Monday, April 21, 2008

Just read it, dammit!

Anytime someone starts talking about books I get excited. So when the brother-in-law on the other side of the pond posted his “just read it, dammit” list, I was inspired (and I stole his title - thanks Steve).

Now normally on these “Books You Should Read Before You Die” lists, the Bible makes it to the top three. Well, it won’t make mine. Not only because I’m not a religious person but because it’s dreadful reading. The language is antiquated and rambling and the stories are downright silly. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good fantasy novel, just as long as it's tasteful and has a plot that makes sense.

You also won’t see any Shakespeare on this list, even tho I do like Shakespeare (Macbeth is my favorite). Once again we’re talking about antiquated language that, unless you’re a professor on the subject or just a junkie for old drama, is difficult to stay with.

Then there’s the good old ‘required reading’ (forced reading more like) from high school and college. Very few of those remain on my bookshelves. The majority of the drudgery we had to read drained my soul and destroyed my will to live (Hemingway, Dickens, Knowles...).

I’ve also read some notoriously scandalous books in recent years, more or less to just be able to say I’ve read them. And a lot of them were dreadful: Marquis de Sade, Henry Miller, J.D. Salinger... Awful! Gah! I wanted to like them, really. I hung in there till the very last page but man, did they ever suck.

But anyway, onto my list. I don’t expect these books to change anyone’s life (altho a couple of them did it for me). In fact, I expect at least one or two people to shout, “What the hell? You liked THAT?!” That’s ok. I’m here to debate... once you’ve read the book(s) in question.

So here goes. Get busy:

A Brief History of Time - Stephen Hawking: I’ve read this one twice and I need to pick it up again. Whether or not you’re a Big Bang Theory fan, Hawking’s other points are enlightening. He’s the only person (author or instructor) who explained quantum physics in a way I could understand. I remember finishing the chapter and thinking, “Wow, that makes perfect sense.” I couldn’t explain it to you now, but when I saw it in print, it was an epiphany.

The Canterbury Tales - Geoffrey Chaucer: Yes, I can hear the collective whine from some of you. And yes, the language it a little difficult to pick up. Go for the modern translation. I loved this book for simply showing how greedy, crude, pompous and perverted people in the Middle Ages really were. Where else but a present day sitcom can you find such wonderful dirty jokes and slamming insults.

A Clockwork Orange - Anthony Burgess: Forget you saw the Kubrick movie (altho it is a classic). And make sure when you read this you A) have a copy that has the Russian/slang dictionary and B) the missing 21st chapter. The first time I read this it only had 20 chapters and ends pretty much like the film. The second time I read it I happened upon a new edition with the 21st chapter. That last chapter changes the whole perspective of the book. As disturbing as the rest of the novel is, this last chapter helps you understand Alex’s mental workings and, dare I say it, offers a little optimism.

The Crucible - Arthur Miller: Every time I read this one or see it performed on stage it chills my very soul. In all honestly, it has nothing to do with witchcraft. Just drop in any fringe-of-society behavior in its place and see where this takes society.

Frankenstein - Mary Shelly and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep - Philip K. Dick: Why do I place these two together? Because basically they’re the same story (especially if you’re familiar with the film version of ‘Android’ - Blade Runner); Man creates Wonderful Thing. Wonderful Thing becomes a monster in society’s eyes. Wonderful Thing wishes to know its Creator. Wonderful Thing never asked to be created, but now wants respect/life/partner. Creator/Man must destroy Wonderful Thing before it destroys Him.

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl - Harriet Jacobs: I only discovered this book recently. Forget Tess of the Dubervilles. THIS should be required reading. A real eye-opening personal account of being a female slave trying to survive and eventually find freedom.

The Skeptical Feminist: Discovering the Virgin, Mother and Crane - Barbara Walker: Here’s one that definitely changed my life. Altho my opinions on the whole ‘Goddess’ thing aren’t the same as they were after finishing this book back in the early 90s, her account of growing up in a church-going family and on how women are treated and perceived in general was eye-opening. Every woman (and a few men) should read this, regardless of their religious affiliation, if only to open a few more minds and empower a few more women to stop following the tired, old crap they’ve been spoon fed since birth.

The Talisman - Stephen King and Peter Straub: So many people classify King as a horror writer. What he truly succeeds at is showing the susceptibility of human nature and our vulnerability to blindly follow the crowd, no matter how batshit crazy they are (see The Stand, The Mist, Needful Things, Insomnia...) He is also a master at character development. The people he writes about become living, breathing human beings. And when one of them dies it’s devastating.

I’ve read this fantasy (not horror - a unbeaten path for both authors) 3 times and plan on reading it a few more. And every time I get to the point where a certain character dies, I’m a blubbery mess. The last time I read The Talisman was about 5 years ago. I just happen to be in the company breakroom during lunch when I got to the dreaded point when this wonderful character dies. And I was petrified someone was going to see the tears sneaking out of my eyes and ask what was wrong. And then I would have to explain that it was just a book...

And see? I DIDN't mention Beowulf! So nyeh. But I still like it.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Put your head between your knees...

...and kiss your ass goodbye! The end is here!

Ok, it’s not that bad, but we just had an earthquake today. Whoo hoo! What a ride!

I get up at 5:15am during the week, so I had been up and around for about 25 minutes when the house shifted. It felt like I was back on the cruise ship again. It shifted enough to wake up the cat but not the Spouse. Gilligan and I looked at each other with wide eyes as the house continued to vibrate.

His attention was then drawn to a noise coming from the living room down the hall. I went there and heard metal clanging. I turned on the light to see a few of our swords waving back and forth and clanging against the wall. I knew what was happening. I was just chanting to myself, “Please don’t fall. Please don’t fall.” I could just see a few of these things putting on a hell of a show as the teetered off the wall and punctured furniture and electronics.

The whole thing lasted about 30 to 45 seconds. As soon as the house and swords stopped moving I ran back to the bedroom, grabbed the Spouse’s foot and said, “Guess what dear, you just slept thru an earthquake!”

That man can sleep thru anything.

This wasn’t my first earthquake, tho. It’s actually my third.

My first was in July of 1982. That was the first time in my life I seriously thought the world was coming to an end. The night before we had some downright devastating thunderstorms rip thru our area. Not only did it dump torrential rains and stir up a few tornadoes, but we got hailstones the size of golf balls which did a number on my dad’s cars and our roof. The cars looked like a bad case of acne and the roof and ceiling caved in on the dog. Fret not, the dog was ok (a little wet and sooty, tho) but the hallway was a mess of water, wet plaster and black crud from the roof. Needless to say, we grabbed the wet, dirty dog and spent most of the night in the basement.

So the next day, as we’re recuperating from the previous night’s onslaught, I feel a rumble. I was sitting in my room and felt the floor moving under my butt. I totally freaked out when an already unstable bookcase behind me started swaying back and forth (please note, I’m barely 12 years old). I ran to my parents room and the three of us sat there and waited it out. It only lasted about 1 minute but it was an eternity to an already scared and exhausted kid. The now dry dog was ready to have a stroke.

We had another one back in the spring of 2002. I had gone home from work sick that day and was crashed on my couch in the world’s smallest 1-bedroom apartment in Hikes Point. I was woken up by the building shaking and the swords (once again, the swords that have been with me for a long time and keep moving from home to home) clanging directly over my unhealthy body on the couch. All I could think in my painkiller-induced stupor was, “I hope whatever motherfucker is moving the couch up the building’s steps hurries the fuck up!!”

It was an hour later (after the painkillers did their job) that I happened to check the local news and discover it wasn’t some fat bastard moving furniture.

So the experts and doomsayers have been predicting a queen-mother earthquake for us for decades now. Altho this one wasn’t nearly the disaster it could have been, it was enough to shake the facade off one building downtown.

When the big one does hit, Kentucky is just gonna drop about 150-200 feet straight down, since we sit on a huge network of caves and limestone. I only hope it happens after I’m dead and cremated.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Quality, wholesome entertainment

Dear readers (all 6 of ya), forgive me. I have a confession to make.

Now I watch a lot of TV. I'll watch rotten made-for Sci-Fi Channel movies, slasher films and other mindless blood and gore fests. I'll occasionally venture into cartoons and silly stuff (SiTV has a great show called Circumsized Cinema - no, it's NOT what you think).

But I also watch educational stuff. I love the History Channels, the Travel Channel, TLC and Discovery. I've gotten hooked on Dirty Jobs, Mythbusters, and Bizarre Foods.

I don't watch sitcoms nor do I watch chic flicks. I don't watch sports, either. Never been a sports fan. But, gods help me, that's changed.

I'm now addicted to boxing and UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship). And it's all the spouse's fault.

I never had one iota of interest in watching two men beat each other up, no matter what shape the ring. But a few years ago the spouse and I caught a UFC show by accident and we were hooked. We couldn't leave the television. We had to sit there and watch dozens of guys get bloody, broken and sometimes unconscious. And we loved it.

Then there was boxing. Been married 5 years to this man and just discovered in the past year that he likes boxing. I tried not to watch, really. I'd sit there on the couch with him, book in hand, trying desperately to concentrate on what I was reading and not look at the tv screen.

Nope. Not happening. Big case of fail.

So now on Friday nights it's Boxing on ESPN for us. Then on the occasional Saturday night there's Boxing After Dark on HBO.

I don't really keep up with the boxers themselves (altho I found the whole Oscar de la Hoya in drag pretty damn funny). The Spouse has to remind me who's who and whether we've seen them fight before.

But back to the UFC. This is almost as redneck as professional wrestling and NASCAR. Now, granted, this isn't a bunch of huge, overweight guys in wacky costumes with crazy personas who shout cliche' catchphrases that'll end up airbrushed on millions of t-shirts, then spend several minutes bouncing around on a trampoline with the occasional toss of a chair. Nor is this a bunch of men from 4 or 5 families, driving around and around in a circle a few hundred times at 120 miles an hour with the occasional crash and car fire.

Instead you have 3 rounds of 5 minutes each of two very ripped men beating the living shit out of each other. It's a combination of wrestling (the Olympic kind, not the funny tights and costume kind) and mixed Martials Arts (Ju Jitsu, Judo, Karate, kickboxing, etc.). It's brutal. It's violent. It's disturbing.

And we love it.

We were watching UFC Fight Night last night and saw one match end in 8 seconds. No shit. Guy A landed one good punch to Guy B and that's all she wrote. But other matches went the full time with both guys looking like a side of freshly slaughtered beef at the end.

You see deep facial lacerations and swollen eyes. There's blood speckling the mat and the guys' shorts. Once in a while you might see a broken limb. One time a guy got hit so hard he went into an immediate seizure.

I told you, this shit is brutal.

And I'm watching it. Willingly. What the hell is wrong with me?

I think seeing Fight Club probably didn't help. The first time I watched the movie I didn't like it. It was too much of a 'guy film.' Needless to say, the Spouse loves it.

But on my second viewing I developed an appreciation for the movie. It's not just a film about a guy who starts a club where men fight each other. This guy is totally batshit crazy. And I love the dialogue. So I bought the book (haven't read it yet, but it's on my 'to read' list).

But does reading the book Fight Club justify my enthusiastic watching of boxing and UFC? Please say it does. That way I don't feel like such a redneck piece of whitetrash.