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Showing posts from October, 2017

New Yorker Fiction Review #187: "Herman Melville, Vol. 1" by Victor Lodato

Review of a short story from the March 21, 2017 issue of The New Yorker... Victor Lodato is the author of two novels (one just recently released this past Spring), and three New Yorker short stories. One of those stories was "Jack, July," one of the best short stories I've ever read in The New Yorker , in nearly five years of doing this. But whereas "Jack, July" had a kind of seductive, woozy urgency to it, "Herman Melville, Vol. 1" just kind of plods along for page after page and feels bloated, interminable, and overwrought, just a swirling mass of excessive detail, memories, and needlessly detailed conversations. I don't know what happened to Victor Lodato between the writing of "Jack, July" and now (maybe success?) but I'm much less compelled now than I was when I first read his stuff. "Herman Melville, Vol. 1" is the story of a runaway in her late teens / early 20s whose eccentric, enigmatic, and selfish travelin

I Listened to All 25 Hours of James Joyce's Ulysses and it Was Horrible

As a "literary person" (whatever that even means) the specter of James Joyce's Ulysses is always out there haunting you. You know you should read it. You know you need to read it. You've probably tried to read it, and failed. I myself have read the first four pages of Ulysses at least five times over the past 20 years, but always stopped because it's absolutely excruciating . And yet... continued to loom like a gigantic boulder in my mind, casting a long shadow over my claim of being a "well-read" person and a lover of books and literature. I needed to climb to the top of that boulder, just to do it. Even if it was a slow and torturous process. Well, instead of scaling the boulder the old fashioned way -- by reading the 800 page tome -- I took an escalator to the top...and it was still slow and torturous. Listening to James Joyce's Ulysses on audiobook took me 25 hours spread out over two months of my life. I listened to it in the car,

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

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

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 curre