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Sui Generis book club #17

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

I feel dumb writing about this book for two reasons:

  1. It's too good for me to attempt any kind of critique or say much of anything about it, since what else is there to add--it's a classic, and;
  2. I didn't actually read it. I listened to it... on audio tape. But!--
It's narrated by Jeremy Irons, and it's the best book-on-tape I've ever heard. I'm sure you recognize Mr. Irons from his role as "Profion" in the movie Dungeons & Dragons. No? Okay, how about as Simon Gruber in Die Hard: With a Vengeance? But check out his voice work experience: he was Scar in The Lion King! He also played Humbert Humbert in the 1997 version of Lolita, natch. He reads Lolita as if it really were his own life he's talking about, with all the emotional energy you could hope for.

Anyway all I'm saying is that if you need something to listen to in your car during your commute, give this a shot. I'll have to read the book some day to pick up on everything I missed, but this audio presentation is a true performance in its own right.

Categories: books

Quinta do Noval Raven "Very Superior" Porto

This is how we roll! Thick, tasty, and intoxitastic. Weighty alcohol content aside, this ruby port tastes the way I imagined wine should taste back before I had my first sip all those years ago. It's a bit hot on the tongue for my liking, but all good on its way down. Fun was had by all, as this was also my first wine that I had to decant!

Wa-hoo! Like a party in a 500 ml bottle. I'll be buying one of these again.

Three hours of IOWA!

So my wife and I left our apartment at 0800h. on Saturday morning and returned thirteen hours later, 2100h. Out of that time we spent around ten hours driving down to Iowa City and back up to Minneapolis with something on the order of three hours actually in the city itself. I drove the entire way. I was exhausted and totally spent by the time we got home. And it was all worth it.

The first thing we did when we got to Iowa City was to find Devotay (picture posted yesterday) and have lunch. We forgot to bring any cash, but scrounged up twenty-five cents to plug the parking meter on the street. After we got settled in and our food had arrived, I asked the waitress if she could give us a $1 advance on our bill so we could stay long enough to eat. She laughed and gave me some quarters.

I ran out and dropped in more change, then hurried back to enjoy my portabello sandwich and onion bisque, accompanied with a glass of 2002 Castillo Rioja (featured wine). It was all excellent. Devotay has won all kinds of awards for best restaurant in Iowa City, and they are well-deserved. Highly recommended.

After lunch, we reached the goal of our trip: the University of Iowa Museum of Art. Now I was expecting something on-par with my alma mater's art gallery: small, uninspiring, filled with student art and the occasional visitng exhibit. So when we walked into this place, I was totally blown away. Beautiful architecture, big space, fantastic artwork. They had original paintings by Miro, Rothko, Picasso, Gauguin, and Pollock (x2!). Holy crap. Also a special "collage" exhibit with Situationist and Dada art, and a TV playing the hijacked G.I. Joe PSAs.*

On to the main event. The manuscript was completed unrolled for display for the first time at this museum, and the whole thing was rolled out from end to end in a long glass case. It stretched through two gallery rooms, where tangentially related video and audio were being played. There were more people there than I expected for the second-to-last day of the exhibit; it must have been packed in the first few days.

The scroll itself was a bit overwhelming; too long to take in all the details in an hour or two, and probably too long to read even if we'd had all day, which we didn't. I walked along the length of it and just enjoyed being so close to the thing, looking at xxx'd out text and pencilled corrections and big ink Xs across paragraphs and pages. The paper was all taped together and repaired in rips and yellowed with age. The end of the scroll was supposedly chewed off by a dog. It looks the part. I went back to the beginning and read the first few sentences and I was ready to go.

We decided to skip dinner in Iowa City, which was planned to take place at the Red Avocado, an organic vegetarian restaurant. I was bummed to miss that. But we stopped at Steak & Shake on the way out and managed to get home at 2100h, just as I was reaching the limits of my driving endurance. I top off at around 11 hours a day. After that, forget about it. Anyway, it was a great trip and a really fun day overall. Iowa City, thanks for everything.

*Specifically, these:
Your ass got sacked.
Body massage.
I'm a computer.
Porkchop sandwiches.

Categories: travel, books, wine

Kerouac weekend

Today, I am excited that our new digital camera has arrived in the mail. New photos may be coming soon to this blog. I'm even more excited about my impending trip to Iowa City to see the On The Road manuscript this weekend. It's on display at the University of Iowa through this weekend. This is as close as it's coming to us in Minnesota, so now is our best chance to see it. This is the first stop on its tour when it has been fully rolled out for display. If J. were willing, I'd read the whole thing right there in the museum.

So we're on the road to Iowa City, an exotic, assuredly scenic place that I have never visited. If anyone has a recommendation for a good vegetarian eatery or wine bar, by all means share with the rest of the class. I always like to search out good restaurants when I go out of town. The eating out, it is something I avoid while at home, but usually a very pleasurable part of my vacations.

Speaking of terrible segues, I totally forgot that The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is coming out this summer! I think I blocked it from my memory, actually, because I was so afraid they would flub it. But I just saw the trailer (albeit without sound, here at work) and visually, at least, it looks very promising. Certainly prettier than the BBC version. And after reading interviews with some of the people involved, and realizing that the project is based on a screenplay by Douglas Adams himself, I'm allowing my hopes to be got up.


I was feeling pretty well right after giving blood, and I concentrated on taking in fluids and eating enough food to avoid a crash,* but it came anyway. A familiar dull ache in my muscles. Decreased mental alertness. The same bodily weariness that follows a long session of tattooing (albeit not to the same extent). I'm never quite sure how to snap out of it. My stomach sort of hurts, so I don't feel like eating anything, but I feel like I should eat something. I'm thirsty, but I already drank so much water that I feel bloated. I'm sleepy and achy, but I want to get up and move around. Sometimes our real needs are elusive and simple. I think I just need a friendly smile and a good hug from a pretty girl. There's a treatment that never fails to get results.

*I'm a bit on the light side, so I acutely feel the loss of a pint of blood. I envy people like my friend from college who could donate plasma week after week and never seemed to miss it. She was richer than me, but her arm looked like a heroin addict's.

A Million and One Writers

Now that I've read all the short story finalists for the Million Writers Award and cast my vote, I wanted to share my thoughts on them. Maybe this will help you find one that sparks your interest. This is the order they are listed in, and also the order in which I read them, which may have affected my judgment. Who can say?

    • Terry Bisson "Super 8" : This story builds momentum with fast cuts between characters and flashbacks/dreams and had me hooked all the way through. The pacing was superb. I clicked with the characters and really wanted to know what would happen next. I thought some of the dialogue could have been improved, but otherwise Super 8 was stellar.
    • Jai Clare "Bone on Bone" : I think that this is the best technically-written piece out of the ten. Another very strong entry, about a woman who loves a jazz pianist. The prose was perfect, but I didn't connect with it in any strong way... I enjoyed it from a distance.
    • Xujun Eberlein "Second Encounter" : Old enemies from China meet in a professional setting and trade war stories. Also well-written but personally unsatisfying for some elusive reason. It was interesting, and I enjoyed it on a surface level; I just never settled down into it. As with all these opinions, your mileage may vary.
    • Alicia Gifford "Toggling the Switch" : A murder! Or rather, if I've got my legal terms right, involuntary manslaughter? from the perpetrator's point of view. For a short story, this one somehow covered all the bases and did it well. Sex & drugs, life & death, crime & punishment. Plus it ends on the tasty edge of a moral dilemma. I'd like to read a novel by this woman.
    • Richard Grayson "Branch Libraries of Southeastern Brooklyn": While Super 8 was my favorite story because I felt like an outsider brought into an intimate circle of friends, "Branch Libraries" was the one I identified with personally. Maybe it's just my predilection for architecturally-based fiction, but I loved the format and the story. I guess I'd describe it as a boy's love letter to libraries.
    • Trebor Healey "The Mercy Seat" : After the tender memories evoked by the previous entry, this story was a wicked shot in the arm. The most brutally beautiful/ugly of the lot. It made me feel something, and that's always a plus in my book.
    • Dave Housley "Ryan Seacrest Is Famous" : The current leader in votes the last time I checked, this is a very short story about a former classmate's envy of the host of American Idol. I thought it was funny and may have even at one point "LOL'd," as the kids say. Otherwise it didn't really stand out to me. I may have just been experiencing short story fatigue at this point.
    • Joan Shaddox Isom "Remade Tobacco" : Further evidence of the critical mass hypothesis, this one sort of slid right by me. It's about a Native American girl, cigarettes, and her family, especially her veteran dad. A section in the middle joggled a bit in my mind and broke up the pacing. Might be a personal problem.
    • Corey Mesler "Madame Sabat's Grave": A regional folk tale of a witch's death and burial, written in word-of-mouth style. Once again, good story, but I just didn't care. There was nothing in the narrative for me to really hold onto. I need to be in the right mood for ghost stories, which is essentially what this account is.
    • Chika Unigwe "Dreams" : It's been a while since I read a story told in the second person. I found the effect vaguely disconcerting (perhaps due to the protagonist being a female; women may not experience the same aversion that I did). Otherwise, this is a good colorful story with a couple of nice twists.
This is why I would be a terrible critic, because I hate to say anything bad about someone else's work. Remember, the preceding are only my opinions based on one reading at one given time. I want to congratulate all ten writers for making it this far. Every one of these stories is excellent in some regard and worth a look. Readers: give them a chance. Writers: I love you all.

All Request Day: romance

My next question comes from Mother In Law, who wrote:
"I'd like to know how you met your wife and how you proposed to her. :)"

I thought it would be fun for my wife to write this post and tell the story from her point of view, but she declined. It's just as well, because now instead of looking like a fool, I can paint myself as a real stud (which I am). I met my wife on Spring Break 2000. She was a competitive surfer, and I was a celebrity judge...

No okay seriously. We were driving down to Florida very unglamorously with a group called the Navigators for a week of fun/sun/camping in Pensacola. The carpools were arranged by a committee, and we were placed in the same little four-seater coupe for the 18-hour drive down. I fell in love with her on that trip, but I was awkward and never told her so. About four years later, I was kneeling by her bed on a Saturday morning with a dozen red roses, a ring, and 24 cupcakes decorated with the words, "will you marry me?" I know... aww.

But now this is for the guys out there taking notes and for all the ladies to show you how I paid attention to the details to really pull this thing off in style. First, the roses. Kind of lame, maybe; not so much my thing. But J. had made it known that this was just what she wanted to see from me some time. Plus, I had not yet given her a red rose (only yellow white & pink), so the gesture was 12x as meaningful. Give or take. The cupcakes were decorated, one letter per 'cake, with Jelly Belly jellybeans--her favorite, and also using her favorite flavors of 'beans.

Obviously the ring is the kicker since that's going to stay with her the longest.* I bought a wedding/engagement ring set that was hand-engraved all along the sides, and custom-mounted two side-stones in our (wait for it!) birthstone colors. The central diamond--which was the highest quality I could afford and absolutely sparkled--was lowered because she was afraid of snagging it on something. End result: she said yes. On my first try! Now that's priceless.

*except for maybe the cupcakes: "a moment on the lips, forever on the hips!" am I right, ladies?

All Request Day: Japan

WhyLaw says, "I would like to hear more about why you went to Japan, how you went to Japan, and what you did while you were in Japan. And if you speak Japanese."

That's a tall order! I could write enough about Japan to fill a book. In fact... I did! But that's a fictionalized account of my time there, and even if it got published, it wouldn't be an honest answer to your question. So here's the straight dope.

Basically I went to Japan because it was a foreign country where I really wanted to go, but I knew I'd have more problems trying to go there on my own than say England. The nice thing about study abroad is that everything's set up for you in advance. Plus, my school had a good Japanese language program so I could learn quickly while I was there. This was good since I didn't speak a lick of Japanese, really, when I went over there. By the end of my time in Japan I was okay with it; I could order food, ask for directions, talk about the weather; really, I could get along by myself without much trouble. Hmm... that just about answers 3/4 of your question, I think.

Now for what I did while I was there. There's so much to tell. That trip was sort of the final nail in the coffin for a 1.5 year relationship with my girlfriend at the time, for one thing. And I made a really good friend that went with me on wacky adventures all the time. I went to class sometimes, but I barely remember anything about school. I went to a bathhouse, visited temples, ate raw chicken... oh, that reminds me, I became a vegetarian in Japan. I lived with a host family and met students from all over the world. I read, for the first time, On the Road and Catcher in the Rye and Slaughterhouse 5. I went to dance clubs and tattoo parlors and a mountainside hot spring on the island of Shikoku...

Too many memories to count. And yes, I would go back in a heartbeat. Well, that wraps up today's responses. Be sure to drop me a line with additional requests, and remember, the sky is the limit. See you tomorrow, when I talk about college, comics, and romance.

All Request Day: wine

The first question (of many? I hope) is in:
"How did you get interested in wine, and how can you afford to be interested in wine?" asks Divinely Angsty blogger kristine.

That's a great question. I'll answer the second part first. I know I always wonder about financial hinderances when I read Biting Tongue, whose posts on wine make me envious and thirsty. The truth is, I can't afford to drink wine nearly as much as I'd like. I'm not yet two years out of college, and I'm not exactly rolling in the Benjamins at my current job. But anyone with a little extra cash can enjoy a bottle every now and then. It's a wonderful time to be a wine drinker, because we can get it from all over the world and there is always a bargain somewhere if you know where to look (Dr. Vino has great recommendations on value wines under $10).

It's a frustrating hobby for someone with a serious lack of cash, I'll give you that. I buy quality over quantity, and I watch for sales, and I go to wine tastings to indulge my hobby for free. Tastings are also a nice way to expand your horizons and try new things without putting any money down. For a potentially pricey hobby, this is a nice perk. Every so often J. lets me indulge in a special trip to a wine bar, or my parents take me out to a restaurant with a good wine list, or one of my friends marries a Japanese girl and gets a $1600 bottle of sake as a wedding gift from his father-in-law, or a case of California wines from his generous dad, and then I go nuts. It's still not like I'm pouring out bottles of Cristal, though. I just take whatever comes to me.

Going back to my interest in wine, that all started after I got back from Japan and began work as a liquor store clerk. My boss was passionate about wine and had weekly tastings. Every so often I got to take home a bottle that was used for samples; this was the best perk I have had at any job ever (it also explains how I developed an interest for wine on a student's budget). I quickly developed an interest in whites, gradually expanded into red territory, and I've been a well-rounded wine drinker ever since!

Sui Generis book club #9

Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

I'm not sure I know what to say after reading this book. It's going to take a bit of time to digest, maybe. Instead of trying to sum up some kind of plot or write a thematic critique, I'm going to just write about what this book is like. It's hard for me to pin it down; it's easy to make comparisons, but something this big has a gravity and atmosphere of its own. A blurb on the back cover calls it "a Naked Lunch for the nineties." That's the closest thing I can think of to compare it to, format-wise (and subject-content-wise in the case of the drugs and addicts and whatnot). Except I liked Infinite Jest a lot better than Naked Lunch. Naked Lunch was good, but I couldn't have read 1,000 pages of it.

But otherwise there's no other book I know of to compare it to. I think that DFW himself defines the book's tone perfectly in the early and ominously foreshadowing footnote on anticonfluential cinema, which is described as an "apres-garde digital movement... characterized by a stubborn and possibly intentionally irritating refusal of different narrative lines to merge into any kind of meaningful confluence". When I read that, I thought, "uh-oh." And it's true: the book never really comes together in the end. Has he kertwanged us? Was it all a big joke? After reading all of that, and loving it all along, does it even matter? This is a book that provides more questions than answers, and that's just the way it ought to be. Awesome.