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Showing posts from January, 2016

New Yorker Fiction Review #121: "The Gospel According to Garcia" by Ariel Dorfman

Issue: Nov. 2, 2016 Story: " The Gospel According to Garcia " by Ariel Dorfman Rating: $ Review: There's not a ton that can be said about this story, because there's not much that happens and its main character, Garcia, never even truly appears in the story, but instead is referred to only in the memory of the narrator. It helps to know that Ariel Dorfman is from Argentina and Chile, because the story is about a favorite teacher who, it would seem, gets "disappeared" by the authorities and is replaced by a substitute whom the children in the story are determined to freeze out, viewing him (rightly or wrongly; probably rightly) as a pale imitation of their beloved Garcia. Garcia sounds like a real character, having imparted to his students the following bits of wisdom, among others dropped into the story..these are my favorites: 1.) Never apologize if you haven't done anything wrong...The world is cursed because people do not apologize for

New Yorker Fiction Review #120: "Who Will Greet You At Home" by Lesley Nneka Arimah

Issue: Oct. 26, 2015 Story: "Who Will Greet You At Home" by Lesley Nneka Arimah Rating: $$$ Review:  From the very first sentence, this story was disorienting, confusing, unsettling, and irresistibly fascinating. I usually do not go for myths and magical realism, but Arimah's world is so vivid and so eerily alike but also un-like our own that once I pushed through my pre-existing notions I couldn't turn away from this often grotesque story. The actual story involves Ogechi, a young African woman who lives in a world in which mothers must create babies out of everyday materials (mud, yarn, clay, sand, sugar, etc.) and nurture them for a year before the babies can come to life as flesh and blood babies. Ogechi surreptitiously makes a baby out of hair from the floor of the salon where she works, keeping it a secret from "Mama" the keeper of all the feminine power in Ogechi's village. Even if the thought of a bawling, squalling "hair-bab

My Very Own Ali Spagnola Painting...

Thanks to Ali Spagnola 's awesome, ninja-level efforts of self-promotion, this lovely pop-art bird now resides in my home, adding to my existing collection of rooster stuff. How did I start collecting rooster stuff? No idea. I also have no idea how I found out about Ali Spagnola, but all of a sudden I was seeing her posts on my Twitter feed and then I discovered her Free Paintings project (which you should totally check out, in addition to her other stuff: music, comedy shorts, etc.) and commissioned this painting, even though she gives them away for free, so that I would have a chance of getting it before 2020. Seriously, Spagnola is a lesson to any creative entrepreneurial types out there looking to use the internet to gain attention, build a fan base for their work, and create a platform from which to launch a career. She's a relentless self-promoter, but the thing is, she actually has something to promote and continues to crank it out all the time , which sets her ap

Learning to Play Chess Part II: Some hard-earned chess chops

In the past two weeks I've played approximately 60 games of chess. No foolin. I've played the computer, I've played my friend Greg, I've played people from around the world on which has an amazingly useful chess app, btw. Mostly I lose. Occasionally I win. But I've learned a few more advanced pieces of wisdom which I'd like to impart to you here. These are hard-won lessons that have come from hours of staring at a chess board (my phone, actually) and biting my fingers. I'd like to think these are a couple steps above the old "this is how your Knight moves" kind of instruction. So if you still don't know how to play chess, you might go look it up . But also, this stuff can be useful even if you're an extreme beginner: 1.) Think two moves -- if not three or four -- in advance. This is tough for a beginning player, but even in two weeks of constant playing I've been able to hone this skill a bit. If you're ever going to

New Yorker Fiction Review #119: "Cold Little Bird" by Ben Marcus

Issue: Oct. 19, 2015 Story: "Cold Little Bird" by Ben Marcus Rating: $$ 1/2 Review: Ever since Ben Marcus' darkly hilarious and ultimately touching story about a man who becomes a walking science experiment for a venture capital startup, "The Grow Light Blues," from the 6/22/15 issue of The New Yorker ( TGCB , 9/2/15 ), this author's name has been burned onto my brain as one to watch for. You can probably already guess, also by my 2.5 dollar sign rating, that his latest NYer offering, "Cold Little Bird," met with my approval, so... "Cold Little Bird" tells the story of Martin, a young married father of two, and how he reacts when faced with what sounds like a nightmare scenario for a parent: His oldest son, aged 10, suddenly becomes unresponsive to him and his wife, won't allow them to touch him for so much as a goodnight kiss or hug, and engages only in conversation when they get in his face and yell at him. Add to t

Watchlist: Cocaine Cowboys

If you've ever taken seriously anything I've written on this blog or even considered looking into anything I've recommended, then trust me: watch Cocaine Cowboys . It's about the cocaine trade in the late 70s and early 80s and the city that became the epicenter of all the money, the violence, and the blizzard of white....Miami. Basically, it's the true story of the bad guys Sonny and Tubbs were chasing in Miami Vice ...except Miami Vice is rated G compared to what's in Cocaine Cowboys . It's on Netflix now, as well as its expanded version Cocaine Cowboys: Reloaded , which I'd also recommend. I've watched them both now twice each in the past week, seriously. They're that good (even though reloaded is basically just a Director's Cut, it's worth it as well).  John Roberts My favorite part of the documentary is the rags to riches story of the charismatic hustler John Roberts , an American-born one-time mafia counterpart who fl

Reading List: The Kennedy Men, by Laurence Leamer

Laurence Leamer 's 2001 tome covering the lives of Joe, Edward, John F., Robert, and Teddy Kennedy from 1901 to 1963, The Kennedy Men , is the first book I finished in 2016 (though I started it back in September '15 (hey, it's 750 pages long)) and probably the longest book I've read word-for-word since I was in school. Such is my abiding fascination with this complex, charmed, and cursed American family that, in the 20th century, became nothing short of royalty in this country. As the name suggests, the book treats as its main characters the men in the family, referencing the Kennedy women as side members of the cast; however, lest that ruffle the feathers of any of my female readers, you'll be delighted to know Leamer's first book on the Kennedy family was called The Kennedy Women . I plan to get to that book as soon as I give my self a little Kennedy-break and read through some other books that have been piling up on my nightstand.  Here's a few b

New Yorker Fiction Review #118: "Usl at the Stadium" by Rivka Galchen

Issue: Oct. 12, 2015 Story: "Usl at the Stadium" by Rivka Galchen Rating: $ Review: I tend not to like stories that tie too closely into real life events or are supposed to, quite surgically and precisely, target some anathema aspect of society. This story is kind of both. I don't like those kinds of stories because a.) I feel like it's cheating to directly rip something out of the news or the trash-heap of internet and pop culture, and b.) I feel preached-to and a little bit manipulated, and I don't read fiction to get preached to. That said, Galchen's story about a Usl -- an overweight young man who falls asleep at a Yankee's game and becomes a laughing-stock and an internet pincushion after being broadcast on T.V. (unbeknownst to him at the time; he was at the game) -- is not without a few pithy, memorable lines and a likable, relatable charcter, in Usl. Even if it does feel like a love letter to Steve Bartman, who became the target of out

New Yorker Fiction Review #117: "Vespa" by Tim Parks

Issue: Oct. 5, 2015 Story: "Vespa" by Tim Parks Rating: $$$ Review: Tim Park's last NYer short story, "Reverend", from the Dec. 8, 2014 issue ( TGCB 1/18/2015) fell a little flat in my mind and failed to make any kind of impression. "Vespa," however, is an astute, urgent, compactly written meditation on adolescence and young manhood, in which every sentence seems to carry more weight than the one before it. "Vespa" takes place over a 48 or 72 hour period in which Mark, an older teenage boy, gets his Vespa stolen, and then gets it back, all while he's trying to keep his girlfriend, the enchanting and exotic Jasmin, interested in him, negotiate a challenging assignment in art class, and find his footing in an adult world which still seems to operate independently of him and very much in opposition to his wishes. Even though he's in "college" (which in England I take it is like the first two years of American colle