I was supposed to spend three days in San Francisco but ended up staying for only one and a half, because once I had seen the fabulous cofax7 I was done. San Francisco was particularly beautiful last week, the weather gorgeous, the mood cheerful, but as soon as I left the airport I found that my lovely holiday buzz had vanished -- as had its sequel, the post-holiday mellow -- and all that was left was the intense desire to get home.
I want it to be three weeks ago, if it's all the same to you, thankyouverymuch, because then I was in Alice Springs and the best was yet to come.
Compulsively listening to Powderfinger is not helping.
And tomorrow, work! Huzzah etc. (that was sarcastic, by the way)
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All hail to the magnificent grifyn, one of whose entries I read while I was on vacation and it made me laugh so hard that I wept in public (it was the short one featuring the stupid question and the wonderful country music reply)
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I read six books while on holiday. Brief reviews:
PLANE, LONDON-SAN FRANCISCO
The Straw Men Michael Marshall
Incredibly frustrating. It came garlanded with the usual eyeroll-inducing blurbs about MMS being the new Thomas Harris, which he's not. Writing about serial killers does not make you Thomas Harris, it makes you a bandwagon-jumper with no more right to set pen to paper than the immortally dreadful Anne Rice.
However, the boy can turn a phrase, he's got great ideas, he's blackly funny and he's capable of running an ice-cube down your spine every now and then, so he's forgiven.
This book takes three stories as its jumping off point: a mass killing in a McDonald's that turns out to be part of a much wider conspiracy; the kidnapping of a girl from a mall in Santa Monica and a rather disreputable man who discovers that his parents' death in a road crash is not all it seems.
It's written in alternating third- and first-person, depending on the section, which would drive some of you crazy and you have to trust that the stories will meet in the end, because for the longest time it's impossible to work out how.
If only Michael Marshall (a.k.a Michael Marshall Smith, if you're reading science fiction) wouldn't write as though he has one eye on selling the film rights and is picking his characters out of the box marked "archetype".
There are some scenes which clearly come out of the "How to Write A Serial Killer Bestseller" manual, such as the humanising of the initial victims and of the kidnap victim (Whales and petunias! Whales and petunias!) and a few scenes from the killer's POV. His Burned Out Cop is only saved from being a cliche by some very nifty footwork and his Female FBI Agent Whose Career Is On The Skids is little more than an attractive, blood-spilling, hauler of plot from A to B.
But the central idea of the novel is such a pleasingly whacked-out conspiracy theory, his chief protagonist so snarky and his tone so sardonic that it's hard not to enjoy the ride. The narrative kind of burns up on re-entry towards the end, weighed down by coincidence and contrivance, but by that stage, I was enjoying it too much to care.
This book is entirely set in the US. I have a feeling that US readers will be able to tell that MMS is English. It has recently been brought to my attention that a good 20% of the idiom I use is completely incomprehensible. That might be a problem here.
PLANE, SF-SYDNEY + bits of holiday
Longitudes and Attitudes, Thomas L. Friedman
Oy, a depressing book. As the Foreign Affairs columnist for The New York Times, Thomas L. Friedman has spent a lot of time in the Middle East and writes with passion and knowledge about the state of the Arab world, but the most fascinating part of the book is in the reaction to September 11, which changed everything.
I like his muscular optimism about America -- although you can watch him try to hide the way that is leeching away as the Iraq war approaches -- and he's also very acute about the running sore of the Arab-Israeli conflict without being anti-Israeli, a difficult balancing act when the Neo-Cons are so pro-Israeli that they're blind to even Sharon's faults. I like the way he slices to the heart of the matter though his solutions are sometimes dreadfully pat (where is this new generation of Palestinian leaders to come from?) and he often contradicts himself as all good newspaper commentators should
I read that this book was considered too anti-American and too pro-Arab in some quarters. Surely only by the blindly jingoistic? Friedman believes in America as an idea and a force for good and a place of refuge. He's just not willing to assert that its leaders are always right.
He's also not short of ego, which means one can allow a snarky commentary to unspool in one's head when one disagrees with him.
ALICE SPRINGS + QUEENSLAND
Rosalind Franklin: Dark Lady of DNA, Brenda Maddox
A fabulous biography of the woman whose skill in crystallography was instrumental in the discovery of DNA, but whose early death at the age of 37 robbed her of her rightful recognition. It explains the sciency bit for dunces like me but never becomes bogged down.
Maddox does not go the "wronged feminist heroine" route, instead choosing to show how Franklin's own personality made her difficult to deal with, as well as how sexism, scientific rivalries and the culture at the time contributed to the way she was forgotten. I liked the woman who emerged from the book, though she was probably cussed and bad-tempered and a sod to deal with.
ON THE TRAIN TO KATOOMBA
Dances With Wolves, Michael Blake
You've all seen the film, right? Epic scale, cultural sensitivity, Kevin Costner doing his best "sincere yet constipated" acting, yes? I like the film. I like the way it showcases the beauty of the country and strives to do right by the characters and I like that the female love interest isn't some bit of big-boobed fluff. Liked the film.
HATED the book. It should be called "Dances With Mary-Sues" because if John Dunbar had got any more heroic and handsome and smart and chisel-jawed I would have thrown this waste of a tree out of the train window. Some people should not be exposed to any more Hemingway for their own good.
I still read it within 24 hours, which says something about his skill with a narrative, but I admit this grudgingly.
Born 1900, Hunter Davies.
In 1995/96, Davies interviewed a small group of people who had been born in 1900 to try to discover the shapes of their lives -- how it had been to live through two wars, how their class affected the way they lived and the fates of their children and what the secret of a long life was. He also wrote about institutions born in 1900, such as Mercedes, West Ham United and the Daily Express, and how they had weathered the century.
The result is a fascinating book, full of strange facts and coincidences and cheering conclusions, though I wish Davies would abandon his irritating and distracting conversational style and his habit of rendering accents in phonetics. I detest that ego-driven newspaper style which places the interviewer *in* the interview. I know it's perhaps more realistic but I loathe it anyway. I don't care about the 'big-name' journalist. I can talk to a 'big-name' journalist any day of the week and most of them are dipsos, liars or egomaniacs anyway. And the thing about the accents is just patronising.
Still. An amazing book. And it only cost a quid. Bonus.
Spares, Michael Marshall Smith (see above)
Another tortured, hardbitten burned out hero, but this time in a Richmond of the future where the city is based around a crashed-to-earth flying mall. This one is about the horrific concept of "Spares" -- clones grown for the rich, in case their recklessness causes them to lose a body part. Biomedical horror makes me wince, and there's more than enough gore and dark wit splattered about the book to make it read like a teenage boy's idea of a cracking good read. I liked it even so, right up to the end, where -- in true Michael Marshall Smith style -- the cunningly built narrative of interesting ideas, twists and snark just falls to bits.
Worth reading for the journey, not the destination
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I see I was listed by the blog_project briefly but I didn't make it to the next round. I feel so worthless … Cast out by Blog Idol for banging on and on about my holidays. Oh the pain! The rejection! The weird way the soles of my feet are peeling in patches! (I know that's nothing to do with the subject at hand but it's really puzzling)
It's just as well, I suppose. I fear the ensuing compulsive over-sharing of personal information.
The compulsive over-sharing of utter bollocks … not so much.
Seriously though -- Blog Idol. Wouldn't that be a bad crack gleefest?
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And now, stolen from whoknowswhere on friends friends, a musical meme, with added Shakira for the person I know who will be amused by that (and no, I'm not wearing any)
1. Your favorite song with the name of a city in the title or text.
2. A song you've listened to repeatedly when you were depressed
When I was 19, I made a tape which was 90 minutes of the Cocteau Twins' Cherry Coloured Funk. These days I listen to uplifting when I am sad, so Further by Longview.
3. Ever bought an entire album just for one song and winded up disliking everything but that song? Gimme that song.
Dreaming of You, The Coral. At first I thought I liked the album, but it grated after a week
4. A song whose lyrics you thought you knew in the past, but about which you later learned you were incorrect.
5. Your least favorite song on one of your favorite albums of all time.
Chocolate Cake, Woodface by Crowded House
6. A song you like by someone you find physically unattractive or otherwise repellent.
Hit Me Baby, One More Time by Britney Spears.
She's just so *thick*. Though I don't think we're meant to respect her for her mind.
7. Your favorite song that has expletives in it that's not by Liz Phair.
The Man Don't Give A Fuck by the Super Furry Animals. It is magnificent.
8. A song that sounds as if it's by someone British but isn't.
Bandages, Hot Hot Heat. More specifically, it sounds like the Buzzcocks.
9. A song you like (possibly from your past) that took you forever to finally locate a copy of.
Voodoo Ray by A Guy Called Gerald, which is spooky techno, I suppose. I bought a pricey compilation to get hold of it and two months later it came free on a dance music CD on the front of one of my favourite magazines
10. A song that reminds you of spring but doesn't mention spring at all.
Wake Up Boo! The Boo Radleys
11. A song that sounds to you like being happy feels.
Brighter Than Sunshine Aqualung. It's a very mature, quiet sort of happy though. It's a beautiful, beautiful song.
12. Your favorite song from a non-soundtrack compilation album.
Play Dead, Bjork and David Arnold. Though I think it might be on a soundtrack somewhere.
13. A song from your past that would be considered politically incorrect now (and possibly was then).
Good god, that's most of the 70s.
14. A song sung by an overweight person.
This question upsets me. *g* Your Woman, White Town
15. A song you actually like by an artist you otherwise hate.
Lose Yourself, Eminem. Hate's a bit strong.
16. A song by a band (whose members actually play instruments) that features three or more female members.
Pretend We're Dead, L7
17. One of the earliest songs that you can remember listening to.
That's The Way (I Like It), KC and the Sunshine Band, which my dad adored.
18. A song you've been mocked by friends for liking.
Shakira, Whenever, Wherever (yes, yes, I know, shut up)
19. A really good cover version you think no one else has heard.
Like A Virgin, Teenage Fanclub.
20. A song that has helped cheer you up (or empowered you somehow) after a breakup or otherwise difficult situation.
I once had an epiphany to Madonna's Respect Yourself, which is embarrassing but true.
Extra tracks, if you have more room:
21. A song you've listened to while fucking/masturbating.
Oh TMI, TMI and terribly unclassy.
22. A song not in English—preferably a foreign-language version of an English-language hit.
Caislean Oir, Clannad.