Practical Theory - The Origin
The Scholars in CyberEnglish
ToDaY's MeNu - Ted

Friday, February 28, 2014

The Philadelphia Quarry by Howard Owen

The Philadelphia Quarry by Howard Owen is about the reversal of a rape case. A black man, Richard Slade, was given life for the rape of a white woman, Alicia Simpson, in 1984. Willie Black, a reporter, is on the case from the beginning and is back at it. I have to say that his dialogue sounds a lot like listening to Bob Newhart, classic dry wit and delivery. Black cracks me up at times. Slade was exonerated twenty-eight years later by Mr. DNA. The Philadelphia Quarry is the place of the incident, a swimming hole in the Richmond, Virginia area. I was immediately reminded of the infamous rape of the jogger in Central Park in 1989 and how those boys were railroaded and castigated by Mayor Koch and the city only to be exonerated by Mr. DNA. So why does it take so long to get rid of our racism and search and frisk laws?
Here we go into troubled waters. Alicia Simpson has been murdered and Richard goes back to jail. What we have is the American version of Upstairs downstairs, black and white in Richmond, Virginia. Dysfunction is a kind word for one family while love and family are the way of the other. Willie pinballs his way to the truth. Willie is a great character, I hope to see more of him.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Berlin, Maryland: Coolest Small Town in America

Dig it! Berlin, Maryland, the town I retired to, the town featured in that hit film Runaway Bride in 1999, and the town I have frequented for he past twenty-five years while camping at Assateague Island has been named America's Coolest Small Town. Last night I went to Burley Oak Brewery and celebrated with the Mayor of Berlin, MD and many of our citizens. How cool is that? Rock on Berlin, Maryland.

From left to right: Me, Mayor Williams, Tom Simon, Superfun Eco Tours,  Billy Todd of Lower Class Citizens

Friday, February 21, 2014

Three Can Keep a Secret by Archer Mayor

Three Can Keep a Secret by Archer Mayor takes place in Vermont during and after Hurricane Irene. I remember Irene well. I was visiting Assateague Island and was asked to leave as the storm approached. Being chased by it all the way back to NYC, I arrived home before it hit. My sister lives in Vermont, which was hammered. The infrastructure damage was intense, as streams became Colorado Rivers wiping out bridges and roads. She was fine as her place was elevated. This is familiar territory for me as Vermont was my playground during my college years and later as a place to take my family camping.
Who would have thought the VBI, Vermont Bureau of Investigation would be so busy. A joke from decades ago, Governor for a Day comes back to haunt old men and women responsible for this event. Death and stones in a coffin highlight the events for the VBI.
A good ole boys political club in the 60’s is living the dream. Then the dream becomes a nightmare. There’s a rape, a child, then fifty years before it is fixed thanks to Irene.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon

Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon echoes of the television show, The Big Bang Theory.  Its homey geekiness, collectible vinyl, and terse dialogue reek of the TV show. But we are in Oakland after all, not Pasadena. The prose, too, reeks of the fast paced repartee of its TV counterpart. Then we flip into a Pulp Fiction kind of world with funny talking gangsters and hit men driving pimped out cars up and down the street of Telegraph Avenue. Now I make these video allusions, as that is the style of writer Chabon. Is he too derivative?
There is a learning curve involved here. Archy, black, and Nat, white, own and operate a vinyl shop, the Brokeland, and play in a band. Their wives, Gwen and Aviva are midwives. Nat and Aviva have a son Julian. Archy’s son, Titus, from an encounter after his return from the Gulf War, shows up. Gwen is pregnant with Archy’s baby. This is hip Oakland and even Senator Obama makes a guest appearance to enjoy the funk of their band at a fundraiser. His exchange with Gwen is heart warming and foreshadows things to come. Aviva ain’t cool with Titus.
The politics of community is overwhelming as the vinyl shop Brokeland is in jeopardy and the ladies might get sued. And then there is the newly arrived son from the past. A blimp ride and not selling out to that one long sentence of the parrot fifty eight, a bird of wide experience that rambles on in reflection comprising the middle part that I actually read at quarter to three in the goddamn morning. Who writes like this with these mind-numbing allusions to classic movies?
If you like Quentin Tarantino, you’re going to love this book. Chabon has taken images of all of Tarantino’s movies and has recompiled them in a mosaic of accolades to QT. In fact Tarantino has a bit part so to speak in the book. Wonder who might make a movie of this book?
Archy’s dad, Luther, a former Kung Fu actor is in trouble. It becomes a three-generation circus. As luck would have it, the doctor, Lazar, who is giving the midwives trouble about their license happens to be the doctor on call when Nat brings Gwen to the hospital, after her water broke. Gwen wants Aviva to catch the baby, but Lazar is there instead. Nat tells Aviva, “They send in Lazar, I think she’s (Gwen) going to fucking bite his head off.” “It’s a hospital, “ Aviva says. “They can sew it back on.” Aviva is in the middle of catching another baby at the time. Gotta love this dialogue, throughout the novel. Saying I’m sorry helps, too.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Lexicon by Max Barry

Lexicon by Max Barry was a title that leaped out at me and I was persuaded to check it out. Lexicon is an important word to me, as a former English teacher. Words are important and one of their uses I always taught my students were they were used to persuade someone to do something for you. Persuade them for a job via a letter and resume. To persuade someone about a point you want to make when they wrote an essay. This story is no different, although it is a bit more weird and complex than innocent uses we normally use, or are they as innocent as we think or believe. This novel reveals a rather interesting take on the art of persuasion. On the other hand if you believe words can’t kill, harm, or control than read this book and you will be persuaded to the contrary. Just give me the word. In the beginning was the Word and the Word was God. And look what happened with the Word.
There is a school that teaches the art of persuasion that Emily goes to. They teach about words, words of persuasion, words of fear, and words of power. When a student graduates, their old name is lost and they are given a new name, a dead poet’s name like Virginia Wolff, Emily Dickenson, TS Eliot, Alexander Pushkin, Sylvia Plath, William Butler Yeats, Robert Frost, and Charlotte Bronte. It seems appropriate since poets are economists of words and words is the name of the game for these people. What they do with these words though is different from what their namesakes did with words. Consider how we use words to command an attack dog.
This is a very interesting study of words and their use. There is an good discussion of how we watch the news. I used to watch both Fox and MSNBC just to see if I could cull out the truth. Now I just watch The Daily Show and Colbert, because I’m going for the humor. I came to realize, watching the news was a waste of time. But the study of words in how the news is delivered is an art form as delivery and reception. Words are not a waste of time, that is how we persuade. Then there is the bareword, love conquers all.
It is a variant story on the Tower of Babel. If I were still teaching, I’d love to use this book in class. It has everything an English teacher loves in a book: language, a story about words and how they are used, and umpteen allusions to poets.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Cripple Creek by James Sallis

Cripple Creek by James Sallis picks Turner where he was left after Cypress Grove.  A simple traffic stop cascades out of control. Speeding through town in a hopped up Mustang, the driver gets violent and contentious with the local cop. The driver ends up in jail and his quarter million dollars in the bank vault. The next day he is busted out of jail and the deputy and dispatcher left unconscious and in the hospital. Turner now a deputy goes to Memphis, his old stomping ground as a cop many years ago to right the wrongs. He tangles with the local mob and is saved by his long lost daughter, now a marshal.
Back home, things get weird as contracts are out on Turner and/or his friends. Turner fades in and out of past events as cop, in jail, and as therapist. His home is getting filled as his daughter, JT moves in, Val, his girlfriend stays since her house has been violated, and a pregnant possum, Emily. All Turner wanted was some peace and quiet after Nam, a stint as a cop in Memphis, and a therapist. Then he becomes a deputy in his new town.
When trouble comes your way the only way to end it is tom cut off the head of the leader. Just as a house always fills with family, it eventually empties, too. And we are back alone as the way we began, only with echoes now.

Friday, February 7, 2014

A Thousands Pardons by Jonathan Dee

I always love it when Jonathan Dee, a former student of mine from my first three years of teaching, produces another book.  A Thousand Pardons is his latest entry. It is about survival.  Helen has to survive a cheating, disbarred husband, Ben, who ends up in a sanitarium and then the sudden death of her new boss. She and her adopted twelve-year-old daughter have to start all over again after having been on top of an upper middle class lifestyle.
Dee confronts a delicate issue of adoption. Adoption by white parents of non-white children. In this case Helen and Ben adopt an Asian child, Sara, and her best friend is an African American adopted by a white family.
Helen’s new job is crisis management. She is great at it and rises quickly. The problem is she is vexed by her own problems: Ben, Sara, and Hamilton. Hamilton is a movie star and old grade school chum of hers. Her company deals with his movie studio and well, they get reacquainted. Hamilton doesn’t remember her, but when e suddenly gets into trouble it is Helen who he calls. Up to this point we think we are into a tragic novel when it suddenly becomes a heart-felt comedy of errors with everyone realizing how to say, “I’m sorry.”

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Noose by Bill James

Noose by Bill James revives events of the past to affect events in the present. As a boy Ian witnessed a murder in an air raid shelter during a German bombing during WWII. He was deemed a hero in the papers, the same papers that deemed his dad a hero when he saved a drowning woman. Dad is not pleased with his son’s notoriety. Before the trail, during the trial, and after the hanging, Ian continually gets postcards condemning his action. Today, as a reporter himself, Ian, goes to a hospital to interview a starlet who may or may not have attempted suicide and who may or may not be his sister. During the visit, a nun berates Ian for his previous actions, which may be the witnessing of a murder. We discover the murderer was on his way to see a woman when he discovered his brother, who stole all the inheritance money from the mother. A classic Cain and Abel story. Ian was in the middle of it and his father was upset about this. The dad is a classic bury your head I the sand kind of guy and don’t get involved, yet he did and became a hero.
Ian seems to get his neck into a noose often as he is approached to do secret agent like work. His obligation comes from past heroic events, both his father’s and his own. Then serendipitously, he steps into it at officer’s training camp and then later as a journalist. Was he a journalist because of his own childhood headlines? Secret meetings, chance (NOT) meetings, and probing phone calls have Ian turning to his wife, Lucy for conversation and a level head. This is wise, two heads is always better than one and safer too. Ian does “their” bidding while maintaining a good and healthy distance while still protecting family.
This is a grand tale, well told, and filled with just the right amounted of tension.