Sunday, January 31, 2016

"Impulse" (1950)

Read story by Conrad Aiken online.

Conrad Aiken's story is more by way of object lesson or cautionary tale—i.e., "Don't shoplift"—but the details are distanced and foggy. It feels more like an idle daydream than a recounting of actual events. It bears a certain Dostoevskian tone by way of Nietzsche, in the heightened language as the situation develops, and more generally in the way the story is set up. The main character, Michael Lowes, is saddled with responsibilities—a job, a wife, kids. But he tries to live as if they don't exist, because they are actively hampering the privileged life of leisure he imagines he deserves. At his weekly bridge game with three casual friends—not sure what a weekly bridge game signified in 1950, the year this story was published, but that's the plot point. It smacks a little of privilege now, and certainly Lowes's wife, Dora, considers it an indulgence, when they are plagued with debt and other problems. At this game, one week, there is a passing discussion of the impulses that strike us all to flout conventions or even break the law. Lowes is delighted to find that others are prey to this experience too, but somehow, internally, he turns the open philosophical bull session into personal license to give in to one. Accordingly, on his way home that night, he enters a drugstore and attempts to steal a shaving kit in a leather case. Information in the first paragraph of the story has already indicated it's something he doesn't need. He's just doing it, in the existential sense, because he can and because he thinks he's so superior he can get away with it—deserves to get away with it. Well, you can imagine how this goes, so spoiler alert, go read the story now. He doesn't get away with it at all. He's caught before he's even left the store. From that point on it becomes a cascading nightmare, as all worst possible outcomes begin to develop. He attempts to get out of it by claiming it's a light-hearted affair, a joke, based on a bet he made with friends. It's a lie and his friends deny it. No one has pity for him or gives him any credence. He goes to jail, goes to trial, and draws a 90-day sentence. He loses his job. He loses the last shred of respect his wife had for him. They go deeper into financial troubles and she divorces him. It almost couldn't be worse. Lowes responds with numbness and confusion, the brittle Nietzchean superman shattered, withdrawing further into himself. As an object lesson, the story is painfully obvious. But I like to think of it more as an internal fear-based fantasy of an empty narcissist—a daydream. Abstracted that way, it is at once comical and searing.

Short Story Masterpieces, ed. Robert Penn Warren and Albert Erskine

Saturday, January 30, 2016

The New Classic (2014)

Things seem to happen so fast now—just the other day I caught an item on Facebook about Iggy Azalea's comeback. What? I know she's had her troubles in the celebrity ecosystem, predictable problems of fame, talent, and wealth, of a white Australian woman rapper and cultural appropriations and objectifying, plus a reputation for displays of bad attitude. You know, all those things that happen on Twitter and are reported as news. Her debut LP is only two years old, but it's righteously haunted by an evocative fragment, "No money, no family, 16 in the middle of Miami," which wafts all through the stew of beats and hooks and keeps it compelling. There's a couple of big hits you probably know and maybe over-know—"Fancy" feat. Charli XCX (#1) and "Black Widow" feat. Rita Ora (#3). They're a good preview, they pop and sizzle and flash a charming confidence, but they aren't my favorites here. As usual, the terms of the product we accept now apply to The New Classic. It's too long—the songs are too long by a minute or two and the album is too long by 15 or 20 minutes. That's the way most albums are now, and it's probably better to have too much than too little, for the sake of the true believers. What  I like best is when Iggy Azalea indulges herself and settles into exactly that overweening confidence she wears like armor. The vulgar "New Bitch," for example, which among other things exults in its vulgarity, promotes the social satisfactions of an ego that has just got what it wanted. "I'm his new bitch," she declares to no one and everyone (and probably to someone in particular), leaning hard into the hissing churchy "ch" sound, which tells everything. Or "Goddess," which is one of the biggest tracks here, with a monster guitar solo erupting in the middle of it, and which seems to be in the service of more or less modestly declaring herself. Judging by the persona on this album, and not Twitter, it looks to me like a healthy ego working stuff out as it comes. Anyone with no family and no money, in the middle of Miami, at 16, has something raging inside. She survived and she's proud and she's here to tell about it, even if she's still a little immature. She has a right. This is a mixed bag, but some great stuff.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Earthly Possessions (1977)

Here's an earlier Anne Tyler novel—working my way back now, this is her seventh overall—and it comes with a lot of familiar features: a Baltimore setting, a dysfunctional family of siblings, a marriage on the rocks, a compulsively chatty woman as the main character, and a road trip with overtones of desperation. Some awkwardness yet: one prong of the narration is set in motion by the unlikely circumstance of our hero, Charlotte Emory, taken hostage in a botched bank robbery. It's the ever gentle Tyler, and before long the crime is all good, no harm no foul. Charlotte and the bank robber sail off down the road on quixotic errands. Charlotte had been thinking of leaving her husband anyway, and Charlotte's ruminations on how she has come to such a pass—sailing off down the road with a bank robber, that is, and leaving her husband behind—occupy the other main prong of the story. Charlotte recalls her life, her family of origin, her husband, her children, I think a pet was involved in there too. You would expect her life to be passing in front of her in a hostage situation, but it's not like that. She's just talking it out on a car ride. It's good stuff, the meat and grist of a lifetime, shot down the barrel of time. But the details can feel overplayed or even made-up. One thread about someone's wife running off with her father-in-law seemed a bridge too far and/or accepted all too equably, an artifact of those post-'60s pre-Reagan times, perhaps. Then again, this is a hostage situation following a bank robbery that went bad. Or perhaps I'm judgmental. For the most part, Earthly Possessions is what Anne Tyler got to be very good at: the little ways people intrude on one another, disappoint one another, offer redemption to one another. There was nobody I liked a whole lot in it, but I was pretty much on board for the whole thing, letting suspension of disbelief take care of the rest. Her characters usually have charms even when they are annoying. I know I like it more than the one that came next, Morgan's Passing, but otherwise I don't think it's really up to her second-half work either. I can see better how she developed and settled into the wonderful Baltimore of her imagination, because here the setting feels much more incidental. She's not as sharp as she would get in her observations, but she is always a good student of people. I am flailing toward quantifying: it's not exactly a B or three stars of five (or two-and-a-half of four). But a rating of 5 on a scale of 1 to 10 seems to say so much so quickly.

In case it's not at the library.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Quadrophenia (1979)

UK, 120 minutes
Director: Franc Roddam
Writers: Dave Humphries, Martin Stellman, Franc Roddam, Pete Townshend
Photography: Brian Tufano
Music: Who
Editors: Sean Barton, Mike Taylor
Cast: Phil Daniels, Mark Wingett, Philip Davis, Leslie Ash, Garry Cooper, Toyah Wilcox, Sting, Ray Winstone, Kate Williams

The year after the death of Keith Moon was a brave and busy one for the Who, and not always full of good news: they toured, released two movies, and played a show in Cincinnati to a crowd that had just trampled 11 people to death. Nobody knew how bad that was until later—the band was not informed until after the show. These surviving members—Roger Daltrey, John Entwhistle, and Pete Townshend—were starting to bear the weathered look of epic rock 'n' roll destiny, their tragic low points matched by ecstatic highs we already knew. For a minute, the future looked limitless. In retrospect now it looks more like the beginning of their long goodbye, still ongoing. Quadrophenia was the narrative film they released that year, as a kind of matching piece with the galvanizing documentary The Kids Are Alright.

Based on the band's double-LP concept album Quadrophenia, a rock opera from the mid-'70s, the movie focuses on Britain's mid-'60s Mods and Rockers rivalry, which coincided with the rise of the Who. The conflict between Mods and Rockers is neatly encapsulated here in a scene where two young men try to sing signature songs loud enough to drown out the other ("Be-Bop-a-Lula" for the Rocker and "You Really Got Me" for the Mod). It's a Who movie through and through, produced by them, featuring their music, and with Pete Townshend contributing to the script. I'd say it's a little longer than it needs to be, just slightly bloated, but it fits neatly into a standard satisfying rock 'n' roll frame as a coming of age story. There's an outsider who finds himself at the margins, discovers the pleasures of what is at those margins, and soon enough gains the sad understanding that all ecstasies at the margins are unsustainable. Then it's a matter of living with that.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Creed (2015)

I really could not believe, first, that a seventh Rocky movie had even been made. Then I could not believe it was getting so many good reviews from so many surprising places. Then I realized it was actually one of two movie released this past holiday season that was the seventh in a franchise started in the '70s, and I thought I might take a look. By the time I got to my 9:40 a.m. weekday matinee, that other movie—Star Wars: The Force Awakens, of course—had just opened the day before. There was a large crowd milling around. I like these weekday morning matinees even when they're crowded because people tend to be more sober earlier in the day, which is how I like them at the movies. My ticket-taker looked surprised and told me I was the first person there for anything other than Star Wars, abruptly assuring me Creed was a good movie too. By the time it started there was a reasonable crowd of a few dozen. Maybe they hadn't been able to get tickets for Star Wars?

Look, the ticket-taker was right, Creed is good, and not just as an afterthought to Star Wars. It's a great sports movie. It's a solid entry in the Rocky franchise—in another parallel with Star Wars, it's the second-best out of the whole bunch, after the original. (Full disclosure: I am not a fan of the Star Wars franchise and only a marginal fan of its Rocky counterpart. Don't make me call it a guilty pleasure.) Creed is full of surprises. As a sports movie, it hits all the right notes, no pun intended. The commitment to excel, the raw talent, the training montages, the underdog tale (with a deep backstory in this case), the brutal opponent, and the matter of the bout itself, fighting the fight blow by blow. All here. One of the best parts is Sylvester Stallone as an aging Rocky Balboa. Maybe age has conferred something—I always thought he was more limited than even Clint Eastwood, but here he is making the Eastwood of Million Dollar Baby and Gran Torino look like Walter Brennan. Stallone is just insanely likable, as Rocky Balboa taking on management of an illegitimate son of his former opponent, Apollo Creed. Toward the middle of the picture it veers around in some confusion about what is real and what is Rocky, but once we get to the main event in the last third it's all sensation and pointed drama, as the sports movie mojo kicks in. Director and cowriter Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station, which I haven't seen) has a strong feeling for this material, both the larger franchise and, more importantly, how to film boxing ring sequences. Like the original, it ends on rousing high notes. How much groundwork are they laying for sequels? Plenty—the next one is reportedly already in preliminary development. If Coogler is there for it, and Michael B. Jordan, who is fine as Creed's son Adonis, it might be as good as a Rocky sequel. In other words, in a season of new box office records, I wish Creed all the success in the world. And when the inevitable inferior sequels come along as a result, then I will be sad.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Tree of Smoke (2007)

I wonder if there are others like me when it comes to novelist, story writer, and poet Denis Johnson. I really loved his story collection of 1992, Jesus' Son, but never found a novel I could finish until I made a project of this one. I was happy to see critical regard coalescing around it (National Book Award winner, Pulitzer finalist, etc.), but the first thing that surprised me is that it's about Vietnam, which seemed to belong to another era altogether in 2007. Born in 1949, Johnson is of the generation. His father worked for the State Department and the family lived abroad and moved frequently. He's done his homework too. But in many ways there's nothing new or interesting going on in Tree of Smoke—it's the usual familiar business of the hallucinatory dangerous conditions on the ground and the knavery of those calling the shots. That's deepened here with spies and spooks missions that read as plausible enough, and it's caustically humorous in its treatment of anticommunism thinking and cant. The "tree of smoke" term itself could tantalizingly be anything, as Johnson takes pains to spell out: a bible verse (Book of Joel, and elsewhere), a wartime scene, the dread mushroom cloud of course, or the maddening vaporous insubstantialities which are too often the basis of life and death—"mistakes were made," and like that. Johnson's language is in good form: studied, precise, lancing, vivid. But I kept getting an undertowing sense that the setting and scene work against this novel. A good novel is always good, but somehow I wonder if this wouldn't have been more effective published 20 years or more earlier. That's a terrible question to ask and one for history to decide anyway. Tree of Smoke is populated with interesting, mysterious characters we have met before, in the movies The Year of Living Dangerously and Apocalypse Now, and in Michael Herr's collection of journalism, Dispatches. Johnson cleverly covers himself with the explicit discussion of the "tree of smoke" term as metaphor, by name-checking both The Ugly American and The Quiet American, and by otherwise finding ways to step aside from the action and acknowledge its overfamiliarity with a casual shrug. Yeah, we've been here before, he seems to be saying, which might have been a provocative statement to make in 2007 on another very obvious level, one played to quite directly. So there's the motivation, I suppose—Iraq. What's a novelist to do? But are subtlety and nuance the way to make the point? Maybe so, judging by the favorable reception. Maybe so. But it also reminds me a little of Paul Krugman and Barack Obama winning Nobel Prizes. Not quite playing to the right audience in the right way to accomplish your goals, but appreciate the sentiment.

In case it's not at the library.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

In Zero to Infinity (2010)

The Japanese psychedelic noise band Acid Mothers Temple (& the Melting Paraiso U.F.O.) is an act I became familiar with in downloading days, though as with everything from then I've had to go back again to listen more carefully and round up information. There was always something uniquely intoxicating about their long jams when they cropped up in shuffle, loose-limbed and rough-textured and strangely seductive, with a swirling sense of rising motion, but I barely know a thing. I had a chance to see them in Portland two years before this came out and I'm a little sorry I didn't take it. I have it on Internet authority that this album is one of their best and, perhaps not unrelated, that it's the continuation of an homage from nearly 10 years earlier to Terry Riley's 1964 improvisational piece, In C. The four long tracks that compose this album, each over 18 minutes, are titled "In Zero" ("In 0")," "In A," "In Z," and "In Infinity" ("In ∞"). They seem to me in some ways much closer to ambient than psychedelic, though it's true they tend to fight for attention rather than recede to the background. There are no lyrics, it's just playing, with a standard rock band setup outfitted with keyboards, looping, and other effects. I had the sense even before I looked up the discography that they had been doing this a long time—or Kawabata Makoto had, as he appears to be the stable continuing figure of the larger multifaceted project. It's obviously past novelty or effect for the sake of effect, drifting through currents of texture and sound with an evident amount of intentionality. Of course, I am sure, there are all the typical surprises and happy accidents that come of such epic jamming tomfoolery—interviews with those in the sessions would no doubt yield up anecdotes by the handful. I have not gotten that far yet in my studies. I'm still fascinated by the way I can put this on and let it play, and it changes things around in subtle and elusive ways, the contours of my physical space and head space and such. At times the room is haunted with the voices of tiny people trapped somehow. Or I soar through blackest space at unimaginable speeds. Or I am in a laboratory of boiling vats of chemicals. Or some celestial corner of heaven. It doesn't smell right. Shades of green, and orange, and blue wash across my mental fields of vision. It's psychedelic in the way that people tripping on hallucinogens speak of tasting sound, feeling sight, hearing visions. And even though I am somewhat overstating for effect—because most of this experience is more at a nonverbal level that is not explained well with words—it's a fact that just playing the record transports me about to many mysterious places.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Late Spring (1949)

Banshun, Japan, 108 minutes
Director: Yasujiro Ozu
Writers: Kazuo Hirotsu, Kogo Noda, Yasujiro Ozu
Photography: Yuharu Atsuta
Music: Senji Ito
Editor: Yoshiyasu Hamamura
Cast: Chishu Ryu, Setsuko Hara, Haruko Sugimura, Yumeji Tsukioka, Jun Usami, Masao Mishima

Late Spring seems like a typical movie for director and cowriter Yasujiro Ozu, but perhaps that's because it's the first of the last long phase of his moviemaking career, when he addressed the rich themes of postwar middle-class Japanese family life that he would work for nearly the next 15 years. It's not that it's such a great departure from what he had done before, but the war was obviously a huge disruption in all Japanese life, not just Ozu's. This movie heralds a modified new direction in many ways, even down to the title conceit of a particular time of year.

Some of those others, which include Early Summer (1951), Early Spring (1956), and Late Autumn (1960), may actually be closer to the conceits of English-speaking marketers, as the original Japanese titles in some cases have little or nothing to do with seasons. But Banshun, the Japanese title for this tender story of the transitional relationship between a father and his daughter of marrying age, translates specifically to "late spring," which would make it, metaphorically speaking, approximately the marrying month of June. Indeed, marriage is all that anyone around Professor Somiya (Chishu Ryu) and his daughter Noriko (Setsuko Hara) seems to have on their mind, until finally, even inevitably, it infects them too.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

An American Dream (1965)

Norman Mailer's fourth or so novel was conceived in serial form from September 1963 to October 1964, a historically busy period for America and dreamers. A stunt project (like all of his best), the high-fever Manhattan tale turns on the nocturnal adventures of a celebrity professor, Stephen Rojack, on the night he kills his wife. The effrontery, it must be said, verges on crass—only a few years earlier Mailer had stabbed his second wife. But it's nonetheless compelling, carried on the transports of Mailer's language and his ponderations about good, evil, the eternal, and so on. It is never less than obnoxious. The women characters are there strictly for purposes of the adoration of Rojack and/or some competitive male peer. Mailer is very good at noir, that's part of how he is getting away with this mess. I think he is getting away with it, I should say first. He blows across Manhattan like the best stark, glossy, buff, black and white scenes from Sweet Smell of Success, taking the rapid-fire tempos of dialogue and repartee to shadowy profound realms of Kierkegaard and dark absurdity. It's a comedy that is constantly worried about suicide and immolation. It's an indictment of American society by the one who is guilty. It's a dream and moves like one. People are prone to grand statements about cancer just before they leap to their deaths from penthouse terraces. But the cops aren't having any of it, and neither is Mailer on one level, a neat trick. He knows it's a joke, and he seems to know that we know it too, but he's not letting on, he stays in character all the way, and that's the beauty part. It's just brave and outrageous enough to get across, but it's not for everyone. Every last woman character is painfully dated, to start. And the shoe-leather stink of Mailer's ego, as usual, is all over it. But lord he was gifted too. He somehow makes all the huffing and puffing about God and Satan eternally locked in deadly and uncertain battle for ... something ... just compelling enough that you don't want to look away. Or I didn't. Again, compare a similar exercise in Tough Guys Don't Dance (from 1984, his other full-on noir, which we will be getting to eventually) for how good Mailer can be at stripping away the inessentials and letting the raw Dostoevskian details of crime and its aftermath do the work. There's also something pleasingly lumpy in An American Dream about the eight chapters that make up the bulk of it. Each one coheres of itself but sits slightly at odds with the others. The sense is strong they were written pell-mell and intensely to eight separate deadlines. In this case it's a winning effect. Recommended with caution.

In case it's not at the library.

Friday, January 08, 2016

Black Swan (2010)

USA, 108 minutes
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Writers: Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz, John J. McLaughlin
Photography: Matthew Libatique
Music: Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Clint Mansell
Editor: Andrew Weisblum
Cast: Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel, Barbara Hershey, Winona Ryder, Ksenia Solo

Director Darren Aronofsky says he was reading The Double by Fyodor Dostoevsky as he started work on Black Swan. He considers Black Swan a companion piece with The Wrestler, his movie of two years earlier. As it turns out, on the physical plane, he makes a good case that professional wrestling and ballet are not as different as you might think (later, he would apply that to ark-building too). He makes a point of observing closely the arduous preparations that go into ballet: a regimen of food denial to maintain appropriate weight, daily routines that start with joints crackling complainingly into life, and an endless assortment of small outrages to the body, sprains, blunted toes, sore muscles, bruises, cuts, and sometimes worse.

On top of that, there are crippling social pressures in the competition for a limited number of parts, and on top of that, our Swan Queen hero, Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman), still lives with her resentful, undermining mother on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. How to catalog Black Swan? It often travels under unwieldy labels, such as "psychological horror-thriller," which invite unpacking. It's psychological—The Wrestler is psychological in parallel ways, for that matter—because it's about one person's internal struggle with and against herself, attempting to work out "issues" (of ambition, chiefly, and personal value) in toxic environments. Nina's mother Erica (Barbara Hershey, who eats this role alive) once had aspirations to perform ballet professionally, we learn, which is likely the reason Nina is driven to it now, via a lifetime of training to obsessively yearn for it.

Monday, January 04, 2016

The Martian (2015)

Ridley Scott's latest foray into science fiction could well be his third-best, after Alien and Blade Runner lo these many years. It's not as ambitious or interesting as Prometheus, but it's also not a mess. The model here is not actually science fiction, but more like rescue-at-sea action thriller, in the manner of The Perfect Storm or, especially, Apollo 13. Because it reminded me so much of Apollo 13, in fact, and because it's done so skillfully, I often felt like I was looking at something closer to a documentary. I had to keep reminding myself we haven't seen manned missions to Mars yet, let alone anything like the things happening here. But everything seemed extremely probable, which I count as a plus. The Martian is more science than fiction, with Matt Damon burnishing his uber-geek persona as the ultimate badass Bill Nye the Science Guy. Here he is seen using science to treat his wounds, to make water, to grow potatoes, to repurpose the high-tech gear, to do everything that has to be done for which he can think of a scientific solution. The science is thrilling—really. This picture is full of object lessons for the aspiring rationalist. Matt Damon is Mark Watney the Astronaut Guy, who is accidentally left behind on Mars during a storm. As his plight becomes a cause celebre back on Earth the movie swells to big emotional media-driven places, with everybody pitching in to help bring him home and people gathering in city squares to fervently watch developments together on giant TV screens. It's a unifying day for humanity, and for science, which is always nice to hear about. And it's as lucid as can be, as one after another scientific problem is addressed and solved for. Perhaps because I recently read a book about the 1969 Apollo 11 mission to the moon, The Martian seemed reasonably realistic to me about the way unanticipated problems crop up and are overcome, albeit under a lot of stress. Maybe that's what I liked about it. So hip hip hooray for science, hip hip hooray for technology, and hip hip hooray for this very nicely done movie. The script arguably has problems telegraphing its surprises by being at such pains to hide them, and there are other minor problems. It's all just a little smug. But it's fast for its longish running time of 141 minutes and there are generous portions of hail fellow well met joie de vivre. It works fine and it's a lot of fun.

Sunday, January 03, 2016

Travels in Siberia (2010)

I don't think I even suspected Ian Frazier's "Russia-love" (his term) until I finally opened this one up and started reading it recently on a long train journey, from Washington state to Minnesota and back. Travels in Siberia is typical of all Frazier's travel books, filled with a deep backdrop of book reading and long, searching, peripatetic journeying. There's little else I know quite like it, though admittedly I'm not that versed on travel literature. Siberia appears to be a state of mind as much as a huge sprawling geographical region (eight time zones! on land!), as Ian Frazier and a million others have said. I knew it was cold but I did not know it was so big. I did not understand its history or relationship exactly to Russia, so among other things I really appreciated, as always, all the lucid 'splainin' Frazier is wont to. I think I may also know at least one high school chum similarly bit by this Russia-love of Frazier's. Genghis Khan is hugely important in the Siberia region, and for once I feel like I have some understanding of the generalized historical threat, and menace, of barbarians, who rode and sacked and pillaged, etc. As much as anything a palpable sense of sadness pervades much of the writing here. Part of it is by circumstance, such as the particular ending of his long eastward journey across the region, exhausting even to read about in some of its particulars. But there's another layer of sadness I keyed into right away even on my own train journey, traveling westward across the Great Plains of North America in North Dakota and Montana, and that is the amount of environmental change we are seeing in our lifetimes. The glaciers are gone now from Glacier National Park, and have been for some time. Mt. Rainier in Washington state is losing its once massive glacier. Similar trends are evident in Siberia, of course, which Frazier is able to witness (albeit imperfectly in many ways) on four journeys between 1993 and 2009. This inevitably invites sadness. There is also some shedding of naivete—or maybe that was just my own?—in the impossible levels of corruption interlarded through every aspect of everything Frazier encounters in Russia. It really is remarkable, and disheartening. Yes, it sounds like they often have stout hearts and good spirit, and as a culture are capable of great leaps of joy and inspiration. But the corruption. Is it really the way forward? Recommended with reservations—you may have to love Ian Frazier's travel writing, as I do, to weather some of these passages. He was driven at least as batty as I would have been by even just a little of this.

In case it's not at the library.

Friday, January 01, 2016

New Year memo

Happy new year once again to all of you, and best wishes as usual. Hope you had a good holiday season and are ready for the shit ahead in the coming year, as we all must be. Yes, I am talking about politics and Republicans, but not exclusively. I lost my cat Annabelle most unexpectedly this year—came home from an errand and found her dead, and she was only 6. You can't know when these things will happen. Then I got a wonderful new cat (GG, pictured), but with her came transition problems: fleas, and personality conflicts with my older cat Charlie. Same old shit, in other words, though I'm happy to have her and sorry to say goodbye to Annabelle with 2015. And now some notes about this blog (reminder: comments always welcome, particularly now when I understand Blogger makes it difficult to post them sometimes ... I appreciate the efforts at least as much as the comments ... thank you!).

A book: Among other things, I spent much of the last year putting together a collection of pieces, mostly from this blog but some older things as well. I will be making it available as an on-demand trade paperback and in e-book format too. More information on that to come. It was nice to take the break from blog writing, even though it was daunting to read through the archives. But I found I came out of it wanting more than ever to stay with the writing projects I keep burping up here. So look for more of the same in the coming year: Friday movies, and Sunday books, and I'm planning to return to albums on Saturdays, with reviews of more recent releases (as well as the odd oldies that distract me). And other things as they occur to me, or to you too, as I'm still entertaining requests.