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A Piece of Advice I Learned From My Grandfather

My grandfather was one of the most learned men I know. He read widely and voraciously, and not just in the sciences (he was a doctor); he loved politics, philosophy, and great literature as well. Whenever he finished a book he would write his thoughts about the book in the front cover and then sign and date it. To this day every once in a while I will open a book from my bookshelf or my mother's bookshelf, or at one of my family members' homes, and there will be my grandfather's handwriting. He was also a great giver of his books; if you remarked that you liked a particular one or wanted to read it, you were almost sure to take it home with you.

Reading is a very solitary pursuit but my grandfather was not a solitary person. He relished having family and friends around him which is convenient because he was blessed with a lot of both. And he carried out his intellectual life in a very "public" way as well. He was, in some ways, an intellectual evangelist. If he r…
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Taking a Moment to Acknowledge the End of an Era...

I don't often blog about "personal" things. I keep this blog limited to mostly neutral subjects like fiction, sports, restaurants, etc. But tonight I wanted to break that habit because I felt the occasion called for it.

Today my maternal grandfather passed away peacefully at the age of 92. He had six children, 15 grandchildren, and 12 great-grand children. He was married for 72 years to my grandmother and during most of that time they kept one of the warmest, busiest, most open and comforting households I've ever known and am likely to ever know. He was a doctor in a small city in West Virginia and at one point must have known almost everyone in the town. You certainly could not mention his name (which I've omitted here for privacy reasons) to anyone in the town without eliciting some positive reaction or at least recognition from 99 out of 100 people you asked. He was a pillar of his community and a rock of strength and wisdom to his family. Any words I could s…

Restaurant Review: "Spinach" in Shadyside

Spinach, located on Copeland St. in Shadyside (right across the street from the Starbucks) is not the kind of place you're going to just stumble upon one night while out and about on Walnut St. looking for a place to eat. Hell, we were looking for it and could barely find it. It's a small and unassuming restaurant tucked in the quasi-basement level (sort of a "false" first floor) of a building that houses a few other Shadyside-esque businesses like a Yoga studio, some kind of antique store, and the very not un-assuming Italian restaurant Girasole.

Spinach's "thing" is that it serves vegetarian, vegan, and gluten free cuisine, but it also has non-vegetarian dishes as well. I got the salmon salad, which was excellent, with a nice, tangy lemon-juice based dressing, shaved radishes (and some other vegetables), with a couple nice pieces of cured salmon on it.

According to the chef/owner, who spoke to us briefly, Spinach has been around in its current iterati…

Book Review: A Life in Parts, by Bryan Cranston

Bryan Cranston's autobiography, A Life in Parts, is just the kind of book I like to read these days: easy, straightforward, short, engaging...and by Walter friggin White!

Like his acting, the book is funny, direct, effective, and at times deeply emotional. It is not grandiose. It does not overreach. Cranston does not attempt to portray his craft as "magic" or more important than it is. Instead, he talks about his craft just as a really intelligent brick layer would talk about his. He clearly loves acting and has dedicated his life to it, but it's his work, he does it for pay and at the end of the day he doesn't let it define him. I think this is an effect caused by the fact that he achieved "fame" so late in his career. He spent his 20s, 30s, and 40s, hacking out a living doing bit parts and whatever TV roles came his way until Malcolm in the Middle and then ultimately Breaking Bad in his 50s. And he's got the humility to prove it.
Highlights of the…

New Yorker Fiction Review #186: "The I.O.U." by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Review of a short story from the Mar. 20, 2017 issue of The New Yorker...

This story, "The I.O.U." is part of a collection of F. Scott Fitzgerald's unpublished works soon to be released (maybe already has been released). Now, I love F. Scott Fitzgerald as much as the next guy (actually, I probably love F. Scott Fitzgerald at least 75% to 90% more than the next guy) but this story could have stayed in whatever forgotten pile of papers they dug it up from, and my life would not have changed one iota.

Like a lot of people whose seminal exposure to literature took place in high school, The Great Gatsby is one of my absolute favorite books. I agree with those (in slowly diminishing numbers) who believe that it is the Great American Novel. I love Fitzgerald's personal story (tragic, though it is), his place in literary history and legend, and the legacy he has left us by writing this enduring American gem of a novel.

At the same time, in my opinion, F. Scott Fitzgerald wro…

Thoughts on Game of Thrones Season 7 Finale

Frankly, I thought the Season 7 Finale of Game of Thrones was a little weak. The final episode of a Game of Thrones season is never the "craziest" episode. The really whacko stuff usually happens in the second to last (or penulitmate, as they say) episode. Even so, this episode just felt a little tepid. The dialogue was forced, nothing was as dramatic as it was "supposed" to be, and it seemed like they just had to tie up a bunch of plotlines in a hurry. Then, of course, there is the astonishingly un-sexy consummation of Danaerys and Jon Snow's "flirtation," in some ship cabin sex.

Here are my bullet-point thoughts on the episode:
Euron Greyjoy. I called B.S. the moment Euron Greyjoy fled the King's Landing summit/conference in fear upon seeing one of the living dead. And I was right: it was a bluff. But my questions are: a.) How did Euron and Cersei plan for being shown one of the living dead? Did the guards look inside the box and tip them off? T…

Wine Review: Penya Viognier 2016 Cotes Catalanes

It takes a lot to get me to write about wine these days. There was a time (on this very blog) when I used to write about wine regularly, but a.) I stopped drinking as much of it, and b.) I started writing about other things. Which is why, IMHO, Penya Viognier 2016 Cotes Catalanes is that much more remarkable; it is such a good wine for your money that it spurred me to start writing about wine again.

If you see some of this in your local wine store, buy it. This bottle set me back all of about $9.99+tax and has so far provided two evenings of extremely pleasurable drinking. The first night we drank it (as our 2nd bottle) with some breaded pork chops and sauteed garlic spinach; now we sip the remainer of the bottle unaccompanied by any food, two days later. The wine has kept it's body and freshness.

Cotes Catalanes is an AOC that lies in the Languedoc-Roussillon region in the glorious wine country of the Southwest of France. I personally do not have much experience with the Viognie…