"The Childe...More restless than the swallow in the skies..." -Lord Byron, Childe Harold's Pilgrimage

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Pinpointing 'The Fault in Our Stars'

The Fault in Our StarsThe Fault in Our Stars by John Green
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It's commendable how John Green keeps his teen tragedy moving right along, given that so much of the action is just suffering kids sitting in rooms. The Fault in Our Stars could easily have settled into stationary dreariness and still come out meaningful. The characters are all somewhere between likable and very likable (with one engrossing exception). They are all suffering from cancer or attached to someone who is sick. Feeling meaningful is a pretty wide target to hit with that setup.

Yet, from early on I found myself genuinely interested in Hazel, the protagonist, and her supporting cast. In particular, I was taken in by how the ailing youths wield cynicism. Most of the time, practiced as they are from chronic/terminal illness, they do so deftly--not with abandon. Sickness has forced them to grow up quick. Like seasoned adults, they pick their moments. The resulting dilemmas make for compelling scenework.

The Fault in Our Stars did move me to sniffle and tear up. If I had not been reading in public, I would have let myself sob as I read some of the later chapters. This is well-crafted, accessible, and meaningful fiction. The ending, which goes nowhere new and wallows somewhat, felt belabored to me. Yet, like the rest of the novel, it felt earned. Thanks to John Green, I will be giving young adult fiction the time of day going forward.

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Sunday, August 31, 2014

Billy Crystal is Still Foolin' Me

Still Foolin' 'Em: Where I've Been, Where I'm Going, and Where the Hell Are My KeysStill Foolin' 'Em: Where I've Been, Where I'm Going, and Where the Hell Are My Keys by Billy Crystal
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I don't have a very long commute. Still, when the misery that is American broadcast news gets to be too much, I take a break from my car radio to listen to an audio book. This is why I decided to listen to Billy Crystal's memoir/exploration of aging. And let me just say, I cannot imagine reading this book. Experiencing it as an audio book seems both obvious and mandatory. Only listening in 15 minute commute segments proved too slow. A couple of CDs in I yanked the case out of my car and gorged on 2 CDs at a time in my apartment.

Billy Crystal has been a welcome guest in my family's entertainment circle since he appeared in the sitcom Soap. We have loved his standup, his impersonations, and many of his films. When Harry Met Sally is one of my all-time favorite films and certainly my favorite romantic comedy. It was a pleasure to revisit all of these cherished memories through Billy's perspective, humor, and voice. The chapters he reads before a live audience are riveting in their hilarity.

The appeal of this memoir may come down to whether or not you are already a Billy Crystal fan. The approach he takes is inevitably an extension of his lifelong comedic style and wit. I think it is safe to say his recent Emmy Awards tribute to the late Robin Williams counts as something of a supplement, and a good sense of how this book comes across: candid, sentimental, bright. Thank you, Billy.

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Sunday, August 24, 2014

A Border Seen From Space

Here is one of the most fascinating images I have seen from NASA this year. Look at this agriculturally defined border between China and Kazakhstan. Then head to NASA's Earth Observatory website to read the complete caption. Extremely interesting.