Sunday, December 30, 2018

The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert

I can shovel my own damn sidewalk, thank you very much! You may wonder why every pre-teen in the neighborhood suddenly wants to ring my doorbell and offer me "help" with the snow. It's not the first snow of the year, and I've been out there plenty of times on my own already. And where were they then? Sending dirty pictures on the internet, no doubt! But I know what's going on here. Now it's winter break, and all these damn kids are driving their parents crazy. "What ever shall with do with our little hellians," they wonder... "I know! Let's foist them off on the old guy!" So here they come, one by one, looking to tick off the volunteering box on their college applications. Six years until they apply, but their expensive private tutors have told them they should start logging their hours now and prepping for the ACT. I wouldn't mind so much if I could just give them 5 bucks and send them on their way. But no, their parents have told them not to take my money. They just want to help and spend a little "quality time" with me. Which means that I have to invite them in, pretend to be grateful, give them cocoa, and regale them with made up stories about what the world was like "in my day." "Really, mister? I didn't know you had to eat bark off of trees to survive!" "Damn straight, Johnny! Now when does school start up again?" And if I don't, all those parents have their little passive aggressive ways of exacting revenge. They will park their SUV in front of my house for days at a time, let their schnauzer crap on my lawn (I'm watching you, Margaret!), or hammer those stupid little wooden faces into their trees at an angle that I can't avoid when looking out my front window. Anyway, it won't always be like this. As Kolbert clearly and elegantly describes, we are totally fucking up the world, and soon snow at this latitude will be a thing of the past. It will be a tropical paradise around here, and just imagine what that will do for my property value! We bought this house for 17,000 dollars, and thanks to climate change, it will be a gold mine. That's right - global warming can't come fast enough for me. And I mean that quite literally, because it can't possibly come fast enough for me to reap the benefits before I die. So some other schmo will inevitably get my house and cash in on the misfortune of the rest of the world, and it  really chaps my hide that it won't be me. Story of my life, I guess. The other great thing about this book is that I finally understand the scientific evidence behind the asteroid theory of dinosaur extinction. When I think about the number of dinner parties at which I could have used that information, it makes me want to weep into my gimlet.

Friday, December 28, 2018

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

A timeless classic for the holidays. In my house, Christmas came and went, along with the whole extended family, and the whole time I was thinking, "Didn't I just have to do all this shit like a month ago?" There is absolutely no sense in putting Thanksgiving and Christmas so close to one another, especially with a family like mine. I mean, really, the photos of kids doing amazing things on the basketball court and their incredible grades have not changed enough to warrant me having to see and hear about them again so soon. True to form, all hell pretty much broke loose, and in the end, I'm sure I will be seen as the villain of the piece, but in truth, that honor should go to Cousin Jim. The crazy thing is - I shit you not - I do not even really know whose cousin Cousin Jim is. Usually adults don't go by Cousin Anything, so that's weird to start with, and I'm pretty sure he married into the family at some point, because I have no memory of him as a child. Although, based on the looks of him, it's hard to imagine him ever having been a child, so perhaps he is some kind of non-human cyborg or something that was created in adult form from the beginning. That would explain his social skills. In any case, he started it, which is important to remember. In fact, you might say he started it years ago, but on this particular occasion, he brought up politics in the first place, and he is the one who brought it to the next level by calling me "racist against white people." In MY house, no less! OK, technically it is my daughter's house and her husband's, but we helped them with the down payment, so that's pretty much the same. And don't forget it, Gerry! You'd still be renting that rat-infested duplex without me! Now then, I tend to be pretty tolerant of people of most political persuasions. I have always said that if you are not a Liberal at age 20, then you have no heart, and if you are still a Liberal at age 50, then you have no brain. At this point, I hardly even remember 50, and I don't know what to do with politics these days. I am certainly no bleeding heart, but Republicans in this country have lost their damn minds, so I'm not sure there's anyplace left for reasonable people like me, but that is not the point. The point is that Cousin Jim is an idiot, and it is possible that I hit him with a chicken wing. Not the wing shaped one, but the drummie one, if it matters.  And if I did, he certainly deserved it, and I would think I might get a compliment or two for my arm strength at this age, but no, everyone seemed to think that I had crossed a line somewhere, and I had to go into my fake senility act to escape the marauding hordes. And Jim, with all the righteous outrage of people who have had everything given to them their entire lives, played the victim in the whole affair. So Merry Christmas everyone! I guess it's like Tiny Tim says in the end, "God bless it, get out of my damn house! You should have been a decent human the whole time!"

Friday, December 21, 2018

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil Degrasse Tyson

What the hell is the deal with kombucha? Give me a minute here, and let me see if I've got this right. You start with some kind of disgusting mushroom thing called a scoby (which as far as I understand is not even a word), only guess what, it's not a mushroom (phew!), it's a bunch of bacteria and yeast living in a mega-colony preparing to take over the world (oh shit). Then you drop this thing that looks like it came out of the nose of a hippopotamus into an actually edible beverage like tea? While you're at it, it just so happens I have some old milk you can piss in and then take to that party Friday night if you want. Sure to blow the socks off of all those hippies. But here's what really gets me. I can get behind the general idea of fermenting things because then you can get drunk on them. But after choking down a glass of what is essentially homemade vinegar made by my grandson's friend (who I might point out could use a shower) out of pure charity, I was then clobbered with the revelation that there's hardly even any alcohol in this shit! The whole thing makes even less sense than this book. Now I have seen this guy on TV, and he is a funny dude, but this book had no jokes! How can I understand astrophysics with no jokes? I saw Tyson on Jon Stewart's show a couple of times. A short man, that Stewart, but pretty smart. I, on the other hand, must not be so smart, because even this dumbed down version of space science was beyond my vodka-addled brain. Or maybe I was not the intended audience, because I am certainly not in a hurry. Nothing to do today but sit around and puke up kombucha. I was with him for the big bang stuff, but it got away from me quickly. In the end, I was left with more questions than answers. Big questions, like where the hell do the scobies come from anyway? Is there some kind of scoby farm in a cave somewhere, tended to by mountain people who have never seen sunlight? Or goblins perhaps? And how were they discovered? And who the hell thought, when they discovered it, "I think that thing is probably edible." I think that a good rule of thumb is that if people have not been eating something regularly since before you were born, it's probably some made up pseudo-food at least partially responsible for the increase in cancer rates and autism. You want something with vinegar - eat a damn pickle!

Monday, December 17, 2018

The Shape of the Ruins by Juan Gabriel Vasquez

My kids signed me up for an exercise class at Anytime Fitness. They told me it would help me "stay healthy" and "meet people my age." The undercurrents of those two comments could carry someone away to sea. But truth be told, it is walking distance from my house and I don't really have a whole lot to do, so I agreed to try it out. I had just finished this wonderful novel, and I was eager to find someone to talk to about Colombian history and conspiracy theories in general. But I figured I shouldn't just jump in with a comment about Rafael Uribe Uribe, so I tried to warm up the crowd with, "Good morning! Do any of you walking corpses like to read?" Cue crickets chirping. I believe I saw someone drool. So no luck there, but all in all, the class was not so bad. It's good to know that my body can still perform most of its basic gross motor functions, albeit in a somewhat slower manner than in the past. And the class leader was not nearly as annoying as one would expect from someone willing to take that job. At the end of the day, I might have gone back if it weren't for the altercation I had with the kid on the way out. This gentleman, if I may profane the term, looked to be about 19, with a baggy shirt that he had cut the sleeves off, seemingly with a pair of left-handed safety scissors. It appeared that he had used a random number generator to determine which parts of his head would be shaved and which would be spared. And as I was getting ready to leave, I distinctly heard him say to his girlfriend, the aspiring Spandex model, "It smells like old people in here." I thought for a few moments about how often I had told my children to ignore people's rude comments and walk away, and I realized, not for the first time, what bullshit advice that is. So I calmly turned in his direction and said, "I'm sorry - did you ask me something?" He said he hadn't and smiled at his girlfriend, but I was not to be deterred. "Oh," I replied, "I thought you had said something about how it smells like old people in here." He stopped abruptly and turned back with an ashen look on his face. Busted, sucker. My daughter has told me that I have an exquisite talent for taking a joke too far. But I see it more like juicing an orange. If you squeeze once or twice, you will get plenty of juice. But if you're willing to push just a little harder, you get that extra bit that makes it all the more satisfying, and you know you haven't wasted anything. So I went totally dead pan and took a deep breath in through my nose. "Oh," I continued, "I smell it now...But I'm not sure it's old person smell. <pause> It's something a little mustier...maybe...sweaty balls?" Then I locked his eyes without smiling, just a quizzical look on my face like we were in it together, trying to decipher this mysterious aroma. His mouth was open, but he didn't say anything, so I shrugged and turned away, but I caught a definite subtle smirk on his girlfriend's face, and I figured that was worth the price of the rest of the classes I won't be attending.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Becoming by Michelle Obama

It is only December 11, and I have already had it with Christmas music. If I hear the sound of sleigh bells one more time - I shit you not - I will stick pencils in my ear drums. My kids keep telling me I have to get out more, but every time I so much as get into someone's car, I am assaulted by the most saccharine, frivolous musical insults known to man. It is quite a mixed message. Yesterday, on our coffee date, it was so bad that I had no choice but to demand that my daughter stop the car so I could get out and walk the rest of the way to the coffee shop. I recognize that the gesture was slightly juvenile, but I think I made my point. I can guarantee you that Michelle never makes Barack listen to this shit. And vice versa. And when Eleanor was alive, god bless her, she knew how to embrace the holiday season with a little more subtlety and grace than people seem to be able to these days. We observed a variety of holidays in our house, what with our different backgrounds, and we managed to take the best of each and deliver the message of the season to our children without all this materialism, gaudiness, and god damn terrible music that seem to define them today. As I walked down the hill toward the coffee shop yesterday, I was thinking about those holidays when our kids were young. They were good times, simpler times maybe - at least in my memory they were. When I got to the bottom, I was in a good mood, partly from those memories and partly from having given my daughter the business a little bit. And we had a nice time. Short-lived, however, because she had to put me in my place and made me walk back up the hill to the car! And believe me, my back is paying for it today. Thanks Obama.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Einstein's Dreams by Alan Lightman

My son came over yesterday and wanted to talk about our favorite childhood memories. I assume he is on some kind of new pop-psychology self-help kick or something. Anyway, his wistful reminiscences about time reminded of me this book, so I re-read it while I was smoking a brisket. It's not too long, which makes it suitable for today's youth. But you have to stop and think at times, so that rules out most of you. In the novel, Einstein imagines all kinds of different worlds where time functions differently - time goes forward, backward, moves out in concentric circles, stops randomly, is a function of altitude, etc. Nice stuff to imagine, actually, although it seemed to lack what may be the true experience of time, which is that it is a function of age. You will possibly understand this when you are older, but no guarantees. As a child, time scarcely even exists. I can remember running home from school, playing stickball in the street until dusk, swinging by the deli to try to get a discount knish before they closed, falling asleep the minute my head hit the pillow, and waking the next day hardly distinguishing it from the last. Time really has no  meaning until you have a true sense of the impermanence of life. When Eleanor and I were young, with two babies, we finally knew that feeling. We savored each day with them, but we knew it was temporary and that time was slowly pulling them away from us. And each year it got faster and faster. When Eleanor got sick, it was like a freight train hurtling into the distance, and I never caught up. And what now? When there is less to lose, time slows down again, and you find yourself just waiting around to die. But fuck all that - time for brisket!

Friday, November 30, 2018

Calypso by David Sedaris

So Jackson tells me I have to be on Twitter. According to him, that is where all bloggers are now. I asked him, "Where exactly is Twitter?" He told me that my question - I shit you not - betrayed "a fundamental lack of understanding." Can you believe this shit? Who talks to their grandfather that way? These kids think that technological knowledge is the same as understanding the world, and they are bent on creating a world in which that is actually true. Well, we are not in that world yet, and I think those of us who have spent a fair bit of time in this one still have a thing or two to offer, if people could divert their eyes from their screens for half a second. It kind of feels like being David Sedaris's father - knowing that at some level, people still care about you, but also having to recognize that even your family sees you like a relic whose best role in life is now as a comic foil. Not an enviable position, I must say. But how do we fight against the tide? The waves of time beat against us and day by day erode our relevance. There is no escape that I can see. So in the end, I told Jackson he could set up a Twitter account for me. See you on the Internets!

Monday, November 26, 2018

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

Let me be clear that I don't really value other people's opinions on things. I see no reason why I would want to know how 500 people rated some coffee shop before I go there, and I don't need the hive mind to tell me if I like a steak or not. That kind of thing is for feeble-minded people. On a side note, my grandson has told me to be nicer in these reviews, and Jackson, I would like you to notice that I did not refer to any specific feeble-minded people that you and I both may know. But I have to admit that I was curious when they announced the Great American Read event, and when the final rankings came out, this was the only book in the top 10 that I hadn't read. And so, despite my better judgment, I went ahead and read it. And it wasn't terrible. Certainly not the second best book in American history or whatever, but what do you expect from a system that lets anybody vote? We seem to prize that concept here in America, and just look where it's gotten us. But I digress again. Maybe a good way of putting it is that reading this book is kind of like your parents having sex - you're happy it happened at least once, but you don't really want to have to think about it ever again.

Monday, November 19, 2018

I, Robot by Isaac Asimov

Well, Thanksgiving is upon us again, and I expect the usual bullshit. Time for all the relatives to crawl out of the woodwork and pretend they have been thinking about you with admiration and gratitude all year. These forced, rehearsed conversations remind me of the ones in this book with the early development of robots made to serve humans. "Greetings, uncle...It is with great pleasure that I reacquaint myself with you...You, who serve as a leader in our family by virtue of being old...Great blessings be upon you...Do you have candy?" Jesus, please.

When you've been doing this as long as I have, you lose patience for these ritualistic displays. But I will hold my tongue, lest the interactions become similarly apocalyptic as those with the robots. Can't get myself in trouble like I did the time I asked my nephew's kid for some details about why he looked up to me. Cat got his tongue at that one, although not so much his mother. At least I don't have to worry about them visiting this year though, so one point for me!

Now that I mention it, it makes we wonder if holding my tongue really is the best strategy here. Maybe I could pick one annoying family member at each holiday and find a way to say something that would prevent them from returning. I do like a challenge, and it would help pass the time between the turkey and the fighting about politics. If I was successful, I could have a peaceful Thanksgiving in only about 13 years. It's good to have goals, I guess. Enjoy your turkey, suckers.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins

Let me tell you a couple things about pickles. First of all, you do not need alum to make them crunchy. Do not under any circumstances follow the lead of my daughter's friend Claire, who uses - I shit you not - something called Picklecrisp, which is an abomination. I mean, what the fuck is even in that stuff? In any case, you should soak the pickles in ice water overnight before canning them, and you need to snip off the blossom ends so enzymes don't soften your pickles. And don't overprocess them, for the love of God. I promise you the lids will snap if you just give the a little time. It's not that complicated if you have half a brain and a few minutes of forethought. Which is to say that you need to know from the beginning where you want to end up. Which unfortunately was clearly not the case in this trilogy. I almost hate to admit it, but the first book was pretty good. I only hate to admit because my daughter told me as much and I had assumed she was wrong because of all the hype around it. So fair play to her, but I got the last laugh because the trilogy descended into mindless garbage sadly trying to capitalize on the initial success and buzz. I can only assume that it was never meant to be a trilogy in the first place, because after the first book, nothing makes anything close to a damn bit of sense. Might as well have dumped the whole damn thing in Picklecrisp.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

The Chosen by Chaim Potok

So my son thinks I don't understand him. He comes over the other day and he says he wants to talk. I can see where this is going a mile away, and I am in no mood. I do my best to refrain from interrupting as he is talking about his relationships with his students, his book, yadda yadda. He tells me that he just came from giving a lecture, and at that point I can't resist so I tell him that surely he didn't because he has a big hole in his shirt. I assume that is part of the mad genius professor look he is trying to cultivate, and I kindly refrain from giving advice about why people who are going bald shouldn't have long hair. My kindness is overlooked as usual, however, and he starts to rant, yelling "This is what I'm talking about!" and other pointless criticisms. Eventually, he leaves me a pile of books and walks out in a huff, so I win! And he thinks I don't understand him, but he's got it all wrong. I knew he was going in for the mushy father/son bullshit, and I knew what exactly what he was going to say, and I didn't want any part of it, and I knew just how to make him stop. So how's that for understanding? I mean, in this book, the father didn't talk to his kid for like 10 years! So I think I'm not so bad after all.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari

Sweet baby jesus. You people are idiots. My grandson Jackson told me to read this book, and I did it because despite his long hair, his poor manners, and his questionable life goals, I still find it difficult to say no to him. He told me later that he wanted me to read it in case I wanted to, I shit you not, "get back in the game." I will tell you that I am one of those people lucky enough to have had a true love in this life, and I believe that one is all that someone is entitled to. I'm sure there are flocks of women lining up for elderly widowers with with good life insurance, but they will have to knock down another door I suppose. And if I had any notions of doing such a thing at my age, this book is certainly enough to put an end to that. It is mindboggling to try to comprehend how people get to know each other these days. When I went on my first date, it was with Joan, the seamstress's daughter, and we each brought a friend to make sure everything was above board. I had her mother's permission, and the rules were clear. We went to the fair, and even thought it didn't really work out, we all came home with our dignity intact. From what I can tell from this book, if your dignity is intact by the time you start your first actual date, you have done something wrong. And I'm not sure exactly what swiping left and swiping right are, but they sound like deviant sexual practices to me. No thank you.

Monday, October 15, 2018

The North Water by Ian Maguire

Now this is some dark, dark shit, and it is beautiful. Let me share with you my favorite sentence from this novel. I quote, "The cabin air is dense with the velvet reek of liquid feces." Does it get more real than that? I think not. This book is a great reminder of how weak and soft we all are. Every generation thinks they have it rough, and sometimes we need to look back in time a little to recognize the luxury we are steeped in these days. I admit that I never had to seek refuge from an arctic storm in the hollowed out carcass of a polar bear that I killed with my bare hands, but still, young people these days seem not to understand what hardship is. They just go about their days clicking away their problems and medicating their negative emotions until they become robo-zombies ready to meet all of their productivity goals. And I suppose the next generation will look back aghast to learn that not ALL lattes had pumpkin spice in them. But it's good to peel back the curtain a little to see what is behind all those clicks. Every diamond, leather shoe, whale bone jewelry, chicken wing, or anything else you consume has blood and death behind it, and maybe you should think about that next time you put it on or eat it or put it in your pipe and smoke it. And if you forget, you can re-read this book. Or maybe even just that sentence.

Friday, October 5, 2018

American Pastoral by Philip Roth

This is a book about change, which I have noted before is a bunch of crap. But I appreciate how Roth notes an essential truth in life, which is that people are who they are, and you can't change them. I tried to explain this to my daughter at the coffee shop, but as usual, she sabotaged the whole thing. She offered to get my coffee for me, on account of my knee and all, and when she came back, she brought me - I shit you not - a pumpkin spice latte. I mean, what the fuck? I explained to her with extreme politeness that the drink was an abomination and that she knew what I liked and had taken advantage of my temporary disability to fuck with me. She gave me some bullshit about the seasons and changing with the times or whatnot. Which I thought was a great segue to talk about the book, because trying to change people is what led to everyone in the book being eternally screwed. She had a different interpretation. I did not drink the coffee.

Friday, September 21, 2018

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet by David Mitchell

I'm alive! My procedure went pretty well, or so I am told. Not too comfortable, I would add, and if any of you had left notes of concern, I would have thanked you. Anyway, Jackson says that my reviews are too negative, so I decided to write about this book, which is one of my favorites of all time. I re-read it in the hospital to celebrate the fact that they didn't permanently damage my eyesight, even though the doctor looked like he got out of medical school yesterday. He could have been Doogie Howser's younger brother from the looks of him. Without the charisma.

Anyway, this book is wonderful, despite the somewhat esoteric title. In fact, I almost didn't read it because it sounded boring. Maybe a better title would have been, "A Dutch guy goes to Japan and you will not BELIEVE the crazy shit that happens!" OK, so I'm not great at writing titles either. But the point is, it sat on my bedside table for a year getting passed by for books that completely sucked. It didn't help that no one seemed to know how to pronounce the guy's name either. I mean, I'm sure there are Dutch names that people can actually say - like Jansen or Hiddink maybe. Poor planning for such a great writer, I think. How about, "The Thousand Incredible Japanese Adventures of Jacob von Hiddink?" Damn, I am terrible at this. OK, Mr. Mitchell - I withdraw my criticism.

Back to the point though - this is an amazing, moving, compelling book - just what I needed to deal with a week's worth of hospital food. Luckily, most of it had literally no taste, so I can't say it tasted bad, but probably the best thing I had was the prepackaged frosted flakes, so that gives you an idea. And if I talk about the pickle that came with my sandwich on Tuesday, I might cry. Next time I have to go in, I'm going to have to smuggle in a mini-fridge or something, because god knows neither my son nor my daughter was willing to bring me a pastrami sandwich. Jesus.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Being Mortal by Atul Gawande

I think Kevorkian Junior is right here. It's time for all of you to stop bothering us and just let us die. I mean, let's be clear. You don't care all that much about old people really - you just want to make sure you are doing everything necessary so that when we are gone you can have a clear conscience. Wouldn't want to have those echoes of guilt in the back of your mind while you're cashing that inheritance check, right? As it happens, I am scheduled for another procedure next week - this time on my eye. So if you don't hear from me again, thanks to both of you who have been reading this blog. I'd like to say it was worth it, but I'm too old for bullshit. Anyway, I'm told that it is safe and will help me and all that shit, but there is still like a 5% chance that I will lose my sight and whatever small pleasures are still available to me. It reminds me of a Twilight Zone episode I saw a long time ago. There's this misfit who gets made fun of by everyone who just wants to read all day. And then one day he wakes up and the entire Earth is deserted. He doesn't know what to do, but then he realizes that he can do whatever he wants, so he goes to the library. He comes out with a huge stack of books and then as he's walking home, he drops his glasses and steps on them. Fucking moron. Well, it's kind of like that anyway. The point being, leave us alone! Now you understand why old people don't like going to the doctor, assholes.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

When Summer Ends by Isabelle Rae

So my daughter stopped by last week with her friend Claire to drop off this book and "check up on me," whatever that is supposed to mean. She said it was a good book for this time of year, to which I explained that the magic of books is that you can imagine yourself in any time or place and that if she needed to read something that coincided with the seasons, she should read the Farmer's Almanac, which has lot of helpful information. But she is the kind of person who won't eat a tomato in the winter or an oyster in the summer or a pickle during a full moon or I don't even know what else, so what I did expect. Anyway, she just gave Claire one of those smug "See what I mean?" looks and ignored me. So I read the book right away, lest it go bad on my shelf and start to smell of rotting pop lit. There's not much to say for it, but in it's defense, it was no more banal than the conversation with Susie and Claire. "Can you believe it is almost September?" "I know, it seems impossible!" "Where does the time go?" Are you fucking kidding me? Do you own a calendar? Can you count to 31? Do you perhaps remember how this happened last year? And another thing, it you want sympathy for how life changes at the end of summer, don't look here! My tomorrow is going to be spent the same as my yesterday, sitting here reading all the crap books you keep dropping off. I should have read the Farmer's Almanac myself - maybe it would have predicted this bullshit.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Piccoult

I would literally trade this book for a pickle. A good kosher dill pickle, of course, not one of those underbrined cucumbers in disguise, or worse yet, a sweet pickle. There's nothing worse than thinking you are getting a real pickle, only to bite into a sweet pickle (abomination). But that's kind of what this book was like - it looked great at first, interesting plot, complicated moral issues, lots to think about. But then, in another one of the worst plot twists of all time (I'm kind of on a roll with these, thanks to my daughter), everything interesting and complicated gets wrapped up in a neat little package that pretty much made we want to stick a fork in my eye. But I suppose that's life. It starts out nice, full of promise, plenty of possibilities, but when you get to the end of it, it's pretty much a shitshow. Sometimes literally. After my wife died, I promised myself I would not let that happen to me. Not the dying, mind you, but the manner. But just try to bring something like that up with my children, or any other member of the able generation. They practically checked me into a psych ward just for talking about what a dignified death might look like. I will tell you what it does not look like- sitting around in a hospital room getting spoon-fed pudding and having to read crap books like this. Thanks for nothing, Jodi.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

If you are reading pop fiction, and if there is an old white guy in the book, he is gonna be racist. What the hell, people? Do you not see the irony of so predictably assigning that characteristic to a certain type of person? Jesus. Remember the 60s? That was us! We were trying to help the Civil Rights Movement long before you were even born to fulfill your post-racial destiny doing the Whip Nae Nae. The problem here is really more about words. I admit that we don't always keep up with the changing vocabulary around race and sexuality and things like that. But just because I don't know the word cisgender (thank you Jackson) does not mean that I am a bigot. You know who you should be worried about? Young racists! These fuckers are dangerous, and they know how to use social media. And they get to vote like 40 more times. So why don't you leave us alone for once and go after a real problem. They're not hard to find these days - it's like a coming out party for racists in this country. Anyway - Harris Taft, the racist in this book, is a rich, scabby jerk, and the book seems great as his whole rich family is going to get their comeuppance from the younger, smarter generation (they all think they are, don't they?). But then, in one of the worst plot twists of all time, it turns out, and this is what my grandson told me is called a spoiler alert, they are all dead! The whole time! And it's not like The Sixth Sense, when all of sudden everything makes sense. It's more like all of a sudden, you throw the book across the room and make a gimlet. Screw it.

Friday, August 10, 2018

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

What the hell has happened to baseball? When I was a kid, it truly was America's pastime. Reading this book reminded me of the enthusiasm I used to have for the game. My family would go together to the ballpark, eat hot dogs and peanuts, and watch the greats do their thing. Back then, athletes were famous for their accomplishments, not their racist tweets. But that's just the tip of the iceberg. At this point, they have sapped just about all the joy from the experience. First of all, you have to go to Super Bank Field presented by Screw You Insurance to see the game, just as a reminder that the whole thing is just a corporate enterprise, further reinforced by the price of a damn ticket these days! Who can even afford to go to these games? Even if your son-in-law happens to get tickets from a client, you're still screwed. They might as well just take your wallet as you walk through the excessive security turnstiles. It would be more efficient than bilking you 9 bucks at a time if you want a hot dog or a beer to help pass the time. Because passing the time is really what it is. The glory of the game is gone. Pitchers used to pitch a game, and their endurance and strength was something to admire. Now if they walk a batter or scratch their elbow funny, 8 guys run out to the mound to make sure he's ok and then they bring someone else on. I saw - I shit you not - four pitchers in a single inning last week! These are professional athletes, right? Jesus. This is also why the games take 5 hours to get through. This used to be a family event, and now you can almost guarantee that by the 8th inning, any child sitting near you is likely to be having a meltdown. Time to cough up 9 more bucks to stick a hot dog in that kid, buddy. At least keep him quiet enough for me to think clearly about how terrible this is.

Monday, August 6, 2018

The Paperboy by Pete Dexter

You know, I had a paper route when I was a kid. Saturdays and Sundays. Me and the other boys would meet down on 4th Street to pick up our papers, and I could do my route in about 2 hours. And it wasn't any of that Newsies dancing and singing Seize the Day crap either - just the few kids in the neighborhood who knew anything about some honest work making a little spending money. One satchel over each shoulder - we looked like a bunch of camels marching sweating through the desert. But we learned something about life, which is more than I can say for my grandson and all his Fortnite addict friends. And what happens when they want to buy something? My daughter and her gaggle of soccer moms just give it to them! Like they earned it by throwing the remote control near the couch instead of leaving on the floor. Congratulations on your responsibility! Jesus. Nowadays, my paper guy drives by at about 30 miles an hour in something that looks and sounds like a 1984 El Camino and just chucks my paper out his window without slowing down. I shit you not. Except if it's raining or snowing - then he gets out and puts in on my doorstep. Nope - just fucking with you. He does no such thing, and half the time my paper is soaking wet. And he gets paid for this! And then he wants a tip at Christmas on top of it! Good luck, buddy. Maybe I'll leave a tip on my doorstep and if he comes to drop off a paper, he can pick it up. Anyway, this book was good.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Mating in Captivity by Esther Perel

When my son got married, it really was a happy day. His wife's parents had a place on a lake, and they had the reception there, and it was beautiful. They hired a bartender who had real squeezed lime juice for my vodka gimlets instead of Rose's, and I wasn't about to let all his hard word squeezing limes go to waste. Reading this book made me think about my son and every other marriage I know that didn't make it. The truth is, none of were that surprised when they split up. It was kind of a quick fire job, and the writing was on the wall. My son is charming and charismatic. He makes great first impressions, but those are usually his best. I guess Perel might say that his desire for emotional intimacy led to a loss of mystery or that he wasn't good enough at harnessing his inner rage, or some other bullshit. My guess is that he wasn't good enough at doing the dishes or keeping his shirt buttoned right or ignoring the adoring gazes of his college students. But what the hell do I know? At least I know well enough not to make up some ridiculous nonsense about why relationships don't work. I was married for 46 years, and it was not all mystery and romance, and that, Esther, is not what it is all about. Trust, respect, reliability, kindness - these are the building blocks, and you don't get those by going to swingers weekends every now and then. I mean, what the hell even is that? Jesus. I'm just glad my wife never read this while she was alive. She was beautifully open-minded, but that made her susceptible to "experts" shoveling her a load now and again, and she probably would have come away from this book convinced that we were communicating too well or some other hooey. No stars.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Less by Andrew Sean Greer

I think I may have to give up coffee. I have noticed that after I drink coffee, I usually feel more anxious and stressed out. It is possible that this is related to the people I typically drink coffee with, but I think there is a direct effect of the coffee on top of that. And it makes me sweat. And I'm sure that somewhere along the line from the coffee trees to my cup, lots of people were likely oppressed, so it's probably just the safest thing to do. You would think that my daughter, who won't so much as eat a cashew unless it is fair trade, organic, and was able to live out it's natural cashew life in a cage-free, open air environment, would be able to get behind that. And I was trying to explain to her yesterday morning when we met to talk about this book, which, I should add, was lovely. I mean, they don't just give out Pulitzers for nothing, right? In any case, my daughter refused to really consider what I was saying and thought that I was, and I shit you not, being difficult. She told me that it was too early for me to have the vodka gimlet I ordered, notwithstanding who may have been oppressed where. I told her that I was perfectly capable of making my own beverage choices and that if the worst did occur, meaning that my afternoon plans of pruning the hedges were postponed, I would summon the courage to go on living anyway. She was not amused. But you know what, when I finished my gimlet, I felt neither sweaty nor anxious. Great book.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Britt-Marie Was Here by Frederik Backman

So no surprise that my son is at it again. First I find a note from him in my mailbox saying that he has to rush to get to work (I shit you not) but really wanted to share this book with me. Never mind that my understanding of being a professor is pretty much giving 2 lectures a week and then sitting around your office in a t-shirt trying to impress young people with your witty comments and civil war relics. I guess he had time to walk up my steps but not through the treacherous threshold of my doorway. Or perhaps my doorbell is broken - I should check that. And then there is this book he gave me. It is beautiful. Funny, poignant, sad - almost heartbreaking really - but still uplifting. But with him there is always the message behind the book. I know he is not just sharing a work of art with me, but rather giving a passive aggressive judgment of my life. Look Dad, this person suffered bad shit and still made something beautiful out of her life. As if my response to my wife passing away is that I am supposed to move to Sweden and start a youth soccer team. Thanks, but no.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

The Rooster Bar by John Grisham

Why is it that whenever the weather is good, my daughter receives it as a sign that she should tell me what to do all day? Maybe I'm perfectly happy right where I am, doing exactly what I am doing! Does a little bit of sun make my couch less comfortable or my coffee less good? I didn't think so, but inevitably, yesterday was a nice day so I was told that I "should" go for a walk, I "should" meet her for expensive coffee somewhere, I "should" find a nice place outside to read. So I did these things (wouldn't want to run afoul of the senior citizen police), and I ended up sitting on a bench in the park with this book. Grisham really found some new material for this one - nope, just fucking with you. Same old recycled stuff with less interesting characters. The most interesting character to appear was the dude with the mohawk and the ear spacers who came by on his skateboard. To be honest, I have no problem with mohawks, tattoos, piercings, whatever. It's your body, if you want to fuck it up, peace be with you. But the skateboards, jesus. I believe they are intentionally constructed to be as loud as possible. How can I focus on this terrible law student (I mean the protagonist, not the author, but take your pick) with such a ruckus in a public place? Plus, they are so inefficient! As slow as walking, and twice as stupid looking. On what kind of vehicle do you face sideways? That is just idiotic.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Patriot Games by Tom Clancy

I decided to read something "pro-America" for the fourth of July. It was a good time, and I even had a decent conversation with my son about it at the BBQ, until he loaded up his hot dog with sweet relish, and it all went to shit. It started with his usual passive aggressive stuff, not even bothering to call it sweet relish, but just "relish," as if dill relish, the kind that you should eat, didn't even exist. But I'm used to that by now, so I just reminded him that sweet relish is an abomination and that if he really wanted all that corn syrup, he could just eat a candy bar or put yogurt on his hot dog. Knowing that I was right, he didn't really say anything to that but just asked me more about the book, but inevitably it came out that he didn't even bother to buy any dill relish, claiming that they didn't have any at the fancy food coop he shops at. When I pushed him on it, he suggested that I just go chop up some of the dill pickles he had in the fridge, but when I did that (thoughtfully making enough for everyone), he got all pissed and left to buy more beer. Happy fucking Independence Day!

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich

This dystopian novel has an interesting premise involving evolution and child-bearing, which is gradually revealed by the author in a way that would be quite suspenseful if the entire thing wasn't given away by, I shit you not, the VERY FIRST SENTENCE of the dust jacket plot summary! I mean, how many morons did it take for this to happen? First, you've got your intern, and English major fresh from Amherst College, who is amazed by the very idea because she's heard of Children of Men and can't wait to write her first dust jacket. This goes up the chain to the editor, who reads it over with depressed, glazed over eyes, while he repeatedly tells himself that he, too, could have been the novelist, but he gave up the dream for his family and the security of a steady paycheck. Then there's the marketing guy, who is probably the smartest but most nefarious of the lot, who is worried about the esoteric title of the book and figures he needs something to hook people in when they open the cover, spoiler be damned. I'll tell you who was not consulted, and that is the author, who must have been pissed when she found out how the confederacy of dunces had undermined her book with their summary. Jesus.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James

Sweet bearded Jesus. Is this what our society has come to? This sadistic drivel is a best seller? I will leave aside, for now, the way my grandson tricked me into reading this book, but I worry about the damage done to his not fully formed brain if he subjected himself to it first. He probably thought that old people are just a bunch of prudes who would be shocked by these scenes, but please. You people must realize that we have been every age at one point in our lives, right? And believe me, after my wife and I got married, we knew our way around the bedroom. But we had a couple things you young people seem to lack - decorum and respect. The shit in this book is not sexy. It's abusive. You just don't realize it because you have been inundated with porn since the day the internet was invented. Which is also related to my other point. You don't have to announce, tweet, blog, instagram, and whatever else about every sexual act you engage in. Sex used to be something private, you may not realize. If you are two consenting adults, go in a room and do what you want. But leave it there, and if you are writing about it, please leave just a little bit to the imagination. I promise you I can think of it better than you can write it.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Heroes of the Frontier by Dave Eggers

Why is everybody so obsessed with people changing? It's like you can't be a good person these days without striving toward some kind of personal beatification with the assistance of a self-help guru. Well, here's a news flash: people don't change! People are who they are, no matter what they pretend. People always ask me, "How did retirement change you?" or some other stupid question like that. I tell them I work less, and they laugh like I'm joking. Did they think I would become someone else when I stopped working? And after my little health scare, everyone wanted to know how it changed me, expecting me to confer wisdom about the fragility of life or being grateful every day or some shit like that. Sometimes I lay it on thick for them, but I feel bad when they believe me. Which is why I appreciated some aspects of this book. A woman basically has a mid-life crisis and goes to Alaska in search of experiences that will lead to enlightenment. But guess what - she has the experiences, and nothing happens! Basic plot is, "Woman flees life, goes through potentially life-changing events, does not change." Which, unfortunately, made the book kind of boring. But at least it was accurate! We are who we are, people, so get used to it.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton

I just love watching arrogant assholes get what they deserve. It's pretty much the only reason I follow politics these days. I am reminded of a time when my son was playing little league baseball. There was a dad on his team who would always yell obnoxious stuff at the kids. No one said anything, of course, because that's just how it was back then. These days, if you bring non-organic oranges for halftime, you are shunned from the community soccer league forever, but back then parents just yelled whatever they wanted. And this guy had a way of delivering lines like "Look alive!" in a way that made it clear he was saying, "You suck!" Now my son, as you might guess, was not a baseball star. He probably could have written a pretty good essay about the history of baseball at age 10, but he could not hit a ball. Or catch a ball for that matter. And throwing a ball in from left field if one actually made it out to him was pretty much a non-starter. So he was not the favorite player of Mr. I Only Shave Every 4 Days to Show What a Man I Am. But it's a free country, right? So I didn't say anything. But one day we were in the last inning down a couple runs, and the opposing pitcher was just walking batter after batter. Everyone knows that once you start aiming and stop throwing through the pitch, you are done for, but this kid was just lost. And Macho Man's kid, who was a great athlete but a little thick, was on first base with the bases loaded, and just before they walked in the tying run, out of nowhere he tries to steal second. Problem being the other runner already there. So we lost. And Mr. I Chew My Toothpick With a Vengeance said nothing. I felt bad for the kid, who probably caught it pretty bad when he went home. But I heard later that his dad got kicked out of the house and left town, so there you go. The arc of justice bends slowly. Which brings me back to my point about the book, which is that it was a hell of a lot more enjoyable if, like me, you were rooting for the dinosaurs.

Monday, June 4, 2018

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

Yes, yes, yes! This is a truly book worth reading, with a protagonist who has something rare nowadays: dignity. Shut up in a hotel for decades, he still behaves in a way that conveys that his life has meaning and that he has worth. What has happened to dignity in our society? I went to see my son give a lecture at the university. He gets up there to talk about the civil war wearing, I shit you not, jeans and a t-shirt! Like he was a band roadie or a bum off the street who wandered onto campus and happened upon this auditorium. How could I even pay attention to him? And what message does it send to his students, who, I might add, felt it was appropriate to interrupt his lecture every three minutes with inane questions of one kind or another. And he encouraged it! Eventually I raised my hand to ask, "Do you intend to finish this lecture today, or is this more like a cocktail party where we all make small talk?" But no surprise, he didn't call on me. The whole thing was abysmal, and yet, students were clapping at the end, reinforcing all this nonsense. Your tax dollars at work, people.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow

Any fool knows that you never go see a movie without reading the book first. That is just common sense and respect, right? Jesus. So when my son walks in on my birthday wielding a couple of tickets to Hamilton like they were a magic hammer that would undo everything that has happened, I naturally ask him if he bothered to read the book. He says that it is not a movie, it is a musical, as if that should make everything ok, and says that I will love it because I like history. Do I like rap music, I ask? Which he takes as sarcasm, but truly, I am wondering if I maybe do like rap music. I mean, I don't listen to rap music, and it's probably terrible, but it is still an open question. But not to my son, who tells me that it wouldn't kill me to get out of here once in a while and then promptly takes his own advice, taking the tickets with him, I might add. So I did the only reasonable thing, which was to read the book, which was, in fact, enlightening. I don't know how you would turn it into a musical, or why in god's name you would want to do such a thing, but I recommend the book for anyone who wants to understand American history better. And for anyone who thinks things are terrible now, because it was a nice reminder that our politicians have been doing the same stupid shit since the country started.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

The Good Liar by Catherine McKenzie

This book helped me realize an important life lesson. That is, Stop Taking Books from Lending Libraries! I mean, Jesus. Why would someone put a book in a lending library? Because it's their favorite book, only they no longer have space for books because of all their kids' participation trophies? No, because it's crap, that's why. Everyone puts up these adorable little birdhouse like things in front of their houses, and just like birds, we flitter by and take whatever is offered. But it's really just a way to get rid of crap no one wants without feeling bad about filling up a landfill. If someone put their moldy leftovers in that stupid box, I guarantee people would eat it. Well I ate this leftover, and it gave me indigestion. If I start listing the reasons, I will hear it from my daughter, who thinks my reviews are "too negative in tone." But let me just give this spoiler - in this identity mystery, a woman is disguising herself by changing her name from Katelyn to Kate. I shit you not.

Friday, May 25, 2018

No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy

My son-in-law gave me this book, and when I asked him what it was about, he said it was about a drug deal gone bad and a hit man chasing people down. Sounded alright. And you know what, it was a great book. But for pete's sake, if you think this book was about Llewelyn and Chigurh, then you are an idiot or a young person, and frankly, there's not much difference. This book is about the old sheriff!! Jesus. And it is about having a way of life that is getting left behind by society, and that is something I can relate to. All this facebook and reality TV and thinking that everything is about you. It just wasn't like that before. And guess what, everything is not about you! So go back and read it again, and this time start thinking about Ed Tom Bell, and maybe you'll learn something about life.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Sing Unburied Sing by Jesmyn Ward

Now this is some hard shit. I remember when my grandson Jackson was two, he wandered away from me in a store. I was so pissed at that little fucker. My therapist thinks I was mad at myself, but what does she know? It was objectively his fault - it is literally impossible to try on a belt and hold a toddler at the same time. Anyway, it took me about 6 minutes to find him, and I have never felt such dread in my whole life. Now I don't know what this woman has experienced in her life, but she knows how to write dread. I spent the whole time afraid of what terrible thing was coming next, and they kept on coming. I mean, if the poverty doesn't get you, then the racism and the meth will. And on top of it, all these people can talk to ghosts. And you won't be surprised that it's not the nice, Demi Moore, let me do pottery with you kind of ghosts, but more the hey, I died a terrible death and would like to haunt you with that kind of ghosts. They talk to animals too, and you know who else can do that? My granddaughter Tina! They say she has a gift. I say a gift would be if she came around here to talk to me some time instead of talking to animals, but what the fuck. Everyone wants things. This book actually made me feel like being a lonely old white guy isn't so bad. I still had to have two vodka gimlets instead of one when I finished though. I know this book is brilliant, but I think I might just be too old for this shit.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Going into Town by Roz Chast

When I was a kid, my Dad used to take me into the city just to walk around. It was better then, still full of people, but full of good people. Nowadays, don't get me started. Anyway, we would usually eat at a deli - not the same one every time, but someplace like the Carnegie Deli up on 7th Avenue. He would get pastrami, and I would get salami, and before we had our sandwiches, they would bring a big plate of pickles. These days, it costs you 4 dollars to get a plate of pickles, and they bring those newfangled ones that are practically just cucumbers, like they forgot to make the pickles and only had 20 minutes to brine them or something. Which is just typical for what New York has become, if you ask me. And one day, we're in there for lunch, and guess who walks through the door? Abraham fucking Beame, that's who. And guess what he orders. Egg salad! I shit you not. Anyway, this book is about New York, so it reminded me of all that shit.