Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Dear Lord, He Finally Finished It!

Tuesday, May 31, 2005 0
George R.R. Martin, author of one of my favorite series of fantasy: A Song of Ice and Fire has finally finished A Feast For Crows.

Apparently he cut the story in half and focused only on the characters and action in one particular location and will tell the story of the other characters in the next volume (which he is now more than halfway finished with). While I wouldn't mind a 1700 behemoth of a novel, Martin is one hell of a writer and I've been waiting for this book for several years now.

This news makes me happy. The book has been sent to the publisher to do whatever it is that they do to make the book ready to publish, so we're getting there. Now I just need to re-read books two and three in this series (I re-read A Game of Thrones last year). If it comes out this year, it could be a really good year for fantasy novels.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Episode Three

Monday, May 23, 2005 1
It was half of a really great movie. There is no real secret as to what "Revenge of the Sith" is about: the fall of Anakin Skywalker. The Rise of Darth Vader. How does the boy who yelled "yippee" in "The Phantom Menace" turn into the monster who crushes the windpipes of those who displease him? For Star Wars fans, this is what we've been waiting to see ever since we first saw "Star Wars" and "The Empire Strikes Back".

As someone who actually enjoyed the political talk in Episodes I and II, the first half of this movie sort of dragged for me. The opening space battle and rescue of Palpatine wasn't as fantastic as I had hoped, though the special effects were beautiful. Actually, the special effects and the visuals in this movie were stunning all the way through. This is the best looking Star Wars movie and the effects here will be put to good use in other films. But the opening felt forced to me. It didn't engage, but when Anakin (Hayden Christensen) and Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) are together and Palpatine is starting to seduce Anakin with the Dark Side and how it can protect Padme (Natalie Portman) and even bring peace to the galaxy, the movie works. From this point on, when Anakin begins to distrust the Jedi and slips closer and closer to the Dark Side I am totally into what is happening on screen.

Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan Kenobi is especially good here as he seems to be channeling Alec Guinness. His final confrontation with Anakin is probably the moment that fans have been waiting for and we feel the pain and betrayal that each character feels, and with the prequels it is amazing that we feel anything from any character.

There are other parts of this movie that does not work. As always, George Lucas's dialogue is rather poor and the "romantic" exchanges between Anakin and Padme and cringe inducing if you think about it for any length of time. Mercifully they are rather short scenes. Then again, most of the dialogue in the movie makes some awfully good actors sound, well, awful. Ewan McGregor comes off better than most as the movie progresses. It feels like he is having more fun playing the role than he has in two previous movies.

"Revenge of the Sith" answers many questions raised by Star Wars fans over the years, but leaves others unanswered. The one that still gets me is how exactly does someone so powerful in the Force (Anakin) not know that his wife is carrying twins? A follow up would question the wisdom of hiding Darth Vader's son on his home planet of Tatooine, but I suppose there would be no reason for Vader to return to Tatooine.

In the end "Revenge of the Sith" is satisfying for the Star Wars fan, though by no means is it perfect. Having only seen the movie once and not knowing how it will hold up after six months or a year, it feels like I like it third best after "The Empire Strikes Back" and "Star Wars".

Maybe after seeing the movie a second time (probably on DVD) the first half will grow on me and the whole movie will feel stronger, but that second half is worth the price of admission.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Haunted

Friday, May 20, 2005 0
After finishing Chuck Palahniuk's Haunted, I was a little disappointed. The first story in this collection, "Guts" was incredibly gross, but it had this potential for goriness and nastiness and creepiness that I had expected the rest of the stories to live up to and perhaps surpass. I expected something grand and fantastic (definition two) and while there was a sense of the fantastic, it didn't live up to the hype in my mind. Not after "Guts" and not after books like Survivor or Diary.

The basic structure of the book is that a group of writers sign up for a three month escape from reality so that they can write their "masterpieces" with no contact with the outside world. They are locked into a theatre and right away they start getting edgy and uncomfortable with the lack of possibility of leaving. They start telling each other stories, possibly fiction but the stories get tied into their personas. Each of these stories is the short stories of Palahniuk, but the Writer's Conference is the framing device of the collection, sort of like The Canturbury Tales, only probably without the lasting acclaim.

"Guts" was such an interesting lead off hit for "Haunted" that most of the rest of the stories felt lacking. The framing device of the conference was a little absurd in the lengths that the people went to build their masterpieces and insure their fame.

I really like Chuck Palahniuk's work, but "Haunted" was a let down.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Quit Cancelling My Shows!!

Thursday, May 19, 2005 3
First I read that NBC wasn't going to pick up The Contender for a second season, but this didn't surprise me. As good of a show that it is (and it is), I don't know how well it would play a second time.

But today I just read that Joan of Arcadia is being cancelled! I know that ratings were down, but to replace it with a Jennifer Love Hewitt show where she talks to ghosts? C'mon, now. Joan was just getting into a storyline for the next season with a major conflict that looked to be very interesting. Guess I'm going to have to rent the first season from Netflix (since I only started watching this season).

What's next, Buffy the Vampire Slayer?!

Oh, nevermind.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Resident Evil: Apocalypse

Tuesday, May 17, 2005 1
I like Milla Jovovich as a superhero. Her breakout role in "The Fifth Element" was all that was needed to sell me on her. She was fine in the first "Resident Evil", which was better than perhaps it was given credit for. But in "Resident Evil: Apocalypse", Jovovich's Alice is given something of a makeover. When we last saw Alice at the end of the first movie she had been captured by scientists from the evil Umbrella Corporation and was subject to some tests and experiments. At the end of the movie we saw Alice walking alone on a street that was desolate and ruined, as if there were some sort of war or battle. It is at this point that "Resident Evil: Apocalypse" begins.

Raccoon City is the victim of the T-Virus from the Umbrella Corporation. This virus turns ordinary people into flesh eating zombies (is there another kind?), and like any good zombie virus, it is highly contagious. Umbrella Corporation apparently has the power to lock down the city and prevent anyone from leaving, but there are still some citizens left alive, including "disgraced" police officer Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory). Jill, and another officer attempt to hide before leaving the city and while being confronted by some nasty zombie creatures they meet Alice. During that whole period where she was a captive and the victim of experiments, Alice has apparently picked up some sort of upgrade to her natural biology because she kicks serious butt here. She fights like a super soldier or super hero, more like "The Fifth Element's" Leeloo than anyone else.

Besides the hordes of zombies, there is also a new super zombie looking creature called Nemesis which is stalking the city. Exactly what Nemesis is and where it came from is a little bit of a mystery, though a little thinking about the clues given will solve the riddle fairly quickly.

This is a nothing special action/zombie movie. Fans of the first "Resident Evil" may be disappointed. I know that despite myself, I did enjoy the first movie. There was more character interaction and character development, but this movie just had hordes of zombies and a bit too much action. And while I like Jovivich as a superhero, this didn't seem to be a role that really needed to such an incredibly strong superhero. I guess I didn't belive it. The door was left open for a third movie, and perhaps there will be one, but until that point there is no real reason to watch "Resident Evil: Apocalypse". There are far better movies out there.

Grade: C

Monday, May 16, 2005

Perdido Street Station

Monday, May 16, 2005 2
This past week I finished China Mieville's epic Perdido Street Station. This book has received quite excellent reviews and had come highly recommended. Amazon lists it as one of the Best of 2001 and says this about it:

But Perdido Street Station deserves the acclaim. It's ambitious and brilliant and--rarity of rarities--sui generis. Its clearest influences are Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast trilogy and M. John Harrison's Viriconium books, but it isn't much like them. It's Dickensian in scope, but fast-paced and modern. It's a love song for cities, and it packs a world into its strange, sprawling, steam-punky city of New Crobuzon. It can be read with equal validity as fantasy, science fiction, horror, or slipstream. It's got love, loss, crime, sex, riots, mad scientists, drugs, art, corruption, demons, dreams, obsession, magic, aliens, subversion, torture, dirigibles, romantic outlaws, artificial intelligence, and dangerous cults.


Among other things. To further quote Cynthia Ward at Amazon,

Yes, but what is Perdido Street Station about? To oversimplify: the eccentric scientist Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin is hired to restore the power of flight to a cruelly de-winged birdman. Isaac's secret lover is Lin, an artist of the khepri, a humano-insectoid race; theirs is a forbidden relationship. Lin is hired (rather against her will) by a mysterious crime boss to capture his horrifying likeness in the unique khepri art form. Isaac's quest for flying things to study leads to verification of his controversial unified theory of the strange sciences of his world. It also brings him an odd, unknown grub stolen from a secret government experiment so perilous it is sold to a ruthless drug lord--the same crime boss who hired Lin. The grub emerges from its cocoon, becomes an extraordinarily dangerous monster, and escapes Isaac's lab to ravage New Crobuzon, even as his discovery becomes known to a hidden, powerful, and sinister intelligence. Lin disappears and Isaac finds himself pursued by the monster, the drug lord, the government and armies of New Crobuzon, and other, more bizarre factions, not all confined to his world.


It's quite a concept, but one that I found baffling. I was challenged to make sense of this world that Mieville created. Perhaps that was his point. I know that most of my science fiction and fantasy reading is of a more simplistic nature, especially the fantasy which tends to be more in the direction of the "high fantasy" of Raymond Feist, Robert Jordan, Tolkein, Robin Hobb, George Martin, etc. This is a completely different kind of fantasy and I saw it described as steampunk. Dictionary.com defines steampunk as "a genre of science fiction set in Victorian times when steam was the main source of machine power; also written steam-punk". That's close, but it doesn't seem to capture it either.

I've also seen the word "phantasmagoric" used, which is defined as

A fantastic sequence of haphazardly associative imagery, as seen in dreams or fever.
A constantly changing scene composed of numerous elements.
Fantastic imagery as represented in art.


That seems to be more accurate. The book is a rush of images and ideas that left me a little confused. Good? I guess so. It didn't blow me away, not like has happened with other books. I think I was more impressed with Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere.

I'll probably give Mieville another shot and read The Scar, but I think I expected something more and different from Perdido Street Station.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Ultramarathon Man

Sunday, May 15, 2005 0
Dean Karnazes is an amazing athlete. He is a winner of the 2004 Badwater 135 Ultramarathon (The World's Toughest Footrace, 135 miles through Death Valley), and has completed the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run as well as running the first South Pole Marathon. He has also run a 199 mile Relay event without having a relay team. On his thirtieth birthday, having not run for fifteen years and feeling a bit of a mid-life crisis and dissatisfaction with his life, Dean went out for a run. Most people, going out for their first run in more than a decade might go for a mile or two and get the old feeling back. Dean ran thirty miles. "Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All Night Runner" is Dean's autobiography.

My interest in this book stems from an article I read about Dean Karnazes in Runner's World Magazine regarding his quest to run 300 miles in one incredibly long run. At the time the article was written he had "only" run 262 consecutive miles. He has since surpassed 300. But that article peaked my interest in Karnazes. His capacity for pain and endurance is incredible and at the time I knew next to nothing about the world of ultramarathons (any distance longer than a marathon) or ultra running. I am interested in all things distance running and that interest served me well because this isn't an exceptionally well written book. The sentences have a choppy flow to them and the writing is a little simplistic. It is more like Karnazes is writing how he would talk, which works on one level but that doesn't always translate to good writing.

But that didn't really matter to me because I was so interested in his running career and his accomplishments and the events that he has participated in. To say that this book is short sighted and only focuses on Karnazes and not touching upon the history of the sport or other athletes kind of misses the point. This is a book about, and written by, Dean Karnazes and his experience as an ultra runner. Karnazes reveals how he has something of an obsessive compulsive personality and his outlet is running. He just takes it to an extreme that most people wouldn't understand. I certainly don't, though I'm impressed by it.

This is a good book for those interested what Karnazes has done and in long distance running in general. It is not well written enough that it would draw in somebody who didn't already have the interest.

Guts

More than a year ago I heard about this short story called "Guts" written by Chuck Palahniuk. Palahniuk is the author of Fight Club, as well as several other novels. I like his work, though it is starting to feel a little repetitive. But the thing about "Guts", the thing that made me really want to read this story is that there are documented reports that when Palahniuk gives readings of this story people actually pass out. Seriously. People have fainted just listening to it. What is this story? I have to read it!

The story was included Palahniuk's new novel/story collection Haunted. This book is really a short story collection but is given a novel's format to give a reason why all the stories are being told. "Guts" is the first story in the collection.

I didn't faint. I didn't pass out. I was disgusted.

I can only imagine the impact of having a man who looks like your uncle calmly reading this story. But reading it alone sitting comfortably on the couch, it is an interesting, but brutally disgusting story. I understand the gag reflex a little bit more. On its own, it's nothing extraordinary or special, but imagine reading the story in a dark room or around a campfire. It's one of those nasty stories that would work better in a different setting.

Is it worth reading? If you like Palahniuk, yes. If you want to know what kind of story would make people faint, yes. So far I've only read that story in Haunted, so I can't speak for the rest of the novel.

I just had to know.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Three Nights in August

Friday, May 13, 2005 0
Do you like baseball? Do you like the details of the game and the history of it? Have you ever wondered about what exactly a manager does? If, so "Three Nights in August" by Buzz Bissinger is probably the book for you. Bissinger, with complete access granted by Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa, breaks down a late season three game series against the Cubs in 2003. Like Daniel Okrent's excellent "Nine Innings", Bissinger's book features digressions about players and history as well as delving into the manager's second guessing and overanalyzing his own decisions as well as the decisions the players make that are not what they just discussed two hours prior.

This is a fascinating book. Bissinger tells the story of this three game series which is both more important than just three baseball games because how it affects the pennant race and less important because the real battles occur on a play by play, batter by batter basis. Bissinger breaks down both and the result is a highly readable, interesting book about baseball and great manager.

For the baseball fan, this is a must read.
And then check out Okrent's "Nine Innings". You'd be surprised at how interesting a 1983 game between the Orioles and the Brewers can be.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Quickies: Crash and Kingdom of Heaven

Thursday, May 12, 2005 0
I haven't really had the time/patience to write a full review of either of the movies I saw this weekend. It was a good weekend, though. I had the chance to see both Crash and Kingdom of Heaven.

Crash is a movie about race and racism and the perceptions of race distinctions. There is a large, talented cast and multiple storylines that weave together to make the movie. If you are familiar at all with the films of Robert Altman (Short Cuts, Gosford Park, Cookie's Fortune) then you'll have an idea about the structure of the movie. It is co-written and directed by the Academy Award winning screenwriter of Million Dollar Baby, Paul Haggis.

Taking place over the course of a long day, Haggis brings together a variety of characters in Los Angeles. There is a white racist cop and his disapproving rookie partner (Matt Dillon and Ryan Phillipe). There are two young, thoughtful black men (Ludacris and Larenz Tate). There is a latino locksmith who is trying to raise a family (Michael Pena, I think). Sandra Bullock plays the wife of Brendan Fraser (the district attorney), and she is angry and fearful of those of other races. The fear makes partial sense as those two thoughtful young black men also carjacked her and her husband, but this leads her to believe that the locksmith is a gang banger because he has a shaved head and tattoos. There are other characters of other races and backgrounds and the movie deals with the misunderstandings and racial prejudices that arise. There is no simple answer and there is no true villain. Even characters like Matt Dillon's racist cop gets a touch of humanity as he cares for his ailing father and also in an act of heroism. The initially sympathetic characters reveal their own prejudices. Everybody is worse than they appear, but everybody is also better than they appear. It's a very intersting, well made film and is simply excellent.

Kingdom of Heaven is completely different. This is a historical epic from the director of Gladiator, Ridley Scott. Nobody does a historical epic like Scott. He should have directed Troy, Alexander, and King Arthur. Here we have Balion (Orlando Bloom), a blacksmith who meets his Crusader father (Liam Neeson) for the first time and goes to Jerusalem with him. His father dies, but Balion finds himself a Lord, a Knight, romancing a princess, and defending the city. Balion is a Christian Knight and Jerusalem will soon find itself under seige from the Muslim army of Saladin (Ghassan Massoud).

The interesting thing here, and it is to Ridley Scott's credit, is that the Muslims are not the bad guys. Neither are the Christians. Holding the city and trying to take the city is more about politics than about religion. Those who come off the worst in this movie are the fanatics on both sides. Some of the Christian soldiers cry out "God wills it!" while arguing that they should wipe out the Muslims. The same is argued on the Muslim side about the Christians. It is interesting how both sides are clearly fighting for God and that this Holy War is approved by God. I doubt it, and so do the moderates on either side.

Scott takes his time, but the battle sequences are quite good and a little frantic with the camera movement. If you are a fan of the genre, this film should satisfy, but it is a little slow and dry at times. Orlando Bloom, while pretty good here, isn't the compelling charismatic lead that we saw in Russell Crowe's Maximus. He is serviceable with excellent supporting characters, but I'm not sure if men would follow Balion. But Bloom surpasses my expectations after seeing him in Troy.

Monday, May 09, 2005

preview

Monday, May 09, 2005 0
Would you believe that the first time I saw a full preview for Star Wars: Episode Three was before Kingdom of Heaven on sunday? I've read the book, and loved it. The trailer is strong and interesting and makes it look quite good, but then so did the trailer for The Phantom Menace. I have hopes, but I have fears.

Friday, May 06, 2005

The Sandlot 2

Friday, May 06, 2005 1
Ten years after the events of “The Sandlot” comes another story set in the same neighborhood on the same sandlot. All of the kids from the first movie are now ten years older and have all moved away. The only person remaining is Johnny Smalls (James Willson), the younger brother of Scott Smalls, the main character and narrator of the first movie. Johnny grew up hearing about the legends of the sandlot and how Benny pickled the Beast and recovered the Babe Ruth autographed ball and how Hercules, the Beast, was tamed. But this is now 1972 and those events are barely legend around the sandlot. A new group of kids play there now. But there are only 5 boys on this team. The boys are led by David Durango (Max-Lloyd Jones). The rest of the boys are fairly nameless. Sure, they are all given names, but their personalities are lacking. The catcher, Mac (Brett Kelley) seems to be taking the place of Hamilton Porter from the first movie as the loud mouth, large bodied catcher. But he lacks the personality of Ham. It is as if he is a poor copy of the original character. There is the token black kid on the team, taking the place of Kenny DeNunez. There is one character who stands out, the entertaining Fingers Samuelson (Sean Berdy). Fingers is deaf, hence the nickname, but is somehow the most striking character in the movie.

But there is a twist. This time there are girls. Hayley Good fairer (Samantha Burton) and two of her friends end up rounding out the team and are just as good, if not better, than the boys. Right from the start some of the old conflicts start up: the sandlot kids have a rivalry with the uniformed little leaguers and someone hit’s a ball over the fence at Mr, Mertle’s yard (James Earl Jones) where there lives a descendant of the Beast called the Great Fear. It is at this point that Johnny Smalls relates the legend of the Beast and the rise of the Great Fear. Naturally mischief ensues.

If anyone has seen the first “Sandlot”, that person has a very good idea about how the rest of “The Sandlot 2” is going to play out. The stakes are raised in this movie, though that is also a matter of perception considering the first movie featured a retrieval of a ball autographed by Babe Ruth. Even so, “The Sandlot 2” is not a very original movie. Perhaps this isn’t a surprise considering this movie was direct to video rather than getting a theatrical release. But so much of it plays out exactly like the first movie even with the same dialogue. What is most disappointing about this is the fact that both this movie and the original were written and directed by David Mickey Evans. If anyone could recapture some of the magic of “The Sandlot”, it would be him. At least this wasn’t a low budget sequel written and directed with somebody who has no ties to the original. That’s also why this is so disappointed. Evans essentially remade the first movie with small cosmetic changes.

But what I don’t understand is why the kids didn’t just go and ask Mr. Mertle for help in retrieving what went over the fence. Scott Smalls had been friends with Mr. Mertle for years, so Johnny has to know that he is a decent and friendly man. The brief explanation given doesn’t really make sense except that it allows the last third of the movie to have a conflict. Without it, this movie would have ended after an hour. It was just a weak explanation, though, and it just let the kids go through some of the same things that occurred in the original movie.

I’m sure than a younger audience will enjoy “The Sandlot 2”, but those who have fond memories of “The Sandlot” should probably stay away. This does nothing to tarnish the original movie, but there just wasn’t a need for a sequel and even with the original writer/director on board, there is no comparison between the two movies. “The Sandlot 2” is an inferior product and is missing the charm and humor and fun of “The Sandlot”.


Grade: C-

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Mona Lisa Smile

Wednesday, May 04, 2005 0
Here is the setting: An idealistic young teacher arrives at a well respected private school with the intention of making a difference in the lives and education of the students. This teacher soon runs up against a tradition bound administration as well as some tradition bound students. Soon enough the teacher begins to win over the students who are inspired by the teacher, but the administration is not so pleased by the radical new ideas and teaching methods used by this idealistic young teacher. What movie is this?

While I was talking about "Dead Poets Society", the above description can be used without any changes about 2003's "Mona Lisa Smile". Katherine Watson (Julia Roberts) is a young art history teacher from California newly arrived at the prestigious Wellesley College. She has definite ideas about the role of women in the 1950's, but Wellesley seems to be nothing more than an excellent school to prepare the young women to be a good wife and mother. While the academic standards are rigorous, the goal isn't for the woman to aspire to be somebody herself, but to help her husband be somebody. Watson is appalled by this and by the resistance she meets from the administration and even by some of the brightest students.

We are also introduced to some of the students, though we never get too much into their minds or lives. There is Betty Warren (Kirsten Dunst). Betty is something of a snitch and seems to consider herself the purity police and is too full of herself. Joan Brandwyn (Julia Stiles) is the student whom Katherine holds the most hope for. In Joan, Katherine sees a little bit of herself. Giselle Levy (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is introduced only as the girl who, gasp, may have loose morals regarding men. Finally Connie Baker (Ginnifer Goodwin) is the slightly dumpy girl who just hopes to find a man.

This is really the Katherine Watson story and her influence on the girls, such as it is, and her frustration with Wellesley. If we changed the all girls college to an all boys high school and traded Julia Roberts for Robin Williams, we'd have "Dead Poets Society". But "Dead Poets Society" is a far better movie. It may not be fair to compare the two movies, but when "Mona Lisa Smile" is so clearly modeled on "Dead Poets Society" how can the comparison not be made? The main problem with "Mona Lisa Smile" is that it portrays 1950's Wellesley where the women are not expected to have minds after graduation nor are the expected to use them. It is difficult to see how the issues raised in "Mona Lisa Smile" are relevant today. "Dead Poets Society" dealt with academic pressure and the ability to think for oneself. "Mona Lisa Smile" touches upon the same issues, but does so in such a way that the problems just don't feel as important. This is all the more so because fifty years later the expectations on women in education are far different. "Dead Poets Society" is much more universal.

A minor issue, to place the movie in a historical context, is that I have read reviews questioning the accuracy of the portrayal of Wellesley in the 50's, and that the college was not the backwards wasteland which only expected women to marry and have children. I can't say whether or not that is the case, but it is worth noting that the filmmakers may have twisted what facts were available to make a lesser movie.

Grade: C+

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Scrabble

Tuesday, May 03, 2005 1
Last night before I went out to the Mall of America with Sandy I was watching a little bit of the 2004 Scrabble National Championships. I'm not positive, but I think that makes me a geek. The strange thing is that it was rather interesting and also that ESPN 2 had commentators talking about strategy and different possible moves the players could use. One commentator, don't know his name, had said at one point that he could see several really good moves a player could make and how obvious the moves were.

To me, they weren't obvious. It was some seven letter triple word score play for the word "lakiest". Yeah, that's the first thing that would come to mind on my board.

Then again, when I play I can never think of words and use the simplest and lowest scoring words imaginable. At least when these guys played the world "Fa" they scored some 30 points off of it because of combos and double letters and stuff like that. I play the word "blue" and score 5 points.

I don't think I'll be entering any tournaments anytime soon.

Disappointment: Eggers, Vowell, and Lethem

Sometimes you can read a book and just be completely blown away. When you turn the final page you just have to find more of this author's work, it's that good. This happened when I read Dave Eggers' memoir A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. It was creative, fresh, funny, heartbreaking, beautiful, entirely original, and Eggers used the entire book (and I really mean that, he even re-wrote that page that has the publisher's information). It was so good that I bought the limited edition hardcover of his first novel that was originally only available in smaller, independent bookstores: You Shall Know Our Velocity. I couldn't have been more disappointed. Eggers is doing some great things in writing, but he seems to be best as an editor or a guiding force as he is with McSweeney's and as an editor of the Best American Non-Required Reading series. I just recently read his collection of short stories How We Are Hungry, and once again I feel let down. His fiction just seems to be missing that spark that he put into his memoir. Once again, though, take a look at Eggers as an editor of Created in Darkness by Troubled Americans. It's often funny and creative and fresh.

Next up is Sarah Vowell. Vowell may be best known to most people as the voice of Violet in The Incredibles. She's also an editor on This American Life on NPR, and she has written several books. The first book of hers that I read was The Partly Cloudy Patriot, a collection of humorous but pointed essays about America and patriotism and what it all means to her. Good stuff. She's also one of my favorite guests on Conan (and even Letterman, but she has a better connection with Conan), so much so that I'll record the episode on the DVR if she's on just in case it is a new one. But I read her previous book Take the Cannoli and didn't feel the same connection or interest. I recently finished her latest book Assassination Vacation, which deals with her vacations/trips to visit historical sites relating to presidential assassinations (and she goes to any site no matter how remote a connection). It's an interesting concept and most of the time she pulls it off, but overall the book just didn't pull me in like The Partly Cloudy Patriot.

The final author I want to mention is Jonathan Lethem. His fiction hasn't disappointed. While I wasn't blown away by Motherless Brooklyn his ventures into a different sort of science fiction (one which has found its way to be catalogued on the "Literature" shelf at the book store, I've loved his other stuff like Gun, With Occasional Music, and As She Climbed Across the Table. My disappointment here is when I booked up a book of his essays. This week I read The Disappointment Artist and was underwhelmed. But I think it takes something different in an essay to reach me. Still, his collection of short fiction Men and Cartoons was great as was his most recent novel The Fortress of Solitude.

I guess the moral is to be careful of what you read when you get excited by a fresh voice you're finding in an author. It may not all be golden. Here, though, Lethem is by far the best if you stick with his fiction.
 
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