1. AOTW #2. I am driving north on Ohio 91, approaching the intersection of Ohio 303. Green light in my direction. A southbound guy turns left right in front of me. I brake hard. Barely miss him. Behind me--no cars for about a half-mile--and the light is not about to change. So ... an easy choice this week for the AOTW.
2. I finished some books this week.
- The Raven (George Hazleton, 1909) is a novel about Edgar Poe, published 100 years after his birth. It deals with his love life--with his marriage to his cousin Virginia Clemm (and her subsequent death to TB) and his later relationship with Helen Whitman. As a novel it's not very good, but I enjoyed seeing how Hazleton played with the Poe story, inventing dialogue and characters and situations. Poe, for example, continually hears/sees/imagines a black bird (hmmm)--e.g., "The wing of a big black bird cast its shadow across my cup" (80). There's also a slave--Erebus ("the faithful negro")--whose appearance in the sight of our modern eyes is profoundly un-PC (132). This person is one of Hazleton's creations. Those who have read all of Poe know that he--brought up in antebellum Virginia--was not exactly, uh, ready to join the march in Selma. Hazleton changes the facts about the death of Poe, having him die in the presence of Helen Whitman. Near the end he hears "the ominous flapping" of the black bird's wings, and lightning is flashing at his window (341). (He was actually found incoherent in a Baltimore street and died in a hospital.)
- Also finished American Vandal: Mark Twain Abroad (Roy Morris, Jr., 2015), a book about the international travels of Twain. Basically, the book summarizes Twain's travels and travel books (the first, The Innocents Abroad, 1869, made him famous; several others would follow). I've read all of those books, so I didn't really learn a lot from his short volume (only 240 pp of text), but there were some reminders about his ability to mimic speech, to work ungodly hours while he was writing--and how deaths in his family propelled his writing into ever darker territory.
- Finally (in Book World)--I'm getting ready to review a new biography of Saul Bellow and am re-reading (or, in some cases, reading for the first time) his novels from long ago. This week I re-read his Dangling Man (published 1944--the year of my birth), a novel I'd read back in the late 1960s, before I met Joyce. I can "see" myself, slumped on the couch in my tiny apartment in Aurora, reading that novel, which is about the draft and World War II, seeing the relevance to my own situation--the draft for the Vietnam War. As I read it this week, I remembered virtually nothing about it--not even its basic structure (a series of journal entries). I guess I could have told you that it's about a young man waiting to be inducted. But that's it. But Bellow did a fine job of showing us life in the interstices that lie between our past and our future--the area we call the present, which, as Bellow describes, can seem endless--and pointless.
3. I posted a few months ago about how I was giving up book reviewing for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, something I'd been doing with great pleasure since November 2000, when I reviewed one of the volumes of Ian Kershaw's fine biography of Adolf Hitler. Lately, though, I've been feeling better (more energy ... why?), and my editor at the PD (who'd told me when I'd "retired" that I could return any time) has given me a few more titles to review. The first (Mary Doria Russell's Epitaph: A Novel of the O.K. Corral) ran last week (link to that review; the next is in May. I'm thrilled, of course, and hope I can keep it going for a long, long time.
4. Finally--Joyce and I went to see the recent comedy Unfinished Business on Friday night. We figured it would be pretty bad (it is), but, hey, it was Friday; we'd seen all the good films; we wanted popcorn. Yes, it had its amusing moments (we both laughed now and then)--I especially liked when Vince Vaughn slept in what he thought was a hotel room and then realized it was an art exhibit, open to the public. And Dave Franco (James' brother) was amusing as a genial dullard who nonetheless makes good. (And what on earth was Tom Wilkinson doing in this film?) But there were some ... issues.
- We, of course, had the obligatory celebration=getting fall-down-drunk scene. (All three of our heroes drank enough to kill most normal human beings.) Somehow, we're supposed to believe that these three were able to recover swiftly and painlessly the next morning.
- We're to believe that Vaughn's character ran a marathon in his street shoes and business suit and finished without even perspiring.
- Someone asks Vaughn's character why he does the job he does if it's boring. He says he has a kid who has go to go private school. (Don't get me started on the conceptions of Vaughn's children in this film--and on the Daddying-by-Facetime.) The only hint that maybe you ought to try to find a career that you love--not that that's always (or even often) possible, of course.
- And we're asked to accept some vile portraits of women, who, in this film are (1) devoted housewives, (2) bitchy businesswomen, (3) hookers, (4) hotel-maids-who-are-eager-to-please-in-all-ways. This aspect of the film was grotesque. Wholly misogynistic--and clueless. Hard to believe these tone-deaf filmmakers are working in 2015. And yet ... there I sat. Shame on them; shame on me.