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I appreciate Amazon providing me a public forum to rant, rave, bloviate, spew, digest, argue, debate, and trumpet the sound of my own voice. I've become a bit needy over the last few years, checking my Amazon 'yes' votes to see how many people I've persuaded. At least I can laugh at myself.
My favorite films are Mulholland Drive, Raging Bull, La Strada, The Walkabout, The King of Comedy (1970s title with Robert De Niro), American Beauty, Election, Happiness, Welcome to the Doll House, You Can Count on Me, Good Fellas, Midnight Cowboy, Five Easy Pieces, Eraserhead.
My favorite novels are White Noise, Desperate Characters, Restraint of Beasts, The Horned Man, Madame Bovary.
Helen Peppe’s Pigs Can’t Swim in set in the wild, rural Maine, where crazy things happen, where normal laws don’t apply and people are left to do whatever their whims dictate. This lawlessness is part of the memoir’s enchantment; it’s also part of the fear of Helen as a child as she witnesses all kinds of suffering thrown at animals, which she sees firsthand and which becomes so unbearable she eschews eating meat. But let’s be clear. Her book is not a preachy lesson on vegetarianism. Her not eating meat is interwoven into the memoir’s narrative.
One striking quality of her well written memoir is that the setting feels like the deep south as does some of the quirky character profiles taken from the pages of a James Wilcox novel: a father who wears his postal service shirt around the clock because the affiliation gives him pride and his smug belief that he could be the next postal general “if he wanted the job.” At times the earthy descriptions, especially as they pertain to the fate of animals, are dark like a Southern Gothic. Peppe even reveals that her part of Maine is used by Stephen King in some of his most chilling horror novels.
The chapters, chronicling Peppe’s childhood, read like stand-alone essays with no continuous narrative throughout the book and the chapters are comprised mostly of anecdotes, so you’re not getting an arching narrative here, but the book works well on its own terms. Highly recommended.
Rob Delaney proved to be a great Twitter comedian, making use of his sharp wit to make compressed jokes, suitable for Twitter and compelling enough to get him a big platform, more gigs, book deal, etc. How would his compressed writing translate into a memoir?
The answer is his memoir is a success. Tracing his fool’s errands of childhood and drinking problems that started at the young age of 12 (alcohol made his internal chemistry feel just right), Delaney peppers his autobiography, comprised of short chapters, with a coming of age story: a man whose recklessness, aimlessness, and bravado of youth transform into wisdom, common sense, and responsibility.
Married with a child, Delaney has honed a work ethic and doesn’t want to blow his success. With funny anecdotes and abstaining from being preachy, Delaney accounts his personal evolution with biting humor and spare prose. Recommended.
While Gary Shteyngart finds himself, near the end of his memoir, in his early manhood fighting the demons of self-loathing, alcohol, and narcotic addiction, we see that he is clearly a man possessed, a man full of a manhood complex, a Meet My Parents' Gargantuan Expectations complex, a Not Good Enough for Women complex. He is after all, the "Little Failure."
Yet if you're looking for an angry, earnest, sweat-drenched memoir, look elsewhere. Little Failure, no matter how painful the subject matter, is always whimsical, absurd, and joyously self-deprecating, and reading his wonderful memoir we see that his writing voice, containing this joyfulness in the face of immense pain, no doubt saved him.
Flying to New York from Russia when he was a seven-year-old boy, his parents want him to assimilate into America (McDonald's remains a metaphor of freedom) and become a lawyer or something of similar magnitude.
His culture clash and his view of America as an outsider informs much of the book's humor. For example, he is as a boy flummoxed at how the crew of Gilligan's Island could be lost for so long since a great country like America would have rescued them by now. He "falls in love with cereal boxes," the multitude suggesting a bounty that he might someday partake in.
We travel with GS through childhood, college, lost romances, and his writing career, all of it in a voice that is kind and relentlessly absurd in the best sense.
Readers who appreciate the lapidary prose, caustic irony, and dystopian universes (often rooted in terrifying realism) made famous by George Saunders and Sam Lipsyte will be in good company in the short stories from Bean Marcus' collection Leaving the Sea.
Many of the sentences have a grammar to them that make them stories within the stories. "The Moors" has a hyper-anxious character Thomas, who navigating precariously at work, reminds me of some of the bumbling characters in Thomas Berger's best novels including Neighbors.
My second favorite story "What Have You Done?" features the ne'er-do-well and hyper-caustic Paul Berger who returning to visit his family after a mysterious absence finds his parents and sister have such low expectations of him that he cannot get them to believe what kind of life he has made for himself. The narrator's descriptions of the bratty children at the family reunion are priceless and speak to the thread of humor that extends through all the stories.
My very favorite story--and this story alone is worth the price of admission--is the lugubrious comic masterpiece "I Can Say Many Nice Things," which features creative writing teacher Fleming who is trying with pathetic futility to recharge his teaching career by offering a creative writing workshop on a cruise ship to students full of narcissistic ennui. Fleming sees his students "as if they were corpses who had been fed some rejuvenating pulp that would allow them to release a few more sentences before dying again."
The caustic writing is buoyed by wisdom and humor. What's remarkable is that most sarcastic humor writing features stories that are flat with characters who are stereotypes. Not so with this Ben Marcus collection. The characters are fully rounded and the stories resonate, so I am compelled Leaving the Sea five stars.
Steve Cotter's Kettlebell Training is a comprehensive kettlebell guide full of clear, professional-quality photographs. In the introduction he explains the advantages of kettlebells over dumbbells and barbells (leverage, grip, high-rep position, etc.). He explains why a weight belt is good for kettlebell training (imagine doing 10 minutes straight of kettlebell clean and jerks, for example).
He explains many safety techniques including warm-ups and the importance of chalk so that your grip doesn't slip.
For me, the most important part is the correct squat technique in which you practice without a kettlebell while keeping your back vertical. You do this facing a wall so that you don't lean into the wall. Then you can do the correct squats and kettlebell swings without a wall in front of you while still keeping your back vertical AT ALL TIMES. Before I did my squats, deadlifts, and swings correctly, I tweaked my back 3 times, each time not being able to walk for a week. Since using the correct technique, which I first learned watching a Bob Harper kettlebell DVD, I have not hurt my back.
After the safety and warm-up section, there are exercises for beginners, intermediate, advanced, custom programs, and sport-specific workouts.
The only limitation of this finely produced book in my experience is that it is better, in the absence of a professional instructor guiding you through the moves, to use videos and it's more clear to see "bodies in action" than to read instructions with still photos.
Nevertheless, Kettlebell Training is a comprehensive guide for the beginner and advanced trainer alike.
First the good news. In Scott Stossel’s excellent book, he points out a major study that people with generalized anxiety disorder have much higher IQs than the average population’s.
The rest of the news in this very readable book isn’t so good for anxious depressives like Stossel, a lifelong depressive, worry-wart, and multi-phobe, his worst fear being emetophobia, the fear of throwing up.
Stossel exercises a lot of candor discussing his dyspepsia and inner demons as he consults hundreds of sources, firsthand and otherwise, to give us a tour of the many theories behind chronic anxiety with an engaging narrative that reminded me of Eric Weiner’s The Geography of Bliss.
The main philosophical debate is this: Should we embrace our anxiety as part of our existential condition, seeing anxiety as a “calling,” a way of enhancing our life, struggling through the demons, and facing the great meaning of life questions? By muting our anxiety with pharmaceuticals, are we being lazy cowards, relinquishing the great existential quest before us? Or does the pain and suffering from biologically-induced anxiety merit a pharmaceutical solution to give relief to those innocent sufferers?
With fair-minded intensity, Stossel explores this debate and concludes that while he is a lifelong taker of anti-depressants, he overall feels there is an existential purpose to anxiety and shows a lot of research that warns us that pharmaceuticals can be highly addictive, can be hell to go off with severe withdrawals, and only work on one-third of the people who take them with serious side effects.
Interlacing major anxiety research with his own compelling narrative, Scott Stossel has written a masterful account of anxiety and its existential and pharmaceutical challenges. Highly recommended.
The Beast, as it's often called, plays like a 48mm watch on the wrist, looking slightly bigger than its description, which for me is a good thing on my 7.5 inch wrist. The power indicator is an almost must on an automatic watch. Like all automatics, it runs a tad slow, a few seconds a day, but nothing to worry about.
The lume markers are plain and easy to read and overall provide excellent brightness, close to Seiko's Lumibrite.
Contrary to the description on the Amazon site, the crystal is real sapphire, not synthetic.
The overall look is both bold and conservative, a nice balance for dress up or sport.
One slight criticism is that the H links on the bracelet are a bit thin for my tastes. The quality is higher than the maligned cheap bracelet on the Orient M-Force SEL03001B0, but a bit light. I am tempted to upgrade the bracelet, which is 24mm lug to lug, with a Super Engineer II.
Just as Julia Child’s cookbooks remain enduring classics that make gastronomy and cooking a passion for the masses, Daniel E. Lieberman’s magisterial The Story of the Human Body presents the layman with a compelling narrative of human evolution, showing with the force of his argument and clearness of his writing that we ignore human evolution at our own peril.
His core argument is that our Paleo ancestors evolved to reproduce under extreme conditions, a hardwiring that isn’t necessarily compatible with longevity, and that we, sharing their hardwiring, aren’t well served by taking ourselves out of their harsh environment and luxuriating in comforts and calorie-dense diets. We are, as Lieberman writes, like zebras taken out of the African savannah and placed in modern Massachusetts and as such we suffer an “evolutionary mismatch,” which is to say modern comforts conflict with our evolutionary adaptation and make us susceptible to a myriad of diseases.
By modifying our environment, Lieberman convincingly shows, we can prevent many of these diseases.
Both a fascinating story of our development from Homo Erectus to today and an assessment of the many preventable diseases we face, Lieberman has written what I predict to be an instant classic. Highly recommended.
I've been reading the Best American Essays series since 1990 and was always gratified to come across four or six strong essays per collection. Some collections have been disappointing over the years, only offering three that I thought were worth my while.
But this 2013 collection, edited by Cheryl Strayed, is a must-read. I was captivated by 10 essays and will flat out say that one, Charles Baxter's "What Happens in Hell" is worth alone the price of admission. The essay begins with Baxter being picked up at the airport by a Muslim limo driver who taking Baxter to Stanford (where Baxter will teach fiction) discusses in the tones of a sadistic sycophant (he says "sir" a lot) the agonies of eternal damnation.
Taken aback naturally by the driver's ecstatic description of divine cruelty, Baxter meditates on why people believe in hell and considers that the have-nots resent the haves as part of the psychology behind this phenomenon. Baxter goes the privileged Stanford area and is alienated by the self-satisfaction and elitism of the community's citizens and describes them with fantastic satirical acumen juxtaposing their secular heaven with secular hell.
What happens in the last half of the essay is so astonishing that I thought Baxter was fictionalizing, but as it occurred to me he was telling the truth, I was slapped in the face and cannot divulge what happens as I don't want to spoil the delights of this remarkable, rare essay.
My second favorite essay, also worth the price of admission, is Poe Ballantine's very funny, self-deprecating "Free Rent at the Totalitarian Hotel" in which he describes living in a cheap hotel lorded by a cruel landlady while struggling to be an artist and a writer during the Reagan Administration.
Venessa Veselka's "Highway of Lost Girls," a terrifying essay about the vulnerable "lost girls" trying to get rides from truckers many of whom are misogynists and predators.
Matthew Vollmer's "Keeper of the Flame." The premise of this essay could be a movie: Matthew's father, a dentist, has a rich patient, a rich neo-Nazi, who lives in an elaborate underground Nazi shrine in the woods of North Carolina. The detailed description reminds me of a James Bond setting.
Walter Kirn's "Confessions of an Ex-Mormon" accounts the conflicting thoughts he has about lapsing from his faith.
Eileen Pollack's "Pigeons," my third favorite essay recounts her school days when an abusive teacher beat up a classmate who ripped her jacket and the fate of that student.
J.D. Daniels' "Letter from Majorca" is about a college professor who quits his job overcome with the sense that he is unworthy of teaching and confronts his self-pity by going on a manly sailing expedition with machismo Israeli sailors to the Mediterranean.
If for no other reason, please buy this book and read Charles Baxter's "What Happens in Hell," one of the best essays I've ever read.
While described as black, the Seiko SNAB69 is actually a gunmetal oil color, very masculine and high quality, not the cheap kind of coating that rubs off on cheap watches.
While the bezel is only 43mm, the watch plays substantial on the wrist. It's masculine without being blingy or Las Vegas oversized.
Seiko uses topnotch lume so this has real-life functionality. The time is very easy to read.
The chrono movement by Seiko is known to be robust, accurate, and reliable.
If you like the FlightMaster "purposeful" look, the SNAB69 is for you.
I ended up selling the SNAB69 because it played it a bit small on my wrist; I'm going to replace it with the bigger Seiko SBDL021 Prospex Solar.