Saturday, March 21, 2020

3/21/20: Book Review: The End of Billy Knight by Ty Jacob

A tale that explores the relationship between a gay hustler and an aging drag queen, set in the world of 80s porn stars. This is not erotica, but a weak attempt at literary fiction. The characters are tired stereotypes, and because of that they fail to be convincing. The plot is a string of gay clichés, one after another. 

The one positive thing I can say is that author has done a great deal of research into both the 80’s LA porn industry, as well as what it takes to be a drag queen. That said, I was not only disappointed in the story, but doubly so because this same author wrote another book, non-fiction using his real name, titled: An Olive Grove at the Edge of the World, which I loved. After reading his non-fiction story, I built up my expectations very high, and then was disheartened. All the freshness and humor I found in Olive Grove was sorely missing in Billy Knight. The only reason I finished the story was because it was selected by my book club, and I needed to read it all in order to properly discuss the book at the next meeting. 

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

3/17/20: Book Review: The Wright Brothers by David McCullough

Two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize David McCullough tells the fascinating story of the determined brothers who overcame a lack of education (neither attended college) and lack of money, taught the world how to fly: Wilbur and Orville Wright.

On December 17, 1903, at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, Wilbur and Orville Wright's Wright Flyer became the first powered, heavier-than-air machine to achieve controlled, sustained flight with a pilot aboard, thus creating  The Age of Flight. How did they do it? And why? David McCullough tells the extraordinary story of the two brothers who changed the world. 

Sons of an itinerant preacher and a mother who died young, Wilbur and Orville Wright grew up on a small side street in Dayton, Ohio, in a house that lacked indoor plumbing and electricity but was filled with books and a love of learning. The brothers ran a bicycle shop that allowed them to earn enough money to pursue their mission in life: flight. In the 1890s flying was beginning to advance beyond the glider stage, but there were major technical challenges the Wrights were determined to solve. They traveled to North Carolina's remote Outer Banks to test their plane because there they found three indispensable conditions: constant winds, soft surfaces for landings, and privacy. 

Flying proved dangerous; the Wrights risked their lives every time they flew in the years that followed. Orville nearly died in a crash in 1908 but was nursed back to health by his sister, Katharine - an unsung and important part of the brothers' success and of McCullough's book. Despite their achievement the Wrights could not convince the US government to take an interest in their plane until after they demonstrated its success in France, where the government instantly understood the importance of their achievement. Now, in this revelatory book, historian David McCullough draws on nearly 1,000 letters of family correspondence plus diaries, notebooks, and family scrapbooks in the Library of Congress to tell the full story of the Wright brothers and their heroic achievement.

Wilbur and Orville were two of the key architects who molded our modern civilization. I found their story fascinating, and also marveled at their quiet, unpretentious natures. The book not only describes their momentous achievements, but also describes in detail their lives, habits, personalities. David McCullough is a master at presenting history as a fresh and exciting experience. 

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

3/11/20: Mining For More Creative Options

Yesterday I completed an exercise in creativity where I forced myself to come up with five different ways to present my next scene in my manuscript. Normally I have a gut feel for how to create a scene, and I just go with my gut. But after watching a documentary on expanding creativity, I decided to try one of the exercises they highlighted.

I recorded my first, gut-feel idea for my next scene, but then I sat there with pen and paper until I had thought up four more different version of how that scene could play out to achieve the desired results to the plot. It took me a few hours of considering different options and how they would affect the story, but I managed to come up with five choices that would work. 

As it turns out, I liked option three and option five much better than my original, gut-feel solution. But then I realized I could combine elements from both options three and five to create a sixth option that I think is marvelous. Not only did come up with a much better solution, but I have fun doing it. In fact, I kind of amazed myself. 

Needless to say, I very much liked this exercise, and will incorporate it into each new scene I write going forward. 

Friday, February 21, 2020

2/21/20: Book Review: Blowout by Rachel Maddow

Big Oil and Gas versus democracy - winner take all

With her trademark humor, Maddow guides us on a journey from Oklahoma to Moscow to the White House, revealing the greed, corruption, and incompetence of Big Oil and Gas along the way, and drawing conclusions about how and why the Russian government hacked the 2016 US election. She deftly shows how Russia's rich reserves of crude have, paradoxically, stunted its growth, forcing Putin to maintain his power by spreading Russia's decay into its rivals, its neighbors, the West's most important alliances, and the United States. The oil and gas industry has weakened democracies in developed and developing countries, fouled oceans and rivers, and propped up authoritarian thieves and killers. But being outraged at it is, according to Maddow, "like being indignant when a lion takes down and eats a gazelle. You can't really blame the lion. It's in her nature."
Blowout is a call to contain the lion: to stop subsidizing the wealthiest businesses on Earth, to fight for transparency, and to check the influence of the world's most destructive industry and its enablers. The stakes have never been higher. As Maddow writes, "Democracy either wins this one or disappears."

A fascinating book, one that every American should read cover to cover.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

2/18/20: First Swim of the Year

Yesterday I swam laps in the pool for the first time this year. The air temperature climbed to over 80 degrees and the water temperature topped 75, which made for a bracing swim but a truly lovely experience. I only did ten or fifteen laps before I became uncomfortably cold, but it felt wonderful to be exercising muscles that have been mostly dormant since the beginning of November. 

I’m hoping to do more laps today, and I’m looking forward to the time when the pool temperature tops 80 degrees so I can stay in much longer, long enough to do my aqua-exercises which take 1 to 1 ½ hours. I do love being active, as much as I love this time in my life when I have the time and resources to enjoy simple things like swimming, tennis, and writing. 

I have no pictures of me in the pool, but one of my favorite pictures of Herman is this one.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

2/16/20: Book Review – Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

On the last night of 1937, twenty-five-year-old Katey Kontent is in a second-rate Greenwich Village jazz bar with her boardinghouse roommate stretching three dollars as far as it will go when Tinker Grey, a handsome banker with royal blue eyes and a tempered smile, happened to sit at the neighboring table. This chance encounter and its consequences propel Katey on a yearlong journey from a Wall Street secretarial pool toward the upper echelons of New York society and the executive suites of Conde Nast—rarefied environs where she will have little to rely upon other than a bracing wit and her own brand of cool nerve. 

Wooed in turn by a shy, principled multi-millionaire and an irrepressible Upper East Side ne’er-do-well, befriended by a single-minded widow who is ahead of her time, and challenged by an imperious mentor, Katey experiences firsthand the poise secured by wealth and station and the failed aspirations that reside just below the surface. Even as she waits for circumstances to bring Tinker back into her life, she begins to realize how our most promising choices inevitably lay the groundwork for our deepest regrets. 

This is the second Amor Towles book I’ve read (the first being A Gentleman In Moscow) and I have loved them both. Rules of Civility, Towles’s first published novel, has a wonderful voice that carries the reader along a time in history between world wars when the country was getting back on its feet and hopes and prospects were flying high. Interesting characters, interesting times, wonderful juxtaposition between rich and middleclass. This is a great beach read, not too heavy, not at all violent, but delightfully clever, and ultimately satisfying.  

Sunday, February 9, 2020

2/09/20: Jackson Pollock

Many, many years ago when I first saw some of Jackson Pollock’s canvases, I didn’t know what to think. It didn’t really seem like art, yet it had an energy that I found compelling. Now that I’ve seen more of his work, and matured in view of art, I think Pollock’s work is some of the most interesting and beautiful art I’ve seen. Pure genius.