in the idle hours

Well, I haven’t lost WordPress access just yet, so… here we go.

I started this post last week, but couldn’t finish it because of work stuff.  I was gonna work on it yesterday, but yesterday was awful and I felt silly for bothering with this sort of post.  Today, however, I am doing my best to engage in self-care and so I’m gonna take a cue from kottke.org and do a little rundown of all the various media I’ve taken in lately.

Ann Leckie, Imperial Radch Trilogy.  This has been on my to-read list forever, and now I’m finally getting around to reading it, and it is just as good as I’d hoped it would be.  And let me tell you, when the world is falling to shit and you can barely keep it together, there’s nothing quite like knowing you’ve got a good book to wrap yourself in.  It’s a security blanket for the soul.

Stephen King, The Bill Hodges Trilogy (Mr. Mercedes, Finders Keepers, End of Watch).  I’m gonna give this a solid B.  It’s not top-shelf King, but it’s crime fiction rather than supernatural horror (at least the first two books are, anyway), and he does a pretty good job of keeping the pages turning.  That said, the main three protagonists are utterly forgettable, and while the villains are compelling and memorable, they’re also rather stupid, which deflates a lot of the tension; you’re never worried about the ending.  And as noted above, the first two books are grounded in the real world while the third book goes off into a telekenetic/mind-control thing, which creates a weird paradox; on the one hand, it’s probably the best book in the series because it’s the one that is closest to King’s strengths; on the other, it totally upends the very grounded reality of the first two books.

The Matrix.  I don’t know what it is, but I feel like everywhere I look, people are talking about The Matrix again.  And pretty much everything the wife and I have watched together recently has reminded us in some way of the first Matrix movie, and so we decided to just re-watch it.  And you know what?  It still holds up, for the most part.  Yeah, some of the dialogue is hokey, and the love story simply doesn’t play, and the visuals are a bit dated (if only because they’ve been copied to death).  But every single shot in the film is iconic, and the film itself is so radically ambitious, and it’s still as entertaining as it ever was.  I’m philosophically opposed to reboots, but if the Wachowskis wanted to re-make this film with current technology, I’d be OK with it.

The Matrix Reloaded.  You know, if you edit out the stupid cheesy bullshit, this is a pretty kick-ass film.  It’s not nearly as unwatchable as I remember it being.  Though I’ll always fast-forward through the end-of-the-world disco sex party, because that is just straight-up ridiculous.  And yeah, the scene with the Architect is a bit too wordy for its own good, even if the ideas discussed are interesting.

Math Rock.  I am a huge music nerd, and every once in a while I fall off the deep end into a heavy-duty obsession with old-school prog rock.  (When my son was born, this changed slightly and I became OBSESSED with live Frank Zappa from 1972-73.)  Now, it seems, Spotify has decided that I’m due for some modern math rock, and, once again, Spotify is correct.  In particular, I’ve been listening to a shit-ton of a band called Feed Me Jack, who I think I just read are no longer together, which is a bummer; in any event, they made a rather sizable amount of music in a very short amount of time, and it’s all really good.  And here is another playlist of some of the better stuff I’ve found via the Discovery playlist:

 

By the way, my Spotify Time Capsule is HILARIOUS.  I got a little inebriated the other night and considered live-blogging my reactions to this mix, if only because I haven’t heard some of these songs in 20+ years and the me of 2017 is so completely different than the me that listened to these songs over and over and over again when they were new.  I could give you 500 words on my reaction to hearing “Right Here Right Now” alone.

As for games… eh.  I’ve got a huge backlog and there’s a bunch of stuff coming out soon and yet every time I sit down to play, I’m totally unable to relax and stay involved.  Maybe I need a break.

I’m considering signing up for NaNoWriMo this year, because I need to get my brain’s writing gears moving again, and if I’m ever going to finish the lyrics for this album I should probably just get in the habit of stringing a whole bunch of words together anyway.  A couple years ago I had a great idea for a book, and I even took some writing classes to flesh some of it out… I still really like my first chapter, even if the rest of the story fell apart on me.  And then I was going to write a memoir-ish thing about my college/band years, and I could probably fictionalize that enough to keep myself from having another nervous breakdown like I did the last time I tried it.  So even if I’m not writing here as much – and I’m gonna be trying to reduce the amount of time I spend on FB and Twitter and such – I will do my darnedest to keep the words happening somewhere.

I hope you’re well.  We’re gonna get through this, somehow.

Happy Birthday, Stephen King

Today is Stephen King’s 70th birthday.

I’ve been reading Stephen King books since junior high school.  I can’t 100% recall which my first one was – it either Cujo or Firestarter – but once I started, I couldn’t stop.  I read everything in paperback up until I caught up to him in hardcover (which was probably The Tommyknockers), and then I read pretty much everything until I was in college (I think I stopped after Insomnia – which I remember not liking all that much, though I also had my DNA re-written around this time by DFW’s Infinite Jest, and so I probably wouldn’t have bothered with SK all that much anyway).

But even then, I’d dabble here and there – there were quite a few that I skipped, but I was a devoted Dark Tower fan and so I devoured those in quick succession, and while I’ve tapered off somewhat in recent years, I started dipping back into his newer work during the relatively solid 1-2-3 punch of Duma KeyUnder the Dome and 11/22/63.  I originally started writing this post last week when I was finishing my 9th or 10th re-reading of It, and I’m currently in the middle of Finders Keepers, the second book of the Bill Hodges trilogy.  (Regarding these Bill Hodges books – even if they’re not among his best work, they’re still engaging and fast-paced, and frankly I’m just impressed that SK decided to completely switch from horror to detective novels.  The guy has nothing left to prove at this point, and yet he clearly wanted to try something new, and for the most part he succeeds.  I can’t help but wonder if watching J.K. Rowling switch things up from Harry Potter to her Robert Gilbraith crime novels inspired SK to follow suit, just for the hell of it.)

So, yes, I’m a fan.  But a question I’ve been asking myself lately is:  why?  I don’t like particularly like scary movies or video games, so why on earth was I drawn to him in the first place?  Why did my mother let me buy those books?  Let’s leave aside the child murdering and grotesque imagery – if she knew what kind of language was in those books, she’d have a heart attack.  Even now I’m a little put off by how much Quentin Tarantino uses the n-word in his movies, and Stephen King uses that word more in one book than QT’s used in his entire body of work.   (I gently teased my mom about this the other day, and she was as surprised as anybody; she’s never read him.  I suppose she was just glad that I was a diligent pre-teen reader.  My wife points out that my parents were in the process of getting divorced at around the same time that I started really getting into SK, and so my mom can be excused for not doing her due diligence.)

I don’t know how to answer the question, to be honest.  Except that I do love a good story, and if nothing else, King knows how to tell stories almost as well as anyone ever has.  Yes, he has certain tics that, regardless of genre, he can’t seem to shake (50’s-era rock and roll lyrics, deliberately misspelled and racist signage, a tendency to punctuate his characters’ thoughts with Robin Williams-esque riffs).  And while I’m the sort of nerd who enjoys seeing how all of his books tie in to each other (a very specific nerdy impulse that David Mitchell is also working with, to my tremendous delight), he also literally throws himself into the end of the Dark Tower series, and even early in the first Bill Hodges book he throws in a reference to “that Pennywise clown from the TV movie”, which, I mean, come on.

This post was originally going to be a sort of meditation on my re-reading of It, which despite its ridiculous ending is still probably my favorite SK novel.  I wrote out some bullet points that I meant to expand upon, but I can’t right now (for various reasons), so let me just get them out of the way:

  • The last time I read it, according to my LiveJournal, was in 2002.
  • It is, without question, the most “metal” title of a horror book you could possibly have, and SK is the only author who could successfully pull it off.
  • I’ve read It many times, but this was the first time where I was consciously aware that I was older than the adults.
  • There are very few 1000+ page books I can read this quickly.
  • There is a vividness to SK’s writing that is unparalleled; one of the reasons why I tend to shy away from filmed versions of his work is that they’re largely unnecessary.  if I were to film these books, I’d be the set designer, the costumer, the casting director, the DP.  (There’s a shootout early in The Gunslinger and I know exactly how it’s supposed to be filmed.)
  • As I noted above, SK has a tendency to write like Robin Williams talks.  And if It had been filmed concurrently with the book, I can’t help but think Robin Williams would’ve been Richie “Man Of A Thousand Voices” Tozier.
  • Speaking of Richie: holy shit, Richie Tozier is Exhibit A of unconscious white racism.  Henry Bowers, the bad guy, uses the n-word quite a lot, but Richie’s voices are a litany of racist caricature, and even if that was the point, it’s still hair-raising; there’s his jaw-dropping Pickaninny voice, and his offensive Chinese Waiter voice, and yet somehow the kids mostly rag on him for his Irish Cop voice, if only because his Irish accent is terrible.  Now, when I read this book way back in the early 90s as a young teenager, I didn’t know this, and I’m not sure anybody else did either.  I know everyone is bothered by that super-creepy and weird sex thing that happens at the end, but let’s be honest here:  just about every word out of Richie’s mouth is fucking horrifying.
  • That said, I’m not sure anyone’s ever captured the aimlessness of empty summer afternoons better than he does in this book.
  • Also:  regarding the scariest parts of It – not Pennywise, frankly.  I remember being freaked out at the fortune cookie scene during the reunion, but now it’s almost silly.  Henry Bowers, on the other hand, is still terrifying.  As is Beverly’s father, and then her husband, certainly.  I still think that the final interlude about Patrick Hocksetter is among the creepiest chapters SK’s ever written.

Here’s a question:  at the time of It‘s publication, who was his audience?  I mean, the dude’s sold a bazillion copies over his career, and pretty much everything he wrote hit #1, so I’m sure he had a sizable percentage of most demographics; but if I had to ask SK one question right at this very moment, I’d be most curious to know who he thought he was writing to.  Does he have an image of the stereotypical SK fan?

I would guess that he doesn’t actually have anyone in mind when he sits down to write; first and foremost he’s writing the story, and whatever happens to it after he’s done writing is the reader’s problem.  And yet for someone who was self-aware enough to know how popular he was to bother writing under a pseudonym just to see what would happen, I am compelled to presume that his introductions addressed to his Gentle Reader or Constant Reader might’ve had a face.

I don’t know how to end this little piece; it’s a weird day here at the office and I’m a bit more scatterbrained than usual.  But I did want to offer up two fun links that I came across today:

  1. Kaitlyn Tiffany’s excellent, excellent diary of reading It for the first time this summer in preparation for the movie
  2. LitHub’s list of 12 literary writers discussing SK’s influence

 

What’s your favorite SK novel?

 

the devil in the details

Inspired by my previous post, I’ve decided to re-read It, for the however-many-nth time.  It’s comfort food, albeit a very strange sort of comfort food.  But these are weird times, after all.  To paraphrase a joke on Twitter from last week – I may not believe in the end times, but these last few weeks certainly feel like a dress rehearsal for the real thing.

It’s been several years since my last venture into Derry, and in the intervening years my reading habits have changed rather dramatically – being a Kindle convert will do that to you – and so even though I’ve read this book a zillion times, I was startled to discover a few details I’d not noticed previously.

I literally just finished re-reading the very first chapter – the sad saga of Georgie and the newspaper boat – and somehow never noticed that, in his desperate search for the paraffin in the dark basement (and the VERY RELATABLE terror of being a small child in a dark basement), he stumbles across a box of Turtle wax and is transfixed by the image of the turtle on the box.  He feels that he’s seen that turtle before, but in a different context, and he almost loses his train of thought in trying to remember.  Now, if you’ve read the book, the turtle is rather significant, but it doesn’t show up for another thousand pages.  I’ve read this book a gazillion times and yet, somehow, I never connected the dots until just now.

For those of you who’ve seen the movie – is George’s brief venture into the basement filmed?  I mean, the main thrust of that chapter is what happens at the end, not at the beginning, but I’m genuinely curious to see if they bothered to film that.  It’s a very small detail, but it’s the sort of detail that makes the book experience so rich and vibrant.


I’m not yet ready to talk about Destiny 2.  I’m only level 8, with a light level somewhere in the mid-70s or 80s.  I’ve been playing solo, and as such I’m allowing myself to grind here and there so that I can be a bit over-leveled for each actual mission.  And yet I’ve only completed 3 or 4.  I’ve seen a very tiny fraction of what the game apparently has to offer.  I think I’m enjoying it – certainly a lot more than the first one – and I look forward to getting some co-op in, as I think that’s where the game will truly shine.

I do have to share my friend Greg’s annoyance that you can’t truly pause, which is the sort of thing you have to worry about when you’re a parent.  I’d say the vast majority of players I’ve run into are all level 20, and so clearly they have way more time on their hands than I do.  That’s fine and good; I was never going to hop into the Crucible anyway.


I feel like I should say something about PewDiePie’s latest racial outburst, though there’s nothing I would say that hasn’t been said a lot better by people with much bigger audiences.   He’s apologized, though that’s not even really the point.  The reason why I don’t hop into Destiny’s Crucible or GTA V’s multiplayer or really any multiplayer is because, for the most part, playing with strangers online is an excruciatingly awful experience.  You hear that sort of language all the goddamned time.

It’s just that PDP, who has an audience of over 50 million people, helps normalize this sort of language and validates it for other people.  They might not consider themselves racist, but if you choose to use the n-word (or really any type of slur), you’re saying that you’re OK with racist language.  And it’s shitty, and awful, and negligent.  My 4-year-old is eventually going to get into videogames, and I’m sure he’ll be watching YouTubers, and while I will endeavor to guide him towards the right way of doing things and teach him not just about bad words but also about the power these words have, I’m not going to be able to hover over his shoulder forever.  And at some point he’s gonna hear some jackass use these words, and he’s either going to be offended, or he’s going to think it’s cool.  I only hope he makes the right choice.

free association

Sometimes I write here for you, whomever you might be.  I want to relate my experience playing a game or listening to music or reading a book, and maybe you’re experienced those things too, and so we can compare and contrast our separate experiences and sort of virtually pretend we did them together.

Sometimes I write here because I’m bored and have nothing else to do and so typing away at my desk makes me look busy.  This happens more often than not.

And sometimes – like now – I write here for me.  I have too many thoughts in my head and I need to get them out, and this is one of the only places I have, and whether or not you read this is immaterial.  Which is not to say that you reading this is irrelevant – I’m correcting typos and trying to make sure this is readable – but, well, look.  I’ve got stuff I’ve gotta figure out.


I’m stressed, man.  Depressed.  Mood swings all over the goddamned place.  My mom is back in the hospital less than 24 hours after getting released from the hospital, where she’d been for 3 weeks recovering from a broken pelvis – this would also be her 4th hospital stay this year, after a broken femur and a frightening bout of sepsis.  My dad and his family are in a somewhat hurricane-proof area of Jacksonville, Florida, preparing to receive whatever Irma has to dish out by the time it gets there.  I appear to have developed plantar fasciitis, which is a delightful perk of getting older and which makes walking around rather painful.  I’m stressed about money, which is a whole other thing that I’m not gonna get into right now.

Basically, what’s happening to the US right now – 2 major hurricanes, the west coast being on fire, and a steaming gold-plated turd in the White House hell-bent on making the worst possible decisions for no other reason than hating Obama – is a rather good approximation of what’s happening in my brain.


There’s some really good music out, at least.  Today sees the release of The National’s long-awaited new album, and Deerhoof have also released yet another brilliant collection.  The new LCD Soundsystem is hit-or-miss for me but it does contain the best lyrical couplet of the year (“You’ve got numbers on your phone of the dead that you can’t delete / and you got life-affirming moments in your past that you can’t repeat”).  I haven’t even had time to process the new Iron & Wine or King Gizzard or The War on Drugs or Grizzly Bear or Everything Everything or Rainer Maria, because I’ve been too busy listening to my Discovery playlist.


I’m not sure if I’m going to see the new It movie.  I’ve only seen bits and pieces of the Tim Curry TV series, as well.  Here’s the deal – It is, for me, the definitive Stephen King novel.  It’s the book I’ve probably read and re-read the most.  Other people prefer The Stand, or The Dark Tower, or whatever; It has always been the book for me.  It’s the reason why I’m attracted to big books.  One of the reasons why the book is so successful in instilling dread is specifically because of its heft; it literally weighs you down as you read it.  (Well, maybe not the Kindle version, but you get my meaning.)

I don’t need a movie version.  I don’t want a movie version.  The scene between Henry Bowers (the bully) and Patrick Hockstetter (the psychopath and arguably the single most creepy character in SK’s entire output) will always be more horrifying in my mind than it would be on screen – and considering what happens in that scene, I can’t possibly imagine it ever being filmed.

I suppose I’m glad to hear that the new movie is getting good reviews, but that doesn’t necessarily make me want to see it.  I’d rather just re-read it again.


Speaking of books, it’s been a while since I ran down what I’ve read.  I read Leigh Bardugo’s two Six of Crows books, which were great fun; I just finished the final installment in N.J. Jemisin’s Stone Sky series, which was astonishing.  I’ve started reading Bryant & May and the Burning Man, and I’m enjoying it even if I’m not 100% sure where it’s going.

I did complete my (admittedly low) Goodreads reading challenge, so I’m feeling a bit more relaxed in terms of what to take on next.  I think I need a break from trilogies and such; I could use just a one-off every now and then.


I wasn’t going to play Destiny 2, and yet, well, I bought it.  Of course I did.  I’m barely into it – indeed, I got stuck in a too-hard section and gave up last night – but it’s Destiny, all right.  Still arguably the best-feeling shooter I’ve played in a while, though I’m not necessarily the best authority on that front.

Do you ever have games stuck in the back of your mind?  I do.  For the longest time I had Max Payne 3 lodged in there, for reasons I can’t possibly begin to fathom; right now it’s a cross between Bioshock Infinite and 2016’s DOOM.  I don’t know what makes me think of them; they’re just there, like bits of a song that get looped in my brain.


OK, that’s enough yakkin’.  I gotta close up shop.  Have a good weekend.  Thanks for reading.  I think I feel better?  I think I feel better.

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