1. AOTW: How about the guy in the huge black Escalade coming at me the wrong way down a one-way street in Hudson the other day? He did not look at me as I swerved out of his way; thus, he did not see my sign language or hear my grievous execrations.
2. We're still loving the brief Brit series William and Mary (we've watched four of the six episodes on Netflix DVD). I'm a little tired of the "annoying-teen" motif, not just here but in so many movies and TV shows. I worked with teens my whole career, and, sure, some were annoying. But the vast majority were not, and many possessed the kindest hearts a human can hope for.
3. We saw Jason Bourne the other night--and were disappointed. It's the same movie as the others, and I found myself (impossibly!) bored. An old bad guy in the CIA. Car chases (and motorcycle) through busy streets. A killer stalking JB (guess who wins?). Multiple international locations (a la James Bond). Time for Jason to buy a condo in Key West, to kick back and watch some Netflix.
a. I finally got around to reading Things Fall Apart, the 1959 novel by Chinua Achebe about the collapse of a culture in Nigeria--the arrival of Christian missionaries, of "modern" ways, of technology. We follow one powerful man who believes deeply in the old ways and, therefore, a man doomed to lose. I know that many students at Western Reserve Academy have read the book: I used to see them carrying it around--I still do. The title, of course, comes from that famous sequence in Yeats' poem "The Second Coming" (link to the poem), and, near the end, one of the characters just flat says it: "The white man is very clever. He came quietly and peaceably with his religion. We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now he has won our brothers, and our clan can no longer act like one. He has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart" (176).
b. While we were in Stratford for the theater festival, I read Donald Ray Pollock's newest novel, The Heavenly Table (2016). I'd liked Pollock's first two books (and have signed first printings of each!), Knockemstiff (2008) and The Devil All the Time (2011). He writes about rural America (rural Ohio often) and helps us see in close-up the lives of people who are so far off the grid that they don't even know there is a grid. Okay. The Heavenly Table takes place in his rural world (the WW I era) near the Ohio River (both sides) and employs the device of telling several stories that do not converge until the final chapters. A farming family whose son has run off somewhere; three brothers (two are barely able to function) who turn to bank robbery; a black man trying to get to Detroit; a man who's a local inspector of outhouses; an Army lieutenant who realizes he's gay--these are the main stories he follows. Not much turns out well. But I felt Pollock, this time, was more interested in being grim and gross and outrageous than in really trying to craft a story whose intricacies reveal something about the human mind and heart. Lots of violence and bodily functions and the deleterious effects of a lack of education (and this last I am on board with!).
c. And, finally, just yesterday I finished Richard Russo's 2001 novel Empire Falls (which won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction), a novel that will sound very familiar to fans of Russo's earlier works (Mohawk, Nobody's Fool) and his most recent one, Everybody's Fool (2016). Some of you know that I'm slowly working my way through Russo's complete works, and I've now read six of his ten (another is on the way!). So in Empire--we get a crumbling town (this one in Maine, not New York), a wealthy family, a diner, a bar, some local eccentrics (a derelict dad, a hot waitress who keeps marrying the wrong guys, etc.), a troubled protagonist, a bent cop, and on and on.
Russo, though, makes it all seem different and fresh. He has the gift (Jim Harrison had it too) of moving you through a narrative, and you're not always aware that you even are moving. Things just seem to happen--just as they do in Real Life--and it's not until you've read many, many pages that you begin to see the significance of it all. Even the smallest detail can emerge, later, as a Matterhorn.
Principally, it's a novel about secrets (and the destructive power of same), and we do not learn them all until the very end.
Bridge of Sighs is next. I read it when it came out (2007) but don't remember it well, so I'm going to read it again to see if and how it fits with his earlier work.
Oh, and last night ... started watching the HBO miniseries based on Empire--just the first 20 minutes or so ... will write more about it next week ...
5. Some words I liked this week (words arriving from my various online word-of-the-day suppliers):
a. synthespian, n. A computer-generated character in a film.
Origin: Formed within English, by blending. Etymons: synthetic adj., Thespian adj. and n.
Etymology: Blend of synthetic adj. and Thespian adj. and n.
The film may be a mixture of live action and computer animation, in which the character appears to interact with human actors, or may be made wholly with computer animation.
1989 Videography Oct. 71/1 Since 1987 Kleiser and his partner, sculptress/artist Diana Walczak, have been toiling away at their current company.., creating what they feel are the forerunners of the actors of the future, computer generated characters or ‘synthespians’, a term they have coined to describe their product.
1992 Forbes (Nexis) 7 Dec. 46 Actors can be replaced by synthespians who will be created from libraries of gestures and expressions housed in a computer bank.
1994 Observer 19 June (Life Suppl.) 69/6 The prospect really exciting some Hollywood execs is the possibility of developing a ‘virtual star’, also known as a ‘vactor’ or ‘synthespian’, a believable computer-generated human character.
2001 3D World Mar. 14/2 Attitude Studio claims that its new virtual creation, Eve Solal is the most lifelike synthespian yet.
b. titivate \TIT-uh-veyt\ verb
1. to make smart or spruce: She titivated her old dress with a new belt.
2. to make oneself smart or spruce.
“Come on, lovey, just a little cup of tea and a nice piece of cake. There'll be plenty of time to titivate afterwards.” “Titivate?” Joanna said slowly as if this was some strange foreign word she had not heard before. “Titivate? What for?” [...] “I'm not going out anywhere if that's what you mean.”
-- Nina Bawden, A Little Love, a Little Learning, 1965
Origin of titivate
Titivate entered English in the early 1800s when it was sometimes spelled tidivate, which, in turn, is thought to be blend of tidy and elevate, literally meaning "tidy up."