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Learning to Play Chess: A Guided Journey From Novice to Ever-So-Slightly-More-Than-Novice

About three weeks ago, I knew nothing about the game of chess other than how the pieces were moved. Then my friend Greg randomly suggested we start playing chess, since he used to play a lot in college and missed it. So, I figured I needed to a.) brush-up on the game and b.) learn some strategy very quickly so that I didn't get my rear-end handed to me in my first game. This, therefore, is an account of what I've learned in about 21 days of study and practice of the game of chess. 
The first two things I had to do were: Learn the rules. This one was easy. I already knew the rules, because my grandfather taught me the rudiments as a child and I've played here and there over the years. If you're really a chess neophyte, like, you don't even know what the board looks like, click here then come back and continue reading. Learn strategy. This one can take anywhere from 10 minutes to 100 years. I did not have 100 years. I had to learn the basics quickly and I had no one to …

New Yorker Fiction Review #116: "The Driver" by Thomas McGuane

Issue: Sept. 28, 2015

Story: "The Driver" by Thomas McGuane

Rating: $/Meh

Review: I guess you'd call this a story because there are characters and something happens, but...to me this is just McGuane grudgingly filling out his contractual requirement of four NYer stories per year or whatever.

I don't think I'm going out on a limb here in saying this is not a "good" story. In fact, it's hardly worth reading or even reading a review about...so if you stop now, no hard feelings (but there wouldn't be any hard feelings anyway, cause I'd never know. In fact, I'd be happy if you even read this far in the first place).

But even McGuane, as great of a writer as he is, can't write a completely "bad" story. There are two interesting characters in this story, the boy's mom and the driver who picks him up and tries to take him home before getting stopped by the police and arrested. Wrong place, wrong time, I suppose.

What's my prob…

New Yorker Fiction Review #115: "My Curls Have Blown all the Way to China" by Amos Oz

Issue: Sept. 21, 2015
Story: "My Curls Have Blown all the Way to China" by Amos Oz
Rating: $$$
Review: I don't know who Amos Oz is (or didn't before yesterday, anyway) and I've never read anything he's written other than this petite story in the New Yorker. I can say that about a lot of the authors I read in the magazine, but I can't say that I enjoy many stories I've read in the NYer as much as this one. 
The story follows an Israeli woman, Bracha, as she learns that her husband is leaving her for another woman and deals with it internally. Bracha is not overly upset about it from an emotional standpoint -- she does not beat her fists or pull out her hair or beg her husband, Moshe, not to leave her. No, she seemed to have all but checked out of the relationship already. However, her husband's affair makes Bracha question her own sexuality and attractiveness and causes her to consider sexuality in a new light, one that she'd forgotten long ago af…

New Yorker Fiction Review #114: "Chicken Hill" by Joy Williams

Issue: Sept. 14, 2015

Story: "Chicken Hill" by Joy Williams

Rating: Meh

Review: So I have a confession to make: I'm way, way behind on my New Yorker short story reviewing and this project has long ago ceased to be "fun" and started to be a real burden. However, that does not mean I'm going to quit. That might just mean my reviews become short and un-informative to anyone -- including myself. But hey, this is a BLOG after all. I'm sure I've long since lost any "serious" literary people from my readership and am left with a handful of people (hey Luke, how you doing bro?) who are either so loyal and devoted to me or simply have nothing better to do, or are internet comment robots. I started this project primarily for me, and if, for the time being, it serves me to write simple, insulting, cursory, meaningless, un-informative reviews of these stories, well that's just the way it's gonna have to be, folks.

That said...I pretty much hated …

New Yorker Fiction Review #113: "In The Act of Falling" by Danielle McLaughlin

Issue: Sept. 7, 2015

Story: "In The Act of Falling" by Danielle McLaughlin

Rating: $$

Review: Three things are certain in life: death, taxes, and me being woefully behind on my New Yorker short story reviewing. Hopefully I'll remedy that situation over the holiday weekend here when I'm sure I'll have nothing better to do than lay on the couch reading and analyzing short stories (!).

Anyhoo...there's something I like about this story but I don't really know what. The story is set in a sort of post-apocalyptic, or at least post-crisis world in which country mansions (like the one in which the family in this story lives) are super cheap, even if dilapidated, and semi-threatening vagrants appear from the woods and the once-tight net of civilization has started to fray in some of the typical ways in which you might expect if (and when) our society starts to crumble.

What McLaughlin does really nicely is create an eerie sense of disorientation that sort of mirrors…

Manchester United Reportedly Interested in Magpies' Ayoze Perez

In news that matters to only a few thousand people on this earth (and probably zero readers of this blog (if there are any left)) is that Manchester United is reportedly interested in Newcastle United striker Ayoze Perez for a January transfer. One thing majorly bothers me about this. One thing might be good.

What bothers me:
Ayoze Perez is one of the few NUFC players who occasionally scores a goal...and this is a squad desperately in need of goals. We'll still have Mitrovic and Wjinaldum, but those alone aren't going to be enough to keep us afloat. What might be good: If this is for real, deep-pocketed ManU might be willing to pay some serious sterling for him, giving NUFC the money to purchase a seasoned striker (like Charlie Austin??) that can lead the team up front and get us firmly out of the relegation zone.What's probably going to happen: Mike Ashley's probably going to sell Perez and buy two mediocre players with the money, causing more confusion and ineffectual p…

New Yorker Fiction Review #112: "The Apartment" by Jensen Beach

Issue: Aug. 31, 2015

Story: "The Apartment" by Jensen Beach

Rating: $$

Review: Turns out Jensen Beach is not just a place in Florida. Haw! Sorry for the Dad Humor. I'm so overwhelmingly far behind on my New Yorker reviewing that I'm forced to make crappy jokes to substitute for what would usually be well though-out reviews. I digress...

"The Apartment"...what's it about?? It's about a middle-aged woman in Stockholm, Sweden, who has resigned herself to her loveless marriage, her ordinary but loving son, her mundane life without romance or excitement, and who has relied for too long on drink as her source of comfort and solace. When a new tenant moves in across the courtyard, she is obsessed by the idea that it might be the daughter of a former lover of hers.

Louise is unhappy; that much is clear. At noon on a weekday she's already thinking about how much wine she's going to buy. By 3:00 p.m. she's buzzed. By dusk she's doing things she w…

New Yorker Fiction Review #111: "These Short, Dark Days" by Alice McDermott

Issue: Aug. 24, 2015

Story: "These Short, Dark Days" by Alice McDermott

Rating: $

Review: In this very depressingly-named short story, Alice McDermott takes a look into the psychology of a middle-aged nun who chooses to exert her own will in a quiet attempt to thwart the workings of male-dominated church dogma. She does this by attempting to have the body of a young male suicide placed in the Catholic cemetery, by obfuscating the cause of his death.

Honestly, this story is kinda boring. For one thing, the prose is very "procedural," (this happened, then this happened, then this happened) and the action not interesting enough in-and-of-itself for that to be exciting. The most interesting part was in the very beginning when at least we get a bit of the psychology of the character in question, and we can sense the doom that's about to befall him. Doom, after all, is eternally interesting.

One thing that I did think was cool about this story, however, was its "tim…

New Yorker Fiction Review #110: "Little Man" by Michael Cunningham

Issue: Aug. 10 & 17, 2015
Story: "Little Man" by Michael Cunningham
Rating: $/Meh
Review: This is your classic "fairy tale brought to life" type of story, in which the author takes the legend of Rumpelstiltskin and breathes some modern-day life and humanity into it by casting Rumpelstiltskin as an aging bachelor who just wants a child to raise and care for. 
These fairy tale re-tellings can be a lot of fun, Robert Coover does this a lot, sometimes in the pages of The New Yorker. I will admit this particular re-telling was fun to read, mostly because I'd forgotten the Rumpelstiltskin legend a long time ago and it was fun to think of a gnarled little 200 year old gnome feeling a nesting instinct and -- knowing he'll never find a woman and have a child naturally -- deciding to adopt by the only means he sees available to him.
I don't need to go on for hundreds of words re-hashing my thoughts on a fairy tale story that followed, pretty closely I see now, t…

New Yorker Fiction Review #109: "Five Arrows" by Heinz Insu Fenkl

Issue: Aug. 3, 2015

Story: "Five Arrows" by Heinz Inzu Fenkl

Rating: $

Review: Even though it's nearly three months since this story was published, my reading of it co-coincided nicely with events in my own life: in the story, two cousins paddle across a river in post-WWII or Korean WarKorea (presumably South Korea but I don't know) to find a long-lost family member called Big Uncle, who has taken residence inside a small cave in the deep forest in order to die from gangrene that has infected his leg.

No, I do not have an uncle who has holed up inside a cave to die. But I did go canoe camping last weekend and the experience was still very fresh in my mind and so, unlike with a lot of stories in which you have to translate yourself into the story's environment, I felt like I was plunged right into this one. Temperate zone woods, after all, are pretty similar whether they're in Korea or Poland or Indiana.

Anyway, a bit of research and I found out that Heinz Inzu F…

New Yorker Fiction Review: "Silk Brocade" by Tessa Hadley

Story: "Silk Brocade" by Tessa Hadley

Issue: July 27, 2015

Rating: $/Meh

Review: Seeing a Tessa Hadley story on The New Yorker's table of contents does not tend to raise my pulse; her tales tend to be ornate, slow-moving, albeit well-crafted, ones in which nothing much happens (which is not a problem, this is literature) and in which the change that goes on inside the main character is so subtle, if it even happens, that the story would bear re-reading at least once in order to grasp its significance. I'm of the opinion that an author -- any author -- is lucky if a reader draws their eyes across her writing even once, let alone many times, especially in a short story, and therefore there's not a lot of time for deep subtleties and hidden messages and emotional tremors so slight they can barely be perceived.

However, I have to give credit where it's due and say that this story "moved" a bit more than Hadley's usual fare. Set mostly in England in the…

New Yorker Fiction Review: "Ghosts and Empties" by Lauren Groff

Story: "Ghosts and Empties" by Lauren Groff

Issue: July 20, 2015

Rating: $$

Review: I'm so far behind in my New Yorker Fiction reviewing, I should probably keep this short just so I can move on to the next review in quick style.

I do not know who Lauren Groff is but I know she's my age and she's pretty insightful. I've never read a story in which someone so successfully manages to turn a character's nightly evening walk into a canvas on which to reflect on themselves, on society, on life, on gentrification, time, parenting, and a few other things besides.

Every pause between the end of one breath and the beginning of the next is long; then again, nothing is not always in transition. Soon, tomorrow, the boys will be men, and my husband an I will look at each other crouching under the weight of all we wouldn't or couldn't yell, and all those hours outside walking, my body, my shadow, and the moon.

Paul Simon fans will recognize the title "Ghosts an…

New Yorker Fiction Review: "Reading Comprehension Text No. 1" by Alejandro Zambra

Issue: July 6 & 13, 2015

Story: "Reading Comprehension Text No. 1" by Alejandro Zambra

Rating: $/Meh

Review: I really, really did not want to review this story. I'm not 100% sure why. I liked Zambra's story from the May 26, 2014 issue "Camillo" pretty well. Zambra writes very accessibly (though, it is translated) and with a drily humorous style, about being a teenager in Chile. He does it with the sort of subversive, anti-authoritarian bent that a lot of Latin American writers -- and Latin Americans in general -- have had to adopt as a way to keep their souls intact in the face of a recent history of oppression and dictatorships.

Anyway, Zambra's writing is fun, and I suppose this "gimmick piece," formed in the style of a reading comprehension text, complete with multiple choice questions at the end, was kind of fun to read. In fact, in my opinion, the questions are where you get the real "point" of the story, if there is one:

6. Fro…

Pumpkin Beer Report, Volume I: Shipyard's Pumpkinhead Ale

It's Fall, ladies and gentlemen, and you know what that means, yes, indeed...leaves, the smells of
woodsmoke, cool breezes, pumpkins all that b.s. In Indiana, it not only means all of that, but it means the window is open on what probably amounts to about two good months (split between spring and fall) when it's nice to be outside and the bugs are gone. I say that as I just got bit by a mosquito...indoors. It means all that...and it means PUMPKIN BEERS ARE BACK BABY.

Oh yes...from about mid-August until they all sell out (somewhere just prior to Halloween or a week or so into November, if we're lucky) the cinammony, spicy, pumpkiny autumnal goodness that is pumpkin flavored beer will be on the shelves. It excites me almost like the annual coming of Boo-Berry cereal when I was a kid...only less, because my heart has grown blacker and blacker with age.... Just kidding! No way a cereal could compare to a beer!

This week I've purchased a sixer of Shipyard's Pumpkinhe…

New Yorker Fiction Review: "The Flower" by Louise Erdrich

Issue Date: June 29, 2015

Story:"The Flower" by Louise Erdrich

Rating: $$$

Review: Louise Erdrich kind of lost me after her last NYer story "The Big Cat" from the March 31, 2014 issue of The New Yorker and the April 8th, 2014 posting of this blog. You see, there was a time when I wasn't three months behind in my reviewing. Aye yai yai. Anyway, "The Big Cat" failed to impress me, mostly because it felt like Erdrich was trying to be too civilized, telling the story of a modern-day, middle-class suburban white man and his modern-day, middle-class suburban white man problems and emotions. That's fine...for someone else. But to me Erdrich is better when she's writing about the wild people and the flaming passions of the West, whether of Native Americans or whites, whether in the present or the past. Something about the rugged landscape and untamed characters tend to bring out the best in Erdrich.

Three stars because, like a good "journey story&qu…

New Yorker Fiction Review: "The Grow Light Blues" by Ben Marcus

Issue Date: June 22, 2015

Story: "The Grow Light Blues" by Ben Marcus

Rating: $$$

Review: Sometime in the not-too-distant but disproportionately effed-up future (and era about which I love to read) Carl Hirsch works for a tech startup testing the latest form of nutrition delivery system: a human grow light. Carl is weaned off solid food and even liquid food, save for a once-a-week smoothie to prevent him from dying of starvation, so that his company can test the grow-light on him. Daily he is blasted with searing beams of light to his face that feel like they are tightening his skin and disfiguring him...which they are. Deprived of food and blasted with high beams of light all day, Carl begins to unravel as his body rebels and his mind sinks to impossible levels of sadness and depression. He is fired from the experiment after he inexplicably sends a picture of his scrotum to the entire company. He "retires" to be the groundskeeper of a grade school and eventually fall…

New Yorker Fiction Review: "The Prospectors" by Karen Russell

Issue: June 8 & 15, 2015

Story:"The Prospectors" by Karen Russell
Rating: $
Review: Knowing what I know about Karen Russell, I read this story with a very careful eye for when the "magic" was going to enter the story and, sure enough, right on schedule, the story's two protagonistas (if that's a word) find themselves at a lavish party in a secluded mountainside mansion...FULL OF GHOSTS! WHOA! Can you hear my sacrasm? If not, let me just tell you flat-out how little I care about hotels full of dead miners from the 1800s who don't even know they're dead yet. 
What was much, much more interesting were the secret double-lives of the two female main characters, who drift around the country working odd jobs and worming their way into the acquaintance of "high society" types, where they then go to fancy parties and creep around their hosts' homes -- and sometimes sleep with them -- in the hope of making a big score of jewels or at least havi…

Newcastle Preserves a Point v. Southampton; Other Stuff Happens

I've been totally remiss in the soccer aspect of this blog (and the literature part, really, but hey...it's summer time) and there was a lot to blog about this summer in the soccer world...the U.S. Women winning the World Cup, the U.S. Men getting exited from the Gold Cup by Jamaica, MLS action, transfers. etc. etc. But all that is behind us now because the prems are back, baby! Here's a quick round up:
Newcastle 2-2 Southampton - This was an utterly "Newcastley" result...going down a goal, then tying, then going ahead! only to give up the equalizer in the last 10 minutes. But at least they held on for the point. Interesting that that three of this game's four goals came from headers of long, wide crosses, and the one that didn't (from Papis Cisse) came off a chested ball. I like that Cisse and the new guy Wijnaldum both broke their cherries in the first match, because we're gonna need a lot from them this season. NUFC's defense looked a little &qu…

New Yorker Fiction Review: "The Duniazat" by Salman Rushdie

Issue: June 1, 2015

Story (novel excerpt): "The Duniazat" by Salman Rushdie

Rating: $$

Review: Rushdie is another one of those contemporary authors that I'm embarrassed to say I had zero exposure to prior to reading this story. The first and best thing I can say about this "story" -- really an excerpt from his upcoming novel Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights (1,001 nights, in case you're counting) -- is that it makes me want to read more Rushdie.

Set in Spain in the year 1195, the story involves the philosopher Ibn Rushd, who gets exiled from the royal palace and has to go live in a small town. There he is visited by a "jinni" (genie) in disguise as a young woman named Dunia. The two fall in love and start having children. Because she's a jinni, she has multiple children at a time, a sort of "tribe" in fact, which Rushd dubs the "Duniazat". Ultimately, Dunia disappears into a puff of smoke and Rushd is allowed bac…

New Yorker Fiction Review: "So You're Just What, Gone?" by Justin Taylor

Issue: May 18, 2015
Story: "So You're Just What, Gone?" by Justin Taylor
Rating: $/Meh
Review: A young teenage girl gets on a plane and sits next to a man who gives her his cell phone number. She, being a curious (and ignorant (and kind of stupid)) teenage girl, texts him late at night and gets involved in a sext message exchange that, while thankfully does not result in an actual meet-up, provides her an eerie glimpse into a world of perverted sexuality she might have guessed was out there but had never actually encountered before. 
At first read it was tempting for me to look at this story and lament the fact that the modern world makes it so much easier for perverts to operate, what with cell phones, the internet, etc. but but I don't necessarily think that's the point of this story and I don't think that, in fact, the world is any more or less dangerous for children now than it was 20 or 50 or 100 years ago because of the internet or whatever. There are cree…

The On-going EPL Side-Show that is Raheem Sterling

Add to the contract belly-aching (140,000 pounds per week not enough!), add to the mid-season vacations in the Bahamas, add to the weak and ineffectual league play, add to the behind the back whispering and shimmy-shammying rumors...now he's caught on camera huffing nitrous oxide.

http://www.espnfc.us/liverpool/story/2496586/raheem-sterling-in-laughing-gas-controversy-report

Far be it for me to say what's right or wrong in the world and hey, the stuff's legal anyway. But if you're an eight or 10, or 50 (or whatever) million dollar a year athlete you gotta have it together better than to get caught huffing some nitrous. You only get so many "Get-out-of-Jail-Free!" cards in this world before people start realizing you're a flake. Use them on some REAL TROUBLE why don't you. Sheesh.

New Yorker Fiction Review: "The Freezer Chest" by Dorthe Nors

Issue: May 25, 2015

Rating: Meh Meh Meh

Review: There were some words formed into sentences and paragraphs. The author mentioned a freezer chest somewhere in there. That's about all I have to say here.

Life's too short to come up with really detailed explanations of why I don't like a completely pointless and unentertaining story just becauseThe New Yorker deems it worthy of putting in their magazine. Ain't nobody got time for that.

On to the next thing...

New Yorker Fiction Review: "My Life is a Joke" by Sheila Heti

Issue: May 11, 2015

Rating: Meh

Review: Did you ever spend 10 minutes (or an hour, or five hours) reading something and then, upon putting it down, have no idea what you just read? Yeah. It just happened to me when I read this story...

...and yet somehow, because it was in The New Yorker, I feel like I'm the one who's wrong, like I'm the one who's missing something. But I also have a P.h.D. in Self-Contradiction, so I'm going with my initial instinct here, that this story is overly-quirky, excessively cute, under-wrought, and gave me a headache in a surprisingly short amount of time.

The story was not completely without merit. There was a nice little nugget in there about a man who gets married young because he wants to have a "witness" to his entire life and, by marrying and producing children and grandchildren, he succeeds...until all of those people die off, that is.

Sheila Heti has clearly got something going on, I'll admit that. This sort of swirlin…

New Yorker Fiction Review: "The Apologizer" by Milan Kundera

Issue: May 4, 2015

Rating: $$

Review: It took me five years and three separate attempts to finish Milan Kundera's famous novel, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, but in spite of that, quotes and insights from that book still rattle round my head on a weekly basis. What I mean to say is: my feelings on Kundera are very similar to my feelings on Haruki Murakami. I enjoy reading his work, but in small doses, like this short story.

Like Murakami, Kundera uses elements of magical realism, but where in a Murakami story you might encounter a flying dolphin or a disappearing hotel or a person who has lived his whole life in the same room, refusing to leave, Kundera's magical realism offers more direct insights and perspective on real life.

In Kundera's worlds, time and space are malleable and everything that ever happened in history is happening at the same time, and the narrator is a completely omniscient, caring, witty, and hands-on god-like being.

And so it is with "The Apo…

FIFA Officials Arrested: Where we go from here, no one knows...

This news is so big, I don't even know how to properly digest it right now or give any guess as to what the implications will be, but with FIFA elections coming up Friday....at the very least there's a strong chance sitting president Sepp Blatter may have to hit the bricks, and none-too-soon for many people who have been outraged by FIFA's antics for years. New York Times article here:

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/28/sports/soccer/fifa-officials-arrested-on-corruption-charges-blatter-isnt-among-them.html


New Yorker Fiction Review: "Peacetime" by Luke Mogelson

Issue: April 27, 2015

Story: "Peacetime" by Luke Mogelson

Rating: $$$

Review: I like a raw, gritty story. I like an original voice. I like writing that disorients me for a moment, takes me a few paragraphs or pages to get used to, and then sucks me in and doesn't let me go until the last word. Therefore, I found a lot of entertainment and value in "Peacetime," by Luke Mogelson.

"Peacetime" is set in modern day New York City (lot of NYC stories lately, right??) and takes place over the course of a few weeks in the life of the narrator, whom we know only as Papadopoulos, an Iraq war veteran who is now a paramedic, living in the Armory on Lexington Avenue in Manhattan. Estranged from his wife and living on the fringes of what might be called "normal" society, Papadopoulos has returned from the horrors of the Iraq war only to face equivalent horrors -- some of them really unthinkable -- every day in his job right here at home. When he finally gets …

New Yorker Fiction Review: "Major Maybe" by Ann Beattie

Issue: April 20, 2015

Story: "Major Maybe" by Ann Beattie

Rating: $$

Review: "Major Maybe" is a bittersweet and poetic little morsel* by a well-decorated veteran of the American literary fiction scene. Even if the story does feel a little under-wrought and lopsided -- it starts out as if it's going to be an actual "story" but then morphs into sort of a prose poem and ends abruptly -- the emotions it evokes at the end make it worth the read.

The story is narrated by an unnamed female narrator in her early 20s who lives with her bi-sexual actor friend, Eagle Soars, in an apartment in New York City in the 80s. The two live the kind of romantic, bohemian, young-in-NYC life that everyone (most people) dream of and that a few people actually get to live. They are broke. They are trying to become actors. They sit outside and drink cheap wine and watch their kooky neighbors. They even hook up once in a desperate moment of wine-fueled lust. Major Maybe is the nam…