Tuesday, December 11, 2018

THE KISS




                                 THE KISS
                                                 BY ROY L. PICKERING JR.



     Packing is thirsty business, even when gathering up nothing but the bare essentials, so I stand in the light supplied by my refrigerator and take a swig of soda from the bottle.  This is a childhood habit that I did not or would not outgrow no matter how frequently my wife nagged me to get a cup, to set a better example for our children.  She never has understood that when drinking, I am making no attempt to be a role model.  I’m simply quenching my thirst.

     It is a few minutes past midnight and my house is silent and near pitch dark.  I am frequently awake at this hour, usually not by choice, but due to my body’s frustrating rebellion against sleep.  This situation has worsened considerably in the past few months, probably because I’ve had much on my mind, and troubles do not give respite just because eyes have been closed.  Tonight however, I fully intended to be awake at this late hour.  There is a purpose to my current night crawling.

     As I drain the bottle of ginger ale, I am reminded of an  evening in the distant past.  I was in my first year of high school at the time, and the occasion was my school’s freshman dance.  The cafeteria was serving as dance hall, and the majority of my classmates were exhibiting their best moves in rhythm with the blaring music.  As for me, I was stationed by the punch bowl, snacking on potato chips and downing one glass of punch after another.  Throughout my mindless snacking my gaze remained steady. The object of my observation, admiration, dedication and desperation was Erica Murphy.  I was absolutely crazy about her, had been since the first time I laid eyes on her, and had no idea what to do about it. 

     She was dancing with her boyfriend, a guy who I would have disliked on general principle based on his personality, but the fact that he had claimed the girl who had claimed my heart cemented the deal.   A slow song came on and Mark got to pull Erica closer and hold her swaying body in his arms.  This was more than I was willing to take.  I would not allow my solitude to be taunted any longer.  I would not allow my passion to be made a mockery of.  Plus, I had to pee.  

     I headed to the bathroom.  Once my business there was taken care of, I took a long hard look at myself in the mirror.  I wasn't bad looking.  A few pimples, but no major damage.  If only I wasn't so shy.  If only I had met Erica before Mark.  But "if only" was too depressing a concept for me to deal with.  "If only" never got you anywhere.  It never got anything done.  You either accepted what you were and where you were at, or else you went and changed it.  I chose the former and decided to go home.

     As I was leaving, who should come walking my way but Erica.

     "Hi, Denis."

     "Hi, Erica.  What are you doing out here?"

     "Going to the bathroom."

     "Of course.  So, uh, are you enjoying the dance?"

     "Yeah, it's okay."

     I was quickly running out of small talk.  My heart was beating furiously.  I sensed an opportunity, but for what I wasn’t quite sure.  "The music's pretty good."

     "Yeah, it's okay," she responded.  A few more seconds of torturous silence passed.  I couldn't think of anything else menial to say.  "Well, see you later," Erica said as she headed towards the girls room.

     "Wait a minute."  I noticed that I had grabbed hold of her arm, but I had no idea why I was stopping her.  Then suddenly I did.  I took a step forward, closed my eyes, and kissed her. 

     No dictionary contains the right words to define the sensation of that moment.  Never before had I felt so alive.  My imagination had failed to warn me that her lips would be so soft and sweet.

     "Denis, I ..."

     "Yeah, I know," I said, cutting her off.  I didn't want the magic to be tainted by an "I like you, but as a friend" speech.  I was perfectly content with my initiation into manhood.  And though I had not been transformed into an expert on the ways of women, something about that kiss told me she had wanted it as much as I.

     Time has a way of sneaking by at a pace that would make you nauseous if you were conscious of the speed.  Somehow, some way, twelve years have passed between then and now.  Yet it's crystal clear in my mind, no detail forgotten.  I've gained much since that night when I lost a little of my innocence with Erica Murphy. A diploma, a marriage certificate, kids, career, house. Sometimes I wonder if it was a fair trade.

     I guess I'm done packing now.  Strolling down memory lane has made me hungry, as has the open refrigerator door.  Maybe I should make myself a sandwich for the road.  No, I'm just delaying the inevitable.  I've spent too much time thinking this over.  I thought of every possible reason not to do it, and none were good enough.

     I leave the kitchen and quietly enter the bedroom of my two children, Krystal and Tyler.  It's hard to believe sometimes that I'm half responsible for creating anything this precious.  I fear they will hate me.  If they don't on instinct, my wife will make certain they learn.  Not that I'll blame her.  I'm going to have to take the heat on this one.  No way I squeeze out smelling like a rose.

     I grew up on westerns, so am no stranger to the good guy/bad guy motif.  Every story has to have one of each, and nobody has any problem telling them apart, on account of their hats.  The good guy has it all.  The townspeople adore him, for he's come to save their little world.  He has no guilt complex to contend with, no inner demons to fight, because he has strength of conviction.  That is, he's always sure he's right because right is all he knows.  With such dedication to justice, not to mention a perfect profile, of course he always gets the glory and the girl.  Not a bad job.  But you have to wonder how difficult it is to keep that hat so white.  How much does he have to sacrifice? 

     After eight years of playing the role; loving husband, dutiful father, church going - tax paying - hard working community pillar, I decided to switch hats.  I'm giving up my good guy perks for the piece of my soul I pawned away, and a hat much easier to keep clean.

     Looking at my kids is almost enough to do it.  I'm just about willing to slip back into my marital bed and continue with the facade.  This won't be easy for them.  They won't understand.  From their point of view, hell from everybody's viewpoint, what we had seemed fine.  People have spouses who cheat on them, or abuse them, or commit any number of matrimonial atrocities.  Not so in our case.  Our lives were a Norman Rockwell painting with one invisible flaw.  Somewhere along the line I fell out of love with my wife, and she responded in kind.

     How did it happen?  If I could, I would make a concise declaration illuminating beyond the shadow of a doubt the specific reason for the downfall of our marriage.  No can do.  There was no climactic episode, but rather, a steady progression of moments, infinitesimal on their own, each serving to further widen the rift that had formed between us.

     I fell in love with my wife in one fell swoop.  I fell out of it slowly, steadily, by degrees.  I realized it had happened when I couldn't smile for a picture.  You choose to spend your life with someone because that person makes you happy.  I was all out of happy.  And after trying for a few years to figure out where it had gone and how to get it back, I reached the conclusion I had suspected all along.  It wasn't coming back, and I didn't want to live this way anymore.  

     I cautiously enter the other occupied bedroom in my house.  There she goes, my wife of eight years.  On insomniac nights I have spent countless hours watching her sleep.  But never like this.  Never standing in the doorway with a knapsack wrapped around my shoulder, saying goodbye in secret.  It feels cowardly, but what good would a big teary scene do?  Like any sane man, when I die I want to go in my sleep.  I'm a firm believer in silent exits.

     I walk to my wife's side of the bed and memorize her expression in slumber.  If it's going to haunt me, I might as well get it right.  She's still so beautiful.  As beautiful as when I first kissed her.  I had been right.  She did want it as much as I. It took all of a fourteen year old boy's courage to snatch that first kiss, and another two years romantic labor to earn a second. A long time by some people's standards.  But to me it seemed a worthwhile venture, and time was a commodity I possessed in abundance.

     Without hardly being conscious of doing it, I lean over and kiss her softly.  Her eyes flutter, then snap open.  Her gaze locks onto mine for a moment.  Then her eyes wander over me until something makes them come to a stop.  She has spotted my knapsack.  "Erica, I ..."

     "Yes, I know", she says, giving me grace to skip the speech I don't have it in me to utter, and she can do without hearing.  What can we say in one night that we haven't said in eight years? We've run out of words, out of steam, out of time.  It's almost funny that I had worried about a tumultuous farewell.  The air has been leaking out of our balloon for years, so how could we possibly go out with a bang?

     Erica can afford to be silent.  Everyone will automatically take her side.  Nobody roots for a deserter.  It will be apparent who the bad guy is, so she knows she can save her breath.  In my defense I could explain that I did not terminate our marriage by running away, because you can't kill what's already dead. But what would be the point?  Once you've been seen wearing that black hat, it's yours forever.

     Life seemed perfect on that once upon a time night, standing outside the boys bathroom with my body on fire and heart on a string.  My first kiss almost lasted forever, but not quite.  I guess sometimes not even your destiny is the one.

     There is nothing left to do but turn and leave.  It ended a long time ago.  It just took me a while to follow our love out the door.  No one will believe me, but this is the most necessary thing I've ever done. 

     Still, I am torn apart inside.  She was after all, my first love.  This woman provided the two most potent memories of my life. The first time I ever kissed her...and the last.






Monday, September 3, 2018

THE CASE FOR BOOK REVIEWS


If payment for novels was based on the amount of hours they take to write, or the amount of effort authors puts into them, or the amount of skill required to immerse strangers into an imagined world, a single book would cost thousands of dollars. Tens of thousands even. Great books would make it into the hundreds of thousands and masterpieces considered among the best of all time would have price tags in the millions. But since price is mostly based on the amount of paper and ink required to print a book (I'll stay away from the topic of e-book pricing) with a little extra thrown in to turn a small profit, readers of every novel ever purchased get an incredible bargain. Therefore the very least readers can do to pay authors their due is take a minute to give the book they just enjoyed a star rating and jot down a few words letting others know why they recommend it. It's not as if people aren't in the habit of giving opinions these days. Yelp reviews for a restaurant they went to or a hotel they stayed at are commonplace undertakings. People routinely hop on facebook or Twitter to praise or vent about one thing or another, not because anyone asked, but because the internet has provided us with an infinite Comments box to express how we feel about everything under the sun. So please don't be shy when it comes to telling the world how you felt about the latest book you read. Word of mouth is lifeblood for authors. If enough good things are said about their last book, they just may muster up what it takes to write another. Regardless of where you choose to do it (my favorite places for exhibiting book reviews in addition to this blog are Amazon and goodreads and most recently - my Instagram page), most especially when you loved a book, broadcast it to everyone who happens to stumble upon your words of praise. It won't cost you a penny, but trust me, what you have to say is invaluable.





















There is A LOT going on in this novel that I admittedly found to be a challenging read. Much of it takes place in Jamaica where perhaps you have visited on vacation, but this is certainly no "beach read". It is told from the vantage point of multiple characters, each of them telling their own story, each of the stories related to the build up to a failed attempt on the life of Bob Marley and the aftermath. It took quite a while for me to get through this book, and I confess to considering stopping once or twice. The use of Jamaican dialect for many of the characters was a small part of the challenge. A bigger part were the chapters (fortunately not too many of them) written in stream of consciousness never ending sentence format. Yet even as I struggled to keep my reading momentum going, there was something gripping about the narrative that had me hooked. The book eventually leaves Jamaica behind and moves to New York during the enchanting crack epidemic years. I found the latter portion easier reading, perhaps because I grew up in the Bronx and have familiarity with the setting. Before coming to the Bronx I lived on a Caribbean island, not Jamaica but St. Thomas. And of course I'm a huge Bob Marley fan because I can't understand how anyone could not be. So there are quite a few elements to this story that had me looking forward to reading it, and even though it was a tougher than anticipated read, I'm glad I stuck with it because Marlon James' talent is undeniable. Every one of the characters rings true during their moments as the focus of the story. The style in which it is written, feeling like a long series of somewhat connected scenes, almost like a short story collection rather than a novel, was an author choice that I know impressed some people (since it won a Booker Award) but probably put off a fair number of readers as well. This is not a book that you casually invest some time in. It's a major literary commitment with a generous pay off. Reading much of it while listening to Bob Marley's music is not a requirement, just my personal recommendation. #bookreview #bookstagram #blackauthors #bibliophile
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I love John Irving. I kept waiting for this novel to get better and less odd as it went along. Not that odd is bad, and Mr. Irving is the master of making readers fall in love with peculiar characters, even kids who seem overly obsessed with statues of legendary religious virgins such as Mary rather than normal kid interests. But as I read this novel (which has a wonderful title) I got the feeling that he simply felt like writing about writing, and aging, and dying, and religion/Catholicism, and homophobia, and sex. All things he has written profoundly about before, but in more intriguing and plot driven ways. He delves into miracles and ghosts/angels to a greater extent in Avenue of Mysteries than most of his earlier novels, though miracles are also nothing new to the prose of John Irving. The fact of the matter is, there are many familiar elements recognizable to readers of his earlier work in this book, and the author's easy to read and digest style is as John Irvingesque as ever, more or less. But at his best John Irving writes novels that I fall madly in love with, and that simply wasn't the case with this one. Something was missing, or perhaps too much of something usually restrained was present. He is still and always will be one of my literary heroes and favorite authors, but if you've never read a John Irving novel, I do not advise starting with this one. #bookreview #bookstagram #bibliophile
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Water for Elephants is the story of a man in his nineties living in a nursing home who thinks back on his days spent working as a veterinarian in a traveling circus. The setting jumps back and forth from Jacob being a young man on a train with a bunch of circus folk to being an old man dealing with the erosion of his body and mind. Most of the book is dedicated to his circus days and how he ends up with the woman who would become his wife. These sections are where most of the action takes place. In the present it doesn't get more dramatic than Jacob being cranky about nursing home life, him becoming disoriented sometimes, and family members forgetting to visit him on the one day when a circus happens to be nearby. Yet I found the writing to be more engaging in quiet scenes set in the present where nothing much took place than the portions dealing with circus life. Plenty of elements are in place for intriguing storytelling. We have a circus owner with a complex over not being the Ringling Brothers Circus who is willing to cut losses of human lives if that's what it takes to keep the show going on. There is the paranoid schizophrenic boss who switches from charming to psychotic on a dime. His beautiful headline act wife whom Jacob can not stop thinking about. Also aboard the train are performers, some more freakish than others, and animals, some more dangerous than others, that are in Jacob's care. The scenes taking place during Jacob's youth felt rushed to me. It was as if the author wanted to include as many eventful happenings during this period as could be crammed in, but she dwells on none of them for long because it's already time to move on to the next one. Everybody seemed to be a character sketch of a personality type rather than a fully fleshed out human being. The lone exception is Jacob, but only because the book focuses on him in his senior years along with his adventurous youthful days, giving us a little more time to learn what makes him tick. Water for Elephants is an easy read that covers some interesting territory, but it fell short of being the greatest show on earth. I wouldn't be surprised if I enjoy the movie more. #bookreview #bookstagram
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Extraordinary. This book won a Pulitzer Prize for good reason. The plot is deceptively simple, though the narrative is laid out in intricate and inventive fashion. A young German orphan boy is handy at mechanical fidgeting, including the self taught ability to fix just about any radio and pick up whatever transmissions are able to reach him. One such transmission that gets to Werner and his sister Jutta comes from France, sent by the great uncle of a blind girl that it is his destiny to one day meet. A great deal takes place between Werner hearing the broadcasts of Marie-Laure's great uncle and finally crossing paths with her. That great deal is World War II. Due to his talent, Werner lands in an academy that trains German boys to become German soldiers. Since the alternative is working in the mines, and since the school is a much more likely place for his abilities to be expanded and lead him to a better life than would unthinking manual labor, the school seems to be a superior path for Werner, allowing him to escape the standard trajectory for someone raised in an orphanage. Even though it means leaving his sister behind. But when your country is waging a war against the world that it is destined to lose, there is no straightforward path to success and happiness, only orders to put on a uniform, pick up a weapon, and fight for Hitler's warped vision. As for Marie-Laure, who is taught to handle herself in perpetual darkness as well as can be done by her doting father, she ends up in the home of her great uncle and his top secret radio transmitter in a small French town on the sea. Eventually she is separated from her father when he is taken prisoner, but left behind with her is an invaluable gift, a rare gem removed from the museum he worked in to keep it safe from treasure seeking Nazis. There is one in particular who is determined to find it, though not so much for its monetary worth as for its rumored magical properties. It is a gift that Marie-Laure is unaware is in her possession until finally figuring out clues sent by her father that lead to its discovery. The book's point of view jumps back and forth... (Read full #bookreview at GoodReads) #bookstagram
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Brilliant satire or biting social commentary delivered with excessively over the top weirdness? After reading this book I learned that the author started out as a spoken word poet who launched his career by killing it at Nuyorican Poets Cafe. No surprise given the style of Beatty's prose. Nearly every sentence is a rambling, poetic, rapid fire joke with multiple punch lines delivered. The Sellout is definitely a novel that seems written to be listened to as much if not more than it was written to be read silently to yourself. The plot involves a black man who was home schooled by his social scientist father, with every lesson being about racial identity. After his father is murdered by cops, the son inherits the family farm along with acquiring settlement money. He resides in a California town that has literally been erased from the map. So in addition to providing his neighbors with incredible fruit, stellar weed, and crisis counseling in times of mental emergencies, the narrator is also on a mission to earn back recognition that his hometown is still there. A man named Hominy (who happens to be the last living cast member of the Little Rascals) insists on being the narrator's slave. Yes you read that right, and no I don't have an explanation for motive beyond this book is satirical with every line meant to be taken with a grain, or perhaps a boulder, of salt. The narrator attempts to bring racial segregation back to his town, starting with a city bus. Bizarre stuff indeed. Beatty hits readers with every cultural reference under the sun along the way as he examines obsession with race. I enjoyed this book, yet reached a point where I was mainly reading to accomplish the feat of finishing what had been started. I suppose I prefer my satire in shorter doses. I suppose that as much as I love expertly delivered, thought provoking spoken word poetry, I look forward to a different form of artistic experience when reading a novel. Regardless of whether or not I read another Paul Beatty book, I'd love to listen to him read his work or just talk about whatever comes to mind. #bookreview #bookstagram #booknerd #bookworm #bibliophile #reader #IGbooks
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Exceptional novel. Brit Bennett writes with a steady hand as she immerses us into the minds and lives of three people. Nadia and Aubrey are the best of friends. Luke is the man they both love, at different times as well as simultaneously. He is the man who would have made a mother out of Nadia had they chosen to parent, and the one who eventually makes a wife and mother of Aubrey. He is the first love of both of them, but choices of course need to be made and not everybody can get a happily ever after out of such a situation. Or maybe not anyone. Luke's mother is the first lady of the church that plays a prominent role in the lives of all characters in this book. To varying degrees, her son and the women who love him succeed and fail at obtaining her approval. Nadia and Aubrey are both abandoned and motherless. Aubrey's mother chooses an awful man over being in the lives of her daughters. Yet Aubrey proves to be the character who is the best at maintaining loyalty, possessing an innocence that remains untouched no matter how ill she is treated. Nadia's mother chooses the release of death, and in so doing fills her daughter with undeserved guilt and a restless soul, forever on the look-out for whatever clues and remembrances may have been left behind. Both girls are haunted to womanhood by maternal abandonment. Nadia at least still has a father willing to be there for her, but the hurt caused by her mother's unexplained suicide pushes her away from those who love her. And so she is not a particularly dutiful daughter. And after both her child and relationship with Luke are aborted, relationships with the men who follow are destined to fail. But it is Nadia's betrayal of Aubrey that is at the heart of this novel. The mothers in Bennett's novel do the best they can, are hurt and betrayed by callous men and by each other, and some of them manage to persevere while others do not. I was very much absorbed by this book, in part because it examines central themes that I dive into in my novel Matters of Convenience, in much larger part because it is a wonderfully written book by an author who is off to an
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Interesting book that made for a quick read. It is filled with Mat Johson's trademark humor regardless of the seriousness of topic at hand. The plot revolves around a recently fired African American Literature professor. Why was he fired? Because his primary focus was on examining a novel by Edgar Allan Poe, the only full length novel written by the brilliant but definitely not African American author. The name of the book is The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. I had never heard of Poe's lone novel before reading Johnson's Pym. The narrator studies and teaches this book to his detriment because he believes it holds the key to understanding White-Black race relations. After being fired, the professor and his also unemployed best friend (who has his own obsession with a painter of landscapes, specifically, with finding the precise physical vantage point that each of his paintings are based on) end up on a quest that takes them along with the narrator's cousin and ex-girlfriend and her current husband among others to Antarctica. It is on this frozen terrain that they discover a lost race of creatures representing Whiteness. This means its opposite, a tropical island representing Blackness that Poe also wrote about in his novel, is possibly out there as well. When the world as we know it seemingly comes to an end, the narrator and his motley crew perhaps being the lone survivors of Armageddon only to have become slaves of the primitive creatures in Antarctica, the search is on for whatever paradises (whether man-made or otherwise) may still exist. That's about as well as I can describe Pym's quirky plot. Best to read this enjoyable book for yourself.
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Audrey has everything going for her. She has a great job, good friends and impeccable taste. She’s been unlucky in love, but that’s okay because she’s focused on her career and a possible promotion. Her best friend, Marshall, provides the male shoulder she needs to lean on occasionally, so she has male company, it’s just platonic. It’s undeniable that Marshall is in love with Audrey. They tried dating years ago, but where he felt flames, she barely felt a flicker. Marshall has comfortably settled into the friend zone while he watches Audrey date other men, believing that one day she’ll realize that he’s the only constant in her life and should be the man in her life. James has played the fields for years. As his friends move into steady relationships, marriage and kids, he’s content to date several women. A BMW (black man working) in New York certainly has his pick of women and he takes full advantage of it. When James meets Audrey, he’s immediately taken with her and theirs is almost a story book romance, but almost doesn’t count. Pickering could have taken the easy route and given readers their happily ever after and wrapped the story up with a nice bow, but nope. He explores what happens if there’s no happily ever after and it’s a bumpy but enjoyable ride. Pickering’s characters are interesting and he uses them well. I found myself rooting for James and Audrey, of course, but I also wanted Marshall, Sarah and others to find their happy endings. A true sign of a good book and characters is that they stay with you after you’ve finished the book and these characters did. #bookreview excerpt for #MattersOfConvenience by Read in Colour. #bookstagram
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Pickering’s talent is astonishing and ignores every precedent. – Alvah’s Books Pickering’s love for his characters makes us empathize with all of their plights. – Five Borough Books Pickering’s writing style will cause readers to empathize with the characters’ actions, no matter how wrong. – RAWSISTAZ Reviewers The plot kept smashing my soul into pieces. – Books and Wine Pickering’s writing is beautiful and poignant, causing the reader to become one with the characters, feeling their pain, their anger, and their hurt. – A Book Vacation "Patches of Grey” is a deeply complex tale with authentic characters whose personalities are strong and well developed. Mr. Pickering writes with a voice strong enough to one day propel him into the category with the likes of other great Novelists such as: Richard Wright [Native Son, Black Boy], Ralph Ellison [Invisible Man], and John A. Williams [The Man Who Cried I AM]. - Dianne Rosena Jones Roy L. Pickering, Jr. deftly weaves a coming of age tale. – Reads for Pleasure Patches of Grey is a story that will appeal to all audiences and make for great discussion between parents and their young adults, students and book clubs. – Precision Reviews Pickering’s talent is fluid and crisp. There’s a certain clarity to the prose that’s considered and well judged – just enough to paint the picture and more than enough to drive along the narrative. – Unheard Words ...a must read! This recently honored B.R.A.G.Medallion book is one you will be glad you picked! - IndieBrag #bookreview #bookstagram #PatchesOfGrey #RoyPickering #authorsofinstagram ##BookAndBarbecue
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Oh by the way, while I haven't technically started writing it yet I have finally mapped out the plot of novel #3 in my head. I'll need to sit with it a while longer before putting pen to paper, but fast forward to post publication and I'm pretty sure it will win a Pulitzer, Nobel Prize for Literature, be named The Great American Novel, and earn me both knighthood and sainthood. Don't ask if your dreams are crazy. Ask if they're crazy enough.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

RANDOM




I can't think of a specific topic I wish to write a blog post about. 2018 has been a trying year that I believe has temporarily sapped my creativity. But still, no matter how tough the going gets I will always remember to stop and smell the roses...or whatever flowers happen to be around. Things are looking up again after some scary revelations and I'm certain that creative juices will flow again soon enough. Until then, here's a little of this and a bit of that for your contemplation and enjoyment.






#FilmStruck4 hashtag caused me to ponder which movies I found to be most impactful out of many great contenders.


You know who continues to be a colossal embarrassment.


I love this picture of two true heroes.




Fantastic piece of advice!




A simple truth.




I tweeted something at Rosie Perez AND SHE TWEETED BACK AT ME


Legitimate reason for major excitement as a #Jets fan? Franchise Quarterback FINALLY in the building?









We lost the Queen of Soul







I second this!


Once upon a time I hoped these guys would deliver my #Knicks to the Promised Land.


Faces change but hope and optimism never die.


One more basketball tweet.


I watched a little golf recently for the only reason I ever bother to watch a little golf. Can Tiger relocate his roar of triumph?






She really does become the character she's playing. What an amazing talent!


Can't stand it


I did a quick check and MATTERS OF CONVENIENCE is not one of the books. But still nice to be reminded that we once had a president who reads books.


You don't need to be a world leader to read or recommend books, but borrowing some oft repeated descriptions can be helpful.






Here are my two latest reviews.


Avenue of MysteriesAvenue of Mysteries by John Irving
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I love John Irving. I kept waiting for this novel to get better and less odd as it went along. Not that odd is bad, and Mr. Irving is the master of making readers fall in love with peculiar characters, even kids who seem overly obsessed with statues of legendary religious virgins such as Mary rather than normal kid interests. But as I read this novel (which has a wonderful title) I got the feeling that he simply felt like writing about writing, and aging, and dying, and religion/Catholicism, and homophobia, and sex. All things he has written profoundly about before, but in more intriguing and plot driven ways. He delves into miracles and ghosts/angels to a greater extent in Avenue of Mysteries than most of his earlier novels, though miracles are also nothing new to the prose of John Irving. The fact of the matter is, there are many familiar elements recognizable to readers of his earlier work in this book, and the author's easy to read and digest style is as John Irvingesque as ever, more or less. But at his best John Irving writes novels that I fall madly in love with, and that simply wasn't the case with this one. Something was missing, or perhaps too much of something usually restrained was present. He is still and always will be one of my literary heroes and favorite authors, but if you've never read a John Irving novel, I do not advise starting with this one.

View all my reviews

A Brief History of Seven KillingsA Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There is A LOT going on in this novel that I admittedly found to be a challenging read. Much of it takes place in Jamaica where perhaps you have visited on vacation, but this is certainly no "beach read". It is told from the vantage point of multiple characters, each of them telling their own story, each of the stories related to the build up to a failed attempt on the life of Bob Marley and the aftermath. It took quite a while for me to get through this book, and I confess to considering stopping once or twice. The use of Jamaican dialect for many of the characters was a small part of the challenge. A bigger part were the chapters (fortunately not too many of them) written in stream of consciousness never ending sentence format. Yet even as I struggled to keep my reading momentum going, there was something gripping about the narrative that had me hooked. The book eventually leaves Jamaica behind and moves to New York during the enchanting crack epidemic years. I found the latter portion easier reading, perhaps because I grew up in the Bronx and have familiarity with the setting. Before coming to the Bronx I lived on a Caribbean island, not Jamaica but St. Thomas. And of course I'm a huge Bob Marley fan because I can't understand how anyone could not be. So there are quite a few elements to this story that had me looking forward to reading it, and even though it was a tougher than anticipated read, I'm glad I stuck with it because Marlon James' talent is undeniable. Every one of the characters rings true during their moments as the focus of the story. The style in which it is written, feeling like a long series of somewhat connected scenes, almost like a short story collection rather than a novel, was an author choice that I know impressed some people (since it won a Booker Award) but probably put off a fair number of readers as well. This is not a book that you casually invest some time in. It's a major literary commitment with a generous pay off. Reading much of it while listening to Bob Marley's music is not a requirement, just my personal recommendation.

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Saturday, June 23, 2018

STARTING OVER FROM SCRATCH



At some point in your life, probably at multiple points, you will find yourself needing to start over from scratch. It may in your control because the moment was reached by a decision you made to change things. I will lose 50 pounds. I will embark on a new career. I will end this marriage. Or it may be on account of circumstances beyond your control that needed to be adapted to and dealt with. I can't believe they downsized me. I was not prepared to wrestle with this illness. I never expected that s/he would leave me.

Regardless of how you reached the moment, what ultimately matters is how you move forward from it. The starting line of a marathon can be an intimidating place to be, but once you've hit your stride it ceases to matter much how much longer you still have to go. You're on your way and appreciating the journey that you know will get you to the desired destination. You will be healthy/employed/mentally and physically sound/ in love/ happy again. You're well on your way and no matter how slow time may seem to pass at times, somehow it still manages to go by in the blink of an eye. What looked impossible yesterday seems achievable today and tomorrow is proudly looked back upon as an accomplishment.

Of no importance to anyone else in the world but myself, in recent days I have become enamored with the idea of starting over from scratch musically. The reason for this is that to my great surprise, vinyl, which somehow had managed not to go away completely [unlike printed books which I intuitively KNEW would and could not be vanquished by e-readers, I figured record albums didn't stand a chance against audio files], was making an improbable comeback. Suddenly it seemed that everywhere I turned I was once again seeing turntables and records. Not too many 45's yet but plenty of 33-1/3's.





When I spotted a turntable in a second hand shop a few weeks back I could not resist buying it. I was ready to make my musical comeback and return to the world of record albums and the large, artistic covers they come packaged in. Never mind that these days if I want to hear a song, just about any song, I just need to call out "Alexa, play ____" and music magically appears. Chalk it up to the nostalgia that accompanies aging beyond a certain date in your life's calendar, or perhaps some other less understandable but equally pressing reason is the culprit.

Unfortunately the used turntable I bought did little more than turn. When it came to generating music, it was a total dud. But as fate would have it, Father's Day was right around the corner and my awesome wife gifted me with a new one. I was back in business!

In between turntables I took a trip to Barnes & Noble (still around, no longer the bully on the book block but a treasured provider, still selling print books along with record albums as their latest product addition) and re-started my record collection. All of the records purchased the first time around are gone baby gone. Either I threw my original acquisitions away as records gave way to CD's gave way to audio files, or else they're stored in one of the many boxes in my attic that I don't feel like combing through. Now that once again after all these years I find myself with a functioning turntable, I need to start over from scratch in building a record collection. And unlike the first time around I intend to put a great deal of thought into each purchase, to acquire nothing but classics that I'll never tire of.  Music I already know will stand the test of time.


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What would be my very first phase 2 album purchase? I gave it considerable thought without falling into the trap of overthinking. And it didn't take me long to decide on the masterpiece which would relaunch my album collecting career.


It has been on repeat play since Father's Day but is getting lonely. Time to give Stevie Wonder's Original Musiquarium I some company. I don't know yet what album # 2 of my collection will be, though my head is spinning with ideas. Soon enough the record will be spinning on my turntable, at which point I'll no longer be starting over from scratch. I'll be on the road, taking the journey towards a destination that doesn't much matter what shape it takes. The first step and then the one after that and then the next and the next and the next is what matters. I plan to enjoy every single step and note of the trip.