May 19, 2015

May 19, 2015

On the Road

One of McSweeney’s recurring features is called Interviews with People Who Have Unusual or Interesting Jobs. I usually skim them, but today’s—with a bookmobile driver—was worth the longread.

(When my parents and I moved to their current house in 1992, one of the first things I noticed about the neighborhood was the Bookmobile stop outside the school. I waited sixteen years for the Bookmobile. It never came. But still, there was hope. Because that's the dream, isn't it? A library that comes TO YOU.)

One of the very few causes that penetrates the lard and charcoal encasing my heart is literacy. The road to better runs through books, no matter what you’re trying to accomplish. When I recently found myself in conversation with two kids (yeah, I don’t know what happened) who wanted to know how I got so smart (NOW we’re talking), I told them I just read. A lot. A LOT. Books written in different time periods, of different genres*, by different kinds of people. THIS kind of diversity, I can get behind.

Comedian Sue Perkins traveled up (down?) the Mekong River for a BBC series last year, and while a trip through Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and China is a lot to shoot into your brainpan, the one moment that brought water to my eyeholes was her encounter with a library boat. Said boat travels part of the river, bringing books to kids who otherwise wouldn’t encounter them. (I mean, it’s the Mekong River. These people don’t even have doors.)

Water to My Eyeholes, You Guys

I shan’t rehash the importance of libraries in my own life, or try to guilt you into donating to literacy-based causes or attending the National Book Festival (which you SHOULD, obviously, more anon), but really the least you could do is read the McSweeney’s interview.

Do yourself some good. Close the Candy Crush and turn on the Kindle.

[Side note on this year’s Book Festival: Walter Isaacson, David McCullough, Cokie Roberts, Marilynne Robinson, and Jane Smiley are on my list so far. And since volunteering last year meant missing Doris Kearns Goodwin, I think I’m going to limit myself to just attending this year. Definitely a lady-or-the-tiger situation, tnough.]

* I may have inadvertently introduced those two kids to the word “genre” in that conversation. I kinda hope I did.

May 13, 2015

May 13, 2015

Blurred Times

Peggy Olson DGAF.
As we’re in the middle of spring quizzing season (sprizzing season?) (no, ew), I’m filling my mind with facts from the most excellent book Extraordinary Origins of Everyday Things. Living in the few-chah as we do, it’s easy to forget that just about every item in our lives was once exciting and new. The comb. Cough drops. Christmas. Plus stuff beginning with the other 25 letters of the alphabet.

However, reading about the development of things like bobby pins and vacuum cleaners keeps reminding me that the romantic past was also smelly, dirty, and full of shit.* For my fellow astigmatic nearsighted, it was also blurry. This has to give you pause when considering how awesome it would be if you’d lived in Viking times, or ancient Rome, or fill-in-the-historical-era-of-your-choice. It would be maybe 1% awesome and 99% wondering why everyone’s covered in lice.

I don’t mind that most works of fiction set in olden days gloss over this stuff, because no one wants to watch the Game of Thrones people chat about their bowel movements.**

Speaking of TV worthy of obsession, the final MAD MEN ever is on Sunday and I’m not ready. I thought I was ready—because goodness knows I went through this with Friends and Dawson’s Creek and The O.C. and The Office and 30 Rock—but then I saw the excellent "Lost Horizon" episode.

Joan and Don in the elevator. The Miller pitch. Don in Wisconsin. (Wisconsin!) Every scene involving Roger. Every scene involving Peggy. Every millisecond involving Roger AND Peggy. Honestly, the only harsh on my mellow was poor Joan’s plotline, because it made me think the phrase “poor Joan” and Homey don’t play that. I realize her situation is absolutely realistic for the times, though, which makes me really glad I was born into a different era.

But anyway. It’ll soon be all over but the crying, and I guess this too shall pass.

* Literally. Literally full of shit. Think about it.
** Or maybe they do. I honestly don’t know. Here are all the things I *do* know about GoT:
            Winter is coming.
            Stark and Lannister
            Something about a wall

May 11, 2015

May 11, 2015

Things I've Read: Crossing in Time

(I have been busy with Things, but rest assured I have been keeping a mental list of things to complain about. In the meantime, here is a previously-scheduled book review. Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this novel from the author to read and review. Because reading? Good. Free? Good. Free reading? GOOD.)

Crossing in Time is a genre mix: it’s got plenty of romance and sci-fi, with dashes of humor and erotica thrown in. Keep that in mind when jumping in to this book. And I mean *jumping* in, because we start pretty much in medias res, with someone named Isabel buying a gun in what appears to be a post-apocalyptic situation. The story is set in a world on the brink of ending, whose only hope is sending a woman back through time to reconnect with the love of her youth…keeping in mind that humanity depends on her not screwing it up like she did the first time around. High stakes? Indeed.

The author keeps readers on their toes throughout the book by changing the POV with each chapter. The majority of the book is told through the eyes of Isobel and Diego, both whip-smart scientists whose romance is hinted to be the one thing that can save civilization. Literally. Since this is the first book of a planned trilogy, I assume we’ll eventually find out whether it works. Another narrator, Matt, has a lesser role—but he too may become a bigger player as the series progresses.

In addition, I was hoping the book would focus more on the WHY and the HOW of the time travel, especially since two people are sent back and we get hints that all sorts of parallel universes and time travelers are out there. Again, I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt and hope to see more in books 2 and 3. I could do with less overt erotica, but your mileage may vary. ‘Tis a love story, after all.

To summarize, I’d say that Crossing in Time is a romance with science, and not sci-fi with romance. Read it if you’re looking for love, not labs.

April 21, 2015

April 21, 2015

And Many More

The Queen turns 89 today.

(Literally, in that today is her actual birthday. This must be clarified because many monarchs get a ceremonial birthday in the summertime to ensure that outdoor festivities are subject to the best of British weather. As a Wisconsin native whose October birthday was often at risk of snow, I consider this a most excellent practice.)

QE2’s one of my personal heroes, and I hope she spends her day exactly as she likes. (I imagine corgis and hats are involved. And tea.) Though some would argue that royalty spend every day exactly as they like, I remit that performing even ceremonial duties can be a grind. So settle down, huddled masses yearning to breathe free. Settle down.

Among the many delightful bits of QE2 trivia, my favorites include:

- She paid for her wedding dress using clothing ration coupons.

- She is the only person in Britain who can drive without a license or number plate on her state car.

- She technically owns all unmarked swans in UK waters and they are reserved for feasting. She also owns the whales and dolphins in UK waters.

Friend-of-blog N pointed out that QE2 is rapidly approaching the record for longest-serving monarch, currently held by Queen Victoria’s 63 years, 217 days. QE2 passes that mark in September. I really, really hope they break out the whale and swan canapes. IF NOT THEN, WHEN?

April 15, 2015

April 15, 2015

Cinco de Quatro

The recent announcement that Arrested Development would be getting a fifth season made me realize that I’d neglected to watch the fourth. I remedied that this weekend, absorbing 15 episodes of Bluthy goodness via my willing eyeballs over the course of two days.

Unlike a number of critics whose reviews I seem to remember reading when S4 was first released, I loved it. I’d forgotten how chock-full AD is of verbal and visual gags. Though 30 Rock, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and others have since inured us to commedia dell’fast-and-furious, AD was really a pioneer in the genre.

My favorite episode? Probably Buster’s by a hand nose, though the machinations of GOB’s “A New Attitude” also had me in hysterics. I’m a sucker for old-school and/or physical gags—pratfalls, revolving doors, and the like—and the scene involving GOB, Egg Ann, and Tony Wonder considering various forms of masked sexual congress required me to spend time in a quiet room afterwards.

Though my favorite moment remains the Lucille/Buster smoking scene.* I could watch an extended cut of this, on loop, for days.

It’s been too long since I watched S1-3 for me to fully appreciate all the callbacks and returning cast members, but good on everyone who returned to or joined the cast. (Though I was hoping for more of both Annyong and Bob Loblaw.) Kristen Wiig as young Lucille in particular was spot-on, and Ron Howard was a much better sport than I would be if asked to play a version of myself.

Things I didn’t care for? The Real Housewives storyline (Bobby Lee notwithstanding), Lindsay’s new face, DeBrie, the three surplus Richters (which ones? YOU DECIDE), and the bees.

Overall, a solid A for me. Curious to see where S5 goes, and whether the banana stand gets resurrected. There's always money in it.

*Favorite visual gag: The tiny “HELP” written on GOB’s finger while he was trapped in the cave, as seen on traffic camera footage.

March 19, 2015

March 19, 2015

Putting the NO in MONOPOLY

Because humanity can never leave well enough alone, a new “Here & Now” edition of Monopoly now features American cities as the properties. Here are some pictures of the game board:

I found out about this because my hometown placed in the red group at #11. But, to paraphrase our youth, I can’t even with this. To wit:

1. Pierre is #1? Really? REALLY?

2. Why is the image representing Milwaukee two people in Packers regalia? While most Milwaukeeans are Packers fans, you couldn’t have picked—oh, I don’t know—something actually unique to MILWAUKEE?

3. What is the deal with the currency symbol? Is the USD not good enough for Monopoly? Because it’s good enough for the rest of the freaking world, Hasbro.

4. Community Chest is now First Class? What the crap does that even MEAN?

5. Have the pieces all changed? My favorite pieces have always been the iron and the thimble. But I see, like, the Statue of Liberty and maybe a Shakeweight? I guess I need to start carrying my own pieces around. I refused to by represented by a bowl of quinoa.

6. FOR THE LOVE OF PETE, WHAT HAPPENED TO THE RAILROADS? (If they were replaced with airports, where are the other two? And which airports are we talking about here?)


8. Why does the “In Jail” guy still look like a 1930s hobo? (Props to keepin’ him white, though.)

9. Do we not have houses and hotels anymore? Is it all virtual? Do you build equity in a property by Airbnb-ing it?

I’m skeptical, people. I don’t know whose Here & Now this is supposed to represent, but it’s not mine until they add Vegas, change the Milwaukee picture to the Calatrava, and bring back the little green plastic houses that make a satisfying tinkle when you rattle them together.

Strike two, Monopoly.

March 11, 2015

March 11, 2015

I'm Lovin' It

Friend-of-blog M and I were recently talking about signature McDonald’s items. As proud children of America’s restaurant industrial complex, our childhoods were filled with the joy of fats and carbohydrates. When I was your age, I didn’t even know what quinoa was. SO THERE.

M’s a big fan of the McChicken sandwich; I’m partial to the Filet-O-Fish. Both worthy choices, as are the McChicken Nugget, the McRib, Shamrock Shakes, the Big Mac, the Quarter Pounder with Cheese, the Big Breakfast, and the short-lived but much-loved-by-me Arch Deluxe. You can keep your wraps, tenders, and apple slices. And if you had given me a Happy Meal with milk in it, it’s possible I would have punched you in the face.

That’s not a trick of perspective. That soda is as big as my entire head. Just how the good Lord intended.

(Also, I appear to have barbecue sauce with my nuggets, which is causing a little crisis of faith for me. I am a staunch honey apologist, but I am here faced with apparently incontrovertible visual evidence that I at least once got the barbecue sauce. Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?)

What was your food- or drink-stuff of choice? Extra points if you grew up abroad and it’s an item special to your own country’s restaurants, like McBangers and Mash or something. McSpaghetti. McPaella. McCurry. I could do this all day.