Thursday, December 29, 2005


I decided to finally switch off of the template links and actually link to people I read on a regular basis. So please check out the people who do it better than me. And more links will come soon. I promise.
F&SF, JAN. 2006

Thought I'd squeeze this in before the end of the year too, so I can keep pace with my Asimov's thoughts. I finished this issue the other week, so my comments may not be as in depth as they normall would (or wouldn't, I guess).

The issue gets off to a good start with Robert Reed's "Less Than Nothing." It continues the story of Raven, a young boy of the People, who killed a man in the previous installment. He is now exiled from the People and learns surprising new things about himself and his family. The ending opens things up for more exploration of the world in the next story. Hope we see that story in 2006.

Next up is part one of the first serialized story in F&SF in many years - Terry Bisson's "Planet of Mystery" (also the story featured on the great pulp-style cover by Max Bertolini). It details the first mission to Venus, where things take a major turn for the unexpected...or is that just a hallucination? Bisson crafts a story of equal parts action and thought and I'm looking forward to seeing how it concludes.

One of my favorite newer writers is Matthew Hughes. "Shadow Man" is not a tale of Henghis Hapthorn or Guth Bandar, though. Rather, it deals with a disturbed individual. The story is decent but seems too similar to other stories to register too much. Probably my least favorite Hughes story ever.

I also didn't care too much for "Horse-Year Women" by Michaela Roessner. It was well-written and had some interesting parts but overall just didn't appeal to me much. Not everything can.

Ever considered renting out space in your brain for the government to use? Tony Sarowitz's "A Daze in the Life" tackles that question and what could happen to you if you fall in love. Yeah, a rather vague description but it's a solid story.

I love reading a first-time writer who gets it right. It makes me look forward to the next story from that writer and also gives me hope as someone who hopes to publish his first story soon. "Journey to Gantica" by Matthew Corradi is my favorite story of the issue. It's a tall tale in more ways than one with lots of fun bits and a moral message in the end. Right up my alley. Give us more, Matthew!

The issue closes out with Bruce McAllster's "The Boy in Zaquitos," a story about a different kind of secret government agent. That's all I will say about the story itself other than to say it is sadly not that far-fetched. It's also good.

So, Gordon Van Gelder gets his 2006 publishining year off to a good start. I expect no less from my favorite fiction magazine.

Here's the tracklist for my best of 2005 CD mix...

1. This Year/Mountain Goats
2. Use It/New Pornographers
3. I Wanna Know Girls/Portastatic
4. Sandie/Devin Davis
5. Call to Love/Crooked Fingers
6. Always Love/Nada Surf
7. Publish My Love/Rogue Wave
8. Alternative to Love/Brendan Benson
9. The Nurse/The White Stripes
10. Extraordinary Machine/Fiona Apple
11. My Mathematical Mind/Spoon
12. Land Locked Blues/Bright Eyes
13. The Apartment/Marah
14. Back to Me/Kathleen Edwards
15. I Will Follow You Into the Dark/Death Cab for Cutie
16. Fuel for Fire/M. Ward
17. Cattle and the Creeping Things/The Hold Steady
18. Concerning Lessons Learned from the Aliens/The Prayers and Tears of Arthur Digby Sellers
19. Video/Aimee Mann
20. Whatever Happened to Soy Bomb/Eels
21. 6 String Belief/Son Volt

Wednesday, December 28, 2005


As I mentioned in the previous post, I have had a goal for how many books I wanted to read in a year. I set the goal of 36 books for myself back in 2001 and this year I finally broke through. That first year I read 30, followed by years of 33, 34, 35, and then 38 this year. That is a grand total of 170 books in five years, an average of 34 a year. You know, seeing that number just seems astounding. I never thought of the grand totals, just about trying to reach the goal and hoping to enjoy everything I picked up. Naturally, not everything appealed and I had a few abandoned books along the way or others that took me a longer time to get through. On the whole, though, I was successful in enjoying at least parts of a book.

The author I read the most was T.C. Boyle. I believe I read all of his books during the past five years (I don't have an accurate record for 2001) for a total of 13 (his Stories collection contains everything from 4 previous story collections). He is one of my favorite writers after all.

I thought I would deliver a top twenty of the books I've read during this project. It puts a nice cap on things and helps to set the stage for the second half of my reading decade. And as always with this types of lists, on another day things could be different...

1. The Portrait of Mrs. Charbuque by Jeffrey Ford
2. Stories by T.C. Boyle
3. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling
4. The Fantasy Writer's Assistant by Jeffrey Ford
5. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
6. John Henry Days by Colson Whitehead
7. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
8. American Gods by Neil Gaiman
9. The Tortilla Curtain by T.C. Boyle
10. Harry Potter and the Order of the Pheonix by J.K. Rowling
11. White Teeth by Zadie Smith
12. Everything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer
13. Critical Space by Greg Rucka
14. Stranger Things Happen by Kelly Link
15. Set This House in Order by Matt Ruff
16. Little Children by Tom Perrotta
17. Counting Heads by David Marusek
18. The Savage Girl by Alex Shakar
19. The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem
20. Parasites Like Us by Adam Johnson
BOOKS 2005

This is the year I finally broke through and met my reading goal for the year, passing it by 2 for a total of 38 on the year. It could have been even more but I only managed 2 books the last two months. As I mentioned the other week, I lost the thread somewhat. Anyway, this list contains the books I read and not just the ones published this year...

1. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling
2. Stranger Things Happen by Kelly Link
3. Counting Heads by David Marusek
4. The Girl in the Glass by Jeffrey Ford (his novella, The Cosmology of the Wider World, is also recommended)
5. Tooth and Claw by T.C. Boyle (also greatly enjoyed his novel A Friend of the Earth)
6. The Egyptologist by Arthur Phillips
7. Air by Geoff Ryman
8. The Truth About Celia by Kevin Brockmeier
9. Home Land by Sam Lipsyte
10. Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman
TV 2005

There were a lot of good shows this year but I'll narrow it down to five for symmetry's sake...

1. Lost
2. Arrested Development
3. Deadwood
4. Gilmore Girls
5. Entourage

I actually managed to see 8 movies in the theater this year and I caught a couple more on DVD. Here's my top five for the year...

1. King Kong
2. Serenity
3. Batman Begins
4. The 40 Year-Old Virgin
5. The Wedding Crashers
MUSIC 2005

It was very hard to narrow this down. On another day, I would arrange the order differently or slide some other discs into the top ten. A good year for music, I think.

1. The Hold Steady/Separation Sunday
2. New Pornographers/Twin Cinema
3. Spoon/Gimme Fiction
4. Devin Davis/Lonely People of the World, Unite!
5. The Prayers and Tears of Arthur Digby Sellers/The Mother of Love Emulates the Shapes of Cynthia
6. Portastatic/Bright Ideas
7. Eels/Blinking Lights and Other Revelations
8. Bright Eyes/I'm Wide Awake It's Morning
9. Fiona Apple/Extraordinary Machine
10. Marah/If You Didn't Laugh, You'd Cry

I've spent the last few weeks trying to close some things out for 2005, so I can better jump into 2006. This has meant a dearth of posts, obviously. My plan is to finish up my 2005 posts with a couple best-of lists and then be ready to try making this place a daily stop for those who read it (and maybe get a few more of those people too). I won't be commenting on any of my picks in the posts but I will be happy to talk about them in the comments section. Please do so. And enjoy the rest of your 2005!

Sunday, December 11, 2005


I don't know what it is. Maybe it was the fall I had with the funerals and the harder than usual Thanksgiving trip. Or just how busy it's gotten around these parts. But I feel like I've lost the thread a little with pop culture here and the end of the year. I don't feel as plugged in. I've only read one book since the end of October (and am working on a second, but I'm not being very fast - and I like the book a lot!). I can't keep straight in my head which books I want for Christmas and which CDs I need. I don't know. Does anyone else feel like they aren't as tuned in to everything as the year winds down?

More errands than usual and trips to my parents' house and Joliet for a wedding left me even more time to listen to music in the car this past week. Here's the list...

1. Back To Me - I loved Kathleen Edwards debut the other year and her follow-up is almost as good. Not as many rockers on this week but she melds melodic countryish rock with solid lyrics. Unfortunately, the CD case disappeared. That's not a regular occurence for me - my anal retnetive nature has produced as system for where the cases are kept and so on. This case just up and disappeared. My wife thinks someone was in our cars (she was missing all of her change) - I'm not sure why they would take an empty CD case and leave the next one on the list alone but it could explain what happened to it.

2. Kimi Ga Suki - One of my favorite CDs of last year, this was originally released only in Japan but ended up being one of two new Matthew Sweet albums in the States. It's short and full of power pop goodness - crunchy chords and layered harmonies and ballads and full-on rockers. And you know, I still haven't picked up Living Things, his other album from last year. Hmm.

3. Rendezvous - I got Luna's latest (and last, yes?) for Christmas last year and played it a few times before forgetting about it. I should remember it more often, as it has a number of good songs. Dean Wareham's delivery is reminiscent of Lou Reed, of course, but I can dig that.

4. Hollywood Town Hall - This came out in 1992 and is still one of my favorite albums of all time. I love the Jayhawks and hope the reports of their demise were as exaggerated as Gary Louris claimed. Let's have some new Jayhawks in 2006!

5. Let's Bottle Bohemia - Another favorite album from last year. I dug "One Horse Town" from The Thrills' debut but never got around to picking up that one. Their second is great, full of melodic rock and fun lyrical twists. Highly recommended.

6. How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb - Yes, the U2 of today is not the same as the U2 of 10 years ago. I still enjoy their music, though, and this album continues to grow on me more than a year after it came out. Maybe it's just that I still love hearing the Edge play guitar.

7. Anything & Everything - A mix I made earlier this year and titled for the first two songs - "Everything Hits at Once" by Spoon and "Anything, Anything (I'll Give You)" by Dramarama.

Currently playing - My best of 2003 mix, titled for "From Blown Speakers" by New Pornographers. They will be on my best of 2005 mix as well. Word.

Sunday, December 04, 2005


Hi. I've put up a bunch of posts this weekend, so please scroll down and find all the stuff you might not have read. I know many blogs tend to get a bit sleepy on the weekends but it's when I have the time and energy to tackle posts. I was going to do more but I decided to save a few subjects for the week ahead. Check back and see if I manage to get to them...and please give me some feedback.

I don't listen to the radio in my car anymore. The radio station I used to listen to, WXRT, is nothing close to what it used to be. The other Chicago FM stations are terrible. I occasionally put on ESPN Radio but I'm not one to listen to lots of sports talk. I like to listen to music when I'm driving, even if it's just to the grocery store. That means I listen to CDs in my car and I can get through several a week just driving to and from work and around town on errands. So, I thought I'd insitute a semi-regular Sunday feature where I talk about the CDs I listened to in the past week...

1. I Heart Huckabees - The soundtrack to the movie done solely by Jon Brion. It has a mixture of instrumental and vocal tracks. I bought it for the new Brion songs and two are fantasitc - "Knock Yourself Out" and "Revolving Door." The others are good, of course, but I'm surprised at how much I enjoy the other music. The expansion of the musical themes on subsequent tracks is very appealing. I don't listen to this all the time but it works as a whole album.

2. Guero - Yup, the latest Beck album. I like it but I haven't fallen in love with it like I did Sea Change. And I haven't learned to lyrics like I did with Mutations and Odelay. It is fun to sing along with the parts I do know of songs like "Hell Yes" and "Go It Alone" and "Broken Drum." His music works pretty well with just driving too. A good album but it won't come close to my top ten for the year.

3. The Man Who - I hadn't listened to this Travis album in a long time. Definitely more than a year. It still sounds pretty good - melodic sense never goes out of style. "Why Does It Always Rain on Me?" is one of those classic sad songs. They pick on Oasis on a few songs too - "What's a wonderwall anyway?" A good album but not something I'll start playing more often. One or two listens a year is probably good.

I saw a t-shirt in a magazine this week that reads "Joss Whedon is my Master Now." Funny, and something I would wear. After reading Jeffrey Ford's The Girl in the Glass a few months agao and The Cosmology of the Wider World this week, though, an even more apropos shirt would say "Jeffrey Ford is my Writing God."

The Girl in the Glass is his new novel, a paperback original (his previous novel, The Portrait of Mrs. Charbuque, first arrived in HC but a paperback version is available and highly recommended by me). I was amazed to discover my local Barnes & Noble already had mulitple copies coming for the shelves when I went to order a copy for myself. Sadly, those other three copies sat on the new release table until just a few weeks ago.

The novel is set during the Great Depression and centers on a small group of con men who take money from the rich by running fake seances. In the course of one of those seances, the leader thinks his sees an actual spirit, the titular girl in a glass. From there, they have to decide what they've really seen and also uncover a nefarious plot involving secret experiments and more. That's a real bare bones assessment of that plot. Of course, with Ford that plot is only one part. He is wonderful with characters and ideas and writes beautifully.

Those aspects are at the forefront of The Cosmology of the Wider World, a novella available from PS Publishing (which means you can only find it on the net). It is the story of the minotaur Belius, a citizen of the Wider World. He is very depressed as the story opens and it is the maze of his mind that is the focus of the book. We get glimpses into his past in the "real world" and also meet his friends in the Wider World. There is Pezimote, a philandering tortoise, and Thip, a flea who sails the blood of Belius to help Shebeb the doctor ape. Other friends decide Belius is lonely and set about creating a female minotaur for him. Mixed throughout is the Cosmology itself, the writings of Belius and the philosophies behind his life. It all works together very well, tied together by Ford's prose.

Both are well worth your time and money and come highly recommended. Jeffrey Ford has done great work for four books in a row and I'm sure his upcoming collection, The Empire of Ice Cream, will be no exception. All I need know is for his first three novel to come back into print (the trilogy of the Well-Built City) and my joy will be complete.

Saturday, December 03, 2005


I managed to catch "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" this afternoon. I had to miss out on seeing it with family members after my lovely illness last Friday, so I saw it by myself this afternoon. You know, I've actually caught quite a few movies at the theater this year, more than I usually get to anyway. This was #7 (following "Star Wars," "Fantastic Four," "The Wedding Crashers," "The 40 Year-Old Virgin," "Serenity," and "Chicken Little" - guess how I saw that one!) and I will probably finish with an eighth ("King Kong," anyone?). Anyway, back to today's movie...

GOF was definitely my favorite of the Potter books at the time of its publication and may still be my favorite of the series. It is definitely the turning point for the whole series (and if you don't want to be spoiled on anything Potter, please stop reading now), showing a much more mature side of things and keeping the darker nature that was introduced in the previous book through the character of Sirius Black. It was also the longest book (since surpassed by book 5) and the movie producers had originally talked about splitting the story into two movies. Obviously, they didn't and I think it worked out this way.

I thought screenwriter Steve Kloves did a good job condensing the story to the parts that needed to be told to keep things coherent. In the book, the opening at the Quidditch World Cup takes up many pages but here they just get to the salient points - the introduction of Viktor Krum and the return of the Death Eaters. From there, the movie goes right to the arrival of the students from other schools and the announcement of the Triwizard Tournament. The tournament forms the spine of the movie, with all of the other events feeding in and out of the three challenges.

Director Mike Newell does a good job with the intercutting, capturing both the special effects granduer of the challenges and the small moments of character and plot development. He also handle the budding sexuality of the characters well - the kids aren't just wizard but boys and girls who have to go to dances and have dates. Newell also highlights the humor present in those situations. In fact, this is the funniest Potter movie...I laughed many times.

The performances are good as well. Brendan Gleeson is marvelous as the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, "Mad Eye" Moody. Ralph Fiennes plays the now-returned Lord Voldemort and it's not just a scenery-chewing performance. And as always, the three main kids are great. Rupert Grint tends to steal the show as Ron Weasley but Emma Watson is right there with her pitch-perfect Hermione Granger. And Daniel Radcliffe does a great job inheriting the persona of Harry Potter. Can't imagine anyone else doing it.

So, my favorite book become my favorite movie. Not surprising. But for the second film in a row, the movie stands as a work of its own and not just a companion to the book. Of course, it's better if you read the books. It's always better if you read the books. Doesn't mean you can't watch the movie too.

Last year Oni Press released an OGN (original graphic novel) that had the indie comics kids buzzing - SCOTT PILGRIM'S PRECIOUS LITTLE LIFE by Bryan Lee O'Malley. I read nothing but praise for it but I didn't get around to picking it up myself. Volume 2 of the series was released earlier this year and the third volume is due out any day. In fact, it was the appearance of Volume 2, SCOTT PILGRIM VERSUS THE WORLD, on the comics shelves of my local Barnes & Noble that finally got me to pick up the first one from Amazon (and yes, this is not the kind of thing that the local comics shop keeps in stock). I managed to read it before I got sick over Thanksgiving and I am happy to report that it lived up to the hype.

Scott Pilgrim is a 23 year-old who plays bass in the band Sex Bob-omb and not much else. Oh, and he's kinda dating Knives Chau. She's in high school. All is basically fine until he meets an Amazon delivery girl in his dreams and then in real life. He's into Ramona Flowers. Complications ensue, such as having to tell Knives about Ramona; a band gig with Crash and the Boys (who now have a girl on drums); and a fight with Matthew Patel, one of Ramona's evil ex-boyfriends.

I really enjoyed the cross between real life (being poor, being in a band, relationships) and the surreal (the fact Ramona cuts across dreams in order to delivery packages quickly, the bludgeoning power of Crash and the Boys, the fight itself). I'm not giving much away being telling you what I have - it's completely original and can only be read to be enjoyed.

As for the art, O'Malley works in a modified manga style. What does that mean? Mostly big eyes and the use of action lines. He is also an amazing cartoonist, expressive and fluid. As a non-artist, I tend to get geeked out when I see someone who can draw buildings and fences in black and white and make them look real. O'Malley does that here. He also does a great job changing his art style for flashbacks within the story. That's the kind of stuff that makes me love comics.

I would highly recommend SCOTT PILGRIM to anyone and can't wait to grab the next book for myself.

The new issue of Asimov's got off to a good start before I even read a word. Why? A new Michael Swanwick story highlighted on the cover. Swanwick is one of my favorite writers a for a few years had an incredible run of stories in the magazine. He doesn't publish as much as he used to, unfortunately, but he still comes with high quality when he does appear. The new story, "An Episode of Stardust," contains a semi-tall tale within the story, or at least it appears to be a tall tale. It's a story of con artists in a setting of Faerie - a dwarf, a fey, a vixen, and other creatures populate the work. And while it may not be my favorite of Swanwick's stories, it is well-written and entertaining. A good way to kick off the issue.

I have a soft spot for tales of ships that take generations to reach their destinations and R.R. Angell's "In the Space of Nine Lives" is one of those. On this ship there are only 2 people awake at a time (at the most) - a pilot and the person he trains to be the next pilot. All of the pilots come from the same genetic stock but we can see differences in their personalities - they each grow up partly in stim with their own set of friends made up from the people traveling in hibernation on the long voyage. The story is about that old nature vs. nuture to a large extent, as well the nature of reality. I liked it.

Carol Emshwiller tackles another standard SF trope - the alien - in "World of No Return." What happens when you are an alien yet born and raised on Earth? How do you stay true to your people? Can you truly fit in with humans? Emshwiller is always worth a read and this story is no exception.

"The Last McDougals" by David D. Levine uses a McDonalds parody to look into the future at the state of the culture. It's solid.

I was a big fan of Allen M. Steele's Coyote stories, so I was looking forward to reading something outside of that milieu. "World Without End, Amen" deals with another standard SF trope, that of the dangers of technology. If we build powerful AIs, what's to stop them from taking over the world? Lawrence Kaufman's problem is that he was on the wrong side of that question and the story brings him to a place he can finally live in the world. Not as exciting as the Coyote stuff but still very enjoyable.

"Storm Poet" by Kim Antieau is set in the past during a drought and concerns itself with the bonds of family and the power of words. It's another solid one.

Stephen Baxter is a writer I always mean to read more of but never get around to (Kage Baker is another). He's very prolific, with many published novels and stories. "Ghost Wars" is set in his Destiny's Children sequence, which comprises three novels I haven't read and a myraid of short stories, some of which I'd read. Let's put it this way - I wasn't completely lost with the concept. A fighter crew of four ends up aiding a Silver Ghost (the enemy) against one of its own (known as the Black Ghost). Baxter tends towards hard science, so there is quite a bit about stars and advanced physics here but he always manages to make it readable. He's more of a plotter than a character writer although I always find enough character in the stories so as not to get lost in the science. This story is good. Will I finally start reading more of Baxter? Probably not any time soon.

There were no bad stories in this issue and I really enjoyed five out of the seven. A pretty good ratio and a good start to the year for editor Sheila Williams.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005


My 2005 World Champion Chicago White Sox have already been busy this off-season (though not quite as busy as the Mets maybe). Last week's trade with the Phillies that sent Aaron Rowand to Philly for Jim Thome left me a bit skeptical. Now, if Thome is healthy and can back to his usual production, then he is a great pickup (plus, he's a lefty). On the other hand, if he's the .208 hitting Jim Thome... The other problem is that I don't want to see Rowand go. He has been one of my favorite Sox these last few years - he always plays hard, is one of the best centerfielders in the game, and can get the clutch hits. I really hate to see him go.

Now brings some great news. Paul Konerko signed a new contract with the Sox today, 5 years at 60 million. He's been my favorite Sox player over the past couple of years, even when he's gone through his slumps. He knows how to hit and he can hit for power. Plus, he plays a better first base than he generally gets credit for. And if we get the good Thome...what a combo that will be. Yup, this news makes me very happy.

Sickness update: Grant got through school just fine yesterday and today. I survived two days back in the water without any problems and with kids happy to see me. However, Jill came home early from school yesterday and had the same problems as Grant and me. The bug batted 3 for 3, damn it.

Site update: Lots of things I want to talk about and I hope to start getting two posts a day up tomorrow. We'll see. Upcoming subjects include Scott Pilgrim, Jeffrey Ford, live CDs and DVDs, the Jan. 2006 issue of Asimov's, my new TV love, lots of talk about DC Comics icons, and more.

Music update: Grooving to The Hold Steady's Separation Sunday. Again.

Monday, November 28, 2005


This year was not my best Thanksgiving experience, I'm sorry to say. It started with snowy and icy weather when we left, which caused delays and slow speeds at times. The worst part of the weather came in western Pennsylvania - the roads had just started getting bad when a Jeep-type vehicle in front of me drifted to the left and skidded on the ice. He went into the embankment (we were in the left lane at the time and westbound 80 was above us at that point) and flipped over the hill a couple times. Right in front of me. It was very scary and we pulled over as soon as we could. Jill called 911 on her cel and I walked back to see what was going on. Luckily, the guy was okay and just had a few aches and pains. I waited with him until a state tropper arrived and then we went back on our way, though at about 35 to 40 MPH for many miles after that.

Thanksgiving itself was fine. It was odd not to have either of my grandmothers around but we got through it. Big dinner and cards and homemade ice cream and pie and so on and so forth as usual.

Friday started out normally as well, with most of the group going to Woolrich (I am one of the few who stays at the hotel...managed to finish Scott Pilgrim too (more on that in the near future)). The guys went to lunch at the Bridge Tavern, where I had a cheesesteak, and then I went up to Percy's to play cards with my dad, my cousin Heath, and his brother-in-law (and an honorary cousin) Brian. It was a nice time except I started feeling worse and worse. Once my wife arrived, I had her take over for me and went back down to the hotel. Long story short (and you really don't want the details) - I got very ill. Very very ill. And that was pretty much the end of my weekend. Saturday I spent trying to feel better and I did start feeling closer to normal by Saturday night's surprise 60th birthday party for my Aunt Merry.

The whole experience was very unpleasant and one that I do not wish to repeat. I felt well enough to make the drive home (my mom was along with us, as my dad had to stay in Williamsport to take care of things with his mother's estate today) but any joy at being home was undercut but Grant getting sick around 10:30 last night. I was up with him until about 2:30 in the morning and had to miss work today, while he missed school. It was not a fun way to end a weekend that already wasn't much fun.

Of course, I did enjoy the time I spent with my family when I was feeling well. And I'm thankful that I can spend that time with them. I just wish I'd been able to have a whole lot more fun.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005


I think I've been in Pennsylvania for about a my head. As I mentioned the other week, Thanksgiving has always been an important holiday for me and this one seems even moreso with the losses we've had recently. So, I've been a bit distracted and haven't been focused enough to post. I will therefore wish everyone a happy Thanksgiving and I will plan on being more consistent once we get back.

Oh, and I can't wait to have some shoofly pie on Thursday night.

Friday, November 18, 2005


I came to rock music later than many of my peers. My parents listened to country music and "oldies" in the 70s and early 80s and I was perfectly happy to listen to it. I even disdained "rock" as being something not worth my time. I happily bought albums and singles (.33s and .45s) of country music - Kenny Rogers and The Oak Ridge Boys were early favorites; my younger brother's collection of Alabama albums was also of great interest. In fact, it wasn't until 7th grade when I really started listening to the music on The Loop (out of Chicago) that was played on the bus on the way to and from school. I began to like "rock" songs...and eventually branched out with my album purchasing. I'm pretty sure it was early 1984 when I finally succumbed and picked up Michael Jackson's Thriller, finally joining millions of other people. I switched over to buying rock albums and singles until Christmas that year further changed my musical life - I got a Sony Walkman and a number of tapes, including The Pointer Sisters, The Cars, ZZ Top (which my mom asked for as "22 Top" due to my sloppy handwriting and a general ignorance of the genre), and Van Halen (might as well jump!). My conservative nature was still intact, though, as I somehow overlooked asking for Bruce Springsteen's Born in the U.S.A.

Now maybe only a couple songs from that album had been on the radio at that point. I do remember that the album had a long shelf life and over half the songs were releases as singles. But I'm sure I was aware of the stuff and I know I liked it. I just wasn't sure about it yet. In those days I used to keep track of the songs I heard on the radio (Z95 by that point, I think) and made a running tally - my own Top 40 to match against Kasey Casem every week. And eventually, I realized that I needed Born in the U.S.A. and I got it in the late spring or early summer of 1985 (maybe as early as my birthday in March?). It was in my Walkman many, many, many times. I loved it and I loved Bruce (and maybe at some point I'll talk more directly about the album). By the time I started high school in the fall of 1985, he was my favorite musician. I even used that fact to bond with a senior girl in the swing choir who was beautiful and ended up being my dance partner on a few songs (including, "Won't You Come Home, Bill Bailey?," which we performed many times during the year). She had even been to Soldier Field to see him in concert.

Christmas 1986 added a new chapter to my love of Bruce - the release of the boxed set, Live/1975-1985. Not only were the songs from Born in the U.S.A. including but also a bunch of older songs I'd never heard before. How cool was that? What was this "Thunder Road" and "Adam Raised a Cain?" I heard "Hungry Heart" and "Candy's Room" and "Racing in the Street" and "Nebraska." I heard "Born to Run" for the first time. I was in love all over again.

It wasn't until I was in college and buying CDs that I actually picked up the Born to Run album. Of course, I'd read all about it and heard many of the songs from it but it was still a revelation to me. The epic grandeur of "Jungleland." The amazing rocker "She's the One." The noirish cool and melancholy of "Meeting Across the River." The power of the title track, of course. And the song that slowly became my favorite Bruce song and then my favorite song in the world, "Thunder Road." A fantastic album.

Now it's 2005 and this week saw the release of a new Bruce boxed set, the 30th Anniversary Edition of Born to Run. It contains the remastered album, which is just finishing as I'm typing this. It sounds great and the songs are still great. Even better, the set contains 2 DVDs. I watched "Wings for Wheels" first, which is a 90 minute documentary of the making of the album and consists of interviews looking back as well as old footage from that time period as well as some alternate takes with varying instrumentation and lyrics playing along in the background. It's very entertaining. That disc also contains a three song performance from 1973, featuring a smaller E Street Band with Vinnie "Mad Dog" Lopez on drums. It's a lot of fun.

Even cooler is a two hour plus concert from 1975 - Bruce and the boys at the Hammersmith Odeon in London. It's cool not only to see the group when they were younger but the music is amazing. And I was surprised to see some of the current live arrangements intact back then - the organ intro to piano to full band on "Lost in the Flood," for instance. "She's the One" rocks and "For You" is done by Bruce alone on the piano. "Kitty's Back" stretches out to include long solos by Danny Federici and Roy Bittan and Clarence Clemons. Max Weinberg thunders on the drums and Garry W. Tallent holds down the bass. The interaction between a young Bruce and a young Stevie Van Zandt is so much fun to see. It's a great historical document and a great concert.

I was 4 years old when the original Born to Run album came out, too young to know anything about him. I found Bruce at 14 and now I'm 34. He's been my favorite artist for 20 years and this 30th anniversary collection is a great testament to why that's true.

I'm pulling outta here to win...

Tuesday, November 15, 2005


* Bruce Springsteen/Born to Run 30th Anniversary boxed set (I'm part of the way through the documentary disc about the making of the album)

* Wilco/Kicking Television: Live in Chicago (listening to disc 1 currently - "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart" at this moment)

* Scrubs Season 2 (not yet out of the plastic)

* The Cosmology of the Wider World by Jeffrey Ford (ordered through Shocklines a while back and showed up out of the blue; saving it for the Thanksgiving trip)

* Sleep (good night!)

Monday, November 14, 2005


That's what I have for you today. Not much at all. I've been thinking about covering the last two issues of Asimov's or talking about how INFINITE CRISIS is reawakening by inner DC fanboy or telling you how I just finally got around to seeing "Batman Begins" or my new TV obsession or going back to talk about Jeffrey Ford's The Girl in the Glass or or or...

Instead, I'm feeling very tired and can't bring any thoughts to coherency. So I'll go back to listening to some Springsteen in anticipation of tomorrow's 30th anniversay Born to Run release and watching the Cowboys/Eagles game on mute. And I'll try coming back with something worth your while tomorrow.

Sunday, November 13, 2005


With the demise of "Arrested Development" (and let's hope we will see more episodes), is there any sitcom worth watching? Yes, there is.

The new "How I Met Your Mother" is a solid series. It's more in the traditional mode than "AD" but still can be pretty funny. Plus, any series making use of Alyson Hannigan ("Buffy"), Jason Segel ("Freaks and Geeks"), and Neil Patrick Harris ("Doogie Howser, M.D." hisself) has to be worth watching.

Also of interest is the just wrapped first season of "Extras." I watched and enjoyed the first episode and then circumstsances forced me to lose track of it after that. I have slowly been rectifying that by catching it on HBO On Demand. I never watched the original "The Office" (though I still want to) but I really enjoy the sensibility of Ricky Gervais. And Kate Winslet's appearance in the premiere episode is not to be missed.

My frontrunner, however, is "My Name Is Earl." I havem't been able to watch it on its regular night due to my "Amazing Race" habit (boo, Weavers!) but NBC has been rerunning episodes on Satruday nights occasionally. Last night they replayed the last four episodes and I laughed quite a bit. Every episode seems to have one huge laugh for me, such as Randy's wonderment at "Karma's Army, made up of all the nations of the world" or his telling Catalina that when you play the card game War in America and you both pull the same card it's called a "Truce" and the players hug because America is a peaceful nation. Jason Lee is perfect as the titular Earl and Jaime Pressly is fantastic as his trashy ex-wife Joy (and she looked great in a small bikini during the Pretty Prettiest Pageant on one ep last night). And after telling you my favorite parts, can I ignore Ethan Supplee as Randy? And how about guest-stars like Johnny Galecki and Giovanni Ribisi? Great stuff. If you haven't watched an episode, please do. I think you'll like it.

Saturday, November 12, 2005


This week brought news I'd feared was coming - Fox canceled "Arrested Development." I was actually surprised they brought it back for a third season, after season 2's episode reduction. Technically, this season is also a reduction (down to 13 eps) but we'll be lucky if we see many of them before the final DVD gets released some time next year. And when you think about it, we're lucky that we'll end up with 53 episodes of this great sitcom. For Fox, that's pretty good.

It does sting, especially after Monday's back-to-back greatness. Tobias telling George Michael to have sex with Ann right then and there. Buster using his father's surrogate to build a train set with GOB. Michael and Steve Holt! training for the father/son triathlon. The continuing mystery of Rita. And the huge finale with Tobias dressed as a giant mole being attacked by George Michael in a jet pack, amidst a tiny town created to trick the Japanese investors. Plus, the return of Annyong!

This show has been brilliantly written and acted from the start and is one of my all-time favorite shows. It will be missed.

Friday, November 11, 2005


A few years ago I decided I should make a reading goal for myself. I felt like I wasn't reading as many books as I had in the past and I wanted that to change. I settled on the goal of 36 books read in a year, an average of only 3 a month that seemed reasonable. I started in 2001 and managed to read 30 books that year. In 2002 I jumped up to 33 books read. I only managed one more book in 2003 and one more again last year, leaving the total at 35. I am very happy to report that I have already read 36 books this year; in fact, I did it a few weeks ago. Of course, that doesn't mean I'm stopping (though I've been catching up on my "Asimov's" since that time). 40 seems easily achievable. Anyway, here is my list of books read so far this year...

1. Iron Sunrise by Charles Stross
2. Pyramids by Terry Pratchett
3. The Truth About Celia by Kevin Brockmeier
4. Home Land by Sam Lipsyte
5. The Wilco Book by Wilco and Picture Box, Inc.
6. The Anchor Book of New American Short Stories edited by Ben Marcus
7. The Giant's House by Elizabeth McCracken
8. In the Penny Arcade by Stephen Millhauser
9. Days Between Stations by Steve Erickson
10. The Family Trade by Charles Stross
11. The Disappointment Artist by Jonathan Lethem
12. Faithful by Stewart O'Nan and Stephen King
13. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
14. Tumbling After by Paul Witcover
15. The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler
16. Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett
17. A Gentleman's Game by Greg Rucka
18. The Egyptologist by Arthur Phillips
19. Crossing California by Adam Langer
20. Specimen Days by Michael Cunningham
21. A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby
22. Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
23. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling
24. Bulletproof Girl by Quinn Dalton
25. Air by Geoff Ryman
26. A Friend of the Earth by T.C. Boyle
27. Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town by Cory Doctorow
28. The Girl in the Glass by Jeffrey Ford
29. Stranger Things Happen by Kelly Link
30. Eric by Terry Pratchett
31. Tooth and Claw by T.C. Boyle
32. Anasi Boys by Neil Gaiman
33. Born in the U.S.A. by Geoffrey Himes
34. The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil by George Saunders
35. The Elephant Vanishes by Haruki Murakami
36. Moving Pictures by Terry Pratchett

Thursday, November 10, 2005


1. Thanksgiving is two weeks from today. It is a holiday that has always meant a great deal to me, one full of family and tradition. Ever since I was a kid, my family (Mom, Dad, and my brother Theron) would travel to Williamsport, PA (also the home of Little League baseball) to meet up with all of my relatives. When I was younger, we would take turns as to which part of the family we had dinner with. Some years we would be at Grandma and Grandpa Steiner's, where we would also eat with Aunt Ginny and Uncle John. That was it for my dad's side of the family. Other years we would eat at Grandma and Percy's, where my mom's sisters and their families would be. Those years we got to eat with our cousins at the kid table. But even if we ate at the Steiner house, we would end up at the other one.

Things changed, of course. Grandma and Grandpa Steiner moved to an apartment and could no longer host dinners. My then-girlfriend, now-wife started coming. Grandma and Percy moved to an apartment, which meant we started go out for dinner. Grandpa Steiner and then Uncle John passed away. Jill and I had a son. My cousin Heath got married to Anne. And so on.

We always had the traditions, though they have also mutated over the years. Homemade ice cream and lots of pie. The ladies' luncheon and the guys' lunch. Sub night. Lots of games of Hearts and then lots of games of euchre. Aunt Ginny's fabulous Saturday breakfasts. The trip to Woolrich. Traditions.

This year is going to be a bit different. Both of my grandmothers passed away in October, three weeks apart. A difficult month and one that necessitated two unexpected trips to Williamsport. I haven't eaten a Thanksgiving meal without them in a long time (probably 1994, when I had to stay in Valpo because my boss was having a baby and I had to manage Subway). It is going to be weird to do that this year. But the rest of the family will be there and we will go on. We'll eat a lot and laugh a lot and just enjoy being together. Thanksgiving is about family and I'm looking foward to it. I always do.

2. This is my second blog here at Blogspot. I had deleted the original Shooflypie a while back...I had decided it wasn't worth thinking about anymore and I should be writing creative material and blah blah blah. Obviously, I've missed it. However, I couldn't get my Shooflypie URL back and that's why this is Another Piece of Shooflypie. Shooflypie is good enough to have two pieces anyway.

So, if you're finding me again - welcome back. And if this is your first taste of any Shooflypie, welcome. Please feel free to post comments and I start to once again build a backlog of posts. I don't promise regularity, though I will try for it. I do promise to talk about anything and everything that is on my mind but mostly I'll try to talk you into reading/watching/listening to whatever I'm into. If I like it, shouldn't you?