within an hour. A foot-long baby, a couple mid-size models and one monster that I would guess at about four feet long. Pretty darn impressive...


The nice folks at the info station on the beach confirmed what my eyes were telling me: that yes, the turtles are making a comeback in the islands, and over the past several years their numbers have been steadily increasing. Or as the guy put it, "Go out at seven in the morning you'll see six, eight, ten of them out there. There's more every year." This is the best news I've heard in some time.


Definitely time to get an underwater camera, I think. (I wish I could claim credit for these photos, but no, they're just snatched off the net, from letsgohawaii.com. Sorry. I did, however, see the very thing pictured here: a big ol' turtle ascending to the surface to grab a gulp of air before descending again. It's fun to pop up out of the water at the same time s/he does to catch a glimpse of the face in the sunlight.)
These are, I believe, Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles, for you classification fiends out there.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Much franticness occurring in my life just now.

It's been a fine fine few months here in western Mass., but the time has come to shuffle along. Next week sees Uzee and myself relocating to scenic yet perversely expensive Hawaii for a period of several months in our ongoing "circle the globe" tour. I'm fairly excited about it, as I think anyone would be, especially since swimming in the ocean and snorkeling are easily on my list of 5 favorite things to do. Some mild anxiety accompanies the move, in terms of "Will I be focused enough to continue writing books while living in such a beautiful place?" Only one way to find out, I guess. Wish me luck.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The annual miracle

Here's what's growing on my back porch at the moment.



I've had mixed success with growing vegetables over the years, but these tomatoes look like they're coming along nicely. Of course, I may never taste them, since Uzee and I are relocating once again and leaving the continental US, in which case my mom will inherit them. But whatever. It still amazes me that you can stick a plant in the ground, and wait a few weeks, and have food. Okay so I'm easily amazed. What can I tell you.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Ramblings

Hello, it's Monday, nothing much happening. I will be going to the library later to work on the new book. Aren't you glad you know that?

1. Went to Provincetown Mass recently and had a terrific time. May I recommend the Somerset House Inn if you're heading that way anytime soon.

2. Hillary dropped out of the presidential race, which is okay, leaving Obama (motto: "Let's bomb Pakistan!") to fight it out with McCain (motto: "Let's bomb everybody!") Excuse me if I'm not terribly excited about the election this year. Yes, we must elect Obama, but I wish he was a trifle less bloodthirsty regarding the country in which I live and about which he knows nothing.

3. David Cook won American Idol. How do I know this? Lord knows. I believe it happened while I was in Provincetown, however. (For the record, I was rooting for Syesha.)

4. Uzee and I recently watched Chinatown for the first time. Great movie. We may be going through a vintage-Jack-Nicholson phase; Five Easy Pieces is sitting on top of the TV.


5. Celtics are in the process of hosing the LA LAkers, currently ahead by 2-0 in the finals. Now I don't care a great deal for basketball, but I'm enough of a local boy to like it when the New England teams win. Tomorrow they play in LA and, hopefully, extend the streak. Go Leon Bowe!

PLEASE TAKE THE POLL AT THE BOTTOM OF THIS PAGE!

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Bettye ROCKS

Okay, somehow a week has slipped by since Uzee and I drove down to Long Island to hear Bettye LaVette. (Where exactly does the time go? Please let me know when you figure it out.) Anyway, that concert was, if not the greatest I ever heard, at least one of the three greatest I ever heard. And I've been to a lot of concerts.

For the record, the other two standouts that leap to mind are

Jane's Addiction, Tucson, AZ, 1989 (following the release of Nothing's Shocking); and

Baaba Maal, Rabat, Morocco, 1996 (in an outdoor arena that his big voice completely filled).

Honorable mentions include Koko Taylor in a jammed club in Tucson; Lucinda Williams, ditto; and The Tragically Hip, ditto again. These were all in the early '90s, which is when I went to the bulk of my concerts. The Black Keys were also great, last month in Boston, as I mentioned in an earlier posting.

But Bettye... oh man that woman can rock. She also came out to the lobby after the show (in a tiny theatre, 400-odd seats) and signed CDs and called everybody "honey" and was generally adorable.

Here's another clip from YouTube, just because I can't resist, from a TV appearance a few weeks back.


Saturday, May 31, 2008

Current musical obsessions

A couple weeks ago, Uzee and I slipped into Boston for a night to catch The Black Keys, a 2-piece blues/rock duo out of Akron, Ohio. I'm not ashamed to say that these people are probably my current favorite band, even if I discovered them late. I downloaded a couple songs off of download.com a couple years ago, but never saw their records in Lahore--now that I'm temporarily in Mass., I've picked up just about their whole catalog. But in concert is where they truly rock the free world, as this clip perhaps demonstrates:






That clip wasn't one I took, but it does get the idea of the show (at the Orpheum, May 17 2008) across pretty well.


Tomorrow, we're heading down to Long Island--a place I've never been to--to see the one & only Bettye LaVette, a soul singer from the '60s who's undergone a real revival over the past few years, since she's started releasing records on the intriguing Anti- label. She can holler with the best of them, and in my admitted valueless opinion she blows the competition out of the water (including the revered Aretha, who really hasn't been doing much of interest for the the past, oh, 3o years). But don't take my word for it...




Bettye was born in 1946, which means she's 62 now... I can only hope I rock half as much when I'm her age.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Comic Books

After mentioning David Hajdu's book The Ten-Cent Scare last time, I thought I would briefly discuss some comics that I'm reading these days.

I've read comic books since seventh grade, which is what, 32 or 33 years ago. I read them through high school, Marvels mainly, then stopped in college when I became (ahem) serious, then picked up again in my late twenties (around 1990) and kept up for about five years. When I left for Morocco in 1995, I stopped, and only started again recently, as I'm in Massachusetts for a few months with a couple good shops nearby.

But man--stuff has changed since Kamandi, the Last Boy on Earth (Jack Kirby's Planet of the Apes riff, with talking tigers, rats and seafood as well as monkeys) or even Frank Miller's Daredevil. When I left the country, Image was the hottest publisher going, with Spawn and Savage Dragon selling in big numbers (essentially, these were superhero books with a "dark" edge and/or some supernatural content to lend them an air of gritty seriousness). Make no mistake, there are still piles of superhero comics out there, but there's loads of other stuff too. The market has fragmented hugely, much like TV. Instead of three channels plus PBS, these days there are now hundreds of cable options, and in the same way, instead of Marvel and DC and a few undergrounds, there are now loads of small, independent publishers putting out quirky books. This is, I think, great, although I wonder if there are still one or two huge titles out there that everyone reads, more or less. Probably not, just as there's no longer a TV show like MASH or The Mary Tyler Moore Show that everyone watches, more or less. (I read somewhere that the only sitcom I watch, The Office, draws something like 9 million viewers. In the 70s, this would have gotten it cancelled; today, it's in its fourth season as a huge hit.)

But, comic books.

WASTELAND is an ongoing series written by Antony Johnson and drawn by Christopher J. Mitten. It's currently at issue 16 or thereabouts. As soon as I figure out what the hell's going on, I'll let you know. We are, apparently, about 100 years after some huge cataclysm called "The Big Wet," which destroyed civilization and left everything, paradoxically, a desert. A group of people abandon their town Providens and make their way to Newbegin, a fabled city somewhere to the west. There are zombie-like ghouls out there, and mysterious wanderers called Ruin Runners who live off the land, salvaging trinkets to barter at the towns, and a group of priests--mutants maybe?--who have their own elaborate set of rituals and theology. You'll notice I've barely mentioned the story, partly because it's extremely intricate. The folks from Providens eventually make it to Newbegin, where various disasters ensue. Adding interest is the narrative strategy of concurrently telling different threads of the story from different times. This is what baffled me for a while; you'd see people X and Y doing something in Newbegin; then turn the page and there would be X talking to Z in Providens. A nifty way to restructure time and present a narrative in a nonlinear mode. But I wasn't ready for it; geez man, it's a fucking comic book.

The art is good, sometimes very good, and getting better. It's a black and white book.

NORTHLANDERS, written by Brian Wood and drawn by Davide Gianfelice, is a much more traditional book from a more traditional copany (DC/Vertigo). It's set a thousand years ago, and it's about this guy Sven who returns to his Viking home in the Orkneys or thereabouts to claim his heritage (his Dad used to run the place, now he's dead, evil uncle has stepped in, shades of Hamlet). We're 5 issues in and there's already been plenty of swordfights, moody landscapes and (gasp!) sex, and we're starting to get the lowdown on Sven's background, why he left home all those years ago and why he's come back now. There's a shape-changing witch, if I'm not mistaken, and various dark secrets from the past. It's lightweight stuff compared to Wasteland but it's a quick read with great full-color art (muted tones that well serve the twilight-y environs) and a certain endearing earnestness to it all.

PAX ROMANA, written and drawn by Jonathan Hickman, is my favorite book out there right now, maybe ever. There are only 2 issues out so run out right now and buy them. Talk about a premise: 50 years from now, the Catholic Church is in deep trouble, faced with dwindling congregations and competition from atheism and Islam. So the church does what any self-respecting religious organization would do: it invents a time machine and sends a platoon of genetically-altered Marines (good Catholics all of them) to A.D. 300, in time to prevent the split of the Holy Roman Empire, and then hang around the next several hundred years, specifically to knock off Mohammad before he can gain political influence. Any other unforeseen developments threatening to challenge the primacy of the Church are also open to intervention. Sadly for the holy fathers, the Marines sent back in time have a slightly... heterodox understanding of their mission. Once successfully transported back (with a certain amount of materiel) they do indee prevent the Empire's split. However, after that, things very quickly go to shit.

Hickman is a very text-dense writer; there's always plenty of conversation in his books, most of it well done; sometimes entire pages are devoted to type. It can taken an hour to read one of his books, a rarity these days. The artwork is killer too, and rewards lingering. If there's one book out there that demonstrates the potential of the form, as well as potential lived up to, this is it. He has another book called TRANSHUMAN, about genetic modification of human beings, which is lively too, though not quite as bleedin' warped.

Have fun, kids.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The thing about having a blog...

...is that there's a certain pressure to keep maintaining it, even if you don't have that much to say. Such is the situation in which I now find myself. I think maybe some people kepe blogs because they really really like to talk, chatter, spred the word on various things they care about, and so on; the blog is their forum, in a way. That's not really the case for me: I write all day long, more or less, so don't feel like I need a forum in which to write. The other thing is, the day-to-day life of a writer really isn't all that fascinating; you go somewhere quiet, sit around for most of the day writing stuff out in notebooks or on a computer, look at it again, write it over, type it up, write it over, set it aside, look at it later, write it over. I'm not complaining, by any stretch, just trying to explain why the lags between blog entries seems to be getting longer...

So anyway, that's what I've been doing--various projects which are now in various states of semi-done-ness, or barely-started-ness, or spilled-out-in-a-rush-ness. But there's not much I can really talk about yet, which maybe gives the impression that I'm not doing a great deal... when actually I'm doing about five things at once. Oh well.

Current read: The Ten-Cent Plague by David Hajdu. A history of early comic books, from the appearance in the early 1900s through the 1950s, when they came under increasing attack from various quarters, notably the Catholic Church and opportunistic politicians who wanted to be seen as enacting meaningful legislation agsinst social ills (juvenile delinquency paramount among them) without actually having to experience any of the side effects themselves--because none of them read comic books. It's an interesting window into 1950s America in all its McCarthyesque myopia, and the descriptions of book-burnings, orchestrated by numerous Catholic schools and presided over by the nuns, are quite chilling. (Contemporary commentators pointed out that the Nazis had orchestrated similar events 10 or 20 years earlier.) All in all it's a lively, readable book, appealing I think to anyone with any interest in this art form.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Been a while...

As my mom reminded me yesterday, it's been a while since I updated this blog. There's been plenty going on though, so allow me to update.

First, thanks to everyone who came out to Border's in Farmington on April 20. There were maybe 15 people there who came to pepper me with tough questions ("So... why was it backwards, anyway?") and I had a good time answering them. I had an even better time not reading from any of my books; reading is okay but I'd rather just have a conversation, which is what I did. People asked about movie and TV sceenwriting (which I haven't done, yet) and about my thoughts on the current state of the publishing industry... I met a gentleman who is keen to start a writing career, and another who is getting back to one he set aside in order to make some movies. Perhaps most bizarrely of all, I met a police officer named DAVID MAINE, who said he gets pages of results for me, every time he googles himself. He was kind enough to set his annoyance at this aside (I'm joking) and asked me to sign one of my books, which I did: "For the real David Maine..."

The following weekend I was in Newburyport, Mass., reading this time to a group of about 40 people who also asked interesting questions. Then I went over to listen to a cheery woman named Lauren Weinstein talk about how she makes comic books, which we're all calling "graphic novels" these days, but which are actually comic books. She's very bubbly and great fun to listen to, and her stuff is unique (take a look at Girl Stories on Amazon). In between my own reading and Lauren'd talk I met an old roommate from Oberlin College--yes, that reunion-23-years-later thing, with the formerly D'Artagnan-haired but now quite respectable-looking Eric. It was nice to see him, and to meet his partner Kim, and to sit around discussing screenplay ideas (he has a great one) and 9/11 conspiracy theories. He also inspired me to go home and put in some time on my own screenplay idea, which I've been doing since then, so thanks, Eric.

So at this point, there are no further publicity events on my horizon. This could change, so stay tuned. This could also change if someone reading this contacts me and requests an appearance somewhere... It's not guaranteed, but it's possible, especially for a festival-type event. So don't be shy.

In other news, it was 88 degrees in western Massachusetts a couple weeks ago. Yesterday it was 48. I don't know if this is global warming, or just global weirdness.

Friday, April 18, 2008

My hometown (almost) newspaper decides it loves me after all

A few years ago, when my first book The Preservationist was published, it received some very nice reviews from several unexpected quarters, including Time magazine, the Washington Post, the NY Times, and others. One place which did not give it a nice review was The Hartford Courant, the paper I grew up reading, which said, in essence, "This book blows dead bears." (I'm paraphrasing here.) Ever since, the Courant has kept its distance from my other books, which was believe me just fine as far as I was concerned...

...Until their very kind review of Monster, 1959, which I mentioned a couple of days ago. Now the paper has followed up with a brief interview of me, complete with photo. Here's the link:

http://www.courant.com/features/booksmags/hc-oneonone0417.artapr17,0,3987623.story

They were kind enough to mention the event at Border's bookstore in Farmington, next to Westfarms Mall, which is happening Sunday (April 20) from 2:00 to 3:00. Be sure to swing by if you are so inclined: I'll be happy to sign books and answer any questions you might be able to dream up. And even if you can't make it, but an extra copy or two of the Courant. They've earned it, heh.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Pressure Drop, Monkey Man, Time Tough, 54-46 Was My Number, etc.

So the other night Uzee and I went out to hear Toots and the Maytals, one of the best reggae bands of all time. Toots in fact was the guy who coined the term "reggay" in his song "Do the Reggay" from, I think, 1962 or thereabouts. As it happened, that was the first song he sang in concert, along with a pile of great songs, including many from Funky Kingston, which gets Dave's rating at The Greatest Reggae Album of All Time and If You Thought It Would be Something by Marley, You Just Haven't Been Paying Attention. He played "Time Tough," "Pomps and Pride," "Take Me Home Country Road" (yes the John Denver Song), "Pressure Drop," and "Love Is Gonna Bring Me Down"--that's half the album right there. Other highlights included "Monkey Man," "Reggae Got Soul," and a blistering hot "Hallelujah" to end the show. Plus some long groove thing called, I think, "Roots Rock Reggae," though I don't know if that's the name of the song or just all the words he could remember at the moment, as he repeated them over and over for about ten minutes. Plus a couple new songs from the album last year but you know, none of us went for that.

To get an idea of what you missed (unless you were there and didn't bother saying hi), here's a 90-second clip of "Monkey Man" taken by one other than myself. I like to call it "Dave's Earthquake-Cam." Pop a Dramamine and enjoy.

The sound quality maybe isn't so hot. What can I say, I used this tiny little digital thing. And in case you're wondering, I am definitely NOT the guy who jumps up on stage and, um, "dances" along with Toots. I've got nerve, but not that kind of nerve.

Monday, April 14, 2008

O.K.!

The fine folks at The Oklahoman newspaper have some very nice things to say about Monster, 1959. Thanks, guys.

http://newsok.com/article/3228317/1207959226

I should mention that I was in Oklahoma City for a couple of days back in, oh, 1995 I guess it was. Nice little town. I seem to recall a park with a rose garden. Or was that Austin? Oh hell, it was a long time ago... I know for sure there was a museum with lots of cowboy sculptures. Who's that guy, Remington, who does them all? Lassos and bucking broncs. The kind of stuff you see lots of in Connecticut. Or Pakistan for that matter.

Yes, I'm a sucker for this kind of stuff...




...Namely, the Magic Wings butterfly farm and semi-tropical greenhouse, up in Deerfield, Mass. What can I tell you. Uzee and I went up there last week, Thursday being a remarkably warm and sunny day, and passed a mightily pleasant couple of hours with our winged pals. Life is too short not to enjoy creatures as exquisitely beautiful as these, I think.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Newburyport update

The Newburyport Literary Festival 2008 in Newburyport, Massachusetts (in the northeast of the state, near New Hampshire and the shore) has posted its schedule on this page:

http://www.newburyportliteraryfestival.org/html/schedule_of_events.htm

I'll be reading at 10:00 a.m. on Saturday, the 26th of April, at the Newburyport Public Library. Where is this, you ask? I have no idea, but how tough can it be? Don't answer that question. I'll be reading from Monster, 1959 but there will be an extensive, I hope, Q+A and of course I'll be happy to take questions about any of my books (or anybody else's books, for that matter). Plus I'll sign stuff if people would like. At first I was like, "Ten in the morning, yeah right, I can just picture the mob we'll have." But looking over the schedule, it seems like there's stuff going on all day, beginning at 8:00 a.m. (oy) and continuing through till evening. So maybe we will have a decent early-rising crowd after all, and hopefully you will be a part of it.

In case a weekend in eastern Massachusetts is not part of your immediate future, I will also be appearing at the Border's Bookstore in Farmington, Connecticut on Sunday, April 20 at 2:00 p.m. This is the Border's next to Westfarms Mall, and it follows a very nice review in the Hartford Courant (see previous post) so let's hope some people turn up for that one too. An interview in the Courant is in the works for the Thursday before.

And if anyone reads Publishers Weekly, this week's issue contains a review I wrote of Tim Winton's Breath. Winton is an Australian writer who has never broken very big in the US, but I liked this book pretty well.

ONLY 200 DAYS LEFT TO TAKE THE POLL AT THE BOTTOM OF THIS PAGE!

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Hartford Courant raves; NYTBR is less convinced

Here's a link to the wildly positive review of Monster, 1959 that appears in today's Hartford Courant:

http://www.courant.com/features/booksmags/hc-monster0406.artapr06,0,6605604.story

And another one to the more reserved New York Times Book Review:

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/06/books/review/Emmons-t.html?ref=todayspaper

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Don't worry, Doctor, it's just my creative prolepsis flaring up again

So there's this guy out there named Kyle, I think he's a student, and he keeps a blog in which he apparently posts his college papers. And what do you know, he's written a paper about the two Samsons, mine and Milton's. What a riot. He says things like

"Maine’s creative prolepsis of Samson’s thoughts before destroying the temple begins, like Milton’s, with an important simile"

Well sure! Doesn't everybody's? He also says this:

"Rather than emotionally driven, Maine presents Samson as a logical person attempting to deduce the will of God through reason"

Which is, to say the least, a surprise to me...

But I shouldn't make fun of it--the guy's put some thought into my book, which I appreciate, and what the hell, I've been compared to worse people than Milton. (Although I guess he was sort of a shithead, if I'm remembering my Junior-year Milton class right. Didn't he treat his daughters like dirt?) And anyway this kind of writing puts my own academic career to shame--my college papers sounded like, "I really like Anne Sexton's poems I think they're really really good."

Anyway if you're interested, here's where you can read what the kids are saying about Dave Maine these days:

http://www.kylebrekke.com/wordpress/2008/john-miltons-samson-agonistes-vs-david-maines-the-book-of-samson-relativity-of-legitimacy/

And if you're feeling nice you can even leave a comment. But no nasty ones, okay? I can't afford to alienate my, ahem, academic fan base.

DON'T FORGET TO VOTE IN THE POLL AT THE BOTTOM OF THE PAGE!

Monday, March 31, 2008

BUDDY GUY rules. But, you knew that already, right?

In case you never heard of him, Buddy Guy is the greatest guitar player alive right now, and probably has been for a while. Uzee and I has the chance to see him play on Saturday night, and man, he was great.

Buddy's 72 years old and has been playing since the '50s, so he has, as they say, chops. For my money, his records Stone Crazy!, Damn Right I've Got the Blues, Feels Like Rain, Slippin' In, Heavy Love and Sweet Tea are some of the best records--not just blues records--ever made. He played for about an hour and a half on Saturday night, not a very long show, but what the hell, he's a senior citizen.

He also rocked. He played any number of great songs, like "Fever," "Love Her With a Feeling" and "Drowning on Dry Land," and ended with a somewhat sloppy version of one of his prettiest songs, "Feels Like Rain" that led into Ray Charles' "What'd I Say." In between he jammed on long guitar solos and played around with his keyboard player his other guitarist and even brought some child prodigy onstage for about fifteen minutes. Oh and he sings amazingly too. Halfway through "Drowning on Dry Land," he walked off the stage and up the aisle--singing and playing the whole time--stopping to flirt with the women, then walked out of the auditorium and upstairs into the balcony, where he kept it all going. They went, needless to say, nuts.

In case you need more convincing, check out some of his pages at Amazon and listen to some clips:


http://www.amazon.com/Damn-Right-Ive-Got-Blues/dp/B0007VBF24/ref=pd_bbs_sr_3?ie=UTF8&s=music&qid=1206966195&sr=8-3


Rock on, Buddy! Here's hoping you play another 50 years...


Saturday, March 22, 2008

Odyssey Books

First of all, a big thank you to Odyssey Books in South Hadley for hosting me, and especially to Emily their events person, who made sure that everything went off all right. It was not a huge event, there were maybe 10 or 12 people in attendance, but people were interested and lively and I think we had a pretty good conversation. I read a bit and then people asked questions, about the new book, about the book I'm writing now, about Pakistan, about the last book I wrote and so on. So it was fun, and thanks everyone for coming out.

My next "event" will be at the Borders Bookstore in Farmington, Connecticut--yup, my hometown--on Sunday afternoon, April 20th, at 2pm. This will be followed on the weekend of the 25th by an appearance at the Newburyport Literary Festival, something for which I still have no information whatsoever. I'll post it when I get it. But if anyone is in central Connecticut on April 20th, come on over to the Borders near the Westfarms Mall and say howdy.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Saw Doctors!

Last night (St Patrick's Day) Uzee and I went to see and hear The Saw Doctors at the Calvin Theater in Northampton. Great venue, great crowd, great band. If you don't know them, and chances are you don't, they play rock & roll with a vaguely Irish twist. For my money, their best songs tend to be the slower ones. But don't take my word for it--check these YouTube videos. (These are, I should make clear, not from the concert I attended, but they did play both songs, and they give a fair idea of what the band is like.)






Bless me father for I have sinned
She has big brown eyes & silky skin
Bless me father, I couldn't resist
Father, you have no idea what you've missed...

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Uzee's letter to Barack Obama

Uzma Aslam Khan has written a letter to Obama in which she asks a number of questions which, needless to say, no one in the US media has bothered to ask--but which many people both inside and outside the States would love to have answered. It's posted on the always-lively-sometimes-shocking alternative news site, Counterpunch. Take a look:

http://www.counterpunch.org/uzma03152008.html

Or there's a link from her own blog:

http://uzmaaslamkhan.blogspot.com

Please take a look... even if you're a supporter of Obama. Maybe especially then.

DON'T FORGET TO TAKE THE POLL AT THE BOTTOM OF THE PAGE!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

A hopeful sign, maybe.


So.

I wake up this morning and it's cloudy. I go to the market to shop for groceries and it's actually flurrying snow, and by the time I get out of the Big Why the snow is coming down fairly thick and I'm thinking, "Man, I thought we were done with this." More fool me. And I know I've only been here for a month and a half or so, but I've already had my year's fill of winter, I think.

So I put the food away and start walking down to the library which is about 35 minutes from the house. Still snowing but as I walk the snow segues into drizzly rain before petering out altogether. And then I'm downtown and five minutes away from the library and what do I see pecking around in the front yard of someobody's house? Robins. Red bosoms and all, two of them no less. Male and female? I dunno. But there were two, and were strolling around in the recently-fallen-now-melting-but-not-yet-fully-melted snow, looking like they expected things to get much nicer very soon. And I thought "Aw shucks. Spring is on its way, maybe."

It was nice.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Washington Post gives thumbs-up

Here's a link to a very positive, though brief, review of Monster, published in today's Washington Post:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/03/06/AR2008030602663.html

And for those of you in western Massachusetts, don't forget that I will be appearing at Odyssey Books in South Hadley (on College Street, right across from Mount Holyoke College) on Thursday, March 20 at 7:30pm. This is a reading/q+a/book signing event. So come on down and tell me if you think the Post got it right...

Saturday, March 8, 2008

The Page 99 Test

Okay, here's an interesting idea.

Ford Madox Ford apparently once said something like: "Open the book to page ninety-nine and read, and the quality of the whole will be revealed to you." This is a fun idea and maybe even a true one, since certainly there are propensities that a writer will reveal on any given page, as well as particular strengths, weaknesses and so on. But is it true? Well I don't know. It's kind of like saying that any two minutes of a movie will show the quality of the whole movie, which is patently untrue (or else trailers would never give an inaccurate view of the film). Or like one joke will tell you whether you'll enjoy the comedian, or whatever.

On the other hand, there are books of mine--I'm thinking of Samson here--which do have a kind of unity in their tone and outlook and treatment, such that if you did open randomly to page 99, well, maybe you would form an accurate impression of the whole thing.

As it turns out, there's a fellow named Marshal Zeringue, and he has an entire blog devoted to this idea. He asks writers to comment on their own books' page 99, and decide whether Ford's axiom holds true or not. What a great idea. He asked me to do this for monster, and I did, and he posted it, and here's the link:

http://page99test.blogspot.com/2008/03/david-maines-monster-1959.html

If you read it and then hit "Home" at the bottom of his blog, you go to his homepage, which has not only my essay but many others by many other writers talking about their books. What's interesting o me is that there's a real range of responses to this page 99 idea. And you thought the internet was only good for You Tube...

Thursday, February 28, 2008

"Maine can write, no question there."

...Or at least, so say the fine folks in Vail, Colorado, whose Vail Daily reviewed Monster and gave it a generally favorable reading. (Though they make reference to the "fundamentalist Islamic texts" that I cite in the appendix--say what?) For those completists among you, here's the link:

http://www.vaildaily.com/article/20080228/AE/257122335

It is, as I say, generally positive, though there are some weird turns of phrase in there too. Ah well... I'm guilty of that myself, from time to time.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Keep an eye on Bigthink.com

The lively and often-entertaining site Bigthink.com interviewed me while in NYC last week, and is supposedly going to post the hour-long (!) interview sometime soon. I'll post the link when it shows up, but in the meantime, the site itself is well worth exploring:

http://www.bigthink.com/

NY Times: You win some, you lose some


Janet Maslin at the New York Times has given a thoughtful, though mixed, review of Monster, 1959 in today's edition of the paper. I won't claim that it's entirely positive--it's not--but there is certainly a blend of both admiration and doubt. Anyway, it's food for thought, and she does say enough nice things to make me feel like maybe I picked the right career after all. (Your mileage may vary.) Here's the link.

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/25/books/25masl.html

Barnes and Nobles Rocks; Rhinebeck Swings


First of all, many many thanks to both the Barnes & Noble bookstore in Greenwich Village, NYC, and to Oblong Books and Music in Rhinebeck, NY, for their generosity in hosting me over the weekend. Both events went well, although both were small; maybe 8 or 10 people in the city, and 6 or 7 in Rhinebeck. But that was okay, it just added to the intimacy of the events, and gave me the chance to talk to people face-to-face, which is how I like to do it.

Above is a photo of the tremendously kind Dick Hermans, who runs Oblong Books and Music. I have to say, I've been in a lot of bookstores in my life, and this is one of the finest I've ever seen. And I'm not just saying that because they were nice to me... Oblong's book selection is outstanding, especially their fiction, and the music range is impressive too, especially for a relatively small store. I urge anyone with an interest to take a ride out through Rhinebeck sometime and check it out. Rhinebeck is a fun little town in and of itself, and home of the famous Aerodrome that offers weekly air shows using restored World War I biplanes and triplanes.
(The fact that, in the above photo, I appear to be falling asleep, has nothing to do with either the own or the bookstore, but is just the side effect of my recent change in medication. Oh, come on, I'm kidding.)
In both venues I read for about 25 minutes from the new book, then took questions, some of which focused on the material in the book (monster movies, in particular) and some which were more general about how I go about writing anything at all. (Typical question: do I make an outline? Answer: no.) People also askes about living in Pakistan, my perception of events there, and whether I thought the US media reflected those events accurately. (Answer: no.) So all in all, the two events, each about an hour long, were interesting and fun both for me and--I hope--for the people who attended.

Special mention must be made of my number one fan, Lori from Pennsylvania, who drove up from the Poconos to attend the first evening's reading at the B&N on the Upper West Side--the event that got cancelled. I went up to that store anyway, on the off chance that some people might show after reading this blog, and lo! there was Lori and her pal (now my pal too) Sunshine, looking baffled at the guy behind the counter who was explainig patiently that nope, Dave Maine wasn't due to appear that night... Anyway we ended up sitting for coffee for an hour and, once again, having a great time talking about just about everything. So that was time well spent--thanks, Lori & Sunshine.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Dec 19 Reading HAS BEEN CANCELLED

...Not by me, but there you go. The Dec 20 event at Barnes and Noble in Greenwich Village was intended to replace the reading at 82nd and Broadway, but nobody thought to tell me that.

My sincere apologies to anyone who was inconvenienced by this. If it were up to me, I'd be there anyway. Thanks for understanding and I hope to see you tomorrow.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Off to NYC

Tomorrow (Tuesday, February 19) I'll be trundling down to New York to do a couple of reading events:

FEBRUARY 19 (Tuesday), Barnes and Noble at 82nd and Broadway, THIS EVENT HAS BEEN CANCELLED.

FEBRUARY 20 (Wednesday), Barnes and Noble in Greenwich Village, Ave of the Americas at 8th Street, 7:30pm. Same deal: Reading, q+a, signing. Come along and ask me something really confrontational and snotty. Make it fun!

Maybe I'll get a photo or two from these events to post next time, along with a funny story. Hey, it could happen...

Also in store:

FEBRUARY 23 (Saturday) brings me to Rhinebeck, NY, and Oblong Books on 6422 Montgomery Street (Route 9), also at 7:30pm for a similar event. For those of you who prefer your lit'rary events outside the big city.

MARCH 20 (Thursday), in South Hadley, MA, home of Mount Holyoke College, has a reading at Odyssey Books, 9 College Street. 7:30, same schedule.

That's all for now. Hope to see you on one of these evenings.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Cooking Tips for Bachelors #4: sauteed bay scallops


Happy Valentine's Day, sweethearts.

So here I am at my mom's house in Connecticut, sitting in front of her Ferrari-esque computer (motto: "More computing power than the Apollo missions had") in scenic yet wintry Ye Olde Newwe Englande. And what better way to celebrate, um, mid-February ("only six more months till winter!") than by whipping up a pan of tasty yet delicious bay scallops, buttery and tender and melt-in-your-mouth-tastic:

1. Heat some olive oil in a frying pan, enough to coat the bottom. Drop in a couple tablespoons of butter and let it melt.

2. Dice as much garlic as you can stand, and toss that in. (I use 5 or 6 cloves.) Let it start to sizzle, then add a little salt and pepper.

3. The whole mess is pretty hot by now. Pour in some white wine, which will sizzle and snap in a most satisfying manner.

4. Add about a pound of bay scallops. Be sure to slice off the little stem-like foot beforehand, otherwise this bit will grow rubbery when you cook it.

5. Stir the scallops around in the pan for about 90 seconds. Don't cook them too much. They will go from translucent to white, and that's when you're done. If you can bother yourself to flip them, so both sides are cooked through, that's nice.

6. Remove from heat. You now have a pound of delicious scallops and a bunch of gravy. Slop it over some rice and dig in.

REMEMBER: SEA FOOD = BRAIN FOOD. THIS IS IMPORTANT, BUT I CAN'T REMEMBER WHY.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Oprah Mag exhibits great taste and discernment


Take a look at what the March issue of O, the Oprah Magazine (on sale now, BTW) has to say about Monster, 1959:

Saturday, February 9, 2008

More updates

For those of you in or near to Western Massachusetts, who are uninterested or unable to get to New York this month, I will be appearing at Odyssey Books at 9 College Street, South Hadley, Mass. on Thursday, March 20 at 7:30 for a reading/q&a/signing. The phone # is (413) 534-7307. In the coming weeks I am also supposed to be interviewed for a web site called Bigthink.com, which is apparently something special (though it's new to me), and I believe the interview will be posted on the site. Besides this, rumor has it that both The New York Times and O, the Oprah magazine are due to review Monster, 1959 in the near future--like, in the next week or two. So keep your fingers crossed and think happy thoughts.

All this is in addition to the two Barnes and Nobles readings on February 19 and 20 in New York City, and Feb 23 in Rhinebeck, NY (see my entry below, at the start of January). I'm also still confirmed for the Newburyport Literary Festival, but have no specifics as to exactly what I'll be doing, or when.

I will return with a special bay scallops edition of Cooking Tips for Bachelors in the near future, so, stay tuned.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Can someone tell me what just happened?

I'm sorry... I thought you just said the Giants beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl.

So there I am, sitting in my new, temporary, sparsely-furnished living room, with a cable-less 21" TV that I had to go buy a plug-in aerial for, squinting through the snowy reception to watch the Big Game, and what do I see? Tom Brady knocked onto the ground. Again. And again. Again. Bad pass, great coverage, Brady on the ground. Repeat until bored, then watch it several more times. And it's only the first half.

What can I tell you? The Giants played better, had a better game plan maybe, and seemed to suffer from nerves less than the Patriots. You can't blame the refs for this one. So congratulations to them and their fans. (The Giants I mean, not the refs.)

On a happier note, Uzee and I spent yesterday afternoon wandering around downtown Northampton, Massachusetts, a place I"ve heard much about but had never been to before. Great bookstore there called Raven Used Books, a terrific diner called Jakes, and more funky jewellery, ceramics, art supplies, cappucino and kitsch than you can shake a Jesus Action Figure at. Yes, I actually saw the famous Jesus Action Figure in the window of one shop. "With moveable arms and realistic gliding action" or something like that. There was also a Moses Action Figure, for those of you interested in collecting the whole set.

Also we discovered, real, genuine, honest-to-God bulk tea at a crunchy health food place; Uzee was most relieved. And much more that escapes me in the pos-Super-Bowl haze of dismay that I find myself surrounded by this morning, alas.

Hey... just wait till next year.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

90 minutes before the Super Bowl. And counting.

Yes, what can I say. I'm a New England boy at heart and expect I always will be. So here's hoping the Patriots pull off a terrific victory and make their perfect season complete.

In other news, Uzee and I have relocated to the US for the time being so that I can do some publicity for the new book, among other things. Some upcoming events are listed a few entries down the page; stay tuned for additional news as I get word of it.

Currently reading The Egyptologist by Arthur Phillips. Oh man what a great book. Funny and smart and complicated, reads like a thriller or a whodunit but the characters are impeccably drawn. I'm maybe halfway through, so, maybe it'll crash and burn before the end but I don't think so. It reminds me somewhat of Matthew Kneale's English Passengers in its tone, and coming from me that's high praise indeed. Kneale's book is one of the best I've ever read.

BTW, this site has the time wrong. As I write this it's 4:45. Go figure.